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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Ezra 1

Verses 1-11

Ezra 1:1 . In the first year of Cyrus. Darius had the title of king of Babylon; but according to Xenophon, Cyrus had the throne, and remained in the city. After two years Darius died, and left him the whole of the empire. It is very remarkable that the Assyrian and the Babylonian empires, which successively commanded the east, should both fall when there was no appearance of serious danger, nor the most distant expectation of ruin a little before the event. These empires were wicked beyond a name; and while they seemed to slumber on the lap of pleasure, heaven from little clouds was gathering the vengeance which so suddenly burst upon their heads. When the time is come, God is rich in resources to punish the wicked, and to protect his people. Cyrus left Persia with about thirty thousand well appointed men. He made a circuitous expedition through six or seven states; and partly by force, but more by generosity, he gained a prince and an army to accompany him from every nation. With these forces, and forces emboldened by success in every expedition, he gave the Babylonians battle in the plain before their city. The immense and effeminate multitude of his foes scarcely awaited the first charge before they fled, and exposed their retreat to prodigious slaughter. There was however one column of veteran Egyptian troops which kept their ground, and boldly stood alone like a rock in the ocean surrounded with waves. Crossing their pikes, and covering themselves with their shields, they bade defiance to every charge, whether of chariots, or of cavalry. Cyrus, finding force of no avail; for one of his kings and many of his best troops lay dead at their feet; ordered his men to retreat, and approached this brave column with a trumpeter, and asked what they meant to do. In short, he was obliged to promise them lots of land before they would surrender.

After the battle, he encompassed the city with a very deep ditch to make the blockade easy for his men; for the walls were too high and too thick to be sealed. The Babylonians were confident that nothing but famine could reduce them, and that the rainy season would oblige their enemies to decamp. In this confidence Belshazzar kept his great feast, when the handwriting appeared on the wall, which Daniel interpreted: and the venerable prophet had little more than passed sentence on this most profligate court, before heaven executed the blow. In that same night, Cyrus, presuming on the intoxication of the city, opened a wide communication between the river and his trenches, which so diminished its stream, that his army marched into the city in the bed of the river, slew all they found in the streets, stormed the palace, and killed the king. So Babylon in all its pride, and wealth, and crimes, fell to rise no more. Daniel 5:0. Xenophon’s Cyropediæ. Rollin’s Ancient History.

Ezra 1:8 . Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. His Hebrew name was Zerubbabel, or exile in Babylon, being born there; but his benefactors had probably changed it for a more elegant name, equivalent to the sources of all riches, or rejoicing in tribulation.

REFLECTIONS.

The accession of Cyrus to the throne and empire of Babylon, though Darius, called Cyaxares, his uncle, took it for awhile in name, was the most happy revolution for the long afflicted Jews. Daniel, who had grown old, acting the high affairs of heaven, saw at last the oppressors oppressed; and looking for the salvation of his people, began to seek their emancipation. He knew by Jeremiah’s prophecies that the time was accomplished, and he deemed the overthrow of the old empire a favourable opportunity. The old tyrants were distinguished by cruelty; they opened not the house of their prisoners; but Cyrus was distinguished by humanity. Therefore, what Josephus says, that Daniel showed him the prophecy of Isaiah, chap. 44. and 45., in which this illustrious prince was designated by name two hundred years before, as the conqueror of Babylon and the deliverer of Israel, is highly probable. The truth of this seems to be confirmed by the zeal with which Cyrus engaged in the work. The prophet wept and prayed and fasted for one and twenty days, till at length Gabriel the archangel appeared to him, and assured him that his prayer was heard, though the answer had been delayed.

The proclamation of Cyrus for the emancipation of Israel was universal. It extended to all the Jews in every province and nation, and to every one that sojourned in any place whatsoever. The proclamation required the governors of every place to aid the Hebrews with money, with goods, and beasts for their return, besides the freewill-offerings to the Lord. Add to these, the giving up of all the vessels of silver and gold, which Nebuchadnezzar had found in the temple of Jerusalem. How well God acts for his people when he undertakes their cause! Daniel himself could scarcely expect grace of this kind. The proclamation, and the liberality of Cyrus, had a most reviving effect on all the rulers of Judah and Benjamin, and on many others. They sacrificed all their little establishments in Babylon, to return to the inheritance of their fathers. The whole valley of dry bones, to use the words of Ezekiel, who thought their hope lost, heard the Lord’s voice, and revived as from the dead; and yet strange to add, many of this people seemed indifferent about their return.

In this gracious proclamation and glorious deliverance we see a faint epitome of the effects of the gospel, and the conversion of sinners. Deliverance is now preached to the captives, and the opening of the prison doors to them that are bound. The Lord enriches the willing convert, not indeed with gold, but with the richer favours of his grace. The kindness is above all that we could ask or think. The soul which has been sowing in tears, returns with sheaves of joy. The harps of Israel, so long hung on the willow, now celebrated the praises of the Lord, and of Cyrus his servant. But the christian, celebrating the praises of Him who has delivered his soul from a greater captivity than Cyrus did the Jews, makes a joyful noise unto God, and glorifies him with a nobler song.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Ezra 1". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/ezra-1.html. 1835.