Bible Commentaries
Ezra 4

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

Verse 1

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;

The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin - i:e., strangers settled in the land of Israel.

Verse 2

Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.

We seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon ... which brought us up hither. A very interesting explanation of this passage has been recently obtained from the Assyrian sculptures. On a large cylinder, deposited in the British Museum, there is inscribed a long and perfect copy of the annals of Esar-haddon, in which the details are given of a large deportation of Israelites from Palestine, and a consequent settlement of Babylonian colonists in their place. It is a striking confirmation of the statement made in this passage. The Assyrian monarchs, like the ancient and modern sovereigns of Egypt, employed their captives principally in hard labour on their public works about the capital. But sometimes, when circumstances required it, they were transported to conquered and depopulated regions, where, under the strict surveillance of Assyrian governors, they were settled, to maintain the provincial power of their masters.

Thus, while Sargon placed his Samaritan captives in Gauzanitis or Macedonia, and the "cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 18:11), Esar-haddon removed Babylonians, etc. (Ezra 4:9), to Samaria. Those Assyrian settlers intermarried with the remnant of Israelite women, and their descendants, a mongrel race, went under the name of Samaritans. Though originally idolaters, they were instructed in the knowledge of God, so that they could say, "We seek your God;" but they served Him in a superstitious way of their own (see the notes at 2 Kings 17:26-34; 2 Kings 17:41).

In further confirmation of the fact that the new colonists of Judea were introduced by Esar-haddon, it may be expedient to remind the reader that although the Kingdom of Israel had been greatly devastated by Shalmanezer, and a large deportation of the people had been made to the country of that conqueror, it was not wholly depopulated. The complete overthrow of the Israelite kingdom did not take place until Esar-haddon made invasion of Judea, carried Manasseh prisoner to Babylon, and made a conquest of the whole northern portion of Judea by those military followers from Babylon, Cutha, etc., whom, on returning to Assyria, he left behind to colonize the cities in Samaria formerly occupied by the children of Israel, (cf. 2 Kings 17:24, etc.)

Verse 3

But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.

But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua ... said ... Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God. This refusal to cooperate with the Samaritans, from whatever motives it sprang, was overruled by Providence to ultimate good; for had the two peoples worked together, familiar acquaintanceship and intermarriages would have ensued, and the result might have been a relapse of the Jews into idolatry, and most certainly confusion and obscurity in the genealogical evidence that proved the descent of the Messiah, whereas in their hostile and separate condition they were jealous observers of each other's proceedings, watching with mutual care over the preservation and integrity of the sacred books, guarding the purity and honour of the Mosaic worship, and thus contributing to the maintenance of religious knowledge and truth.

Verse 4

Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,

Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah ... Exasperated by this repulse, the Samaritans endeavoured by every means to molest the workmen as well as obstruct the progress of the building; and though they could not alter the decree which Cyrus had issued regarding it, yet by bribes and clandestine arts indefatigably plied at court, they laboured to frustrate the effects of the edict. Their success in those underhand dealings was great; because Cyrus, being frequently absent, and much absorbed in his warlike expeditions, left the government in the hands of his son, who afterward succeeded him on the throne, but with whom, as he followed the religious policy of his father, their artful and malignant representations had no effect. The same arts were assiduously practiced during the reign of Cambyses' successor, Smerdis, down to the time of Darius Hystaspes. In consequence of the difficulties and obstacles thus interposed for a period of twenty years, the progress of the work was very slow. But this interruption was not occasioned by any obstacles thrown in the way of the undertaking by unfavourable edicts from Cyrus and his court. It was owing entirely to the dilatory conduct of the Jewish immigrants themselves, for which they were severely rebuked by Haggai (1:1-6).

Verse 5

And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 6

And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they ... an accusation, [ 'Achashweerowsh (H325); Septuagint, en basileia Assoueerou]. Ahasuerus was a regal title, and the king referred to was successor of Cyrus, his son Cambyses (see Rawlinson's 'Bampton Lectures,' pp. 183, 454).

Verse 7

And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.

In the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam ... The three officers named are supposed to have been deputy-governors appointed By the king of Persia over all the provinces subject to his empire west of the Euphrates.

The Syrian tongue - or Aramaean language, called sometimes in our version Chaldee. This was made use of by the Persians in their decrees and communications relative to the Jews (cf. 2 Kings 18:26; Isaiah 36:11). The object of their letter was to press upon the royal notice the inexpediency and danger of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. They laboured hard to prejudice the king's mind against that measure.

Verse 8

Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:

Rehum the chancellor, [ bª`eel (H1169) Tª`eem (H2942), lord of judgment].

And Shimshai the scribe, [ caapªra' (H5613), secretary to the governor of a province].

Artaxerxes, [ 'Artachshast' (H783); Septuagint, Arthasastha] - Smerdis (Rosenmuller, in hoc loco. Jahn, 'Archaol.' 2:, 1, p. 244; Rawlinson's 'Bampton Lectures,' p. 455). The united reigns of Cambyses and Smerdis amounted in duration to a little above eight years. Hengstenberg ('Christology,' 3:, 203) maintains, in opposition to these, that Artachshasta denotes not Smerdis, but Artaxerxes in every other passage of the Bible (see Winer, 'Realworterbuch,' 'Ahasuerus and Artuchasta;' Ewald's 'Geschicte,' pt. 2:, p. 118).

Verse 9

Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites,

And the rest of their companions, [ uwsh'aar (H7606) kªnaawaatªhown (H3675), and the rest of their colleagues; Septuagint, kai hoi kataloipoi sundouloi heemoon].

The Dinaites, [ Diynaayee' (H1784); Septuagint, Deinaioi]. Junius ('Poli Synopsis,' in loco) calls them Dennani; Ewald ('Geschicte,' 3:, 375) considers the people referred to as connected with Deinaver, a city of the Medes. Rawlinson ('Ancient Monarchies,' 2:, p. 477) derives them from Dayan, a country frequently mentioned in the inscriptions, and bordering on Cilicia. The people named were the colonists sent by the Babylonian monarch to occupy the territory of the ten tribes "The great and noble Asnapper" [Septuagint, Assenafar] was an Assyrian satrap or general, to whom was committed the immediate command of the new colonists. Immediately after the murder of Sennacherib the Babylonians, Medes, Armenians, and other tributary people, seized the opportunity of throwing off the Assyrian yoke. But Esar-haddon having in the 30th year of his reign recovered Babylon, and subdued the other rebellious dependents, transported numbers of them into the waste cities of Samaria, most probably as a punishment of their revolt.

The Apharsathchites - or Aspharsachites (Ezra 5:6) [Septuagint, Afarsathapsaioi] - supposed to be the Paroetaceni (the initial Hebrew letter 'Aleph ('), being prosthetic), a highland tribe on the confines of Media and Persia.

The Tarpelites. This tribe has not been ascertained.

The Apharsites, [ 'Apaarªcaayee' (H670); Septuagint, Afarsaioi] - Persians. The Apharsites, [ 'Apaarªcaayee' (H670); Septuagint, Afarsaioi] - Persians.

The Archevites, [ 'Arkªwaayee' (H756); Septuagint, Archuaioi] - inhabitants of Evech (Genesis 10:10) or Orchoe (passing the Babylonians).

The Susanchites, [ Shuwshankaayee' (H7801); Septuagint, Sousanachaioi] - people from Susa or Susiana.

The Dehavites, [ Dehaayee' (H1723), villagers; Septuagint, Dauaioi] - the Dai or Dahi, a tribe of Persian nomads, who were spread far and wide (Rawlinson's 'Herodotus.' b. 1:, ch. 125:; Strabo, b. 11:, ch. 8:, sec. 2; Pliny, 'Natural History,' b. 6:, 17).

And the Elamites, [ `Eelªmaayee' (H5962)] - inhabitants of the province called Elam (Genesis 10:22). They are omitted in the Septuagint. This colonization by Asnapper, under Esarhaddon, was an entirely different one from that mentioned, 2 Kings 17:24 (Rawlinson's 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2:, 423, 477, 529).

Verses 10-11

And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 12

Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.

Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city. Cambyses, it is known, was inimical to the Jews, and it may be presumed that the usurper Smerdis would not be more favourable: so that as neither of these kings supported the policy of Cyrus, it was an artful trick of the adversaries at Jerusalem to foment the indisposition of the court by adverting to the numerous attempts of the Jews in former times to threw off the yoke of their foreign masters, and on account of which attempts they called it "the rebellious and the bad city."

Have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations, [ wª'ushayaa' (H787) yachiyTuw (H2338)] - and sewed together; i:e., joined the turrets [Septuagint, themelious autees anupsoosan]. The name "Jews" was generally used after the return from the captivity, because the returning exiles belonged chiefly to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin; and although the edict of Cyrus permitted all who chose to return-a permission of which some of the Israelites availed themselves-the great body who went to settle in Judea were the men of Judah.

Verse 13

Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.

Toll, tribute, and custom - the first [ mindaah (H4061) or midaah (H4061) (Ezra 4:20), Chaldee, tribute as if measured to each person] was a poll-tax; the second [ bªlow (H1093), Chaldee], an impost on articles of trade and merchandise: excise; the third [ hªlaak (H1983), Chaldee], a road tax, a toll. Their letter, and the edict that followed, commanding an immediate cessation of the work at the city walls, form the exclusive subject of narrative from Ezra 4:7 to Ezra 4:23. And now from this digression he returns, at Ezra 4:24, to resume the thread of his narrative concerning the building of the temple.

Verse 14

Now because we have maintenance from the king's palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king;

We have maintenance from the king's palace - literally, we are salted with the king's salt. 'Eating a prince's salt' is an Oriental phrase equivalent to 'receiving a maintenance from him.'

Verses 15-16

That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time.

Then sent the king an answer. It was unfavourable to the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a fortified city. This hostile decree is given here proleptically, and it clearly shows that the first permission of the Persian kings was limited to the restoration of the temple.

Verses 18-23

The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 24

Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Then ceased the work of the house of God - i:e., in consequence of the letter of Smerdis, who, it appears, being a usurper and a Magian, changed the old religion of Persia, and, consistently enough, arrested the progress of a religious revival in Judea which Cyrus had begun. It was this occurrence that first gave rise to the strong religious antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans, which was afterward greatly aggravated by the erection of a rival temple on mount Gerizim.

Besides the order of Smerdis for the cessation of the work at the temple, the returned exiles were subjected to various harassing circumstances which obstructed and discouraged their progress in the restoration of Jerusalem. Not the least of these annoyances were the frequent expeditions for the conquest of Egypt by the Persian monarchs, who, of course, marched their armies through Palestine as the high road to the land of the Nile, and levied recruits from their Jewish subjects there. Between the arrival of the first caravan under Zerubbabel, and that of Nehemiah, no less than three such expeditions passed through Palestine. By the last-that of Artaxerxes-the Persian army was detained a whole year in that country (Diodorus Siculus, 11:, 71-74).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ezra 4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.