Bible Commentaries

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

Ezra 5

Verse 1

Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.

Then the prophets ... prophesied ... in the name of the God of Israel. From the recorded writings of Haggai and Zechariah, it appears that the difficulties experienced, and the many obstacles thrown in the way, had first cooled the Jews in the building of the temple, and then led to an abandonment of the work, under a pretended belief that the time for rebuilding it had not yet come (Haggai 1:2-11). For 15 years the work was completely suspended. These two prophets upbraided them with severe reproaches for their sloth, negligence, and worldly selfishness (Haggai 1:4), threatened them with severe judgments if they continued backward, and promised that they would be blessed with great national prosperity if they resumed and prosecuted the work with alacrity and vigour. "Zechariah the son of Iddo" - i:e., grandson (Zechariah 1:1).

Verse 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.

Then rose up Zerubbabel ... and Jeshua ... and began to build the house of God. The strong appeals and animating exhortations of these prophets gave a new impulse to the building of the temple, Darius, one of the seven Persian nobles or chiefs of the great Persian clans, who conspired against the usurper Smerdis, ascended the throne with a royal authority somewhat limited (Herodotus, b. 3:, ch. 77:), and proceeded, among the first acts of his government, to rebuild the Zoroastrian temples which Smerdis had destroyed, and restored the old religious rites which that Magian predecessor had abolished. As a matter of course he sympathized, like Cyrus, with the monotheism of the Jews; and as his zeal for the restoration of the pure and spiritual worship soon became known through the distant provinces of his far-extending empire, the Jews-the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem-availed themselves of the changed temper of the court to resume the works at the temple.

The Behishtun inscriptions contain an autobiography of Darius Hystaspes-the liberal patron of the Jews, and restorer of their fallen nationality after the captivity (see in Rawlinson's 'Herodotus,' 2:, p. 590-616). It was in the second year of the reign of Darius Hystaspes that the work, after a long interruption, was resumed. This recommencement of the building took place "in the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king" (Haggai 1:14-15) - i:e., in September, B.C. 521, about eight and a half months after Darius' accession (Rawlinson's 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2:, p. 405).

Verse 3

At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shethar-boznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?

At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river. The Persian empire west of the Euphrates included at this time Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Phoenicia, and other provinces subject to Darius, surnamed Hystaspes. The empire was divided into twenty provinces, called satrapies. Syria formed one satrapy, inclusive of Palestine, Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and furnished an annual revenue of 350 talents. It was presided over by a satrap or viceroy, who at this time resided at Damascus, and though superior to the native governors of the Jews appointed by Persian king, never interfered with their internal government, except when there was a threatened disturbance or order and tranquillity. Tatnai, the governor (whether this was a personal name or an official title is unknown), had probably been incited by the complaints and turbulent outrages of the Samaritans against the Jews; but he suspended his judgment, and he prudently resolved to repair to Jerusalem, that he might ascertain the real state of matters by personal inspection and inquiry, in company with another dignified officer and his provincial council.

Verse 4

Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 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 answer by letter concerning this matter.

But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews ... The unusual presence, the imposing suite, the authoritative inquiries of the satrap appeared formidable, and might have produced a paralyzing influence, or led to disastrous consequences, if he had been a partial and corrupt judge, or actuated by unfriendly feelings toward the Jewish cause. The historian, therefore, with characteristic piety, throws in this parenthetical verse to intimate that God averted the threatening cloud, and procured favour for the elders or leaders of the Jews, so that they were not interrupted in their proceedings until communications with the court should be made and received. Not a word was uttered to dispirit the Jews or afford cause of triumph to their opponents. Matters were to go on until contrary orders arrived from Babylon.

After surveying the work in progress, he inquired, first, by what authority this national temple was undertaken; and, secondly, the names of the principal promoters and directors of the undertaking. To these two heads of inquiry, the Jews returned ready and distinct replies. Then, having learned that it originated in a decree of Cyrus, who had not only released the Jewish exiles from captivity, and permitted them to return to their own land for the express purpose of rebuilding the house of God, but, by an act of royal grace, had restored to them the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried off as trophies from the former temple, Tatnai transmitted all this information in an official report to his imperial master, accompanying it with a recommendatory suggestion that search should be made among the national archives at Babylon for the original decree of Cyrus, that the truth of the Jews' statement might be verified.

The whole conduct of Tatnai, as well as the general tone of his despatch, is marked by a sound discretion and prudent moderation, free from any party bias, and evincing a desire only to do his duty. In all respects he appears in favourable contrast with his predecessor Rehum (Ezra 4:9).

Verses 6-7

The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shethar-boznai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 8

Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands.

The house of the great God ... builded with great stones [ 'eben (H69) gÂȘlaal (H1560)] - 'stones of rolling;' i:e., stones of such extraordinary size that they could not be carried-they had to be rolled or dragged along the ground. [The Septuagint has: lithois eklektois, choice stones.] When mention is made of "the great God," the application of such an epithet implies a recognition at least to some extent of his true character; and that although the motley mass of colonists (Ezra 4:9), although still adhering to their native idols, were constrained to acknowledge the supremacy of the God whom the Jews worshipped, while, from motives of jealous rivalry, they endeavoured to prevent the rebuilding of His temple.

Verses 9-12

Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 13

But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.

In the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon - i:e., the first year in which he began to reign in Babylon. Cyrus styles himself, in his famous proclamation, king of Persia (see the note at Ezra 1:1). But it was the Jewish exiles in and around Babylon who went in the first caravan to Jerusalem after the promulagation of the edict, and as it was published shortly after the Medo-Persian conquest of Babylonia, these Jews thought and spoke of Cyrus very naturally as king of Babylon. Accordingly, it will be observed that it was the elders of these first emigrants who spoke of Cyrus by a name which was familiar to them.

The same king Cyrus. The Jews were perfectly warranted, according to the principles of the Persian government, to proceed with the building in virtue of Cyrus' edict. For everywhere a public decree is considered as remaining in force until it is revoked; but the 'laws of the Medes and Persians changed not.'

Verse 14

And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor;

Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor. This was the Chaldean or Persian name of Zerubbabel (see the notes at Ezra 1:8; Ezra 1:11). "Governor" [ pechaah (H6347)] - a prefect or governor in the Assyrian (2 Kings 18:24), Babylonian (Jeremiah 51:57), Median (Jeremiah 51:28), and particularly the Persian, empires (Esther 8:9; Esther 9:3), inferior in dignity and power to a satrap. The name, after the captivity, was applied to the governor of Judea (cf. Haggai 1:1-14; Malachi 1:8), but seldom in earlier times (cf. 1 Kings 10:15; 2 Chronicles 9:14).

Verse 15

And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 16

Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.

Then came ... Sheshbazzar ... since that time even until now hath it been in building. This was not a part of the Jews' answer-they could not have said this, knowing the building had long ceased. But Tathai used these expressions in his report, either looking on the stoppage as a temporary interruption, or supposing that the Jews were always working a little, as they had means and opportunities.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ezra 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.