In this chapter, the Judeans begin building the temple again and the local officials ask the king a second time if the temple should be permitted.
Having been commanded by the authorities in the previous chapter to not build the temple, the Jews decide in verse 2 that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, so they simply start rebuilding the temple until someone comes again to tell them to stop. The prophets play a key role as well, encouraging the leaders. Both Haggai and Zechariah have their own prophetic books amongst the minor prophets, so my readers may wish to read those books while going through Ezra and Nehemiah for the additional perspectives.
There are many parallels between this chapter and the previous one. In both chapters, the Judeans begin rebuilding the temple. In both chapters, Persian officials write a letter to the king asking if the Judeans should be permitted to rebuild the city. The next chapter has the Persian king again searching through the royal archives to find past records about Judah.
In both cases I would also say the king is relatively neutral and detached from the situation in Judah. Even in the previous chapter I would not say that Artaxerxes showed any real malice towards the Judeans. Instead, king Artaxerxes’s response was shaped by the tone of the letter that he received and the (real) historical basis in Judah’s rebellions against the Babylonians.
The real difference between these two letters is the reaction of the local Persian authorities. In the previous chapter, the local authorities were Samaritan men hostile to Judah. In this chapter, the local Persian governor and other officials seem much more neutral. Their letter to the king is largely shaped by the response of the Judean elders, who highlight king Cyrus’s (real) order permitting the reconstruction of the temple. I think the key difference is in verse 5: “the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews”. By the grace of God, the Jews had favor with their local Persian officials and they were able to control the narrative sent to king Darius. I also think it’s interesting how both letters are able to cite real events in support of opposite conclusions. Asking the king to confirm Jerusalem’s rebellious history, the enemies of Judah stopped the temple, but now asking the king to confirm Cyrus’s order to rebuild the temple, Judah is on the path to success.
I think it’s peculiar how the enemies of Judah disappear entirely from this chapter. What happened to them? Zerubbabel is still the chief leader of the Judeans so it’s not like some huge amount of time has passed, and yet the overt resistance to the Judeans has vanished. We are not given an explanation for this. To the Judeans, it is a windfall; they are permitting to renew construction of the temple under the leadership of the prophets and their efforts go unimpeded.
In the next chapter, the king affirms the Judean efforts and the temple is completed.