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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Ezra 4

Verses 1-5

The Samaritan Conflict (4:1-6:22)

The Samaritan Offer (4:1-5)

The beginning described in such optimistic terms in chapter 3 was just that, a beginning. For the completion of the undertaking it was necessary to wait some twenty years. Opposition on the part of native dwellers in Palestine certainly was a prime factor in the delay (Ezra 3:3). These "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" were the descendants of peoples of mixed stock who had been brought in by the conquerors of Israel in the late eighth or early seventh century. They appealed to the Jews on the basis of a common religion. The abrupt refusal of Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders is a reminder again of the exclusivism which grew rapidly during this period. At the same time it is a reminder that the Samaritans did not represent a pure tradition of Covenant loyalty or even of monotheistic worship (see 2 Kings 17:29-34). A co-operative venture at this time might seem to have been wise and tolerant in the light of the difficulties which the returning exiles faced. But at the price of compromise it would have been fatal.

The true motives which led the Samaritans to make the offer of help are now revealed as, using every possible means, they undertake to discourage and even thwart the Jews in the task of building. The extent of this opposition is summarized by the editor as having stretched from the days of Cyrus to the reign of Darius.

Verses 6-24

Typical Opposition (4:6-24)

In the following section the historian apparently used an Aramaic document which included correspondence growing out of the kind of opposition he had just dealt with. It is likely that most of the material did not come from the time he is recounting; in fact, it is otherwise dated. Rather the editor must have used it with little concern for historical and chronological exactitude, because he felt that it typified the adversities facing the Jews.

"Ahasuerus" in verse 6 is generally identified as Xerxes, who reigned after Darius, As indicated above, then, the reference is out of historical order, or it is possible that the editor wished to indicate in this fashion that the opposition he is chronicling continued long after the time with which he is specifically concerned.

The letter to Artaxerxes is similarly out of chronological order, but may have been used as an illustration of the historian’s point. The language shifts from Hebrew to Aramaic at (Ezra 4:8), continuing to (Ezra 6:18). Verses 7 and 8 suggest the possibility that in the original source there were two letters, one from "Mithredath and Tabeel" ("Bishlam" could be a greeting), the other from "Rehum" and "Shimshai"; the two letters would have been combined by the historian, who included two introductions (see also vss. 8-11). The list in verse 9 is a reminder of the extensive political machinery of the Persian Empire and of the fact that along with the native Samaritan opposition there was hostility on the part of the officials. "Osnappar" is a variant form of "Ashurbanipal," the Assyrian king, "The River" is, of course, the Euphrates.

The clear reference of the letters is to the "walls" and "foundations" of the city rather than the Temple. It reflects a time later than the first years of the Return. The officials see the threat posed by the Jews as essentially political and economic. They fear that the strengthening nation will come to the point where it will pay neither "tribute" nor tax ("custom") and will not submit to the forced labor and military drafts which were the custom of the day. The translation of the last part of verse 13 is a guess.

In the letter of Artaxerxes the appeal of the officials is answered in the affirmative. The records were consulted, and they showed that Jerusalem was indeed, as charged, rebellious to empire ambitions. Therefore it was ordered that the "city be not rebuilt." This cessation the historian now identifies as the reason why the work on the Temple ceased.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ezra 4". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/ezra-4.html.