In 539 BC, the 70 years of Jewish exile ended. God, through King Cyrus, opened the door for any believing Jew to return to Jerusalem to worship God (Ezra 1:1-4). Not only that, Cyrus personally financed their return and rebuilding effort.
By 530 BC, 42,360 Jews had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild God's temple (Ezra 2:64). They successfully rebuilt the temple foundations and altar, through which sacrifices were offered and feasts were celebrated (Ezra 2-3). But they did not complete the temple.
What stopped them? The people of the land near Jerusalem wrote to the Persian king, warning him that the returned exiles wouldn't pay him taxes if they completed the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:8-16). Ezra describes these opponents as the inhabitants of Samaria (4:17).
In their correspondence to the king in chapter 4, these Samaritan officials told the king that they lived in "the provinces beyond the River". Samaria was "beyond the River" because it was one of many regions the Persians would have to cross the Euphrates in order to reach (4:11, 16, 17, 20). In response to this correspondence, the Persian king commanded the Jews to stop their rebuilding project (4:23-24).
But in 520 BC, God told the prophet Haggai to rouse the Jews of Jerusalem to finish rebuilding His temple. He wanted them to ignore this political opposition because it contradicted His sovereign will. The books of Ezra and Haggai record that this happened during the reign of the next king, Darius I of Persia (Ezra 5:1; Haggai 1:1). Both books record that the Lord guided the leaders and people of Jerusalem by His Spirit to complete this work (Ezra 6:14; Haggai 1:12-15).
When the work restarted in 520 BC, the new governor of the province beyond the river, Tattenai, came with several other officials to question their right to rebuild the temple. He told the Jews, "Who issued you a decree to rebuild this house and to complete this structure?" Ezra records their reply, "Then we told them accordingly what the names of the men were who were rebuilding this building. But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until a report could come to Darius, and then a document be returned concerning this." (4:3-5) The Jews appealed to the King because they remembered the original decree of Cyrus in 539 AD.
So Tattenai wrote to Darius I to inform him of this and ask him for an official report clarifying the matter (5:6-17).
Before I tell you how Darius responded to Tattenai, let me share a remarkable archeological discovery. In 1881 AD, the Assyrian archeologist Hormuzd Rassam discovered the Tattannu Fragment Archive, a group of Persian tablets written in cuneiform. One tablet in the archive was a note promising to pay for a shipment of barley. This note also contains the names of those who witnessed this promise, including a servant of "Tattannu, Governor Across-The-River". The tablet is dated to the 20th year of Darius I. It was discovered in Borsippa, a city located 11 miles southwest of the Euphrates River. Scholars of the fragment have identified this man as the same governor referenced in Ezra.
After Darius received the inquiry from Tattanai, he made a careful search of the Persian records and replied to Tattenai, "Now Tattenai, governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai and their colleagues, the officials of the provinces beyond the River, keep away from there. Leave that work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild that house of God in its designated place." (6:6-7)
What's the lesson we learn from this story?
When God's word tells His people to do something, they must be willing to obey regardless of any external pressure. No one, not even a governor or a king, has the right to revoke the commands of God. He is the sovereign God who establishes kings and removes them. God always blesses and rewards His people when they obey His word.
When others pressure you to disobey God, remember the same words God gave to the Jews through the prophet Haggai, "My Spirit is standing in your midst; do not fear!" (Haggai 2:5b)