Sometime between the start of construction in 536 B.C. and 520 B.C., work on rebuilding God’s temple stopped completely (Ezra 4:24). More than likely, it was shortly after the foundation was laid that people began to lose interest in the project. Due to the continual harassment they received and disruptions to their work, the remnant of people that returned from exile in Babylon were unable to keep their momentum going. Beginning on August 29, 520 B.C., and continuing until December 18 (Hag 2:1,10,20), “the prophet Haggai delivered a series of messages to stir up the people to resume work on the temple. Two months after Haggai’s first speech, Zachariah joined him (Zech 1:1)” (Note on Ezra 5:1). As a result of their exhortation, it says in Ezra 5:2, “Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.”
The prophets of God were not engaged in building the temple. The help they provided was most likely intercessory prayer, a spiritual intervention that no doubt caused their enemies to seek a different method of delay. At this point, a change occurred that was critical to the building project’s success. In response to their accusers’ threats to notify king Darius of their actions, it says in Ezra 5:5, “But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned the answer by letter concerning the matter.” In other words, God came to his peoples’ rescue and prevented the troublemakers from once again stopping their progress. In fact, God caused Darius to pay close attention to what was going on and made it possible for the Jews to receive additional resources to complete their project (Ezra 6:8).
The Chaldean phrase translated “the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews” (Ezra 5:5) corresponds to a Hebrew expression found in Deuteronomy 32:10, “he kept him as the apple of his eye,” which refers to the pupil, a delicate part of the eye that is essential for vision (note on Deut 32:10). In other words, God began watching his people again and his desire to be with them was restored. As the designated seventy year period of their exile drew to a close, God’s affection for his people made him to want to be a part of their lives again. He took an interest in what they were doing and wanted to help them be successful in their attempt to rebuild his temple. Another way of looking at the situation would be to say that God cared how things turned out and therefore, did everything he could to make sure the Jews were successful in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.