It is ironic that the “merciful” and the “shining one” (Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe, v.8) wrote a letter against Jerusalem, and instead decided to stand firm with Artaxerxes. The wicked intentions of the adversaries against the Israelites are laid bare, as the motivation behind the rebuilding of the temple is far more important than the actual assistance in rebuilding the temple. Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses in Israel are right to discern that only the Israelites stirred by God, as commanded through Cyrus, shall do the rebuilding.
The truth is clearly twisted in the letter to Artaxerxes – “You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from old. That was why this city was laid waste” (v.15). Indeed, if only that were true, then Israel would be standing gloriously over Persia. It was their sin that caused themselves to be laid to waste, and moreover, it was Cyrus who commanded the rebuilding and not out of the Israelites’ own volition. The fact that such persecution persisted until the second year of Darius, king of Persia, indicates that the book of the records was not even consulted, where Cyrus’ decree in favour of the rebuilding would have been plain. If anything, the proper rebuilding of the temple would heal Persia rather than hurt Artaxerxes.
The real account of the history of the Israelites are then communicated in v.10-17, in contrast to the lying words of Rehum and Shimshai. Instead of Artaxerxes’ folly of disregarding the word of the LORD coming to Cyrus, Darius is now presented again an opportunity to clarify whether the LORD has truly used the king of Persia to bless the Israelites – as is evidently the plan of God when he spoke through Haggai and Zechariah (v.1-2).
What glory then, that Darius should follow in the footsteps of Cyrus and decree the completion of the restoration of the house of the LORD, returning what Nebuchadnezzar had taken (v.5). The decree is of such significance that any alteration would be punishable by death, impaled on the wood of the house of the LORD, his house being made a dung-hill. What irony that Christ should bear this punishment, to be impaled on the tree in this same city where His name dwells (v.12), on behalf of those who have (in their own spirit) altered the edict by forsaking the true meaning of the temple in their daily lives. Whilst the Israelites here understand that sacrifice by keeping the Passover (v.19-22), and are overjoyed at the prospect of the conversion of this king of Assyria (hence his assistance in the work of the house of God), Darius’ decree is but a foreshadow that one day the salvific work of the Messiah (which the Temple symbolises) would be ignored and shunned even by those who allege to re-build the house but for their own selfish intent. Instead, the words of Rehum and Shimshai are, in the days of the incarnate Second Person, applied to Christ Himself as if He were rebellious and that his coming was not spoken of in the books of records; contrarily, He was the one who would unite all men under one banner, as spoken of consistently throughout the Old Testament and as witnessed by Himself and His Father (John 8:13-18).