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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Ezra 4

Verse 1

NEARLY A CENTURY OF OPPOSITION TO ISRAEL;

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS FROM 535 TO 520 B.C.

"Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity were building a temple unto Jehovah, the God of Israel; then they drew near to Zerubbabel, and to the heads of the fathers' houses, and said unto them, Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as ye do; and we sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us hither. But Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of the fathers' houses of Israel said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us building a house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto Jehovah, the God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia."

This is an extremely abbreviated report, as a glance at the chronology of the rulers of Persia, given in the preceding chapter will show. A full twenty-five years of opposition is recorded in these five verses. These years included the remaining years of Cyrus' dominion, the twelve year reign of Cambyses, and into the second year of Darius I (Hystaspes).

Evidently, the great prophet Daniel was deceased early in this period, because it is evident that no powerful voice was available to defend the interests of Israel until the times of Darius I.

"Let us build with you, for we seek your God, as ye do" (Ezra 4:2). The people who thus approached the Jews were the remnants of the Northern Israel which remained after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.; and when wild animals became a threatening problem after many of the people were carried away by Assyria, the Assyrian kings repeopled the land with non-Israelites. It is true that they worshipped Jehovah, after a fashion; but their worship was corrupted by idolatry. Zerubbabel and all Israel were very wise to reject this offer of the Samaritans. The proof that they really had no love at all for Israel appears in their continued opposition.

"Since the days of Esarhaddon" (Ezra 4:2). "Isaiah had prophesied in 734 B.C. that Northern Israel would cease to be a distinct people within sixty-five years (Isaiah 7:8); and this was fulfilled by 669 B.C., during the reign of Esarhaddon (680-668 B.C.)."[1]

The following verses (Ezra 4:6-23) are, in fact, an unusually long parenthesis which describes the continual opposition of the people of the land to the development of Jerusalem until the times of Artaxerxes.

Verse 6

SAMARITAN OPPOSITION CONTINUED UNTIL 446 B.C.

"And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabel, and the rest of his companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letters was written in the Syrian character, and set forth in the Syrian tongue. Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort: 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 Shushanchites, the Dehaites, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar brought over, and set in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the country beyond the River, and so forth.

"This is the copy of the the letter they sent to Artaxerxes the king: Thy servants, the men beyond the River, and so forth. Be it known unto the king, that the Jews that came up from thee are come to us unto Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and have finished the walls, and repaired the foundations. Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and in the end it will be hurtful unto the kings. Now because we eat the salt of the palace, and it is not meet for us to see the king's dishonor, therefore have we sent and certified the king: 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 laid waste. We certify the king that, if this city be builded, and the walls finished, thou shalt have no portion beyond the River.

"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 in the rest of the country beyond the River: Peace, and so forth. The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me. And I decreed, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. There have been mighty kings also over Jeruslaem, who have ruled over all the country beyond the River; and tribute, custom, and toll was paid unto them. Make ye now a decree to cause these men to cease, and that the city be not builded, until a decree shall be made by me. And take heed that ye be not slack herein: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?

"Then when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews and made them to cease by force and power."

Here is the end of the long parenthesis. Note that this letter to Artaxerxes was followed promptly by his decree to shut down the building of Jerusalem (not the house of God; that had been finished long ago). "We must date this decree in 446 B.C.; and it was the news of this disaster which so shocked Nehemiah and forced him into mourning and prayers (Nehemiah 1:3,4)."[2] From this it is clear that the Samaritan opposition lasted from 535 B.C. to 446 B.C., a period of at least 89 years.

"Cause these men to cease ... until a decree shall be made by me" (Ezra 4:21). This was a very important line in the letter, because, according to the foolish tradition of Persian kings, "Their laws of the Medes and the Persians could not be altered." Artaxerxes, here, very wisely left the door open either for himself or a successor to change his mind and let the building of Jerusalem continue.

Having disposed of this long parenthesis in which he spelled out the Samaritan opposition, the author of Ezra at once resumed the narrative regarding the building of the temple, which had been delayed because of the Samaritan opposition, and as we learn from the Minor Prophets, because of the indifference of God's people themselves. Thus, between Ezra 4:23 and Ezra 4:24 there is a retrogression in time from 446 B.C. to 520 B.C., which was the second year of Darius I. Thus, he leaps backwards in the narrative some 74 years!

Verse 24

"Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem; and it ceased until the second year of Darius I the king of Persia."

Chronologically, this verse comes exactly after Ezra 4:5, above, where it was stated that, "The people of the land hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose ... all the days of Cyrus king of Persia." In fact, this lobbying against the rebuilding of the temple went on throughout the remainder of the reign of Cyrus, through all the days of Cambyses, and until the second year of Darius I (520 B.C.).

A little later in Ezra (Ezra 6) we shall have a detailed report of how the opposition of the Samaritans was successfully checkmated and how Darius I ordered the temple to be rebuilt.

One of the significant revelations of the chapter is the racial makeup of what we have loosely called the "Samaritans." A remnant of those people was descended from the ten northern tribes of Israel; but as the letter to Artaxerxes shows, there were not less than nine different nationalities besides Israelites who constituted the population of Samaria.

"The great and noble Osnappar" (Ezra 4:10). This is the only mention in the Bible of this name. Rawlinson supposed that he was an officer of Esarhaddon;[3] Oesterley identified him as, "Ashurbanipal (668-626 B.C.), the son and successor of Esarhaddon."[4]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ezra-4.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.