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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Ezra 1

Verses 1-4

I. THE FIRST RETURN UNDER ZERUBBABEL.

(1-4) The decree of Cyrus: marking an epoch of very great importance, and therefore repeated almost word for word from the end of Chronicles.
(1) The first year.—Cyrus became king of Persia in B.C. 559. Twenty years afterwards he took Babylon from Belshazzar; and this first year of his rule in Babylon was his beginning as an agent in Jewish affairs and for the Kingdom of God.

Stirred up.—By a direct influence, probably through the instrumentality of Daniel. This prophet we may suppose Cyrus to have found in Babylon, and to have had his mind directed to the express prediction of Isaiah 44:28, where his name is mentioned. But the writer, who again and again records the prophetic intervention of Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14), makes no allusion to the part that Daniel the earlier prophet had taken. He refers only to the Divine prediction by Jeremiah, which must be fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon” ( Jeremiah 25:12); “For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).

(2) Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia.—In the interpretation of this decree two courses are open. We may suppose that “the spirit” of Cyrus was so effectually “stirred up” by the Spirit of God, through the prophecies of Isaiah, as to send out a written proclamation avowing his faith in Jehovah-Elohim, and thus publicly accepting the prediction: He hath charged me to build.” In this case the parenthesis of Ezra 1:3 (He is the God) may be compared with the confession of his father-in-law, Darius the Mede: “He is the living God” (Daniel 6:26). Or we may assume that “Ormazd” in the original was reproduced in the Hebrew version that accompanied it by its equivalent, Jehovah.” The latter supposition avoids the difficulty involved in making Cyrus disavow the national faith in the presence of his empire. The decree itself runs much in the style of those found in the majority of Persian inscriptions, such as “By the grace of Ormazd is Darius king;” and the spirit of tolerance! and piety in it is perfectly in harmony with all ancient testimonies to the character of Cyrus.

(4) Whosoever remaineth.As to all the Remnant in all places. There is a singular correspondence between this and the beginning of Nehemiah; but there this familiar name for the survivors of the great national catastrophe is used of those who had returned to Jerusalem, while here it is used for the dispersion in all the provinces of the empire (Nehemiah 1:3).

Where he sojourneth.—Every individual Jew is thus significantly supposed to be only an exile.

Let the men of his place help him.—The heathen subjects of Cyrus are required to assist the departing sojourner, and expected also to send freewill offerings to the Temple. Note that in all these terms the spirit and phrase of the Hebrew people are used; and that there was more in the decree than is here given, as appears in the sequel. Cyrus was under strong influence, both human and Divine.

Verses 5-11

(5-11) Immediate result of the decree.
(5) With all them whose spirit God had raised.Namely, all is the more exact rendering. The same influence that prompted the decree of Cyrus was necessary to overcome the inertness of the captives: many preferred to remain in Babylon.—The people were enumerated as tribes, families, and fathers’ houses; the second and third orders of classification are not here distinguished from each other.

(6) Precious things.—The Hebrew equivalent is a rare word, which, when it occurs, is connected only with the precious metals.

Willingly offered.—Although it is not so said, the people of Cyrus were stirred up” like himself: how much he gave, and how much he valued the worship of the Temple, we shall hereafter see.

(7) His gods.—Rather, his god. Merodach, to wit, whom he called “his lord” (Daniel 1:2). From 2 Kings 25:13-17 it appears that much had been taken away which Cyrus had not been able to find.

(8) Mithredath.—“Dedicated to Mithra,” the sun god of the Persians, whose worship among the Vedic Indians had thus early reached Persia.

Sheshbazzar.—The Chaldee name of Zerubbabel, whose title, however, as Prince of Judah is given him from the Hebrew side. He was the legal heir of Jehoiachin, being the son of Pedaiah (1 Chronicles 3:19), who possibly married the widow of Salathiel or Shealtiel. And the title “Prince of Judah,” or “Prince of the captivity,” was specially given to him in common with a very few others.

(9) Chargers and knives.—Rare words in the original, perhaps on the whole best rendered as here.

(10) Of a second sort.—Of inferior quality.

(11) Five thousand and four hundred.—The total of the several sums should be in round numbers, such as are frequently used, two thousand and five hundred. Obviously, therefore, the writer, whom we must needs suppose to have his own previous numbers before him, here includes vessels not before enumerated as chargers and basons.

Bring up.—They were not, as sometimes said, the freewill offering of Cyrus. Sheshbazzar brought these rich vessels “with them of the captivity,” and they were sent as already belonging to God, who vindicated by His judgment on Babylon their desecration at the feast of Belshazzar.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ezra 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/ezra-1.html. 1905.