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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 1

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-22

XXI

THE RETURN AND REORGANIZATION UNDER ZERUBBABEL

Ezra 1-6

This section embraces the return unto the dedication of the Temple, 536-516 B.C. (Ezra 1-6). First, we have the decree of Cyrus, Ezra 1:1-4, issued 536 B.C. In this remarkable decree Cyrus gives his authority for issuing it, as Jehovah, the God of Israel. This does not imply that Cyrus was a monotheist or a believer in the God of Israel, but it does imply that he recognized the existence of the God of the Hebrews and acknowledged him as the promoter of their welfare.


There are five remarkable things about this decree, viz: (1) It was promulgated by a heathen king. (2) It recognized Jehovah as the dispenser of the kingdoms of the world, saying, "All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me." (3) It declares that the supreme God had "charged" him to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. (4) It originated in a "stir" of the king’s spirit by God himself. (5) It provided for money and free will offerings for the Temple. All this may have been brought about as tradition says, by Daniel showing Cyrus the prophecy of Isaiah, thus causing him to issue this decree. However this may be, we have here some great lessons on God’s government of the world, viz: First, God’s universal sovereignty over the kings of the earth. Second, these heathen people had some light of the true God which perhaps, they received from the Jews. Third, God’s prophecy cannot fail and his promise is made sure, as in the case of Caesar Augustus, who issued the decree that all the world should be enrolled, fulfilling a prophecy of Micah some five hundred years before. It may be added that all this shows that the Persians during this period recognized the one supreme God, though they worshiped others gods, and that Isaiah had foretold this decree giving the very name of the king and bringing us the lesson that God’s foreknowledge is unlimited making possible all predictive prophecy.


Next follows the first return and genealogy, Ezra 1:5-2:67. The company was composed of those whom the Spirit of God stirred up, which was not large comparatively speaking, perhaps, because the larger part of them were engaged in commerce and did not wish to take chances on transferring their business interests. He charged their friends to help them freely, which has a parallel in the case of the children of Israel leaving Egypt, though without order from the king. Cyrus was honest in his decree. All the vessels that had been taken by Nebuchadnezzar were returned. They numbered in all 5,400. A partial list of them is given, but only the best materials are mentioned, such as the silver and the gold.


The genealogy in the second chapter gives only the heads of the various tribes or representatives of them: this list had been carefully preserved through the Exile. This company of returning pilgrims is the "remnant" so frequently spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. The total number was 42,360 Jews, and 7,337 servants. Their beasts numbered 736 horses, 250 mules, 435 cattle, 6,720 asses – a large caravan. The mention of the actual heads of the tribes in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7, gives evidence that the twelve tribes were represented in this return, the prophetic proof of which is found in Jeremiah 3:18; Jeremiah 16:15; Jeremiah 30:3; Ezekiel 11:15; Ezekiel 11:17. These prophecies show that Israel and Judah both were to return to their land. There is also abundant historical proof that Israel returned with Judah. After the division of the kingdom and before the captivity ’of Israel there were four defections from Israel to Judah. Then the history of the Jews after their return proves it (See Zechariah 11:14) ; the twelve tribes were there in Christ’s day, and James addresses the twelve tribes. This exact numbering here in Ezra has the historical value of preserving the genealogy and the details here given show the poor and insignificant beginning they had upon their return.


The first attempt was to rebuild the Temple, Ezra 2:68-3:13. There was a considerable amount of wealth among those who returned in this company. The larger part of them settled in the various cities of Judah, comparatively few of them in the city of Jerusalem. We have an account of the first offering toward the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 2:69) amounting to about $450,000.00. In the seventh month they gathered together under the leadership of Joshua and Zerubbabel and erected an altar; the starting of the worshiping of God in sacrifices. They had learned in the Exile that it was impossible to have a religion without a temple. It is probable that the stone upon which this altar was erected is the stone now under "The Dome of the Rock." They offered their burnt offerings and then kept the "Feast of the Tabernacles" as best they could. In the next year under the direction of the leaders they laid the foundation of the Temple. This probably occurred in 535 B.C. It was attended with joyful ceremonies as recorded in Ezra 3:10. It is possible that the song they sang then was the whole or part of Psalm 136. There were those present who remembered the former Temple and they thought of the destruction of that grand building and doubtless they lived over again the fifty years intervening. The younger members of the congregation were overjoyed at the present success, and the old men as truly were grateful, but gave vent to their feeling with a wailing of sorrow at the memory of the former Temple. Fifty years had passed since their former beautiful Temple had been destroyed, and they could not but think over the awful past, when it went down in ruins. So the younger men rejoiced but the older men wept and wailed.


We find the first hindrance to the work in Ezra 4:5-24. This is by the Samaritans) that mixed race to the north of Judah. Their first offer was friendly, to co-operate with and help the Jews build the Temple, and from Ezra 4 we see that Zerubbabel did not accept their offer, but promptly rejected it because they saw the outcome of such an alliance; then, they showed that the decree of Cyrus had appointed them to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The refusal angered the Samaritans and they succeeded in putting a stop to the work of erecting the sacred edifice. In Ezra 4:24 we are told that the work on the house of the Lord ended until the second year of the reign of Darius the king of Persia. This would be 520 or 519 B.C.


In Ezra 4:4-5 we have a general statement of the opposition in this language: "Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia." Then follows the opposition in particular: In a letter to Ahasuerus (Cambyses) they bring an accusation against Judah and Jerusalem, but there are no particulars given. Then in a second letter to Artaxerxes (Pseudo-Smerdis), they brought an accusation against Jerusalem with the following particulars: (1) they are building the rebellious and bad city; (2) they have finished the walls; (3) the people are preparing to avoid tribute, custom and toll; (4) the records show this to be a rebellious and hurtful city, and there should be an investigation to see if these things are so; (5) this means that Persia will have no portion beyond the river Euphrates. The result was that Artaxerxes responded that he had examined and found records as they had charged, and therefore he ordered the work stopped, and did stop it by force.


There are some critical matters just here that call for consideration: (1) "Ahasuerus" and "Artaxerxes" are royal titles and are applied to various monarchs of Persia; (2) these are not the "Ahasuerus" and "Artaxerxes" of Esther and Nehemiah, making Ezra 4:6-23 parenthetical as some say, but they refer to "Cambyses" and "Pseudo-Smerdis" as indicated above, and Ezra 4:6-22 connects directly with the preceding and following verses; (3) "the rebellious city" has a certain basis of truth in three instances: It rebelled (a) in the reign of Jehoiakim, (b) in the reign of Jehoiakin, and (c) in the reign of Zedekiah; (4) the statement, "have finished the walls," is an Oriental exaggeration (Ezra 5:3) ; (5) "no portion beyond the river" has basis of truth in the reigns of Solomon and Menahem.


The work was stopped, for probably seventeen or eighteen years, and apparently no efforts were made to continue it. At this time there appeared two prophets upon the scene, Haggai, an older prophet, and Zechariah a younger one. They aroused the people to activity by a series of prophecies which we find recorded in their books. Haggai says, "The time has come for you to build God’s house." The trouble was they had taken time to build houses for themselves and neglected God’s house. He says they ought to consider their ways; that the present drought and hard circumstances existed because they had neglected the building of the house of God (Haggai 1:7-11). Zechariah by a series of visions co-operates with Haggai and the people are at length aroused to a genuine effort to build, or rather rebuild the Temple.


As they were rebuilding the Temple the matter was reported to Tattenai, the Satrap, who had charge of all this part of the Persian Empire. It caused him some apprehension. He wished to know for certain whether the Jews had authority to rebuild the Temple or not. They answered that the decree of Cyrus was their authority. Then Tattenai entered into correspondence with the king about the matter.


The history of the old Temple, the Jews’ disobedience and captivity, and the decree of Cyrus was all recited in the correspondence between Tattenai and Darius. The king ordered a search for the Cyrus decree, the decree was found, and the work was ordered to go forward. This decree granted all that the Cyrus decree did and added the help of the governor with gifts of various kinds and for various purposes. The date of this decree was 519 B.C. If we compare this letter of Tattenai to Darius with the former one, we find that there is a vast difference. The former was characterized by bitterness and false accusations, while the latter was a fair statement and a legitimate inquiry into the merits of the case.


We note here that credit is given to the prophets for the success of the work, though it was four years, five months, and ten days after they began to prophesy before the work was completed. It is well to note here also the points made by the prophets bearing directly on the work of rebuilding the Temple. Haggai reproves them for excusing themselves from the building under the plea that it was not time to build and refers to their building themselves houses to live in and neglecting the house of God. Zechariah by a series of visions confirms Haggai’s work and encourages them to undertake the great task of building. (Here the student should read Haggai and Zechariah – they will be interpreted later in the course).


The Temple was finished and dedicated 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:13-22). This great event occurred about seventy years after the destruction of the first Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. The nation now had a religious center. A new era for Judaism dawned. This Temple remained until A.D. 70, when it was destroyed by the Romans. Haggai promised that the desire of all the nations should come into it. In the courts of this same building Jesus of Nazareth walked and talked. There was a note of joy in this dedication. They offered sacrifices as they did at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, but this exercise did not compare with Solomon’s in magnificence. There was also a resetting here of the priests and Levites in the service of the Temple. Then followed a great celebration of the Passover. Few other such celebrations of this feast are recorded in sacred history. Along with this one may be named the one in Egypt at its institution, the one at Gilgal upon the entrance into the land, another in the days of Hezekiah, yet another in the days of Josiah, and the last one in the days of Jesus when he instituted his Supper to take the place of the Passover.

QUESTIONS

1. By whose decree did the first exiled Jews return to their country and what was the date of this decree?

2. What five remarkable things about this decree and how brought about?

3. What great lessons here on God’s government of the world?

4. What light does this give us on the religious condition of Persia during this period?

5. What great prophet had foretold this decree giving the very name of this king and what the lesson?

6. What, in general, was the response to this decree, what kindness shown to them by the Persians, what parallel found in earlier Jewish history and why was the response so small?

7. Who were the men named in Ezra 2:2 (cf. Nehemiah 7:7), counting the regular Israelites, the Nethinim, the servants and singers, how many people and how many beasts of burden in this first return, and what evidence that all the twelve tribes were represented in this return?

8. What prophetic proof that the ten tribes were not wholly lost?

9. What historical proof?

10. Why this exactness in numbering and detail?

11. What was the first thing they did upon their arrival in Jerusalem and what was the amount of this offering?

12. When did they set the altar and inaugurate regular service, who were the leaders, what was the first feast kept, what was the next step, what steps did they take now toward rebuilding the Temple, and where did they get their material? (See your Bible.)

13. When did they lay the foundation, what correspondence here (see 1 Kings 6:1), what the ceremonial on this occasion, what Psalm did they sing; how did they sing it and how did the people give expression to their emotion?

14. From whom did opposition come to the work of rebuilding the Temple, what proposition did they make, what the subtlety of it, how was it met and why?

15. Where do we have a general statement of the opposition, in what form does the opposition appear in particular, what points made, what result and what critical matters in this connection?

16. How long did the work of building cease, who stirred them up to renew the work, what new opposition arose, what form did it take, what history was recited in the correspondence, what was the result, what enlargement of this decree over the Cyrus decree, what was the date of this decree and how does the correspondence here compare with the former letter to the king?

17. What credit is here given to the prophets for the success of the work, and how long after they began to prophesy to the completion of the work.?

18. What were the points made by these prophets bearing directly upon the work or rebuilding the Temple?

19. Describe the dedication service, contrast it with Solomon’s dedication of his Temple and note the resetting here in the service of this Temple.

20. What great Jewish festival did they keep at this time and how many great occasions of a like celebration in the history of Israel can you name?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezra 1". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/ezra-1.html.
 
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