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Bible Commentaries

Parker's The People's Bible

Ezra 1

Verses 1-11

Chapter 1

1. Now [And] in the first year of Cyrus [in Babylon] king of Persia [Cyrus became king 559 b.c.], that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah [whose writings Daniel consulted] might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up [probably through the instrumentality of Daniel] the spirit of Cyrus [so named by God more than a hundred years before he was born ( Isa 44:28 )] king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,

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 [visited] me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

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 [Jerusalem is partly in Judah and partly in Benjamin], and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (he is the God), which is in Jerusalem.

4. And whosoever remaineth [compare this with the beginning of Nehemiah] in any place where he sojourneth [as an exile], let the men of his place [the heathen was to help the Hebrew] 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.

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 [true inspiration], to go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.

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 [metals], beside all that was willingly offered [the people, too, were stirred up].

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 [Bel and Nebo];

8. Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath [Mithra was the sun-god of the Persians] the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar [the Chaldee name of Zerubbabel], the prince of Judah.

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

10. Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort [inferior quality] four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.

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 [vessels which had been desecrated at the feast of Belshazzar].

The Proclamation of Cyrus

WHAT have we to do with a history so ancient? Is there anything here for men of our century? Are not all these green and mouldy gravestones hardly worth deciphering? What if this chapter be quick with pulses which ought to express our own best life? What if this be in its substance and in its meaning the only chapter worth writing in the active life of the Church? Let us be careful where we step, for every place is holy ground, and life is lying thickly around us, and one rude or thoughtless step may crush some thing of beauty. Let us hold our peace in these ancient halls: the very stones will be eloquent in their silence, if we will be but quiet if we will but listen. All old things have deep meanings. He is no student who seizes the present as if it were the only thing worthy of attention: the present is the past, with a new accent, some new phasis, some transient change. We are to-day what we were yesterday.

Here is a great mental awakening.

"The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia" ( Ezr 1:1 ).

Why do we limit this mighty wind of God? Why do we say, It blew long centuries ago, but is not blowing now, either in great hurricane or in gentle breeze? We have supposed that inspiration has ceased. We now represent it by some kind of effigy, and we approach the effigy with a superstition which we sometimes mistake for veneration. If God lives, why should inspiration cease? There may be differences of method in defining inspiration, but as to its substantial meaning and happy uses inspiration must be continuous with the existence of God must be the parallel line to the Divine duration. Has history nothing to say about these great winds from heaven? Suppose there were no Bible, are there not certain facts in history which can only be accounted for by some such theory as that of inspiration? Say, The gods let us be polytheistic for a moment excited the imagination of men. Even that would be a fact not to be sneered at, but to be reckoned with in adding up the forces which have controlled and directed human history. There have been great awakenings in literature. Suddenly a nation has, so to say, sprung to its feet and said, Let us read! That is a mere matter of what is called profane history. Ages have passed in which men cared not to read, or write, or think; if there were any books to be opened, as a rule they lay untouched: but quite suddenly there has been what is termed a literary revival. Is such a thing possible? If it is possible to have a literary revival that is, a revival of the love of learning, the love of reading, the love of writing why may there not be such a thing as a religious revival, in which men shall say suddenly, but unanimously, Let us pray? And when men so moved so pray they shorten the distance between earth and heaven. It would be perhaps more difficult to believe in a religious revival if there had not been analogous revivals revivals of learning, revivals of art. We have even ventured to apportion certain historical periods as periods of the "new birth" or new beginning in painting; so pictures take their date from this period or from that: critics can trace whole schools of art to such-and-such awakening, upstirring of the mind. So then it cannot be so romantic after all, that there should also have been spiritual awakening, times when men saw heaven opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. Why not sneer at the revival of learning? Why not question the revival of art? Why not say that artists have chosen long French names for the purpose of indicating certain supposed facts which are no facts after all? That would be a fine field for sneering, and for supercilious criticism, and for the display of general ignorance. The point to be observed is this, that, account for it as we may, there have been in history great mental awakenings, great spiritual movements, and when these have taken a religious turn they have been dignified and sanctified by the name of "revivals." There is nothing to be ashamed of in that word.

But how are we to judge inspiration? A man may suppose himself to be inspired; are we, therefore, to bow down to him at once and concede him a position of priority or influence? Nothing of the kind. Even inspiration is to be tested. The Bible asks only to be put to the proof. Noble book! chivalrous speaker! saying always, Try me, test me, probe me, take nothing for granted; if I fail at any one vital point dismiss me as an empiric and an impostor. "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God." Inspiration is always to be judged by its results. We must hear what Cyrus says; we must read the proclamation for ourselves. There is a spirit in man which enables him to say Yes or No to certain bold propositions and theories. It does not always enable him by some intellectual miracle so to analyse them as utterly to disprove them, abolish them, or drive them away as in a tempest of derision; but there is a spirit in man which says, Although I am short of words, although I cannot explain why, yet I know that this proposition, or that, is not true. That is what is termed the verifying faculty the great power with which God has entrusted men. "The ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat," and the mind trieth propositions, statements, so-called gospels. The soul of man is the great arbiter. We need not, therefore, bow down before every man or woman who claims inspiration. We listen respectfully to the claim, and say, What does it amount to? what end would you accomplish? to what purpose does this inspiration you claim point? and if in answer there should come replies indicative of reform, progress, purification, liberation, enlargement, beneficence, verily the answer will prove the inspiration that is claimed. No man is inspired who wishes to do evil. Disclaim and repudiate, not with sorrow but with indignation, the inspiration that would seek to curtail liberty, arrest progress, hinder the mission of philanthropy, that would overload the weak, still further impoverish the poor, and shut off from the meanest dwelling any beam of daylight.

We may pray for great mental awakenings; we must not hasten them. We cannot organise inspiration; we cannot make mechanical arrangements for the getting-up of enthusiasm; but this we can do we can keep ourselves from sneering at an enthusiasm we do not understand; we can occupy the dignified position of saying, We wait results; we will watch the end: we will take note of the upshot of the whole thing, and if we see in it signs of beneficence we shall instantly embrace it, and say, This is the breath of God, the pentecostal wind, the very fire of heaven's altar. People do respond to the right kind of inspiration.

Cyrus felt a great personal responsibility in this matter; he said

"He hath charged me to build" ( Ezr 1:2 ).

Man cannot be always doing nothing and yet be happy. There comes a time when rest is monotony, and monotony is weariness. Nor can man always be pursuing a destructive career; there is a time when the soldier lets his sword fall down, saying, It cannot be right to pursue age after age this work of destruction. What then is man to do? Destruction fails, rest cries out for change: what is the alternative? Construction, edification, putting things together and into shape, until they stand like a completed house ready for the occupation of God. We have had destruction enough, both in the Church and out of it; we have been fighting long enough over old theories, and foolish superstitions, and vain imaginings, and half-instructed criticisms; we may now have come upon a period when controversy may be set aside for instruction. What are we building? Some men never build; they do not give time enough to build; they fly a good deal; they move about with a rapidity which dazzles the eye which would follow them in all their rapid and eccentric movements: but they do not halt long enough at any given place to dig foundations, and lay great corner-stones, and rear solid edifices. This question can always be asked of every Cyrus and every inferior man, What is his record? Where has he spent his life? What has he done? At what targets has he been aiming? What plans has he been executing? Produce the record, and let us peruse it. There will come a time when this question will be forced, and every man will have to yield up an account of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil. God is calling men to build, not necessarily in wood and stone and iron, but to build character, life, utility. And this can be done everywhere. All men are not called to public building. What sweet homes some men have built! The moment you pass within the door you feel the genius of home welcoming and blessing you: the traveller says, I must tarry here; the hungering man says, There is bread within these walls; I know it though I do not see it. What businesses some men are building, marked by high policy, reputable for known morality, uprightness, straightforwardness, complicated businesses, yet every line palpitating with conscience. This kind of building is not always recognised as it should be; but it ought to be pointed out as a possibility to every man. We cannot all build upon the mountain-top, or in the great thoroughfares of the city, but we can build privately, quietly, secretly: we can build up broken hearts, we can be confirming feeble knees, we can be towers of strength to men who are enfeebled and impoverished. There are many such men, but they die too soon. Had we our way, how many men should we remove before we touched the princes of beneficence, the very leaders and monarchs of charity and philanthropy! But this is not in our hands. We are under the divine government, and it is for God to call his servants when he needs them, or when he sees they need rest. It should be ours not only to resign ourselves to inevitable losses, but to say, Who will occupy the vacant places? There is room now for men to come to the front; there are great gaps made in the very front line of public philanthropy and private charity. It is not enough to carve an urn and set it upon some pedestal, and write epitaphs eloquent with lamentation; the great answer to all such providences as remove the builders of society is to go forward, and offer in God's grace and strength to take their places and continue the uprearing and consolidation of the divine temple.

The people answered nobly. When Cyrus said, "Who is there among you?" the people answered and went forward of their own free will. All service is worthless if it is not voluntary. The loyalty of a nation cannot be judged by its taxation; the taxes may all have been paid, and yet the spirit may not be truly loyal. We cannot live in mere duty. It may be questioned whether that word is not narrowing and impoverishing a good many lives. You cannot discharge your duty to your family and rest there, unless, indeed, in one way, and that is by a definition of duty which includes love and passion and sacrifice; if such terms are included in the word duty, then the word duty will be sufficient, but usually "duty" is a kind of military term or commercial phrase, a quid pro quo , a doing of certain things for certain exchanges, a beginning at a definite hour and a ceasing at a specific time. Cyrus called for spontaneous replies: Who will do this? That is the question which God puts to us. Who will go? Who will represent the right and the true, the pure and the beautiful, to those who have never seen those fair images or obeyed their high demands? We must do nothing by constraint. The moment a man begins to feel his work to be irksome there is no value in it, no virtue, no honour, no real acceptableness. What if the fragrance be part of the value of the flower the thing it is always giving off, throwing upon the breezes that it may be carried where it may? This religious relationship of ours to one another and to God is not a commercial one; it is not giving so much for so much. As we have said again and again, Christianity is everything or it is nothing.

The people were led by the old

"Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin" ( Ezr 1:5 ).

Men must never say they are too old to take part in new building movements. They might with some show of reason take refuge in this species of excuse; but the truly good man is never old; he takes no note of time, he takes no note of weather: the call has come, and it is his to obey. Some Christian people are leaving a good deal to posterity. They seem to have more faith in posterity than they have in themselves. They propose that the next generation shall complete the building, pay off the debt, and do all sorts of pious and noble things. We do not read much about posterity in this reply to the king's proclamation. Is it generous of us thus to be treating posterity? Has posterity ever begged this favour at our hands, saying, Do leave something for us to do? Posterity never committed itself to so foolish a prayer. There may be no posterity: the thing may have to be done this day, and living men must do it. It is not for us to measure men's philanthropy. There may be some subtle and inscrutable passion of the heart which takes an ineffable interest in posterity, and it would be unwise in any preacher to question the mysterious operations that are proceeding in the human soul; at the same time, posterity is now at least a little too impalpable for us to have much to do with it. The question is, What answer are we going to make to great demands? The opportunity is always urgent, and always a means of education to those who avail themselves of it.

What need had God for a house? He made the stars; he wears the constellations as a garment; the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him: what does he want with a house? Nothing; but he knows that we do; he knows that the building of the house is necessary for our education. What need has he of our prayer? None. Can we tell him anything? No. Does he not know what things we have need of before we ask him? Yes. Why then should he call upon us to tell him what he knows, to ask him for what he well understands we need? Why should there be any throne of grace or altar of prayer? For our sakes. This is a means of education. We learn things by doing them. We get answers by prayer and in prayer. Prayer is oftentimes its own answer. We may have been too critical, and exercising a vain discrimination in these matters, in distinguishing between a prayer offered and an answer given: we may not yet have seen that whilst we are praying we are being answered that to pray is to receive. The man does not pray who simply asks for favours. No wonder that he is dissatisfied with the reply; he is a mere beggar or suppliant; he is not a communing son, entering with grace and joy into communion and fellowship with God, being absorbed in the divine nature, and returning from his high contemplation and pure devotion with a chastened spirit, an ennobled charity, and a beneficence that has consummated in sacrifice.

What a restoration there was after this revival!

'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" ( Ezr 1:7 ).

Observe that as a period of restoration. Things that had been stolen were brought back; vessels that had been alienated were set in their rightful places. There was a great restoration of misappropriated property. What a restoration there will one day be! What have men taken away from God's Church? Nearly everything they could lay hands on. They have taken away Gold, Art, Music, Miracles, Inspiration, Rationalism, Morality, Science, and they have left God a very bare house. When the period of spiritual revival has come, and the holy issue is written out in all its meaning, these things will be brought back again: Art will come with her brush and pencil, and say, I will beautify the house of God's revelation; Music will bring back her harp and her instrument of ten strings, and her cymbals and organ, and say, Make me a handmaid in God's house, for all I have and am must belong to him; and Reason exiled, expatriated Reason shall return, saying, They have kept me in vile servitude admit me to my Father's house; and Science will come and pray; and Morality will say, They have been trying to divorce me from theology, from right religious motive and impulse, and I have died like a flower that has been plucked; restore me to my vital relations, and I will once more bloom in the house of God. What a return, too, of prodigal sons there will be, of men who thought there was not scope enough for them in God's house; clever men who for the moment had forgotten themselves, and went forth into the outer world to find more room. They will come in, saying, What fools we were; we did not see the staircase winding upward into infinite spaces; we thought the Church was all dead level walling, and having laid our lines and measurements upon it, we said the Church was not big enough for us; but now we see, where we ought to have seen before, an opening door, and, beyond, a staircase, leading away, away; let us also return!

Judge the inspiration by the restoration. Do not be content with reading the proclamation of Cyrus, but see what it leads to. Do not be content with reading the Bible, but see what that reading results in. Do not be content when any priest or preacher tells you that any book is inspired; reply to him, Let me read the book for myself, through and through, carefully, word by word, and when I have finished I shall know whether the book is inspired or not. If I be enlarged, inflamed, lifted up, ennobled; if I melt in charity, if I abound in love, if I would have all men come and read the same book and drink at the same fountain, then I shall know that it is God's Book, a living Book, sweet, tender, gracious, complete, touching life at every point, and answering it with infinite replies. By that test God is willing that his Book or proclamation should be judged.

Prayer

Almighty God, thou hast set above all things the cross of Jesus Christ thy Son. All things are now changed by that cross all values, and meanings, and influences. Those things that were princely have become mean; ambitions have been rebuked, powers have been overthrown, and the weakness of God is stronger than the might of men. We now see these truths as we never saw them before, and they make us glad. We have been blind, we have been groping in infinite darkness, not knowing the right hand from the left; but now that we have seen the cross we know how all things lie, where heaven is, where thy throne is set, and we see a great light far away, shining like an infinite welcome. We bless thee for the cross of Christ: it is the way to heaven; it is the mystery of love; it is high above us like a great sky, yet round about us like a living air. We will not glory but in the cross: its shame is greater in glory than is all the pride in creation; its very weakness is almightiness; its condescension is majesty. Thy love is shown in the cross of Jesus; and we need that cross more and more as we see what sin is, and feel how poor and weak we are ourselves. Blessed cross! tree of death, yet tree of life; an open way for sinners only into heaven's eternal peace. Precious cross of Christ! the life of the world, the security of the universe; we gather round thee and bless the love that set thee up. We are crucified with Christ: nevertheless we live; yet not we, but Christ liveth in us: and the life which we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us. No man entereth into this wisdom but he who is taught of God. Verily it is folly of all folly to those who serve the flesh and are greedy for the world. How nobly wise, how tenderly beautiful, is the cross of Christ to those who have begun to see that without the cross the world is a deception and life an intolerable lie! We praise thee for what visions we have had of the cross: they have made us glad; we can never forget them; they have given a new setting and tone to our whole life: we are debtors to the cross, and our debt we can never pay. Help us to think upon these things with steadfastness of attention. May we know that these are the deep things of God, that the universe is but a temporary accident, the momentary clothing of God, to be thrown off and forgotten, but at the heart of things lies the eternal fact of sacrifice. Save us from distracted attention; save us from mistaking things for great because they are only near; give us the genius of the heart which sees things as they really are; and give us that true wisdom which knows where to build the altar and to what to offer the tribute of our life. We are here but for a day or two; we are pilgrims and can tarry but for a night; we are on the high road: we cannot see more than one step at a time; the next step may be the grave, or there may be long chequered years yet before us and to be traversed: help us to lay hold of thy hand, O Leading One; to stop where thou dost stop; teach us that to obey is to conquer, that to receive God's will and live it is to be in God's heaven: then shall we have no unrest, or disquiet, or cancer of the heart eating out our love and peace; we shall be calm with God's tranquillity and steadfast in God's almightiness. Regard us as men who need daily light and daily care. Thou didst never put two days into any man's hand at once. We are not to boast of tomorrow. Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men: the true, the noble, the beautiful, the good are taken away like shadows; those whom we accounted as rocks are overturned, and we shall see their faces no more; the great and the small die. Help us to know that though we too must die, yet whilst we live we may live a doubly energetic or beneficent life. May we work with both hands earnestly, sparing nothing, hiding in our hearts the sweet thought that the Son of man may come to-day. Blessed are they who shall be found ready when he opens heaven's door, and comes down to claim the issue of his sacrifice. May he see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied! In that spirit would we wait and toil and hope, not as fools but as wise, seizing time with a strong hand, and filling it to the full with duty and with sacrifice. Heal our broken hearts; dry our penitential tears; subdue our unholy anger, and lead us in the way everlasting. Speak to the old man, and he will be young again; lay thy hand, so gentle because so mighty, on the youngest child and the weakest life, and it shall become dignified and noble. Visit our sick-chambers; we steal up to them, lest the very noise of the footfall should injure those we love; do thou go in with the boldness of love, and heal our sick with the momentary health of the body or with the immortality which comes through faith. Watch us; care for us; be pitiful to us. We are bruised reeds; we are as smoking flax; we are as a flower which cometh for a little time and then passeth away because the wind is cold. We know our prayer shall be heard; for thy mercy reacheth unto the heavens. Amen.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezra 1". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/ezra-1.html. 1885-95.