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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ezra 1


Cyrus, king of Persia, makes a proclamation, permitting the Jews to return into their country, and to build their temple; and restores the sacred vessels to them.

Before Christ 536.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Cyrus Concerning Cyrus, see Isaiah 44:28. It is probable, that this decree of Cyrus in favour of the Jews was in a great measure owing to the good offices of Daniel. Cyrus, at his first coming to Babylon, found him there, an old minister of state, famed over all the east for his great wisdom; and accordingly we find, that he not only employed him as such; but, upon settling the government, made him first superintendant, or prime minister of state, over all the provinces of the empire. In this station of life, Daniel must have been a person of great authority at court, and highly in the esteem of his prince; and it is not improbable, that he might shew him the passages in Isaiah referring to him; for it is evident from the decree itself, that Cyrus had seen those prophesies.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. The Lord God of heaven It is observable, that God, in the former books, is called the Lord of hosts; but in the last of Chronicles, in this, in Nehemiah, and Daniel 1:0.e. in the books written after the captivity, he is styled the God of heaven, and not Lord of hosts, though they are both used in the same sense.

REFLECTIONS.—The seventy years of captivity now drew to their period; and the drooping hope of God's captive people began to revive, on the conquest of their oppressors by Cyrus, so long before prophesied of by name to be their deliverer: nor did he disappoint their expectations; for, no sooner had he subdued the Babylonish empire, than he issued out an edict for the restoration of the Jewish people. He was convinced, as appears by the proclamation, of the glory of Israel's God, attributed his great successes to his blessing, and diligently sought to correspond with his orders. The Lord stirred up his spirit; he looked upon himself as obliged to build his temple, according to the prophetic word; and therefore, while he gives a general leave to the Jews to return, he enjoins his subjects everywhere to assist them; that they who were poor might be furnished with necessaries for their journey, and a comfortable settlement when they came into their own land. And hereto especially the richer Jews, who chose to continue still in Babylon, were called to contribute; and, if they went not themselves, to help their brethren, and send their free-will offerings to Jerusalem. Note; (1.) Not one jot or tittle of God's word can fail; though the accomplishment of his promises seems long, it is sure at the appointed time. (2.) When the length of our sufferings is near making us despair of their termination, God causes light to rise up in the darkness, and there is hope in the end. (3.) The greatest kings are under the divine government; God has access to the spirits of men, and can incline them to serve his purposes. (4.) Whatever good desire is stirred up in our hearts, we must acknowledge it to be the gift of God. (5.) God is the disposer of the kingdoms of the world: they are truly wise and great who see his hand in their prosperity, and desire to advance his glory in the station to which he has exalted them. (6.) They who have a love for the temple, will gladly open their hand in liberal contribution for the furtherance of so good a work.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah His name was originally Zerubbabel; but it was common for the great men of Judah, at the time of the captivity, to have two names; one of their own country, which was domestic, and another of the Chaldeans, which was used at court. Zerubbabel was born at Babylon, and his name, זרבבל zerubbabel, which signifies an exile, or stranger in Babylon, implies the misery of the people of Israel at that time; but שׁשׁבצר Sheshbazzar, which is a compound of two words, signifying, fine linen and gold, seems to be a name of better omen, and to denote their future and more flourishing condition. So Bishop Patrick. Dr. Trapp, however, says, that Shesh-bazzar signifies joy in tribulation. Some are of opinion, that, among the sacred things which Cyrus ordered to be restored, the ark of the covenant was one; but it nowhere appears that this ark was carried from Jerusalem to Babylon. They tell us, indeed, that in the second temple sacrifices were offered as in the first, and all solemn days observed, especially the great day of expiation, when the law ordained that the blood should be sprinkled before the mercy-seat; and the mercy-seat, say they, was part of the ark; but, besides that the ark without the Shechinah (which was then certainly withdrawn) would have been of no great significance, the Jews universally acknowledge, that the ark was one of the five things which were wanting in the second temple.

Verse 11

Ver. 11. The vessels—were five thousand and four hundred The sum total of these vessels amounts only to two thousand four hundred and ninety-nine. Houbigant supposes the number to be this sum total, as all the versions pretty nearly agree in the separate sums. Kennicott, however, thinks that the error lies in the four hundred and ten silver basons. That thousands, says he, were expressed anciently by single letters with a dot over them, may be presumed from this verse, where the silver basons are said to be (of a second sort, without mentioning any first) four hundred and ten; but in the parallel account, 1Es 2:13 we find the same silver basons to have been two thousand four hundred and ten. Now if ב beth, which stands for the number two, with a dot over it, stood for two thousand, the letter might very easily be copied without the dot. Afterwards, when, in consequence of the corruptions which had been found to arise from numeral letters, numbers were expressed, as they now are in the Hebrew copies, by words at length, the ב being thus reduced to signify two, was of course written שׁנים shenaiim; but this word making nonsense with the following, i.e. two four hundred and ten, has been since changed into משׁנים mishnim; a word not very agreeable to the sense here, and a word which renders this account not only repugnant to the parallel chapter, but also inconsistent with itself, as leaving the sum total now specified in the Hebrew text very deficient, for want of the two thousand thus omitted. This conjecture is confirmed by a Latin MS. in Exeter College library, which reads two thousand four hundred and ten; and is supported not only by five other Latin manuscripts in the Bodleian, but likewise by two in the Archbishop of Canterbury's library at Lambeth. Kenn. Dissert. vol. 2: p. 213. 508. 564. A learned anonymous writer, however, is of opinion that there is no need of any alteration. "Ezra," says he, "might at one time make particular mention of such vessels only as were perhaps chiefly used, or were most remarkable, and might mean to include all the rest in the general round sum of five thousand four hundred; and ver might afterwards think proper to write a more circumstantial history, setting down the exact number of each kind of vessels, together with the particular amount or total of the whole. In Josephus, Antiq. 11: ch. 5 the σπονδεια χρυσεα λ, (30) and the φιαλαι χρυσιναι λ, (30) correspond very well with the chargers of gold, and basons of gold, mentioned by Ezra. As to the other numbers, they all differ from the account in Ezra, as from that in Esdras, except the one thousand other vessels; and the addition of the whole amounts to no more than five thousand two hundred and ten; yet, as he has not himself given a total number, he cannot be said to contradict either of the others. Now, as not one of the articles in the Hebrew account of Ezra exceeds the numbers of those in Esdras, there can be no contradiction therein, because each number may be included in the corresponding number in Esdras. And further, if the number in each article in Ezra had been exactly the same with those in Esdras, the sum total, five thousand four hundred, would have appeared more like a mistake; but as they amount to no more than two thousand four hundred and ninety-nine, it is plain that the writer did not mean to enumerate every single vessel, because he afterwards gives a round sum total of even hundreds, viz. five thousand four hundred, which is more frequent in historians than exact and particular sums; therefore a person must be very little acquainted with history, who supposes that this is a contradiction to the sum total in Esdras, because the odd number sixty-nine is omitted."

REFLECTIONS.—In consequence of the proclamation, we have here a stirring among the dry bones; and the spirit of life breathing upon them, to arise and return to their own land.

1. Judah and Benjamin were the first to lead the way. The chief fathers of the families assembled; and the priests and Levites, zealous for the re-establishment of the service of God, readily embraced the permission given them. A thousand difficulties were, indeed, in their way; by their long abode in Babylon, many were now comfortably settled; they were utter strangers to the land whither they were going, and could expect to find there nothing but ruin and desolation; not so much as a house to cover their heads; yet all these things discouraged them not: God animated their hearts with desire for his temple's restoration at Jerusalem, and filled them with a noble love of liberty. Note; (1.) When God's service requires to be set forward, his ministers should be the first to promote it. (2.) The Lord must raise up our hearts, or else our earth-born souls will choose their rest in Babylon. (3.) The gospel, like this proclamation, calls forth the sinner from his bondage; and, though the way to the glorious land of life and liberty is difficult, those who dare trust their all with God, boldly go forth; while others, disheartened by the prospect of danger, refuse to follow the divine mandate, and live and die the servants of corruption.

2. The Chaldeans liberally assisted the returning Israelites; and they who stayed at Babylon willingly offered of their substance for the furtherance of the temple of God; while Cyrus, their great benefactor, nobly restores to them all the vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried to Babylon, and placed in the temple of his idol gods. Note; God can make the great men of the world contribute to the support of his cause, and assist in the furtherance of his service.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ezra 1". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.