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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 4

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-24



Babylon has had its days, and with its downfall has come that of the Assyrian Empire. The Medes and Persians, with Cyrus at their head, are now in power, and in the providence of God, Daniel, the Jewish prophet and statesman, has influence at this court, as in that of Nebuchadnezzar. By a study of the earlier prophets, especially Jeremiah, he has become aware that the time is nigh for the captivity of Judah to end and his people to return to their land (Daniel 9:1-2 ; Jeremiah 25:12-14 ). He knows, also, that two hundred years earlier, Isaiah had, by the Holy Spirit, mentioned Cyrus as the monarch by whose ukase this return would be brought about (Isaiah 44-45).

Doubtless he told these things to Cyrus, who issues this proclamation (Ezra 1:1 ) not from any intelligent desire to please Jehovah, but for political reasons. Nevertheless, thus is fulfilled again Romans 8:28 .

The words of Cyrus, (Ezra 1:2 ) are not merely oriental hyperbole, as we may judge by Jeremiah 27:0 and Daniel 2:0 . It is anticipating too much to enter on these prophets now, further than to say that the dominion they speak of as divinely entrusted to Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, was to be transferred to their successors down to the end of this age. Of these successors Cyrus and the Persians were the first.

Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:8 ) is the Persian name for Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:8 ; 5-16), who, though born in exile, was recognized as heir to the throne of Judah.


“Province” (Ezra 2:1 ) refers to Judah, and indicates that it is no longer an independent kingdom, but a dependency of Persia. “Children” is not to be taken in the sense of little ones, but that of descendants or posterity. “Tirshatha” (Ezra 2:63 ) means “governor.”

Verse 64 says, “The whole congregation, together, was forty-two thousand three hundred and threescore.” This amount Isaiah 12:0 more than the numbers when added together. Reckoning up the smaller numbers we find they amount to 29,818, in this chapter, and to 31,089 in the parallel chapter of Nehemiah. Ezra also mentions 494 persons omitted by Nehemiah, and Nehemiah mentions 1,765 not noticed by Ezra. If, therefore, Ezra’s surplus be added to Nehemiah, and Nehemiah’s to Ezra, they will both become 31,583. Subtracting this from 42,360, there will be a deficiency of 10,777. These are omitted because they did not belong to Judah and Benjamin or to the priests, but to the other tribes. The servants and singers are reckoned separately (Ezra 2:65 ), so that putting all these items together, the number of all who went with Zerubbabel amounted to 50,000 with 8,000 beasts of burden.


The seventh month (Ezra 3:1 ) corresponds to our September 15-October 15, and was the time of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:0 ). Jeshua (Ezra 3:2 ) was the hereditary high priest. “His [or its] bases” (Ezra 3:3 ) means the old foundations of the altar. After the altar which was necessary to be built first in order to sacrifice unto the Lord, the foundations of the temple begin to be laid (Ezra 3:8-11 ). The sorrow of the older men (Ezra 3:12 ) was caused by the contrast between the prosperous circumstances under which Solomon’s temple had been built, and those of the present. This second temple would be inferior in size and costliness, and destitute of the Ark, the Shekinah, the Urim and Thummim, and other features which contributed to the glory of the first temple. Read Haggai in this connection.


In verse one “Judah and Benjamin,” and “the children of the captivity” are identical. “The adversaries,” were the people settled in the land of Israel by the Assyrians after the captivity of the ten tribes. They intermarried with the Israelites who had been left behind, and their offspring went under the general name of Samaritans. Originally they were idolaters, but having received some instruction in the knowledge of the true God they claimed to be worshipping Him, though of course, in an ignorant and superstitious way. (Compare 2 Kings 17:24-41 .) The refusal of their co-operation by the Jews was proper, but it brought serious and prolonged trouble to them (Ezra 4:4-5 ). (Compare John 4:9 .) Verse 6 shows the nature of this trouble, where Ahasuerus as commonly understood is another name for the famous Xerxes, king of Persia, although some maintain that he is identical with Darius Hystaspes. The conspirators continued in the next reign also (Ezra 4:7-16 ). “The great and noble Asnapper” (Ezra 4:10 ) is another name for Esar-Haddon, met with before, who transported these foreigners into the waste cities of Samaria after the captivity of Israel. The result of their efforts is shown in Ezra 4:23-24 . Darius is sometimes known as Darius Hystaspes, and was the second of that name since Cyrus. The work ceased for about fifteen years.


Do not omit to read Zechariah at this point, and observe the effect of his words, heaven-endued, upon the leaders (Ezra 5:1-2 ). The men of verse 3, like those of chapter 4, verses 7-8, were satraps or viceroys of Persia set over provinces in proximity to Judah, who felt it their duty thus to inquire and protest. Verse four seems a mistranslation, and probably means that they inquired of the Jews instead of the reverse (see Ezra 5:10 ).

The Darius of chapter five acted differently from any of his predecessors. Achmetha (Ezra 6:2 ) is better known as Ecbatana, the summer residence of the early kings of Persia. The work of the temple may proceed (Ezra 6:7 ), the Persian satraps are to assist (Ezra 6:8-10 ), penalties are to follow interference (Ezra 6:11-12 ), and henceforth the turbulent Samaritans had better take care!

The work is ended (Ezra 6:15 ). Dr. Lightfoot says the foundation was laid April, 536 B.C., and the completion accomplished February 21, 515 B.C. The dedicatory feast is held with joy. Note the explanatory reason (Ezra 6:22 ). God receives the glory.


1. What world-empire succeeded the Assyrian or Babylonian?

2. What prophet is used of God for the return of His people to Palestine?

3. Have you read Isaiah 44, 45?

4. Are you familiar with Daniel 2:0 ?

5. What distinction belonged to Zerubbabel?

6. How many people of all classes returned in the first company?

7. What was the first religious work they set about?

8. What prophets, whose written works have come down to us, belong to this period?

9. Give the history of the Samaritans, so-called.

10. How many kings of Persia were named Darius?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Ezra 4". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/ezra-4.html. 1897-1910.
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