What are You going to do now that the building of Your house is being sabotaged?
“Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.
Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?
Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?
In 538 B.C., Cyrus appointed Sheshbazzar to lead an expedition of the first group of Israelites to return to Jerusalem from Babylon. He also entrusted Sheshbazzar with the task of returning the gold and silver vessels taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar during the Babylonian exile: “Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god.
Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. . . . In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along with the exiles when they came up from Babylon to Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:7–11).
Sheshbazzar completed the commission and then “laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem” (Ezra 5:14–16).
The name Sheshbazzar is likely derived from the Akkadian language and means “may Shamash [the sun god] protect the father.” Nothing more is known for certain about Sheshbazzar. Perhaps this obscure prince is most notable for the historical controversy surrounding his name, identity, and role, which have been much discussed and debated. But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter” (Ezra 5:1-5).
It read: 1 Unto Darius the king, all peace.
“Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands.
Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?
We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them.
And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up.
But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.
But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.
And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor;
And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.
Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.
Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king’s treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter” (Ezra 5:7-17).
“Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon” (Ezra 6:1).
In Achmetha (one of the four capitals in Babylon) a letter was located:
“In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;
With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house:
And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.
Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:
Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.
Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.
And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savors unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.
Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily” (Ezra 6:3-13).
The elders of the Jews built the house and prospered through the prophesying the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The house was 2 completed on the 3rd day of the month of 3 Adar, which was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius, and done according to the commandment of God, Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. A 100 bullocks, 200 rams, and 400 lambs were offered in dedication and for a sin offering for all Israel they burnt 12 he goats according to the number of the tribes.
By following the 4 book of Moses in regards to the service of God they set up the 5 priests in divisions and the Levites in their courses. The Passover was on the 14th day of the month because the priests and Levites were purified together, and all the children of Israel kept themselves away from the filthiness of the heathens.
“And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:22).
1 Texts found in the royal city of Persepolis vividly confirm that such inquiries were sent directly to the king himself, revealing the close attention he paid to minute details.
2 Cf. March 12, 516 B.C., almost 70 years after its destruction. The renewed work on the temple had begun on September 21, 520 (Hag 1:15), and sustained effort had continued for almost 3½ years.
3 The 12th months of the calendar used by the Israelites after the Exile (usually refers to the period of time during which the southern kingdom [Judah] was forcibly detained in Babylon). Roughly equivalent to mid-February to mid-March.
4 Probably referring to such assuages as Ex 29; Lev 8; Num 3, 8:5-26; 18.
5 The priests were separated into 24 divisions (1 ch 24:1-19), each of which served at the temple for a week at a time (cf Lk 1:5, 8). In 1962, fragments of a synagogue inscription listing the 24 divisions were found at Caesarea.
King Hammurabi is never mentioned in the Bible, but he was a big part of the lives in Babylon. So this introduction to him is longer than the others.
Hammurabi (Ham mu ra’ bi), also known as Hammurapi, was King of Babylon and reigned 43 years in the first half of the second millennium B.C. His absolute dates are uncertain; his reign began in 1848, 1792, or 1736 B.C. He was the son of Sin-muballit and the father of Samsu-iluna. He is most famous for issuing a famous law collection popularly known as “The Code of Hammurabi.”
Hammurabi was the sixth in a line of Amorite kings of the First Dynasty of Babylon (about 2000-1600 B.C.). By forming coalitions against his enemies, and then later turning on his former allies, Hammurabi reunified Mesopotamia and founded the so-called Old Babylonian Empire.
Hammurabi spent the middle 20 years of his reign preoccupied with local affairs. Evidently he was consolidating and organizing his kingdom. He built religious shrines, civic buildings, defensive walls, and canals during this period, but there are virtually no remains of Hammurabi’s capital. The archives at Mari reveal about 140 letters sent between Babylon and Mari during this era. The last 12 years of his rule were characterized by uninterrupted warfare. Whereas the early years witnessed military and political expansion, the latter years saw the kingdom shrink. Most of it was lost soon after his death, and the Hittites brought an end to the dynasty about 1600 B.C.
With Babylon’s rise to power came the rise of Babylon’s pagan god, Marduk. He was considered the son of Enki/Ea, god of fresh water and of wisdom. Marduk was god of thunderstorms and was worshiped at Babylon at the great temple called
Esagila, apparently built during the first dynasty. The Babylonian creation epic Emma Elish, dating to the second millennium, celebrated Marduk’s defeat of evil Tiamat, goddess of the sea. For this feat the high god Enlil rewards him with the “tablets of destiny” and the title “Lord of the Lands.”
A French excavation of the ancient Persian city of Susa in a.d. 1901-02 uncovered a seven-foot high diorite stele inscribed with a collection of laws from Hammurabi’s reign. The stele was probably set in the great Esagila temple with copies sent to other centers. It had been carried to Susa by the Elamites after a raid in 1160 B.C. At the top of the stele is a relief showing Hammurabi receiving the symbols of justice and order from the sun god Shamash, also god of justice and noted protector of the oppressed. The stone contains 44 columns of ancient cuneiform writing. A poetic prologue and epilogue enclose 282 separate laws.
Hammurabi’s attempts to unify and organize social life led him to collect and expand existing minor law codes. The resulting legislation was of a most comprehensive nature, and Hammurabi ordered it to be incised on a basalt column and placed in the temple of Shamash, god of justice for all to see.
The charge is often made that the Law of Moses was not divinely communicated but that it borrowed heavily from the Code of Hammurabi, or at least was the Mesopotamian context. The Mesopotamian materials were then supposedly purified of polytheistic elements and put in the Old Testament.
As a basis for our thinking, it must be noted that the Code of Hammurabi was discovered in Susa. Found December 1901 and January 1902, it was broken in three pieces. When combined the pieces revealed a code on a black diorite shaft almost 8 feet tall and 6 feet in circumference, with 3,600 lines of cuneiform text arranged in 44 columns. A total of 282 laws, written in Akkadian appear in the text.
The top front of the shaft features a low relief of Hammurabi standing before the sun god Shamash, the god of justice, and presumable receiving the text in the code from him.
In 1947, a Sumerian Code of Lipit-shtar was found in southern Mesopotamia, dating before 1850 B.C. it had laws similar to Hammurabi’s and it shows that he had concocted all of his laws. Some took the position that he was bringing up to date the common law of Mesopotamia. Then in the very next year at Eshnunna (modern Tell Asmar), also in southern Mesopotamia, an Akkadian code of King Bilalma came to light. This dated 70 years earlier than Lipit-Ishtar’s. four year later, in 1952, archaeologists found the Sumerian code of Ur-Nammu at Ur, dating perhaps 2100-2500 B.C.
The Hammurabi Code and the Mosaic Law are similar, but they are also quite different. Hammurabi’s code is polytheistic, civil, commercial, and punishments are geared to class distinctions. The Mosaic Law is monotheistic, civil, religious, and does not class distinctions in meting out punishments. Moses claims no credit for formulating his code; this was God’s set of requirements for His people.
Relationship to Biblical Law
The law collections of Hammurabi, the Assyrians, Hittites, and others have much in common with Hebrew law. One area of similarity is form. As in other law collections, many of the Hebrew laws take the form of conditions: “When/if this happens, then this shall be the penalty” (e.g., Ex 21:18-23:5). The first of Hammurabi’s laws reads, “If a citizen accuses another citizen of murder but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.” Similarities of content are of three types. Some laws are almost identical in content, some differ in penalties exacted or in other details, and some are similar only in that they deal with the same general situation. The latter type of similarity is the most common.
There are several critical differences between the Hammurabi law collection and Mosaic law.
- Hammurabi’s laws do not deal with religious affairs.
- Penalties varied according to the class of the offender. Three classes were recognized: freedman, state dependent, and slave.
- The immense value of property in Hammurabi’s (and other) law collections is contrasted with the immense value placed on human life in the Mosaic laws. Only in biblical law was a clear distinction drawn between property and human life. Only biblical law, for example, required the death of an ox that had gored someone to death and also the owner’s death if he had been negligent (Ex 21:28-32). Conversely, in biblical law monetary compensation was never sufficient penalty for homicide.
- Biblical law included laws of the absolute (apodictic) form, “Do not steal, etc.” rather than just the more pragmatic emphasis on consequences. Israel was unique in having such laws that gave positive and negative commands directly to individuals, as in the Ten Commandments.
- This in part may be the result of the divine authorship of Mosaic law, which also meant that not even the king had authority to change a law or even to reduce a penalty. The king also could not add to the laws God had given, a situation unique in the ancient Near East.
- Finally, biblical law was unique in that it was understood in the context of the covenant God had made with Israel.