Artaxerxes 1 was the 5th king of Persia, reigning from 465-424BC. He was the son of Xerxes 1 of Persia.
In 465BC, Xerxes was murdered by Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard – and the most powerful official in the Persian court, with the help of a eunuch, Aspamitres. Greek historians give differing accounts of what happened:
1) According to Ctesias (in Persica 20), Artabanus accused the Crown Prince, Darius, Xerxes’ oldest son, of the murder and persuaded Artaxerxes to avenge the patricide by killing Darius.
2) According to Aristotle (in Politics 5.1311b), Artabanus killed Darius first, then killed Xerxes. After Artaxerxes discovered the murder, he killed Artabanus and his sons.
How does this relate to the biblical account?
The rebuilding of the Jewish community in Jerusalem had begun under Cyrus the Great, who had allowed Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Jerusalem… and rebuild the temple. So, many Jews returned to Jerusalem in 538BC, and the foundation of this “second temple” was laid in 520BC. Now it was time to start on the walls and the rest of the city! The work started… but, eventually, stalled.
– The Message to the King
* The Slander… Ezra 4:6-13
* The Suggestion… Ezra 4:14-16
– The Message from the King
* What He Discovers… Ezra 4:17-20
* What He Demands… Ezra 4:21-24
– The King’s Edict concerning Ezra… Ezra 7:11-24
– The King’s Exhortation to Ezra… Ezra 7:25-28
Artaxerxes commissioned Ezra, a Jewish priest and scribe, by means of a letter of decree, to take charge of the religious and civil affairs of the Jewish nation.
Ezra left Babylon in 458BC – the 7th year of Artaxerxes’ reign – at the head of a company of Jews that included priests and Levites.
I. The Report… Nehemiah 1:1-11
II. The Request… Nehemiah 2:1-10
In Artaxerxes’ 20th year (444BC), Nehemiah, the king’s cupbearer (and, apparently, also a friend of the king) appeared sad enough before the king that the king asked about it (appearing sad before the king was a crime that could have been punishable by death). Nehemiah related to him the plight of the Jewish people, and that the city of Jerusalem was left undefended. The king sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem with letters of safe passage through surrounding territories… and to Asaph, keeper of the royal forests, to make beams for the citadel by the temple and to rebuild the city walls.
After Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, and inspected the walls, he began the repairs.
The enemies of the Jews ridiculed and threatened the wall-builders, but Nehemiah posted guards to protect them. The enemies ramped up their opposition through Ridicule (Neh. 4:1-6), Conspiracy (Neh. 4:7-9), Discouragement (Neh. 4:10), Intimidation (Neh. 4:11-23), Internal Strife (Neh. 5:1-19), Trickery (Neh. 6:1-4), and Treachery (Neh. 6:10-14). Check out the slander in Neh. 6:10-14…
Despite the many obstacles, the Jews completed the wall in 52 days!
Have you ever had someone who shows little interest in God ask you to pray about something he/she is facing? It jolts us… we are reminded that even the most determined unbeliever – deep-down – may have some regard for God… even if that interest is – at the time – self-serving. That was the case for Artaxerxes.
Decades before Artaxerxes, many Jews had been sent into Babylonian Captivity by the Babylonians. Then the Persians defeated the Babylonians, and absorbed their territory into the Persian Empire.
King Cyrus of Persia was the first to decree that Jews were free to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
During the reign of King Darius, the prophets, Haggai & Zechariah, encouraged the exiles to finish rebuilding the temple, despite the opposition.
Years later, Artaxerxes would make a similar decree and grant Ezra funds to maintain the rebuilt temple and offer sacrifices.
Artaxerxes may have simply been concerned with stacking as many gods in his favor as he could… but it was – at least – a step toward God. And it also provided generous funding for building up Jerusalem.
When unbelievers ask you to pray for them, what is your first response? Are you tempted to think, “Why should I ask God to do anything for them when they don’t even believe in Him?” “Why should I ask God to do anything for them when they’ve never cared about Him before now?” Is that an attitude of grace? Is that an attitude of mercy?
God may be working in their hearts… and their interest – to whatever degree – may be a big first step toward Him.
Instead of being resentful, respond with a grace-filled, “Yes! I will certainly pray for you!” Then do it!
You can read the biblical account of Artaxerxes in Ezra 4,7; Nehemiah 1,2,6.