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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, [ Koresh (H3566) or Kowresh (H3566); Septuagint, Kuros ] - the name which, on his ascending the Persian throne, this ruler assumed, instead of his original appellation Agradates (Strabo, 15:3), Coresh being derived from a Persian word signifying the sun (Photius, 'Epitome;' Ctesias, ch. 49:; also Gesenius, sub voce). He was, according to Herodotus and Xenophon, the son of Cambyses, a Persian prince of the royal house of Achaemenidae, and Mandane daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes.

Ctesias' account is, that on the defeat of Astyages, to whom he stood in no previous relationship, he adopted that old sovereign as his grandfather, and afterward married his daughter Amytis. His military courage and extraordinary bravery, in an age when feats of personal prowess were considered qualities of the highest importance, raised him to be the leader of the Persians, and eventually founder of the Persian empire, 536 BC His dominions, which were at first confined to the province of Persia, were successively augmented by the addition of Media, Bactria, Lydia, Elam, with Susiana, Asia Minor, Babylonia and Assyria, Samaria and Judea. He seems to have meditated an invasion of Egypt; and from several successful expeditions in Central Asia, it is probable that he contemplated the extension of his conquests to the Indus. These, without mentioning many smaller dependencies, constituted the widespread Persian empire of which Cyrus was the mighty ruler.

He had been king of Persia for many years before the issuing of his remarkable edict concerning the emancipation and restoration of the Jews; and therefore the words "in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia," must, in accordance with Ezra 5:13, be interpreted as meaning, not the beginning of his reign, but the first year of his acquisition of Babylon.

That the words of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled - (see Jeremiah 25:12; Jeremiah 29:10.) There is no discrepancy, as has been alleged by some writers, between this statement of Ezra, and that of Josephus, in reference to the origin of Cyrus' proclamation. The words of Josephus are these ('Antiquities,' b. 11:, ch. 1:, secs. 1 and 2): 'This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; because this prophet said, that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision. "My will is that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own nation, and build my temple." This was foretold by Isaiah 140 years before the temple was demolished. No passage containing a divine declaration in these express terms is to be found in the writings of Isaiah. But there is an intimation (Isaiah 44:28), of or to Cyrus, to the same purport: "He is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, thy Foundation shall be laid"' (cf. Isaiah 13:14; Isaiah 45:1-4). These were the passages of Isaiah to which the attention of Cyrus was most probably directed by Daniel, and of which Josephus gives the general purport in the passage we have quoted.

But Ezra, in referring to 'the fulfillment of the word of the Lord as spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah,' had in view, not the origin of the edict of Cyrus concerning the restoration of the Jews, but the fact of its being issued directly on the termination of the seventy years appointed for the captivity. It was to the duration of the exile that Ezra was pointing; and that there is no difference between the sacred and the Jewish historian in this matter, will appear from a full citation of the opening paragraph in the chapter of Josephus. 'In the first year of the reign of Cyrus, which was the seventieth from the day that our people were removed out of their own land into Babylon, God commiserated the captivity and calamity of these poor people, according as he had foretold to them by Jeremiah the prophet, before the destruction of the city, that after they had served Nebuchadnezzar and his posterity, and after they had undergone that servitude for 70 years, he would restore them again to the land of their fathers, and they should build their temple and enjoy their ancient prosperity. And these things God did afford them; because He stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write this throughout all Asia: "Thus saith Cyrus the king, Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship; because, indeed, he foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem in the country of Judea."' This reference is a parenthetic statement of the historian, and did not form part of the proclamation.

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus. Since Egypt was always a formidable rival to the great world-empires of ancient Asia, Cyrus might be desirous of possessing an advanced post in the south of Judea, either as a protection against the intrusions of the Egyptian sovereign, or from which he himself might make a rapid descent upon the lands of the Nile, and nothing must have appeared to a sagacious politician more conducive to promote such ends, as to restore to their native mountains a people who would occupy, them with ardour and fidelity, as the custodiers of a sacred deposit. But a higher impulse than that of political considerations animated Cyrus.

Ezra 1:2. The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth. Though this is in the Oriental style of hyperbole (see also Daniel 4:1), it was literally true that the Persian empire was the great ruling power in the world at that time, much greater in extent than the most potent of the empires that had preceded it; for the largest of these was included among its provinces (cf. Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' 1:, pp. 401-403; and 2:, p. 552; Ritter's 'Erdkunde,' 8:, 1-8; Rosenmuller's 'Biblical Geography,' 1:, p. 203). Joseph Mede remarks that, previous to the captivity, the Divine Being was called in the Scriptures: "the Lord of hosts." But after the stay in Babylon, he is called: "the God of heaven."

He hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem. The phraseology of this proclamation, independently of the express testimony of Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 11:, ch. 1:, sec. 1), affords indisputable evidence that Cyrus had seen, probably through means of Daniel, his venerable Prime Minister and favourite (Daniel 6:8; Daniel 9:25), those prophecies, in which, 200 years before he was born, his name, his victorious career, and the important services he should render to the Jews, were distinctly foretold (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 46:1-4). The existence of predictions so remarkable, uttered at a time when the Babylonians, who had carried away the Jews into captivity, were themselves subject to the Assyrians, and fulfilled 70 years after, led him to acknowledge that all his kingdoms were gifts bestowed on him by "the Lord God of heaven," and prompted him to fulfill the duty which had been laid upon him long before his birth. This was the source and origin of the great favour he showed to the Jews; because it must be evident to every understanding that such language as is used in the proclamation of Cyrus betokens the inspiration of other teaching than that of the magi-that either it was drawn up by Daniel, or written under the influence of communications held with him.

The whole tenor of the history, as well as our knowledge of the characters of Cyrus and of Daniel, warrants the conclusion that the prophet introduced his royal master to a full acquaintance with the divine revelations in which the name of Cyrus was mentioned. It must be added, however, that Sir H. Rawlinson has proved, from the cuneiform inscriptions, that the old Persians recognized one Supreme Deity Ormazd, who held the direction of all worldly affairs. In all public records and documents of importance, the Persian king introduces an acknowledgment that 'Ormazd has bestowed on him his empire.' It was an easy transition, therefore, for Cyrus to perceive that the God of the Jews was the same Supreme Being as the Persians worshipped, while the special title, "the Lord God of heaven," indicates the further influence of Daniel's teaching. The proclamation, though issued "in the first year of Cyrus," did not take effect until the following year.

Verse 2

Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 3

Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.

Who is there among you of all his people? The purport of the edict was to grant full permission to those Jewish exiles, in every part of his kingdom, who chose to return to their own country, as well as to recommend those of their countrymen who remained, to aid the poor and feeble on their way, and contribute liberally toward the rebuilding of the temple.

He is the God, [ huw' (H1931) haa-'Elohiym (H430)]. The fact of his name and destiny having been predicted so long before his birth, seems to have impressed his mind with a conviction of the supremacy of Yahweh to all other gods. And to this conviction Cyrus would be the more easily led by the character of the Persian religion, which was so decidedly monotheistic, that it was an easy and short transition to the Jewish faith, the purity and simplicity of which had probably attracted the kings admiration, and led him apparently to identify the Persian Ormazd with the Jewish Yahweh (Rawlinson's 'Ancient Monarchies,' 4:, 329, 339). His ready obedience to the command for the restoration of the house of God in Jerusalem was the more remarkable, that the old Persians were opposed to the erection of temples, as an unbecoming attempt to restrict the Deity. [The Septuagint entirely fritters away the meaning of this significant clause by rendering the words: autos ho Theos ho en Ierousaleem, this is the God who is in Jerusalem.]

Verse 4

And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 5

Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.

Then rose up the chief of the fathers ... The paternal and ecclesiastical chiefs of the later captivity-those of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with some also from other tribes (1 Chronicles 9:3) who retained their attachment to the pure worship of God-naturally took the lead in this movement; and their example was followed by all whose piety and patriotism were strong enough to brave the various discouragements attending the enterprise. They were liberally assisted by multitudes of their captive countrymen, who, born in Babylonia, or comfortably established in it by family connections, or the possession of property, chose to remain. Indeed, it is plainly stated that so strong were the ties that bound multitudes to Babylon, and so great the discouragements to undertake the journey to Palestine, that a divine impulse was necessary to rouse the Jewish people at large to embrace the offered privilege. It seems that their Assyrian friends and neighbours, too, either from a favourable disposition toward the Jewish faith, or from imitation of the court policy, displayed hearty good will and great liberality in aiding and promoting the views of the emigrants.

It is quite clear, from the general tenor of Cyrus' proclamation, that the Jews within his dominions were not in the house of bondage as their ancestors had been in Egypt. They were exiles, expatriated from their own land, but not slaves. There is no hint of any public or private right of property in them, but, on the contrary, they are spoken of as occupying a respectable position, only in a state of exile, and were probably treated, as Jahn, thinks, as peaceful and industrious colonists ('Hebrew Commonwealth,' 1:, p. 161; Cory's 'Fragments,' p. 39: cf. Esther 7:4). Some, indeed, had to be redeemed ere they could be at liberty to depart (Nehemiah 5:8), but those persons had reduced themselves to servitude by causes which would probably have led to the same degradation in their own land.

Verse 6

And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered. No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 7

Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;

Cyrus ... brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord. Though it is said (see the note at 2 Kings 24:13) that these were cut in pieces, that would not be done to the large and magnificent vases, and, if they had been divided, the parts could be re-united. But it may be doubted whether the Hebrew word rendered "cut in pieces" does not signify merely "cut off" - i:e., from further use in the temple.

Verse 8

Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.

By the hand of Mithredath, [ Mitrªdaat (H4990), Mithra, the genius of the sun; Septuagint, Mithradatou, Mithridates - i:e., given to or by Mithra]. Rawlinson ('Ancient Monarchies,' 4:, 330, 334) distinguishes two forms of Iranic or Persian faith: one, a pure and spiritual one, held by the old Persians, and long after by the more intelligent classes; and the other a coarse or more material one. Hence, though none of the early kings mention the name of Mithra, his emblem appears on all the known royal tombs except that of Cyrus. In sculptures, where the emblems of Ormazd and Mithra occur together, the position of the former (the Supreme God) is central, that of the latter toward the right hand of the tablet. The solar emblem (a disk or orb) is upon almost all sculptured tombs, but is otherwise of rare occurrence.

And numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, [ Sheeshªbatsar (H8339)] - a name bestowed in Persia on Zerubbabel (cf. Ezra 7:1-28 with 2:2; 5:14), signifying, according to Gesenius, from a Persian root, fire-worshipper; but the etymology is uncertain. [Septuagint, Sasabasar. hanaasiy', the phylarch or head of the tribe of Judah (Numbers 7:2; Numbers 7:10-11; Numbers 34:18).]

Verse 9

And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives,

Thirty chargers of gold, [ 'ªgarTªleey (H105)] - large basins, slaughter basins; but, according to some, fruit baskets. [Septuagint, psukteeres.]

Nine and twenty knives, [ machªlaapiym (H4252)] - slaughter knives.

Verse 10

Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.

Thirty basons, [ kªpowreey (H3713)] - goblets, probably covered with a lid (Gesenius) (cf. 1 Chronicles 28:17).

Verse 11

All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.

All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. The vessels here specified amount only to the number of 2,489. Hence, it is probable that the larger vases only are mentioned, while the inventory of the whole, including great and small, came to the gross sum stated in the text. Sheshbazzar - i:e., Zerubbabel, son of Salathiel (cf. Ezra 3:8; Ezra 5:16: cf. 1 Chronicles 3:17). He was born in Babylon, and called by his family Zerubbabel -

i.e., sown in Babylon. Sheshbazzar, signifying 'fire-worshippers,' was the name given him at court, as other names were given to Daniel and his friends. He was recognized among the exiles as hereditary prince of Judah.

Them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem. All the Jewish exiles did not embrace the privilege which the Persian king granted them. The great proportion, born in Babylon, preferred continuing in their comfortable homes to undertaking a distant, expensive, and hazardous journey to a desolate land. For it must be remembered that it was not the fertile regions of Central Palestine the returning exiles were to go to. These were already colonized; and there was no intention to dispossess the colonists. 'It was only the bare, ungenial territory that lay between this and the fertile vales around Hebron, also occupied upon the south, that was contemplated in the proclamation. This must be distinctly borne in mind when, in order to understand the spirit in which the decree was received, we transfer ourselves to the provinces around Babylon, and picture, in comparison with their circumstances there, the position which the Hebrews were invited to occupy' (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' pp. 215, 216). Nor did the returning exiles all go at once. The first band went with Zerubbabel, others afterward with Ezra, and a large number with Nehemish at a still later period.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ezra 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ezra-1.html. 1871-8.
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