Tattanai was governor of the land beyond the Euphrates at this time. Tattenai, Shethar-Bozenai, and their associates came to the Israelites and asked, “Who issued you a permit to rebuild this Temple and restore it to use?” Then we told them the names of the men responsible for this construction work. But God had his eye on the leaders of the Jews, and the work wasn’t stopped until a report could reach Darius and an official reply be returned. (Ezra 5:3-5)
Whenever God’s people begin to do something for God, they become objects of the curiosity of those around them. The leaders were challenged to provide their “building permits” – not so much because the local authorities wanted to ensure safety in the reconstruction work, but because they did not want any organized religion to be at work without the express permission of the governing officials. The records of Israel's past successes would probably have given an accurate description of the capabilities of the nation of Israel when they were all together, moving in a common focus. The concern of local officials may have come from their awareness of the past successful military campaigns waged by Israel’s armies and they may have wanted to ensure that they did not have the ability to gather enough men to form a resistance to the local authorities.
Regardless of the reason for the request to provide proof of their permits to build, Israel assures the local authorities that a search of the records will show that they indeed were acting on the authority of the highest leader of the land. The report to Darius of the work of the Israelites is simply a recap of what the leaders of Israel had provided to them upon asking for the permits. They now seek to verify the permission given to the Israelites to rebuild and to assemble in Jerusalem.
Ezra provided what evidence he had to settle the question of what permission had been given – he explained about the royal treasuries being emptied of the original implements of worship that belonged in the temple of God in Jerusalem. He probably hoped this would stand as sufficient proof that the work was indeed sanctioned by the highest leader of the land. Yet, even with this compelling evidence, Tattenai is not satisfied. He commissions a check of the royal registries to ensure that the work was indeed legally authorized.
Once they were questioned, the Israelites were probably a little concerned that their permission to continue the work would be withdrawn, especially with the change in leadership from Cyrus to Darius as the years had passed since their return to Jerusalem. They exaggerate their work slightly in their response to the local governor when they state that they had been working all these years to complete the project. For some reason, although it is not provided to us in scripture, they lie about their efforts – stating that they had been working when they had indeed ceased the labors for many years, enjoying the freedom of being in their own land again.
After all these years, the temple stood unfinished. If we were to be honest, there are probably projects in our own lives that have been begun with such fervor that now lay unfinished – perhaps even projects that our Lord has commissioned. Maybe they have become a little too routine for us (like daily Bible study or time in worship). Maybe we have just lost our motivation because the task just seems to be taking way too long to see it to completion. It is human nature to be distracted – either because of disinterest, some form of simple defeat, or a sense of opposition to the work being done.
Israel just got a little distracted. Now they were back on course and were making headway with the task they had been commissioned to perform. Getting back on course is often a difficult task – either because of our overwhelming sense of guilt about stopping in the first place, or because the task no longer carries the same degree of enthusiastic commitment that it did when we first began. Regardless of the reason for our procrastination in “beginning again” in the work that God has commissioned in our lives, it is certain that we also face opposition of the enemy of our soul. He wants nothing more than to have the work God commissions to lie in a state of unfinished disarray in our lives.
It is important to remember that each new beginning is not something that occurs out of our own self-inspired motivation. Even the motivation to start again comes from a faithful God who does not want us to falter in our walk. He gives fresh starts over and over again – creating again a deep sense of passion toward the work he has called us to in our lives. What is God asking you to "begin again" in your life? Perhaps today is the day of a fresh beginning. Set your hand to the work that needs to be completed and see what beauty God will bring out of those first steps.