Friday, September 30
Job 37: The first half of this chapter continues Elihu’s praise of God. This is Elihu’s way of exhorting Job, similar to the way that St. James exhorts all of us: “Is any among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13). The deliberate praise of God is the proper and godly response of a faithful soul to the experience of suffering.
For example, the longsuffering Martin Rinckart in 1630 composed his well-known hymn, Nun danket Alle Gott (“Now thank we all our God”), as his response to the horrible trials of his native Eilenburg, which suffered from the devastating plague of 1619, several failed harvests, and the three different times the city was sacked during the Thirty Years’ War. In addition, Rinckart himself suffered that year from profound domestic grief.
Moreover, the popular choice of Rinckart’s stirring hymn to be sung in celebration of Thanksgiving Day reflects the attitude of those original pilgrims who first celebrated that holiday in our country. They too knew how to praise God for His mercy in the midst of adversity.
The section of Elihu’s hymn of praise in this chapter dwells especially on the imagery of the storm. He finally closes his discourse by exhorting Job to dwell more on what he knows of God and to assess his own suffering in the light of that knowledge. Elihu addresses Job directly, exhorting him to weigh God’s wondrous works. He puts to Job a list of parallel questions bearing on Job’s own ignorance of God’s ways (verses 15–18). To each of these questions, Job’s only possible answer is “no.” He cannot explain anything about God. Elihu then challenges Job himself to be the teacher (verses 19–20).
Most striking of Elihu’s comments is that respecting the sun (verse 21). Man’s inability to gaze directly at the light of heaven does not lessen the reality of that light. The inability is in man’s own limited faculty, not in the truth of what he is unable to gaze upon. Yet, the real light of God is brighter than the sun.
Elihu means here that primeval light, the luminosity of the created universe, called forth by God’s voice on the first day of Creation, days before the sun was made (Genesis 1:3, 16). If man is unable to look directly at the sun, how does he dare to attempt to look directly at that stronger light at the heart of created reality? His inability to do so in no way calls the light itself into question.
What, finally, is to be said of Elihu’s contribution to this discussion about suffering and justice? It is worth remarking that his lengthy discourse prepares the way for God’s revelation to Job in the book’s closing chapters. It should also be noted that God does not reprimand Elihu as He does Job and the three comforters.
In the Book of Job, Elihu never arrives on the scene, nor does he leave it; he has neither beginning of days, nor end of life. Like Melchizedek, Elihu remains one of the more mysterious characters of Holy Scripture.
Saturday, October 1
Job 38: Now the Lord Himself will speak, for the first time since chapter 2. After all, Job has been asking for God to speak (cf. 13:22; 23:5; 30:20; 31:35), and now he will get a great deal more than he anticipated. With a mere gesture, as it were, God proceeds to brush aside all the theories and pseudo-problems of the preceding chapters.
God speaks “from the whirlwind,” min sa‘arah, an expression sometimes associated in the Bible with theophanic experience. For example, the word famously appears twice in association with Elijah’s ascent in the fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:1, 11). In other examples the word emphasizes the divine judgment, particularly in the Book of Psalms (107:25, 29; 148:8) and in the prophets (Isaiah 29:6; 40:24; 41:16; Jeremiah 23:19; 30:23; Zechariah 9:14).
More especially, however, one is struck by the word in the theophanies recorded in Ezekiel, the only other Old Testament book in which the character of Job appears. Thus, the Lord manifests Himself in this way to Ezekiel in the book’s inaugural vision by the banks of the Kabari Canal: “Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind”—sa‘arah (1:4), which the prophet then describes at some length. In the other two places where the word appears in Ezekiel, the emphasis is once again on the divine judgment (13:11, 13).
This same emphasis marks the whirlwind in Job. He has asked for a judgment from on high. Now he will hear it.
We should observe that the One who speaks from the whirlwind is “the Lord.” Except when Job uses this divine name in 12:9, this is the first time it has appeared in the Book of Job since chapter 2. It is significant that the God who speaks in these closing chapters is identified with Israel’s LORD. Job’s critics, including Elihu, have their various theories about “God,” but the only God who will address them definitively is the LORD, Israel’s transcendent and living God of judgment and mercy. This is the God who lives and speaks beyond all philosophical and religious theory.
In this respect, the Lord’s words to Job out of the whirlwind may be considered in the light of His words to Moses on the mountain, especially His auto-identification: “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2). This Lord speaks to Moses, if not in a whirlwind, at least just as impressively. There were, we are told, “thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain.” Moreover, “Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:16, 18). Now the Lord, the God who spoke to Moses, addresses Job.
At this point, all philosophical discussion comes to an end. There are questions, to be sure, but the questions now come from the Lord. Indeed, we observe in this chapter that God does not answer Job’s earlier questions. The Lord does not so much as even notice those questions; He renders them hopelessly irrelevant. He has His own questions to put to Job.
The purpose of these questions is not merely to bewilder Job. These questions have to do, rather, with God’s providence over all things. The Lord is suggesting to Job that His providence over Job’s own life is even more subtle and majestic than these easier questions which God proposes and which Job cannot begin to answer would suggest, questions about the construction of the world (verses 4–15), the courses of the heavenly bodies (verses 31–38), the marvels of earth and sea (verses 16–30), and animal life (38:39—39:30). Utterly surrounded by things that he cannot under-stand, will Job still demand to know mysteries even more mysterious?
If the world itself contains creatures that seem improbable and bewildering to the human mind, should not man anticipate that there are even more improbable and bewildering aspects to the subtler forms of the divine providence? God will not be reduced simply to an answer to Job’s shallow questions. Indeed, the divine voice from the whirlwind never once deigns even to notice Job’s questions. They are implicitly subsumed into a mercy vaster and far richer.
Implicit in these questions to Job is the quiet reminder of the Lord’s affectionate provision for all His creatures. If God so cares for the birds of the air and the plants of the fields, how much more for Job!
Sunday, October 2
Job 39: The Lord, having surveyed for Job’s benefit the myriad manifestations of divine wisdom and power in the realms of astronomy, physics, and botany, now (beginning in 38:39) starts to examine the world of zoology.
Several animals are considered in varying degrees of detail: the lion and the raven, both of which, powerful hunters though they be, depend on God’s provision (38:39–41); the mountain goat (or ibex), the deer, and the wild ass, all characterized by the freedom of their migrations (verses 1–8); the rîmu, a now-extinct species of ox that man never managed to tame (verses 9–12; the Vulgate has “rhinoceros”); the ostrich, renowned for both its stupidity and its speed, and evidently placed here (verses 13–18) to be in proximity to the next animal; the mighty war charger, whose neck, larger than its head, is “clothed with thunder,” and who revels to be once again in the excitement of battle (verses 19–25); and finally the hawk and the eagle, accomplished hunters who see from afar (verses 26–30).
The greatest detail is devoted to the only domesticated animal in the list, the destrier, or warhorse. The horse in antiquity was reserved for combat. It was not used for plowing (the work of the ox), nor for carrying burdens (the work of donkeys), nor for ordinary riding (the work of mules and donkeys). The horse, this most noble and impressive of all the animals that man has tamed, was employed exclusively for battle. Originally, equestrian warfare was by chariots, but fighting from horseback was introduced by at least the seventh century B.C. This latter case is what the Book of Job seems to have in mind, since the text does not mention chariots.
In the case of the ostrich there are special ironies relished for their sheer humor. This proud, strutting bird (verse 13) shows that she is not really very bright (verse 17). Indeed, she does not have enough sense even to protect her eggs adequately (verses 14–16). Here the Book of Job shares the common ancient view that the ostrich was lacking in elementary intelligence. Seneca testified that calling someone an ostrich was the most severe of insults, and Diodorus of Sicily humorously suggested that the ostrich hid its head in the sand to protect its weakest part. Yet, when it comes to speed, says the Lord to Job, this otherwise unimpressive ostrich has no equal (verse 18).
Such a listing of animals and their habits, described for the purpose of praising God, is found likewise in Psalm 104 (103), the common introductory psalm of Vespers. It speaks of donkeys, birds, cattle, storks, wild goats, rock badgers, and lions. Similarly, Psalm 147 portrays the raven and the horse. When animals are described in the Book of Proverbs, on the other hand, it is normally for the purpose of drawing some moral lesson.
The point driven home in the illustrations in this chapter of Job is that all these animals, even the warhorse, have an existence quite independent of man. God made them the way they are, and they tend not to answer to human expectations. Does this not show that man is bewildered even by things that are beneath him? How much more, therefore, must he humble his mind before mysteries above him!
Monday, October 3
Job 40: This chapter, unlike the two preceding, permits Job to put in a word of his own. He uses the occasion simply to confess his vileness and to state his resolve to remain silent before the Lord (verses 3–5), sentiments that will be expanded in the book’s final chapter.
Job has no plans to debate God. He will say nothing further. His earlier aspirations have really been answered, after all, because God has now spoken, and this is essentially what Job had sought. God continues, then.
As the two preceding chapters dealt with the mysteries of God’s activity in the realm of nature, the first part of this chapter turns to God’s presence in the order of conscience (verses 8–14). If Job understood next to nothing about the first, he knows even less about the second.
This revelation, too, comes min sa‘arah, “from the whirlwind” (verse 6; 38:1). Once again, as well, Job is commanded to gird up his loins like a man (verse 7; 38:3). Job is queried about who, on the evidence, is more righteous, himself or God (verse 8)? Does Job really desire a forensic setting to determine this question? Is Job capable of dealing with the myriad moral dilemmas involved in every man’s life, as God must do (verses 9–14)? In short, Job is trapped in his own subjectivity, unable to see the world from God’s perspective. There is no place where he may stand to indict the Lord.
Then, dramatically, the divine discourse goes from the realm of ethics and conscience to a consideration of two symbols of apparent chaos, both of them fearsome and incomprehensible: Behemoth and Leviathan.
Although “behemoth” is simply the plural of the Hebrew word for “beast” or “animal,” its description here seems largely to be drawn from the hippopotamus (hippos = “horse” and potamos = “river”—so “river horse”), huge, strong, invincible, even unchallenged, rightly afraid of nothing (verses 15–24). Other commentators have variously argued that the behemoth is really the crocodile, or a wild ox-buffalo, or some other kind of wild bull.
This is one of those questions that it is important not to decide. The reason for this has to do with the symbolic value of the description. The behemoth, though portrayed with features recognized in animals already well known, represents simply “the beast.” This is the general sense that the Hebrew plural form “behemoth” has in several places in Holy Scripture (cf. Psalms 8:7; 49:10; 73:22; Joel 1:20; 2:22; Habakkuk 2:17).
That is to say, this behemoth is a great deal more than any particular beast. It represents, rather, the wildness of untamed animal existence. It conveys in symbolism the truth that the world is not made according to man’s own measure. This Beast is irrational in the sense that it does not make rational choices. Yet, its behavior is not irrational, not chaotic, because it obeys the integral instincts placed in it by its Creator. It is not tame, but it is not really chaotic. In its own way, it declares the glory of God.
Tuesday, October 4
Ezra 1: We begin the story of the first wave of returning exiles.
Since the first verse of this chapter is identical with 2 Chronicles 36:22, some scholars of the Sacred Text have suggested that there was originally no break between these two books. That is to say, the argument has been made that at one time the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah were all one work. Interpreters have long observed that all these books are united by a common theological perspective, dominated by concerns of proper worship. I believe, nonetheless, that this shared preoccupation does not sufficiently explain the profound differences between Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles (cf. P. H. Reardon, Chronicles of History and Worship, pp.9-10).
Cyrus, who had ruled the Persians since 559, began to reign over what had been the Babylonian Empire in October of 539, but the Bible “rounds out” that reign to the beginning of its first full year (verse 1), the “new year’s day” of which was in March of 538. This is the year, then, that the Babylonian Captivity came to an end. Cyrus’s decree, of which this chapter contains a Hebrew paraphrase (verses 2-4), indicates the relatively enlightened policy of the Persians toward those who had been conquered and deported by the Babylonians.
Unlike the Assyrians and Babylonians, the more “liberal” Persians sought to inspire loyalty among subject peoples by respecting their local religions (“which is in Jerusalem,” specifies verse 3) and, where possible, safeguarding their local and ethnic traditions. From an inscription on a clay barrel known as “Cyrus’s Cylinder,” we know of that emperor’s general policy of repatriating deported peoples and restoring deported gods back to the places of their traditional temples. That documented policy of Cyrus is obviously consonant with the biblical account.
If we examine the wording of Chapter 1 carefully, we observe that the interest of the author is not in the ending of the Captivity per se (because very few Jews actually returned from Babylon at first, after all, having established nice homes and lucrative businesses there during two generations), but in the restoration of proper worship in the temple. (Bear in mind that in 538 the ink was barely dry on those final chapters of Ezekiel, describing the glory of the new temple!)
The author’s real interest in the Book of Ezra is not geopolitical, but theological and liturgical. The “seventy years” prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10 was not fulfilled until the temple was completed in 516, exactly seventy years after its destruction in 586. When that temple was eventually finished, it would house the confiscated sacred vessels that Cyrus now restores to the Jews (verse 7-10). Sheshbazzar (verse 11), incidentally, is the Persian way of referring to Zerubbabel, about whom more will be said in the following chapters.
The decree of Cyrus orders all the neighbors of the returning Jews to assist them “with silver and gold, and goods, and livestock” (verse 4). This provision puts the reader in mind of Israel’s departure from Egypt several centuries earlier (cf. Exodus 3:21-22; 11:2; 12:35-36). The typological correspondence between the Exodus from Egypt and the Return from Babylon thus appears in this book for the first time. As we see from the second part of the Book of Isaiah (cf. 43:14-21; 48:20-21; 51:10; 52:12), this correspondence was much on the mind of sixth century Jews. We shall see other examples of it during the course of the present book.
Job 41:1-34: The second beast, Leviathan, is a water monster mentioned elsewhere in Holy Scripture (Psalms 74:14; Isaiah 27:1). Although it represents any sort of sea monster (sharks, for instance), its description here seems to be drawn largely from the crocodile.
This latter animal obviously served as a chief model for the classical picture of the idealized fearsome dragon—the Dragon of all dragons, as it were—because of its very large mouth (resembling, in this respect, the hippopotamus), its many sharp teeth, its impregnable hide, and a tail so large and powerful that one can easily imagine it knocking down the very stars in heaven (cf. Revelation 12:4). Only a little imagination is required to think of this creature as breathing fire (verses 19–21). Leviathan, in short, makes for man a rather unsatisfactory pet (verses 4–5) and an even worse conversationalist (verse 3).
All of this goes to say that man cannot domesticate Leviathan. He is resistant to all human efforts to control him and thus remains in this world the symbol of everything in existence that is recalcitrant to man’s ability, especially his rational ability, to take it in hand.
It is worth remarking that, just as the Book of Job links Behemoth and Leviathan in this section, we know from Herodotus and Pliny that Egyptian traditions tended to pair the hippopotamus and the crocodile as two most dangerous animals.
But there is another consideration here as well. Both Behemoth and Leviathan are God’s household pets, as it were, creatures that He cares for with gentle concern, His very playmates (compare Psalms 104 :26). God is pleased with them. Job cannot take the measure of these animals, but the Lord does.
What, then, do these considerations say to Job? Well, Job has been treading on very dangerous ground through some of this book, and it is about time that he manifest a bit more deference before things he does not understand. Behemoth and Leviathan show that the endeavor to transgress the limits of human understanding is not merely futile. There is about it a strong element of danger. A man can be devoured by it.
It is remarkable that God’s last narrative to Job resembles nothing so much as a fairy tale, or at least that darker part of a fairy tale that deals with dragons. Instead of pleading His case with Job, as Job has often requested, the Lord deals with him as with a child. Job must return to his childhood’s sense of awe and wonder, so the Lord tells him a children’s story about a couple of unimaginably dangerous dragons. These dragons, nonetheless, are only pets in the hands of God. Job is left simply with the story. It is the Lord’s final word in the argument.
Wednesday, October 5
Ezra 2: This chapter, which is repeated verbatim in Nehemiah 7, accounts for 49,897 people who returned from Babylon to the Holy Land. This very high figure surely indicates, however, not those who were immediately repatriated in the year 518, but includes, rather, those who came in the ensuing years. That is to say, it includes those who arrived by the time of Nehemiah nearly a century later.
The introductory list of twelve names (verse 2) puts the reader in mind of the twelve original patriarchs of Israel. Both of these lists—like the New Testament’s lists of the twelve Apostles—indicates the fullness of God’s people. They represent “all Israel.”
Those listed in verses 2-20 are named according to their families, those in verses 21-35 according to their towns (which list, curiously, does not mention Jerusalem). This chapter lists a disproportionate number of priests (verses 36-39), which is exactly what we would expect. Since all the sacrificial worship of the Jewish religion, in accordance with the Deuteronomic reform of 622, was limited to Jerusalem, there was certainly no reason for priests to remain in Babylon.
The number of Levites (verse 40), on the other hand, seems disproportionately small, which disproportion will require the adjustments described in Ezra 8:15-20. Nehemiah 7 will list an additional forty-five singers.
These lists of names throughout Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are theologically important. This is the People of God, not an amorphous mass of nondescript ciphers. No one remains nameless in some anonymous flock, because the Good Shepherd knows each of His sheep and calls them all by name. Such lists, therefore, of which Romans 16 is a later example, are precious in the sight of the Lord and deserve to be held precious in our eyes as well. Ultimately the Book of Life itself is just a list of names.
Job 42:1-16: The trial of Job is over. This last chapter of this book contains (1) a statement of repentance by Job (verses 1–6), (2) the Lord’s reprimand of Eliphaz and his companions (verses 7–8), and (3) a final narrative section, at the end of which Job begins the second half of his life (verses 9–17). The book begins and ends, then, in narrative form.
First, one observes in Job’s repentance that he arrives at a new state of humility, not from a consideration of his own sins, but by an experience of God’s overwhelming power and glory. (Compare Peter in Luke 5:1–8.) When God finally reveals Himself to Job, the revelation is different from anything Job either sought or expected, but clearly he is not disappointed.
All through this book, Job has been proclaiming his personal integrity, but now this consideration is not even in the picture; he has forgotten all about any alleged personal integrity. It is no longer pertinent to his relationship to God (verse 6). Job is justified by faith, not by any claims to personal integrity. All that is in the past, and Job leaves it behind.
Second, the Lord then turns and deals with the three comforters who have failed so miserably in their task. Presuming to speak for the Almighty, they have fallen woefully short of the glory of God.
Consequently, Job is appointed to be the intercessor on their behalf. Ironically, the offering God prescribes to be made on behalf of the three comforters (verse 8) is identical to that which Job had offered for his children out of fear that they might have cursed God (1:5). The Book of Job both begins and ends, then, with Job and worship and intercession. In just two verses (7–8) the Lord four times speaks of “My servant Job,” exactly as He had spoken of Job to Satan at the beginning of the book. But Job, for his part, must bear no grudge against his friends, and he is blessed by the Lord in the very act of his praying for them (verse 10).
Ezekiel, remembering Job’s prayer more than his patience, listed him with Noah and Daniel, all three of whom he took to be men endowed with singular powers of intercession before the Most High (Ezekiel 14:14–20).
The divine reprimand of Job’s counselors also implies that their many accusations against Job were groundless. Indeed, Job had earlier warned them of God’s impending anger with them in this matter (13:7–11), and now that warning is proved accurate (verse 7). Also, ironically, whereas Job’s friends fail utterly in their efforts to comfort him throughout almost the entire book, they succeed at the end (verse 11).
Third, in the closing narrative we learn that Job lives 140 years, exactly twice the normal span of a man’s life (cf. Psalm 90:10). Each of his first seven sons and three daughters is replaced at the end of the story, and all of his original livestock is exactly doubled (Job 1:3; 42:12). St. John Chrysostom catches the sense of this final section of Job:
His sufferings were the occasion of great benefit. His substance was doubled, his reward increased, his righteousness enlarged, his crown made more lustrous, his reward more glorious. He lost his children, but he received, not those restored, but others in their place, and even those he still held in assurance unto the Resurrection (Homilies on 2 Timothy 7).
Thursday, October 6
Ezra 3: The seventh month (verse 1) roughly corresponds to our September, the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Accordingly, when an outdoor altar was erected so that the sacrificial worship can be resumed, the first feast day to be celebrated was Tabernacles (verse 4). This seems to be a feast very appropriate to the actual living conditions of the returned exiles, who were still obliged to live in tents, lean-tos, and other makeshift dwellings.
Some preparatory work for the construction of the temple began in the spring of the following year (verses 7-8), and there follows an account of the liturgical dedication of the new temple’s foundations, which may have included the floor (verses 10-13). With a lively sense of history the returned exiles dedicated these foundations at the same time of the year when construction had begun on Solomon’s temple (cf. 1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chronicles 3:2).
In verse 7 we find several other points of correspondence that tie the construction of the second temple to Solomon’s construction of the first: the “cedar logs from Lebanon, to the sea, to Joppa”; the skilled workers from Tyre and Sidon; the provision of food and oil (1 Chronicles 22:4; 2 Chronicles 2:8,10).
Verse 11 gives the refrain of the psalm chanted during the laying of the foundation stone, evidently indicating that the psalm employed on this occasion was Psalm 136 (Greek 135). This makes perfect sense and serves to illustrate the context of certain lines in that psalm. For example, the end of the Babylonian Captivity and the return to the Holy Land are indicated in the lines that read, “who remembered us in our low estate . . . and redeemed us from our enemies.” The older members among the returned exiles, who still remembered vividly the splendors of Solomon’s temple, wept on this occasion, overcome by emotion (verse 12). They could also see, by examining the dimensions of its foundation, that this next temple will be appreciably smaller than Solomon’s (cf. Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:10). Eventually the new temple would prove satisfactory only to those who had never laid eyes on the old one.
Luke 11:29-36: Both examples given here, the Ninevites and the queen from southern Arabia, are Gentiles.
Jesus is the “greater than Jonah,” whose earlier ministry foreshadowed the Lord’s death and Resurrection and also the conversion of the Gentiles. The Lord’s appeal to Jonah in this text speaks also of Jonah as a type or symbol of the Resurrection. The men of Nineveh, who repented and believed, are contrasted with the unrepentant Jewish leaders who refuse to believe in the Resurrection.
The Queen of the South, that Gentile woman who came seeking Solomon’s wisdom, likewise foreshadowed the calling of the Gentiles. She was related to Solomon as the Ninevites were related to Jonah—as Gentiles who met the God of Israel through His manifestation in the personal lives of particular Israelites.
Friday, October 7
Ezra 4: At Judah’s deportation back in 586, the Holy Land was left rather much at the disposition of those people who would, in due course, be called the Samaritans. (And, purely for shorthand, that is what we will call them here.) They were a hybrid race from the miscegenation of native Israelites and those Gentiles who had been imported into the region by the Assyrians after the fall of Samaria in 722.
In the eyes of those Jews who were now returning home from Babylon, the religion of the Samaritans seemed as compromised as the purity of their bloodlines. If the lessons of the recent Captivity had taught these exiles anything, it was the necessity of avoiding contact—to say nothing of intermarriage–with those who professed to be Israelites but whose identity as Israelites was deeply compromised. In spite of overtures from these native inhabitants (verse 2), therefore, the Jewish leadership steadfastly insisted on a policy of separation from them.
This decision of Zerubbabel and Jeshua (verse 3) commenced an important new development in the history of Judaism (cf. Haggai 2:12; Zechariah 3:9; John 4:9; 4:48). This new attitude contrasted sharply with that of King Josiah a century earlier, for he had invited these same people into the fullness of the Israelite worship and religion. The new policy, however, took into consideration the fact that the religion practiced in the Holy Land had been for a long time contaminated by idolatry and syncretism. The purity of the Jewish faith had been purchased at the great price of the Babylonian Captivity, and the Jewish leadership was not about to risk its corruption once again, thereby creating those same conditions that had led to Jerusalem’s downfall.
As we shall see, nonetheless, relatively few women were among the returning exiles. Consequently, many of the latter, who were young, unmarried men, would in due course take wives from the local population, in quiet defiance of their leaders. This defiance would lead to new problems that we will meet in the rest of Ezra and Nehemiah.
As we would expect, the local inhabitants, resentful of their exclusion from the company of the returning Jews, began to resist and confront them. Three stages are discernable in their animosity: their conspiracy to prevent the rebuilding of the temple (verses 1-5), their sustained effort to oppose that project, and their success in the opposition (verse 24).
Several other features of this chapter are worth observation:
First, we note the growing importance of the high priest, who in this book seems to enjoy a political authority nearly equal to the governor. In this book (as in Haggai and Zechariah), the two of them are often mentioned together. Perhaps the roots of this near parity should be sought in the Exile, when the Jews, who no longer had their own king, turned to the priestly families for leadership.
Second, we observe that the extensive Persian Empire (which would soon stretch from the Indus River to the Danube!) was blessed with a remarkably efficient postal system (verses 6-7). This gave cohesion to its political and economic institutions.
Third, our attention is drawn to Persia’s system of chancellors, or regional secretaries, who were directly responsible to the capital (verse 17). This institution, which clearly limited the power of the satraps themselves, demonstrated the empire’s mistrust of local governments that might become too powerful.
Fourth, we observe that the long final part of this chapter (verses 6-9) interrupts the chronological sequence. It is concerned with a later period of the general story, for it takes place during the reigns of Darius I (Ahasuerus), 485-465, and Artaxerxes I, 465-424. This narrative is inserted into this place, apparently as a further example of ill will on the part of the native population.