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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Ezra 1

Verse 1

1. The first year Not the first year of his becoming sovereign of the Persians, but the first of his immediate rule over Babylon, and the provinces of Western Asia, which had previously belonged to the Babylonian empire. Upon the fall of Babylon, Darius the Mede had taken that kingdom, (Daniel 5:31; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 11:1,) and reigned there for a year or more before Cyrus assumed direct control. Daniel 6:28.

Cyrus king of Persia Concerning the birth and early life of this illustrious man the ancient authors (Herodotus, Xenophon, Ctesias, and Nicolaus Damascenus) disagree, and it is impossible to decide with certainty whose account is most correct; but all agree that with him the Persian empire arose from comparative insignificance to be the greatest power that had ever ruled all Western Asia. Cyrus’s first great act was to defeat Astyages his grandfather, according to Herodotus and Xenophon and subject the Medes to the Persians. Soon after, he conquered and added to his empire the ancient kingdom of Lydia, in Asia Minor. Then followed the fall of Babylon and of other kingdoms before his victorious armies. When he began to reign at Babylon he doubtless heard of Daniel, and, perhaps, had personal intercourse with him. Some have thought, and not without reason, that this prophet called his attention to Isaiah’s oracles concerning him, (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1,) that he should restore the Jews and rebuild the temple, and thus show himself Jehovah’s “shepherd” and “anointed” one.

Word of the Lord by… Jeremiah See especially Jeremiah 25:12: “When seventy years are accomplished, I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the Lord, for their iniquity.” Reckoning from the first invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, more than a year before he became sole king of Babylon, (2 Kings 24:1, note,) we find just seventy years had elapsed at the first year of Cyrus. Thus Nebuchadnezzar 45, Evil-Merodach 2, Neriglissar 4, Nabonadius 17, Darius the Mede 2=70.

Thus the seventy years of Jewish captivity synchronized very closely with the seventy years of the Babylonian empire. Differences of opinion prevail, however, as to the period covered by the seventy years’ captivity. Some reckon them from the destruction of the first temple to the completion of the second, 588 to 515 B.C. But Jeremiah’s prophecy seems clearly to make the fall of Babylon the terminus ad quem of the seventy years, and this would place the terminus a quo at Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion of Palestine, when Daniel and other Jewish captives were taken to Babylon. See note on 2 Kings 24:1. Hence, when Babylon fell and Darius was set over that realm, Daniel understood that the seventy years were about expired. Daniel 9:1.

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus Probably by the words of Daniel, who may have called his attention to Isaiah’s prophecies concerning him. It is interesting to observe in this connexion that the religion of the early Persians was monotheistic the comparatively pure system of Zoroaster; and this may explain the sympathy which Cyrus seems to have had for the Jews, and his readiness, at so early a period of his reign, to allow them to return from exile and rebuild their temple. See on the next verse.

Made a proclamation Literally, caused a voice to pass in all his kingdom; that is, announced by criers. Not only was the announcement made orally, but it was published also in writing, and probably laid up among the archives of the kingdom, from which a copy of it was taken by our author.

Verse 2

2. Thus saith Cyrus “There are probably few things more surprising to the intelligent student of Scripture than the religious tone of the proclamations which are assigned in Ezra to Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. Compare Ezra 6:8-10; Ezra 7:12; Ezra 7:23. Two things are especially remarkable in these passages first, the strongly marked religious character, very unusual in heathen documents; and, secondly, the distinctness with which they assert the unity of God, and thence identify the God of the Persians with the God of the Jews. Both these points receive abundant illustration from the Persian cuneiform inscriptions, in which the recognition of a single supreme God Ormazd and the clear and constant ascription to him of the direction of all mundane affairs, are leading features. In all the Persian monuments of any length, the monarch makes the acknowledgment that ‘Ormazd has bestowed on him his empire.’ Every success that is gained is ‘by the grace of Ormazd.’ The name of Ormazd occurs in almost every other paragraph of the Behistun inscription. No public monuments with such a pervading religious spirit have ever been discovered among the records of any heathen nation as those of the Persian kings; and through them all, down to the time of Artaxerxes Ochus, the name of Ormazd stands alone and unapproachable as that of the Supreme Lord of earth and heaven.” RAWLINSON, Hist. Evid., p. 147.

The same distinguished writer says in another work: “The conquest of Babylon by Persia was practically, if not a death-blow, at least a severe wound, to that sensuous idol-worship which had for more than twenty centuries been the almost universal religion in the countries between the Mediterranean and the Zagros mountain range. That religion never recovered itself was never reinstated. It survived, a longer or shorter time, in places. To a slight extent it corrupted Zoroastrianism; but, on the whole, from the date of the fall of Babylon it declined. ‘Bel bowed down, Nebo stooped,’ (Isaiah 46:1;) ‘Merodach was broken in pieces;’ judgment was done upon the Babylonian graven images, (Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 51:52;) and the system of which they formed a necessary part having once fallen from its proud pre-eminence, gradually decayed and vanished.

“Parallel with the decline of the old Semitic idolatry was the advance of its direct antithesis, pure spiritual monotheism. The same blow which laid the Babylonian religion in the dust struck off the fetters from Judaism. Purified and refined by the precious discipline of adversity, the Jewish system which Cyrus, feeling towards it a natural sympathy, protected, upheld, and replaced in its proper locality, advanced from this time in influence and importance, leavening little by little the foul mass of superstition and impurity which came in contact with it. Proselytism grew more common. The Jews spread themselves wider. The return from the captivity, which Cyrus authorized almost immediately after the capture of Babylon, is the starting-point from which we may trace a gradual enlightenment of the heathen world by the dissemination of Jewish beliefs and practices; such dissemination being greatly helped by the high estimation in which the Jewish system was held by the civil authority, both while the empire of the Persians lasted, and when power passed to the Macedonians.” Ancient Monarchies, vol. iii, p. 385.

Lord God of heaven The writer uses Jehovah, “LORD,” instead of Ormazd, in this edict. A common formula in the Persian inscriptions is, “The great God Ormazd, who gave both earth and heaven to mankind.”

Given me all the kingdoms In the Behistun inscription, Darius says, “Ormazd granted me the empire. By the grace of Ormazd I hold this empire.”

Charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem Bertheau thinks that our author entirely recast Cyrus’s edict from his own theocratic standpoint. The king’s proclamation probably contained abundant references to Ormazd as the God by whose grace and direction he received and administered the kingdom, and our historian, acknowledging no other God than Jehovah, translated the edict in the form we now have it, substituting Jehovah for Ormazd, and otherwise altering it to suit his own religious ideas. This supposition may be partly true. Cyrus did not issue his proclamation in the Hebrew language, and, probably after the manner of the Persian inscriptions, he used the name of Ormazd and not Jehovah, and in these respects our author may have modified the phraseology in his translation; but, granting even this, it is not only possible, but highly probable, that, as Josephus and the older expositors hold, Cyrus had been shown Isaiah’s prophecies, where Jehovah says of Cyrus, “He shall say to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.” Isaiah 44:28. Nor is it in the least improbable that Daniel, who stood high in the court of Babylon under Darius and Cyrus, (Daniel 6:2; Daniel 6:28,) advised Cyrus of Isaiah’s prophecies, and also had something to do with the drawing up of this proclamation. The king regarded these prophecies as a divine charge to build the temple.

Verse 3

3. All his people No distinction of Judah and Israel is recognized in this proclamation, but the whole Israelitish population throughout the land is addressed. It was natural, however, that “Judah and Benjamin,” the last in exile, in whose hearts the memory of Jerusalem and the fatherland was freshest, were the first and chief ones to respond. Ezra 1:5.

His God be with him… Lord God of Israel, he is the God See notes on Ezra 1:2 concerning Persian monotheism and reverence for the Supreme God.

Verse 4

4. Whosoever remaineth Or rather, all the remnant, that is, all the exiles still living. Compare the use of the same word in Nehemiah 1:2. The word is best taken as nominative absolute, and as for all the remnant.

In any place where he sojourneth Rather, From all the places where he has been dwelling. This phrase is to be construed with what follows, thus: Let the inhabitants of any place out of all the places where the exiles have been dwelling, help those exiles, etc.

The men of his place The non-Israelitish population, or any others who do not accompany the exiles that volunteer to return to Jerusalem. Josephus states that many of the wealthier Jews remained at Babylon, not being willing to leave their possessions there.

Goods Movable property; perhaps especially, household goods.

Freewill offering Gifts of money, or vessels, or beasts for sacrifice any oblation that might be deemed appropriate or of value.

Verse 5

PREPARATIONS TO RETURN FROM EXILE, Ezra 1:5-11.

5. Chief of the fathers The most aged and venerable men, who were heads of families, and some of whom had seen the former temple. Ezra 3:12.

Judah and Benjamin These tribes, last exiled, were the first to return. Doubtless with them some descendants of other tribes also returned, and when the temple was finished twelve he goats were offered at the dedication, according to the number of the twelve tribes. Ezra 6:17; compare also Ezra 8:35; and 1 Chronicles 9:3.

Priests… Levites Without these the temple service could not be properly administered, nor the sacrifices legally offered.

With all Bertheau makes all in apposition with fathers, priests, and Levites, thus: The chief of the fathers, and the priests and the Levites, in short, all whose spirit, etc. But we prefer to take the preposition with ( ל ) in the sense of together with, showing that others besides the chief fathers and the Levites rose up to return to Jerusalem. None, however, either among fathers or Levites, or others, went up except those whose spirit God had raised. The word rendered had raised is the same as that rendered stirred up, in Ezra 1:1, and here means roused up and thrilled with strong desire to go and rebuild the temple.

Verse 6

6. All they that were about them That is, the neighbours and friends of those exiles who rose up to return, especially the wealthier Jews, who, as Patrick says, “being well settled at Babylon, did not think fit to stir till they saw how these would succeed.”

Strengthened their hands That is, as the margin explains, helped them; assisted and cheered them by the presents and provisions immediately named. This was done in accordance with Cyrus’s decree.

Besides all that was willingly offered The presents previously named were given by order of the king; but besides these gifts others of the same or similar nature were contributed spontaneously by persons who, unable to go themselves, were anxious to encourage and help those who did go.

Verse 7

7. The king brought forth the vessels He not only ordered others to give, but set the example by himself giving from the treasures of the kingdom.

Nebuchadnezzar had brought See 2Ki 24:13 ; 2 Chronicles 36:7; Daniel 1:2. Some of these vessels had been sacrilegiously used by Belshazzar and his lords on that night of revelry when Babylon was taken, and Belshazzar slain. Daniel 5:2-3.

Verse 8

8. Sheshbazzar The Chaldee or Persian name of the prince of Judah, who is elsewhere called Zerubbabel. Ezra 2:2; Ezra 3:2; Ezra 3:8; Ezra 4:2, etc.; compare Ezra 5:16, and Zechariah 4:9. He was the leader and captain of this first band of exiles that returned to Jerusalem, as well as the chief director and superintendent of the rebuilding of the temple.

Verse 9

9. Chargers Basins or cups. Sept. ψυκτηρες ; Vulg. phialae, drinking vessels. According to Aben Ezra, they were basins used for collecting the blood of lambs. Others take the word in the sense of baskets.

Knives מחלפים . Commonly explained as the slaughter knives by which the sacrificial victims were killed. The feminine form of the same word is used in Judges 16:13; Judges 16:19, for braids of hair, whence Ewald conjectures that the meaning here is some sort of vessels adorned with plaited work. Bertheau suggests that they were coal-pans, or censers, like those mentioned in 1 Kings 7:50.

Verse 10

10. Basins Cups or goblets with a cover.

Of a second sort Of secondary value as to their material, and used in less honourable service than the golden basins.

Other vessels Compare the various vessels of the temple mentioned in 1 Kings 7:45-50.

Verse 11

11. Five thousand and four hundred This sum does not agree with the preceding numbers, which are 30+1,000+29+30+410+1,000=2,499. In Esther 2:13-14; Esther 2:13-14, the number of vessels mentioned amounts to 5,469. Some expositors think the enumeration of vessels (in Ezra 1:9-10) includes only the larger and more costly, while the gross sum here mentioned includes all, both small and great, which Nebuchadnezzar carried away. But that explanation is arbitrary and conjectural. The probability is that some of the numbers here are corrupt, but all attempts now to amend the text are mere conjectures.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ezra 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/ezra-1.html. 1874-1909.