Good News Translation (GNB)
2

Cyrus Commands the Jews to Return

(2 Chr 36.22–23; Ezra 1.1–11)

21In the first year that Cyrus of Persia was emperor,2.1 emperor: King Cyrus of Persia occupied the city of Babylon in 539 bc and began to reign as the emperor of Babylonia. the Lord made what he had said through the prophet Jeremiah come true. 2He prompted Cyrus to issue the following command and send it out in writing to be read aloud everywhere in his empire:

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2.3:
Is 44.28
“This is the command of Cyrus, emperor of Persia. The Lord of Israel, the Lord Most High, has appointed me ruler over the whole world 4and has given me the responsibility of building a temple for him in Jerusalem in Judah. 5May the Lord be with those of you who are his people. You are to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of the Lord of Israel, the Lord who lives in Jerusalem. 6If any of his people in exile need help to return, their neighbours must give them this help, and provide them with silver and gold 7and other gifts, with horses and pack animals, as well as anything else offered for the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem in fulfilment of a vow.”

8Then the heads of the clans of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the priests and the Levites, and everyone else whose heart the Lord had moved, got ready to go and rebuild the Lord's Temple in Jerusalem. 9Their neighbours helped them with everything, giving them silver, gold, horses, and pack animals. Many of their neighbours were also led to give a large number of other things, in fulfilment of vows.

10Cyrus gave them back the sacred utensils that King Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and had put in the temple of his idols. 11He brought them out and handed them over to Mithredath, chief of the royal treasury, 12who delivered them to Sheshbazzar, the governor of Judah. 13Here is the inventory of the utensils:

gold bowls for offerings 1,000
silver bowls for offerings 1,000
silver firepans 29
small gold bowls 30
small silver bowls 2,410
other utensils 1,000

14In all there were 5,469 gold and silver bowls and other utensils, 15and Sheshbazzar took these with him when he and the other exiles went from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Opposition to Rebuilding Jerusalem

(Ezra 4.7–24)

16In the reign of Emperor Artaxerxes of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, Rehum, Beltethmus, Shimshai the secretary of the province, and their associates who lived in Samaria and elsewhere wrote the following letter of protest against the Jews who were living in Judah and Jerusalem:

17“To His Majesty Emperor Artaxerxes from your servants, the official correspondent Rehum, the secretary Shimshai, the other members of the council, and the judges of Greater Syria and Phoenicia.

18“We want Your Majesty to know that the Jews who came here from your other territories have settled in Jerusalem and are rebuilding that evil and rebellious city. They are restoring the market places, repairing the walls, and laying the foundations for a temple. 19If this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the people will stop paying taxes and will even rebel against royal authority. 20Since work on the temple has already begun, we consider it appropriate not to overlook such an important matter 21but to bring it to the attention of Your Majesty. Then, if it seems proper to you, a search may be made in the records your ancestors kept. 22You will find information about these matters in the historical records, and you will discover that this city has always been rebellious and given trouble to other cities and kings. 23The Jews have used it from ancient times as a base for rebellions and wars. That is why the city was destroyed. 24We therefore declare to you that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are restored, Your Majesty will no longer be able to enter Greater Syria and Phoenicia.”

25The emperor sent the following answer to the official correspondent Rehum, Beltethmus, the secretary Shimshai, and their associates who lived in Samaria, Syria, and Phoenicia:

26“After reading the letter which you sent me, I gave orders for an investigation to be made, and it has indeed been found that from ancient times Jerusalem has revolted against royal authority, 27and its people have been involved in insurrections and wars. Powerful and cruel kings have reigned there and have ruled over Greater Syria and Phoenicia, from which they collected taxes. 28Therefore I am now issuing orders that those men be prevented from rebuilding the city and that necessary steps be taken to ensure that these orders will not be disobeyed, 29so that this trouble spot will no longer be a threat to the royal interests.”

30As soon as this letter from Artaxerxes was read, Rehum, Shimshai the secretary, and their associates hurried to Jerusalem with a force of cavalry and a large number of armed troops and began interfering with the rebuilding of the Temple. The work had to stop, and no more was done until the second year of the reign of Darius, emperor of Persia.

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The Debate of the Bodyguards before the Emperor

31Darius the emperor gave a great banquet for all those under him, all the members of his family and staff, all the leading officials of Persia and Media, 2all his chief officers, administrators, and the governors of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush.3.2 Cushor Ethiopia. 3When everyone had had enough to eat and drink, they left, and Darius went to bed. He fell asleep but soon awoke.

A Contest is Proposed

4Then the three young men who served Emperor Darius as his personal bodyguard said to one another, 5“Let each of us name the one thing that he considers the strongest thing in the world. The emperor will decide who has given the wisest answer to this question and will give magnificent gifts and prizes to the winner. 6He will wear royal robes, drink from a gold cup, and sleep in a gold bed. He will have a chariot with gold-studded bridles, wear a fine linen turban, and have a gold necklace. 7Because of his wisdom he will be an adviser to the emperor and will be given the title ‘Relative of the Emperor.’ ”

8Then each of them wrote down the best answer he could think of, sealed it, and put it under the emperor's pillow. They said to one another, 9“When the emperor wakes up, the statements will be given to him. He and the three leading officials of Persia will decide who gave the wisest answer. The winner will be given the prize on the basis of what he has written.” 10The first wrote, “There is nothing stronger than wine.” 11The second wrote, “There is nothing stronger than the emperor.” 12And the third wrote, “There is nothing stronger than a woman, but truth can conquer anything.”

13When the emperor woke up, the written statements were given to him, and he read them. 14Then he sent messengers and called together all the leading officials of Persia and Media, including the chief officers, administrators, governors, and commissioners. 15He took his seat in the council chamber and had the three statements read aloud. 16“Bring in the three young men,” he said, “and let them explain their answers.” So when they were brought in, 17they were asked to explain what they had written.

The Speech about Wine

The bodyguard who had written about the strength of wine spoke first: 18“Gentlemen,” he began, “wine is clearly the strongest thing in the world. It confuses the mind of everyone who drinks it. 19It has exactly the same effect on everyone: king or orphan, slave or free, rich or poor. 20It makes every thought happy and carefree, and makes one forget every sorrow and responsibility. 21It makes everyone feel rich, ignore the power of kings and officials, and talk as if he owned the whole world. 22When men drink wine, they forget who their friends and neighbours are, and then they are soon drawing their swords to fight them. 23Then, when they sober up, they don't remember what they have done. 24Gentlemen,” he finished by saying, “if wine makes men act in this way, it certainly must be the strongest thing in the world.”

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The Speech about the Emperor

41The bodyguard who had written about the strength of the emperor spoke next. 2“Gentlemen,” he began, “nothing in the world is stronger than men, since they rule over land and sea and, in fact, over everything in the world. 3But the emperor is the strongest of them all; he is their lord and master, and men obey him, no matter what he commands. 4If he tells them to make war on one another, they do it. If he sends them out against his enemies, they go, even if they have to break down mountains, walls, or towers. 5They may kill or be killed, but they never disobey the emperor's orders. If they are victorious, they bring him all their loot and everything else they have taken in battle. 6Farmers do not go out to war, but even they bring to the emperor a part of everything that they harvest, and they compel one another to pay taxes to the emperor. 7Although the emperor is only one man, if he orders people to kill, they kill; if he orders them to set prisoners free, they do it; 8if he orders them to attack, they do; if he orders destruction, they destroy; if he orders them to build, they build; 9if he orders crops to be destroyed or fields to be planted, it is done. 10Everybody, soldier or civilian, obeys the emperor. And when he sits down to eat or drink and then falls asleep, 11his servants stand guard round him, without being able to go and take care of their own affairs, for they never disobey him. 12Gentlemen,” he ended by saying, “since people obey the emperor like this, certainly nothing in the world is stronger than he is.”

The Speech about Women

13The bodyguard who had written about women and the truth — it was Zerubbabel — spoke last. 14“Gentlemen,” he began, “the emperor is certainly powerful, men are numerous, and wine is strong, but who rules and controls them all? It is women! 15Women gave birth to the emperor and all the men who rule over land and sea. 16Women brought them into the world. Women brought up the men who planted the vineyards from which wine comes. 17Women make the clothes that men wear; women bring honour to men; in fact, without women, men couldn't live.

18“Men may accumulate silver or gold or other beautiful things, but if they see a woman with a pretty face or a good figure, 19they will leave it all to gape and stare, and they will desire her more than their wealth. 20A man will leave his own father, who brought him up, and leave his own country to get married. 21He will forget his father, his mother, and his country to spend the rest of his life with his wife. 22So you must recognize that women are your masters. Don't you work and sweat and then take all that you have earned and give it to your wives? 23A man will take his sword and go out to attack, rob and steal, and sail the seas and rivers. 24He may have to face lions or travel in the dark, but when he has robbed, stolen, and plundered, he will bring the loot home to the woman he loves.

25“A man loves his wife more than his parents. 26Some men are driven out of their minds on account of a woman, and others become slaves for the sake of a woman. 27Others have been put to death, have ruined their lives, or have committed crimes because of a woman. 28So now do you believe me?

“The emperor's power is certainly great — no nation has the courage to attack him. 29But once I saw him with Apame, his concubine, the daughter of the famous Bartacus. While she was sitting at the emperor's right, 30she took his crown off his head, put it on her own, and then slapped his face with her left hand. 31All the emperor did was look at her with his mouth open. Whenever she smiles at him, he smiles back; and when she gets angry with him, he flatters her and teases her until she is in a good mood again. 32Gentlemen, if women can do all that, surely there can be nothing stronger in the world.” 33The emperor and his officials just looked at one another.

The Speech about Truth

Then Zerubbabel began to speak about truth. 34“Yes, gentlemen,” he said, “women are very strong. But think how big the earth is, how high the sky is; think how fast the sun moves, as it rapidly circles the whole sky in a single day. 35If the sun can do this, it is certainly great. But truth is greater and stronger than all of these things. 36Everyone on earth honours truth; heaven praises it; all creation trembles in awe before it.

“There is not the slightest injustice in truth.4.36 in truth; some manuscripts have with God. 37You will find injustice in wine, the emperor, women, all human beings, in all they do, and in everything else. There is no truth in them; they are unjust and they will perish. 38But truth endures and is always strong; it will continue to live and reign for ever. 39Truth shows no partiality or favouritism; it does what is right, rather than what is unjust or evil. Everyone approves what truth does; 40its decisions are always fair. Truth is strong, royal, powerful, and majestic for ever. Let all things praise the God of truth!”

The Response

41When Zerubbabel had finished speaking, all the people shouted, “Truth is great — there is nothing stronger!”

42Then the emperor said to him, “You may ask anything you want, even more than what was agreed, and I will give it to you. You will be my adviser, and you will be granted the title ‘Relative of the Emperor.’ ”

43Zerubbabel replied, “Your Majesty, permit me to remind you of the solemn vow you took on the day you became emperor. You promised to rebuild Jerusalem 44and to send back all the treasures that had been taken from the city. Remember that when Cyrus made a vow to destroy Babylon, he set these things aside and solemnly promised to send them back to Jerusalem. 45

4.45:
Obad 10–14
You also promised to rebuild the Temple, which the Edomites burnt down when the Babylonians devastated the land of Judah. 46So, Your Majesty, because you are a man of generosity, I beg you to fulfil the promise you made to the King of Heaven.”

47Then Darius the emperor stood up, kissed Zerubbabel, and wrote letters for him to all the treasurers, governors, and administrators in the provinces, ordering them to provide safe conduct for him and all those going with him to rebuild Jerusalem. 48He also wrote letters to all the governors in Greater Syria and Phoenicia, with special instructions to those in Lebanon, to transport cedar logs to Jerusalem and help Zerubbabel rebuild the city.

49The emperor also provided letters for all the Jews who wished to return to Jerusalem. These letters guaranteed their freedom and ordered all governors, treasurers, and other administrators not to interfere with them in any way. 50All the land that they acquired was to be exempt from taxation, and the Edomites were to surrender the villages they had taken from the Jews. 51Each year 680 kilogrammes of silver would be given for the construction of the Temple until it was finished. 52In addition, 340 kilogrammes of silver would be given each year to provide for the seventeen burnt offerings to be offered in the Temple each day. 53All the Jews who left Babylonia to build the city of Jerusalem would be granted their freedom, together with their children and the priests.

54The emperor's orders gave specific instructions, as follows: the priests were to be supported, their robes for the Temple services were to be provided, 55the Levites were to be supported until the Temple and Jerusalem were completely rebuilt, 56and land and wages were to be provided for all the guards of the city. 57He also reaffirmed Cyrus' instructions that all the small utensils and Temple treasures that Cyrus had set aside should be returned to Jerusalem.

58Then the young man Zerubbabel left the council chamber, turned towards Jerusalem, looked up to heaven, and praised the King of Heaven: 59“Lord, all praise belongs to you; you are the source of all victory and wisdom, 60and I thank you, O Lord of our ancestors, for giving wisdom to me, your servant.”

61Zerubbabel took the emperor's letters and went to Babylon, where he told his fellow-Jews everything that had happened. 62They praised the God of their ancestors because he had made it possible for them 63to go and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple which bears his name. For seven days they held a joyful celebration, accompanied by music.