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B.—THE INTERRUPTION AND AN ORIGINAL DOCUMENT RESPECTING THE MACHINATIONS OF THE ENEMIES
I. The Interruption of the Building of the Temple. Ezra 4:1-5
1Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel; 2Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. 3But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us. 4Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, 5And 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.
II. An Original Document respecting the Hostile Machinations. Ezra 4:6-24
6And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. 7And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue. 8Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this 9sort: Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites, 10And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, 11and at such a time. This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time. 12Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations. 13Be it known now unto the king, that if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings. 14Now because we have maintenance from the King’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king; 15That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed. 16We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have 17 no portion on this side the river. Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time 18,The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me. 19And I commanded, and’ search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. 20There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom was paid unto them. 21Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me. 22Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? 23Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. 24Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Ezra 4:1-5. The interruption. Ezra 4:1-3 first give its occasion. When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard of the undertaking in Jerusalem, they wished to unite with them in building. They are called the adversaries, not of the children of the captivity, but of Judah and Benjamin, because their opposition and hostility had arisen already in pre-exile times, and indeed against the southern kingdom, which was then most suitably called that of Judah and Benjamin. בְּנֵי הַגּוֹלָה—children or members of the captivity, is the name given to the returned exiles in Ezra 6:19 sq.; Ezra 8:35; Ezra 10:7, Ezra 10:16, etc.; so also briefly הַגּוֹלָה—e.g., Ezra 1:11. In order to establish their claim they maintain: We seek your God as ye (do).—דָרַשׁ with לְ or אֶל, also with the simple accusative, is the constant expression for our somewhat colorless expression worship God; properly it is to turn to God with petition or questions, or with desires in general, to apply to Him.—And sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon,etc.—The Kethib: “we do not offer” cannot well mean: we do not offer to other gods, for then it would be necessary to mention expressly these other gods. If it were original to the text it might perhaps simply have the sense we did not offer at all, not even to Jehovah, since we well knew that Jehovah would accept offering only at the one legitimate place of worship at Jerusalem. Then it would involve the meaning that they would gladly sacrifice to Jehovah, and on this very account desired to take part in building the temple at Jerusalem. But this view is opposed by the fact that they then would without doubt have too openly and boldly gone in the face of all truth, since they certainly had very many altars and sacrificed often enough. Moreover the emphatic position of אֲנַהֲנוּ does not accord with this view; besides, in such a case we would expect the perf. זָבַחְנוּ instead of the part. זֹבְחִים. It is very probable that לא here, as in fifteen other passages (comp. e.g.Exodus 21:8; 1 Samuel 2:3; 2 Samuel 16:18 ; 2 Kings 8:10) is for לוֹ, in consequence of a mistake, or of design, in that they would state that their sacrifices did not properly deserve the name of sacrifices, as then לוֹ likewise is found in Qeri, and is read by Esdras (αὐτῷ), by Sept., Syriac, and also indeed by the Vulg., which at least does not have the negative. Since the speakers designate themselves as those whom Esar-haddon had brought into their present abode (comp. Bähr on 2 Kings 19:37), we have to identify them beyond question with those colonists referred to in 2 Kings 17:0, with the Samaritans so-called, whom the king of Assyria, 2 Kings 17:24, had brought up out of Babylon, Cutha, and other eastern countries, into the cities of Samaria. These colonists, when they first settled in Canaan, it is true, did not fear Jehovah; it was not till a considerable later period that they asked for an Israelite priest out of Assyria, in order to be instructed by him in the worship of Jehovah; but the words: since the days when Esar-haddon brought us up, are either a somewhat inexact statement, or are to be explained from their efforts to date their worship of Jehovah as far back as possible. Knobel (Zur Geschichte der Samaritaner, Denkschr. der Gesellsch. für Wissensch. und Kunst in Giessen, I. 1, S. 147 sqq.), on account of these words, improperly holds them for those who had emigrated from Assyria with the Israelite priests. It is clear from our passage that the colonization spoken of in 2 Kings 17:0, if it perhaps had already begun under Sargon and Sennacherib, yet chiefly took place under Esar-haddon. With this agree the cuneiform inscriptions, in accordance with which Esar-haddon had despoiled, not expressly, it is true, the land of the ten tribes, but yet Syria and Phœnicia of their ancient inhabitants, and provided them with new ones, comp. Schrader, l. c., upon our passage.1 The occasion of this request of the Samaritans, was the correct recognition of the fact that those who should have the temple at Jerusalem, would be regarded as the leading nation, whilst those who should be excluded from this central point of the worship of the land would appear as less authorized, as intrusive; they likewise no doubt expected, if they were admitted to participation in the building of the temple, as well as to consultation with reference to it, to gain thereby influence in shaping the affairs of the congregation in general. If in addition to this they had also a religious interest in the matter, it was only in order to secure for themselves the favor of the God of the land, whom they recognised as Jehovah, and then therewith also the same possessions and blessings in their new home as the Jews designed for themselves. We cannot regard them as actuated by any higher and purer motive,—for their entire subsequent behaviour, which makes them appear as quite indifferent to religious affairs, and also that which we elsewhere learn of their religion, is opposed to that view. That which is said in 2 Kings 17:0 on this subject cannot be understood (as Bähr on that chap.) as stating that they only in part retained their heathen gods, that many had already worshipped Jehovah only, that these latter had worshipped Him, if indeed in the form of a bull, yet, as the only God. There is no distinction between the different classes; for 2 Kings 4:33 is not, as Bähr translates, “there were also worshippers of Jehovah,”—but it is said of all; they feared Jehovah, and served their own gods, and of all it is then likewise said in 2 Kings 4:34: “they feared not Jehovah;” they prayed to Jehovah only as one of many, only as a limited being, only as an idol, not as the only true God. It is true the question then arises whether this syncretistic stand-point that in no respect can be regarded as even an approximative worship of Jehovah, that in truth was only ordinary heathenism, was still maintained by them in the times subsequent to the exile, whether they had not made an advance in religion beyond it. The question is, how the remnant of the ten tribes, who had maintained themselves in their habitations in the midst of the colonists, especially according to Jeremiah 41:4 sq.; and 2 Chronicles 34:9-10 (comp. Bähr on 2 Kings 17:0, S. 401, and Nägelsbach on Jeremiah 41:4 sq.), acted both with reference to these colonists in general, and to the claim here made by them. But if the long prevailing opinion were correct that the Samaritans for the most part consisted of the Israelites who remained in the land at the exile, so that they might bo regarded as an actual continuation of the people of the ten tribes, and the heathen elements among them had become more and more conformed to the Israelites, we cannot conceive why they did not maintain already now this their external and internal connection with Israel as well as on later occasions when it suited them so to do. That would have been the strongest reason that could have influenced the Jews to admit their claim. For great and respected predecessors, as Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 30:0.; and Josiah, 2 Chronicles 34:33, had expressly occupied themselves in attracting the remnants of Israel to the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem. At first the remnant may have kept themselves concealed from the new comers and the masters of the land, by contenting themselves with the more distant regions and lurking-places of the mountains. They certainly constituted merely despised and scattered bands, which neither sought nor offered any communication, whom therefore the colonists could not trust. Otherwise they would not have had a priest sent to them from Assyria, when they wished to worship Jehovah as the god of the land, comp. 2 Kings 17:2. Very soon, it is true, many of them approached the colonists, and mixed with them by marriage; but instead of exerting any influence in shaping them, they rather subordinated themselves—of themselves having quite a strong inclination to heathenism—to the colonists as the more powerful and more favored on the part of the government and united with them in their manners and customs, and also in their religion, so that they more and more disappeared among them. This is very clear partly from the way in which the Samaritans here speak of themselves, partly from their subsequent actions, in that they in contrast to the Jews still preferred to be the representatives of the royal prerogatives of Persia, and designate themselves after their Assyrian places of origin (comp. Ezra 4:7 sq.), but give not the slightest hint of a connection with the ancient Israelites, or of having been in any way modified by them.2 Therefore it is improbable that they should have been influenced by these latter in making their claim upon the new congregation, as Berth. and after him Keil supposes. If they subsequently more and more decidedly went over to monotheism and the observation of the Mosaic law, they were moved thereto, not by the remnants of Israel, which had blended with them, but by the Jews themselves. They would not remain behind the new congregation in Jerusalem, for they could not conceal from themselves on reflection that the stand-point of the religion of Jehovah, as it was represented in Jerusalem, was higher than their own. And it was for this reason that they then accepted the first Manasseh, and under his direction built the temple on Gerizim, by which circumstance the transformation was as a matter of course still further favored. Besides this there was the entire tendency of those times that was decidedly towards a higher and more spiritual worship of God. Moreover, in addition to such fragments of Israel as were lost among the Samaritans, others still were left in the land who Sought to preserve their independence. It is probable that these, who were of themselves more devoted to the religion of Jehovah, let themselves be directed by the judgments that passed over their kingdom, and the contrast that was exhibited between themselves and the colonists, still more decidedly to Jerusalem and the worship there conducted. In favor of this view is the fact that some of them already in the time of Josiah contributed to the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 34:9-10), and that still after the destruction of the temple eighty men of Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria came in mourning to bring their gifts to the place where up to this time they had worshipped, Jeremiah 41:5-6. In accordance with some other evidence, there were still at the time such better elements in the northern region of the land. Among those who had separated themselves from the impurities of the nations to unite with the returned exiles in seeking Jehovah (Ezra 6:21) belonged probably at least remnants of Israel as well as of Judah. And this sheds light upon the obscure question, how we are to account for the origin of the Jewish population in Galilee. Bertheau properly remarks with reference to such better elements: “They are the ancestors of a great part of the Jews whom we meet in subsequent times in northern Palestine.” There in northern Palestine they had not been dislodged by the colonists, who occupied the cities of Samaria. There, as to their old ancestral abodes, and to their kindred, must those return who now and subsequently gradually returned from any of the ten tribes. It is possible, indeed, that this better remnant of the northern kingdom soon still more decidedly than the Samaritans directed their attention to the temple at Jerusalem. But perhaps they had not yet concluded what relation they should assume to the congregation at Jerusalem; we may suppose that it was in consequence of the impulse that went forth from Jerusalem for them certainly much more than for the Samaritans, that they reflected more deeply upon themselves, and finally attached themselves to the worship at Jerusalem.
Ezra 4:3. The Jews refused the Samaritans. The sing.וַיֹאמֶר is used not only because the number of the verb is freer when it precedes the subject, but because Zerubbabel was the chief person who gave the answer; e. g. Zerubbabel spake in agreement with Jeshua, etc. Jeshua and the heads of the fathers of Israel had united in the answer. יִשְׂרָאֵל is used with לְ, and accordingly is not the stat.abs. of the foregoing הָאָבוֹת, for otherwise this would not have the article, according to the usual combination with רָאשֵׁי.—Ye have nothing to do with us to build, that is, it is not for you and us in common; comp. the expression “ what is to me and thee‚” namely, in common, Joshua 22:24; Jdg 11:12; 2 Kings 3:13. In that they say: house—not unto God, as Ezra 1:4, but unto our God, they mean that Jehovah belongs to them more than to the Samaritans, yea, to them alone.—But we ourselves together=we as a compact unity, excluding others. They might appeal to the decree of Cyrus in this refusal, since if they were obliged to admit the Samaritans, they would not have gained, according to their feelings and knowledge, that which they had the right to expect from it, namely, an undisturbed worship of Jehovah in all its truth, free from all dangers. It is true it could not escape the congregation, that it was a very serious matter to make those their enemies who had probably connections, consideration and influence at the seat of government, and who naturally regarded themselves as the outposts and guardians of the sovereignty of Persia in Canaan. But nevertheless the dangers to which they would have exposed themselves by a union with these Samaritans who appeared so objectionable, especially in a religious point of view, would have been far greater, and they should not be charged with too great anxiety, or one that cannot be entirely approved (against Ewald, Gesch. IV., S. 125, 135). Those who gradually imitated them when they kept themselves pure from their mixed religion, and through them were impelled to a monotheistic development, would, if they had gained an influence and rightful position in Jerusalem from the beginning, have involved them in their heathen doubt and obscurity. Their renunciation of the external advantages which were set before them by the proffered alliance was the result, on the one side, of a correct appreciation of that which they must regard as of the most importance, and on the other side of a candid and humble recognition of their weakness. As a matter of course they were obliged to take an entirely different course with reference to the remnants of the northern kingdom, when these in another way began to seek Jehovah again in sincerity, and on this account desired to be admitted into Jerusalem. That they did not fail in this particular we see in the circumstance that the Galilean ever had an undisputed admission.
Ezra 4:4-5. The consequence of this refusal was the interruption of the building of the temple. The Samaritans are called the people of the land in Ezra 4:4 because they, at least until this time had been the proper inhabitants of the land, and at all events constituted the chief part of the population. As such they were strong enough to slacken the hands of the people of Judah, that is, the people now inhabiting Judah. יְהוּדָה, already in pre-exile times the name of the southern kingdom is used here also as the name of the country (comp. Ezra 4:6). הָיָה with the part. (slackening and affrighting) expresses the continuance of the action; the second participle is explanatory of the first, מְבַלֲהִים לִבְנוֹת, affrighting with reference to building=from building. The Kethibמְבַלֲהִים is sufficiently established by the noun בַלָּהָה (Isaiah 17:14) and by the Syriac; the Qeri,מְבַהֲלִים prefers the usual form בָּהַל.—Without doubt they threatened the Jews with violence, and with punishment on the part of the government, as soon as they had frustrated the edict of Cyrus.—They hired counsellors against them—for a cancelling of the edict according to Ezra 4:5, in that they were able to influence probably the ministers to whom Ezra 7:28; Ezra 8:25 refer, or other influential persons, to give advice to Cyrus unfavorable to the Jews. At court they naturally did not understand how it could be that those who were as much the inhabitants of the land as the returned exiles, and therefore seemed entitled to the God of the land, should be excluded. If Cyrus had seen in Jehovah his own supreme God, it must have been all the more annoying to him that those who apparently had the best intentions of worshipping Him, should be rejected. It would seem as if the reason why the Jews opposed the union could only be a national and political one, and the suspicion was quite natural, that they already designed to form not merely a religious community, but also had national and political designs, that they thus gave an entirely false interpretation to the decree of Cyrus. The part. סֹכְרִים is in continuation of the part. of the previous verse; סָכַר is a later form of שָׂכַר. The time during which they succeeded in frustrating the purposes of the Jews, (for which הֵפֶר is to a certain extext the term.techn.), consisted of about fourteen years—from about the third year of Cyrus in Babylon (comp. Daniel 10:2 sq.) until the second of Darius, comp. Haggai 1:1.
Ezra 4:6-22 contains the original document respecting the hostile efforts of the Samaritans. The author adds what the Samaritans did and accomplished in the time of Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes, and the question arises first of all, what kings were meant under these names?3 Most ancient and modern interpreters, (comp. J. H. Michaelis, in loco.) had supposed that the author from Ezra 4:6 onward would explain why the building of the temple was discontinued for so long a time, as stated in Ezra 4:5, that he then entered into the period between Cyrus and Darius. They were led to this opinion by Ezra 4:24, which leads over to Darius, and what happened under him, in such a manner that it seems certainly, at first, as if the kings mentioned here in Ezra 4:6-7 had ruled before him. Luther, from this point of view, united this 6th verse by “for” to the previous verse, instead of by the conjunction “and‚” and some, as Hartmann in the Chron. bibl., have appealed to this “for” as if it stood in the original text. Ahasuerus must, accordingly, have been Cambyses, Artaxerxes, Pseudo-Smerdis (so still Ewald, Gesch. IV., S. 137, and Köhler in Komm. zu. den. nachexil. Proph.4). But the strongest objections at once arise against this view. How is it that these two kings should have names given them that they bear no where else ? How can we suppose that whilst all other Assyrian, Chaldean, and Persian kings bear essentially the same names among the Israelites with which they elsewhere appear, these two kings on one occasion should have had entirely different names among the Jews from those among their own people; for among the Persians Cambyses, so far as we know, only bore the name of Cambyses (old Persian Kambudschja), Smerdis however., after whom the Ps. Smerdis named himself, had only that of Tanyoxares or Tanyoxarkes (Cyrop. VIII. 7, and Ctesias, Pers. fr. 8–13), or also Orapastes (Justin. Hist. Ezra 1:9), which name cannot be identified with אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׁתְּא. This supposition is still less admissible, in that both these names every where else in the Old Test. designate other kings, and the same as those who had the corresponding names among the Persians. Ahasuerus, in the book of Esther, as is now generally recognized, is Xerxes; in Daniel 9:1, the Median king Cyaxares. These two Greek terms, Xerxes and Cyaxares, may be readily derived from the Persian fundamental forms of these names, which we find in the cuneiform inscriptions, Khsay or Khsay-arsa, by modification of vowels. So also the Hebrew term אחשׁורושׁ, However ארתּחשסתּא is in Ezra 7:8. and so also in the book of Nehemiah, without question, Artaxerxes (Machrochir). It is true that it is there written ארתחשׁסתא (with שׁס), in our passage, however, תרתחשׁשׁתא (with שׁש); but a different person cannot be inferred from this difference in writing. This is clear from Ezra 6:14, where the name is written as it is here, and yet must be referred to a Persian king ruling subsequently to Darius—certainly, therefore, to Artaxerxes Machrochir. In connection with these names that are used in our section, some other marks beside which point beyond Darius, gain importance. If the sixth verse really came as is supposed to speak explanatory of the previous interval of time, it would at least have been more natural to connect with the conjunct, “for‚” as indeed Luther, without reason, has supplied it, rather than by “and.” At the outset it is improbable that Pseudo-Smerdis should have had time during his brief reign (only seven months) to reply to his officers in the manner narrated in Ezra 4:7-23; namely, after an accurate investigation with reference to the previous conduct of the Jews. In the letter of the Samaritans, or rather of the Persian officers among them, to the king, it no longer has to do with the building of the temple, but only with that of the city and its walls, which is all the more remarkable, as in the letter to Darius in Ezra 5:6 sq. the temple throughout is in the foreground. Furthermore Bertheau properly reminds us in notes on Ezra 4:4 that if the transaction with these kings had already previously transpired, the question of the Persian officers in the time of Darius, who had given the Jews commandment to build the house of God, would not have been very appropriate. Moreover the Jews would have spoken of the steps of the Samaritans and the prohibition of ארתחשׁשׁתא when it must have been obligatory upon them to explain to the Persian officers in Ezra 5:16 why the building already begun under Cyrus had not been completed. By all these circumstances we are compelled to understand by אחשורוש really Xerxes, and by ארתחששתא really Artaxerxes, and to refer our section accordingly to the period subsequent to Darius. If it is objected to this view that the answer of ארתחששתא does not accord with the sending of Ezra under Artaxerxes in chap. 7.; so far as the one was unfavorable to the Jews and the other favorable, the fact is overlooked that in his answer (Ezra 4:21) the king expressly reserves another command, which possibly would ordain the building of the city and its walls. When, however, Ewald (Gesch. 4. S. 138) asserts that in the time of Artaxerxes no intelligent person could any longer speak thus of the building of the city and its walls, as is the case in the letter of the Samaritans, the book of Nehemiah shows how very necessary it still was that the city should be built up, and the walls re-established even after Ezra. That which really appears to be against the view here advocated, is the manner in which Ezra 4:24 passes over from this king to Darius. By the use of one and the same verb in Ezra 4:21 (give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease), in Ezra 4:23 (they went up to Jerusalem and made them cease) and in Ezra 4:24 (then ceased the work) and apparently also by the use of בֵּאדַיִן at the beginning of Ezra 4:24, the twenty-fourth verse is so closely united to the previous context, that it in fact seems to contain the result of that which immediately precedes. Hence then Herzfeld also (Gesch. Israels I., S. 303) and Schrader (Stud. u. Krit., 1867, S. 469) have supposed that our section, if it indeed originally extended to the time of Xerxes and Artaxerxes, must be referred by the author of our book, notwithstanding all, to Cambyses and Pseudo Smerdis, who placed it here under an error. But no real necessity for such a doubtful supposition can be found. The verb בטל might be written by the author again, in Ezra 4:24, after that he had used it in Ezra 4:21-23, notwithstanding he was here treating of a previous time. The temporal particle בֵּאדַיִן, moreover, which in itself has the indefinite meaning of “illo tempore” can just as well refer to the beginning as to the middle or the end of the time spoken of before. If the twenty-fourth verse had been placed at the beginning of the fifth chapter instead of at the end of the fourth chapter, it would apparently occasion us no difficulty at all in giving it its proper reference. Should it be objected that such an anticipation of later events as the view here advocated involves in Ezra 4:6-23, is in itself improbable, this objection is removed to a certain extent by Ezra 6:14, from which it results that our author was readily inclined to connect together in the closest way Artaxerxes and his time with Darius and the previous times. In this passage, where the elders of Judah in the time of Darius are spoken of, and where it is said of them, they built and completed in consequence of the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, and on the commandment of the God of Israel, and on the commandment of Cyrus and Darius, the additional clause “and Artaxerxes” is still more singular than in our passage. As the author there would embrace all who had afforded the congregation justice, protection, and help up to the time of Ezra, so here he might have very well had the intention of at once putting together summarily all the interruptions that were occasioned by the Samaritans. In as much as here the narrative was of their operations, it was really the best place for this purpose. Besides, another reason probably co-operated. The author probably had at his command no other document respecting the machinations of the Samaritans and their success at the court of Persia than this one of the time of Artaxerxes. Since now, as we have shown in the introduction, it was his method to accompany everything as far as possible with original documents, since moreover besides it was of the highest importance to justify by such a document the behaviour of the Jewish congregation towards the Samaritans, which had such great, severe, and long-lasting consequences, he here inserted it, after that he had made the transition through Ezra 4:6 to the latter period, since the disposition of the Samaritans in the somewhat later period here meeting us, was, to a certain extent, an evidence likewise of their previous hostility; and the disturbing interference which they occasioned according to the letter of Artaxerxes, was only the continuation of previous interruptions.
Ezra 4:6. And in the reign of Ahasuerus in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation,etc.—This shows the zeal of the Samaritans; at once and at the very outset they sought to prejudice this king against the Jews. If the time of Darius, which had been favorable to the Jews, during which the Samaritans had impatiently waited for a change of affairs, had passed, this zeal can the more readily be explained. שִׂטְנָה, hostility (comp. Genesis 26:21) has here the special meaning of accusation, just as שָׂטָן readily gains the special meaning of accuser. Since the author does not enter into particulars with reference to this writing of accusation, or even say whether it had any results at all, it seems here to be mentioned only in order briefly to show that the Samaritans, even in the subsequent period, were still active, and in order thus to give a transition to the following narrative as the principal thing.
Ezra 4:7. And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam,etc.—The Jewish congregation probably increased from the time of the building of the temple onward, and under Artaxerxes thought more seriously of re-establishing the walls of the city, which then likewise through Nehemiah actually took place. Bislam, Mithredath, Tabeel, etc., accordingly went to work anew against them. These names certainly indicate Samaritans who, without being Persian officials, enjoyed just as Sanballat subsequently, a certain degree of consequence. The pure Persian name Mithredath need not astonish us, since even Zerubbabel had a similar one (Sheshbazzar). We should expect instead of כְּנָוֹתָו, for which the qeri has the usual form כְּנָוֹתָיו, in accordance with Ezra 4:9; Ezra 4:17; Ezra 4:23; Ezra 5:3, etc., כְּנָוָוֹתָם.To whom the sing. suffix properly refers, whether to the first named Bislam or to the last named Tabeel is doubtful, is yet without any real importance. כְּנָת, from which our plural is to be derived (comp. Ewald, § 187 d) is contracted from כְּנְוַת as פֹּרָת, Genesis 49:22 from פֹרְוַת and אָחוֹת for אָחָת from אַחְיַת or אַחְוַת (comp. Olsh.§ 198 c). It is not found elsewhere in Hebrew, and was here without doubt chosen simply with reference to Ezra 4:9; in Aramaic it is more frequent. Formed from כָּנָה it designates those qui eodem cognomine, sive titulo utitur, sive eodem munere fungitur, according to Gesen., Thes.; in the Peschito it is more frequently employed for σύνδουλος.—And the rest of their companions.—This is according to Ezra 4:9 sq.: the others who were their companions.—And the writing of the letter was written in Aramaic.—כְּתָב is no more here than in Esther 4:8, to be taken in the improved meaning of copy, (against Berth.) as if the author would say, that only the copy was in Chaldee, but the letter itself in another language. It means only writing, and the sense is, that the writers translated into Aramaic what they had thought in Samaritan or any other language, and therefore also at the same time wrote down in Aramaic, without doubt, for the reason that in Babylon at court, and among the Persian officials in anterior Asia the Aramaic language was the usual one, so to say, the official language, which otherwise would not have been employed in the letter of authority given to Ezra in Ezra 7:12 sq. נִשְׁתְּוָן is of Arian origin, to be compared with the new Persian nuwischten, to write, and means letter. Comp. Ezra 4:18. מְתֻרְגָּם is part. pass. of תַּרְגֵּם, interpret, translate into another language.
Ezra 4:8. Rehum the chancellor and Shim-shai the scribe, wrote a letter in this sort.—Although other authors of a letter are adduced here, yet it is impossible that another third letter should be introduced (against Berth.); for 1) it is inconceivable that the author should have left the contents of the letter referred to in Ezra 4:7 so entirely undetermined. The contents of the letter mentioned in Ezra 4:6 he has at least characterized as an accusation. It is all the more inconceivable since the author has expressly designated the language of the letter mentioned in Ezra 4:17. Without doubt he regarded this as of especial importance. 2) Already the fact that the remark that the letter in Ezra 4:7 was written in Aramaic, is immediately followed by a section in Aramaic, and so also the fact that in accordance with Ezra 4:7, where Samaritans are designated at the outset as authors of the letter; again after the Persian officials in Ezra 4:9, Samaritan tribes are mentioned as taking part in the letter—all this is in favor of the view that it is only the contents of that letter which now follow (comp. Köhler, Nachexil. Proph. S.21). 3) The word כְּנָוֹתָו in Ezra 4:7, which is found nowhere else in Hebrew, looks evidently forward to the same word in Ezra 4:9. Ezra 4:4) If another letter were referred to in Ezra 4:8, a connecting copula could no more be lacking here than at the beginning of Ezra 4:7, (Keil). Without doubt the Samaritans mentioned in Ezra 4:7, who had become known to the author elsewhere, had been the proper instigators of the letter, the Persian officials mentioned in Ezra 4:8 merely their instruments. The verb כָּתַב which is likewise used of the former, does not by any means always mean: to write with one’s own hand. That the Persian officers had written the letter in combination with the Samaritans is besides expressly declared in a short introduction which had been given to it probably at Jerusalem, when they there added it to other important documents, in the form of an explanatory superscription. This introduction, which so to say had grown together with the document, the author has for accuracy and perspicuity taken up in Ezra 4:8-11, leaving it to the reader to put together correctly the different statements respecting the authorship in the manner indicated. Other interpreters, as Keil and Köhler (l.c.) suppose that he found the verses 8–11a, and so also then the following letter itself in the history of the building of the temple written in Chaldee, which he used in Ezra 4:5-6. Whether however ho really had before him such a document is doubtful, as we have shown in the Introduction, § 2. Besides the abbreviation וכְעֶנֶת and the like, which stands at the end of Ezra 4:10, is found only in the superscriptions of letters, where things that are self-understood may be omitted (comp. Ezra 4:11; Ezra 4:17), not in a historical narrative.—בְּעֵל טְעֵם = lord of understanding, counsellor, is not a proper name (Esdras, Alex., Syr., Vulg.), but a designation of the office of Rehum [the title apparently of the Persian governor of the Samaritan province. Rawlinson in loco.—Tr.], as סַפְרָא, scribe, chancellor, is the designation of the office of Shimshai. [“According to Herodotus (III. 128) every Persian governor was accompanied to his province by a ‘royal scribe’ or ‘secretary’ (γραμματεύς), who had a separate and independent authority,” Rawlinson in loco.—Tr.]. אִגְּרָא = אִנֶּרָת, in the later Hebrew חֲדָא is used as an indef. article, as in the later Hebrew. כְּנֵמָא ·אֶחָד has, according to Raschi and Ab. Ezra, arisen from כְּ and נֵאמַר = נֵימָא = נֵמָא, comp. in the Talmud אֵימָא, I say תֵּימָא, thou sayest; thus literally: as we say,—then: in the following manner, or also, according as has been stated.
Ezra 4:9-10 add to the summary statement of authorship a closer explanation: Then Rehum..… and the rest of their companions.—The verb “write” is to be supplied from the previous verse. Then the sense is, when they wrote the letter in question, they were active in common with their companions. As their companions, the communities transplanted to Palestine are then adduced according to their native lands in Eastern Asia. The Dinaites were perhaps from the Median city Deinaver, which still had this name in a quite late period (Abulf. Geogr. ed. Par., p. 414). Schrader would find it as Da-ya-a-ni, also Da-ya-i-ni in the inscription of the older Tiglath Pileser, who reckons them among the Nahiri, that is, to the Armenians, I. c., S. 246. The Apharsathchites, perhaps identical with the Apharsachites in Ezra 5:6, were compared by Hiller (Onom. p. 655, 745) with the robber Parætakites (Herod. I. 101; Strabo 15:3, 12), on the boundary of Media and Persia; Rawlinson regards the Apharsachites as the Afar-Sittaces, according to the inscriptions, and the Apharsachites as the Afar-Sacæ (comp. Rœd. in Gesen. Thes., app. p. 107). [But in his Com., in loco, Rawlinson regards these two names as only variations of the third form Apharsites, all referring to the same people, the Persians.—Tr.].—The Tarpelites remind us of the τάπουροι (Ptol. VI. 2, 6) dwelling on the East of Elymais.5 The Apharsites are identified with the Persians, whose name is here provided with א prosthetic; Hiller (Onom. p. 655) thought of the Parrhasians in Eastern Media. The Archevites had their name probably from אֶרֶךְ (Genesis 10:10), Arku in the inscriptions, the present Warka on the left bank of the Euphrates, southeast of Babylon (comp. Schrad. I. c., S. 18). The Babylonians are the inhabitants of Babylon, the Susanchites those of Susa, the Dehavites (Qeriרְּהָיֵא), the Δάοι of the Greeks (Herod. I. 125), the Elamites, those of Elam or Elymais.
Ezra 4:10. And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over.—Since the author adds these words as a summing up, it is clear that he could not or would not enumerate all in detail, that he would represent them as all taking part together, and indeed not only so far as they dwelt in Samaria, but further than this also those in the other lands on this side of the river.—Thus did all these colonists here act in common, even those who dwelt as it were in Phœnicia and Syria, because they perhaps under all circumstances as foreigners over against the natives felt themselves united by the bond of a common situation, because they perhaps all feared also for their territory, if the Jews should grow into a power, upon which the Israelites dwelling at a greater distance round about might lean. Since here all the colonists are to be mentioned in entirely general terms, we cannot regard it as singular that at this time on the one side entirely different names are mentioned from those in 2 Kings 17:24, where only those transported to Samaria are mentioned, that moreover on the other side the Samaritan nations are not so particularly mentioned as in that passage, where instead of the Babylonians in general, people from Babylon, Cuthah, etc., are named. Asnapper here might be regarded as another name of Esar-haddon, in Ezra 4:2, and indeed the more as we here have a Chaldee document; yet the supposition of different names for one and the same person is ever a doubtful one. It is not suitable, however, to understand thereby the commander-in-chief of Esar-Haddon [Rawlinson], for the epith. orn. “great and noble” are in favor of a king, although the title of king is not expressly added. It is probable therefore that a mutilation of the name Esar-Haddon has taken place.6 After the designation of the place: in the city of Samaria, the following וּשְׁאָר, etc., may also be merely a designation of place; accordingly the בּ, which is before קִרְיָה is to be supplied before it, and שְׁאָר is to be taken as neuter of the land or places. עְבַר־נַהֲרָה, on that side of the river, of the land to the west of the Euphrates, is explained as a now universally prevailing geographical expression. וּכְעֶנֶת contracted into כְּעֶת (comp. Ezra 4:17) = etc., or “the like.” Perhaps the author himself already placed this expression of abbreviation at the introduction of the letter, in order to indicate that still other designations of lands are to be thought of as a matter of course; perhaps, however, it is derived from the author of our book, who would not copy that which was to be understood of itself.
Ezra 4:11. These are the contents of the letter which they sent.—Here we have at once announced in the first half of the verse the contents of the letter. It seems that already the beginning of the letter itself was used for this announcement, since it was certainly the style for the letter-writer to designate more closely in a superscription as well himself—which is now no longer the case here—as also the receiver of the letter. For only from such superscriptions can it be explained how at the beginning of every letter in our book almost the same formula occurs, comp. Ezra 4:17; Ezra 5:6; Ezra 7:11.—פַּרְשֶׁגֶן, in the book of Esther thrice פַּתְשֶׁגֶּן, which two forms are likewise used interchangeably in the Targums, is translated by many after the Sept., Vulg., which, however, are not uniform in their usage, and the rabbin. interpreters as copy [so A. V.]. But very properly Benfey (Monatsnamen, p. 193 sq.) rendered this meaning doubtful. In Ezra 4:23 it does not suit, since the Persian officers had not received a copy, but the letter itself; and it is no more appropriate to Esther 3:14; Esther 8:13, and in Esther 4:8 another meaning suits at least as well. Accordingly the word seems to have rather the meaning of contents, as then indeed the Vulg. in Esther 3:14 has rendered it summa. Gildermeister (D. M. Zeitschr. IV., S. 210) and Haug (Ewald’s bibl. Jahrb. V., S. 163 sq.) conjectures in the syllable פַּר the Persian fra, the Sanscrit pra=πρό, pro, the new Persian far, in the corresponding פַּת the Zend paiti (Sanscrit prati) =προτί and ποτί, πρός; in שֶׁגֶן a word like çenghana, old Persian thanhana, from cenghdicere, prædicare.—In the second half of the verse, the letter begins: thy servants, the men on this side of the river, etc.—Here also there has been left off what usually stands at the beginning of a letter; the sense is: thy servants wish thee, O king, peace, comp. Ezra 4:17. Alongside of the form of the Qeri, עַבְרָּךְ, that of the Kethib,עַבְדָּיִךְ, is also justified.
Ezra 4:12-16. The information given to the king: Be it known unto the king.—לֶהֱוֵא for יֶהֱוֵא as לֶהֱוֹן for יֶהֱוֹן and לֶהֶוְיָן for יֶהֶוְיָן, Ezra 7:25-26; Daniel 2:20; Daniel 2:28-29; Daniel 2:45, etc. ל has in Bib. Chald., occasionally also in the Targums, more frequently in the Talmuds, vindicated itself as preformative like נ in Syriac. Comp. Zöck., Dan 2:20.7—That the Jews—unto us have come.—אֲתוֹ, they have come, is certainly more closely defined by the following participle “building.” But yet it is singular that in the time of Artaxerxes there was still mention made of coming. It seems that the coming of the Jews, even after the time of Cyrus, still went on; with the close connection, which those who remained behind maintained with the returned (comp. Zechariah 6:9 sq.; Nehemiah 1:2 sq.), this might indeed have been pre-supposed as a matter of course.—Building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations. מָרָֽדְתָּא, with metheg in the second syllable, and so with kametz under ר, is hardly a correct reading. We should read either מָרָדְתָּא (so Norzi) with short o sound in the second syll. from the form מָרוֹד, which occurs in the Targums, and is given by the Peschito—an intensive formation like Hebrew קַנּוֹא; or מָרַדְתָּא (J. H. Mich.) as stat. emphat. of the stat. abs., מָרָדָא (comp. Ezra 4:15). We must certainly prefer the Qeriוְשׁוּרַיָא שַׁכְלִלוּ to ושורי אשכללו. A similar false separation of words is found in 2 Samuel 11:12. שׁכלל is shaphel of כלל, and means to make ready. That the perf. שַכְלִלוּ should follow the part., is in historical narrative not unusual; here, however, it has its special reason perhaps in the fact that the Samaritans would co-ordinate this expression: and they have made the walls ready, to the first and principal statement (אֲתוֹ), in order to bring it into suitable prominence. Besides they may be charged in all probability with a kind of exaggeration, even if the perfect was not meant to be taken strictly. If the Jews had now really brought the walls so near to completion, Nehemiah would not have found them still under this same king in the condition described in Nehemiah 2:0. Since they yet let an imperfect follow the perfect, they indicate of themselves, as it were involuntarily, that the work still continued; otherwise the transition to the imperfect would be without any reason. יָחִיטוּ might be the imperf. Aphel of חטט, dig, dig out, which is also found in Syriac, since יָחִיט would be for יַחֵט; to dig out the foundations would then be simply=make excavations for the foundations; it might, however, still easier be taken as imperf. Aphel of חוט, properly sew together, then heal, improve; alongside of יְקִים the sharper form יַקִּים is to be maintained, after the analogy of which under the influence of the guttural we have יָחִיט.
Ezra 4:13. Be it known now unto the king that they will not pay toll, tribute and custom.—The three usual kinds of taxes are here meant, comp. Ezra 4:20; Ezra 7:24.מִנְדָּה, for which Ezra 6:8 has מִדָּה, which expression is also usual in Syriac, is etymologically= measure; here, however, the appointed general tax. כְּלֹו after בלה is perhaps the consumption tax, and הֲלָךְ the toll for highways.—And that it finally will prepare damage to the king.—The meaning of אַפְּתֹם, which is entirely disregarded by the ancient versions, is entirely uncertain. The meaning “income” is simply invented by the Jewish interpreters of the middle ages, and is not recommended by Ezra 4:15; Ezra 4:22 in so far as the kings themselves are those who are there injured. Haug (l.c.) compares אוֹדוֹם in the Pehlewi language, which=the last, hindermost, Sansc. apa, superl. apama, and thus gains for our word the meaning of “finally, at last,” which certainly is entirely appropriate. מַלְכִים is a Hebraism, or perhaps only a copyist’s mistake for תְּהַנְזִק .מַלְכִּין is tert. fem, in Aphel, in which conjugation the Bib. Chald. sometimes chooses the prefix ה, which it preserves even in the imperf. and part., comp. תְּהַשְׁכַּח in Ezra 4:15. The subj. is the city of Jerusalem, or the indef. subject, referring to the design of Jerusalem.
Ezra 4:14. Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace.—The writers would here at any rate state a reason for the following statement, that it was not meet for them to see the injury of the king. The rabbinical explanation followed by Luther: “we all, who have destroyed the temple,” is therefore not recommended; besides we would then have to expect at least instead of: salt the salt of the temple, scatter salt on the temple, comp. Judges 9:45; Jeremiah 17:6; Isaiah 51:6. To salt the salt of any one probably means to live through any one’s bounty, perhaps pay, and therefore be obligated to him, stand in his service. Syriac and Persian expressions accord with this, comp. Gesen., Thes., p. 790. We may also compare salarium. Whether the writer as an official really received pay from the palace of the king, or speaks figuratively, we cannot say.8עַרְוַת מַלְכָּא is according to the analogy of the Heb., עֶרְוַת, the uncovering, not in the sense of deprivation, but of dishonoring; the Sept. has properly ἀσχημοσύνη, whilst the Vulg. employs læsiones. It would be a dishonoring of a great king if the Jews should throw off their allegiance (refuse to fulfil their duties).אֲרִיךְ, also in the Talmud= appropriate, fitting, is connected with עָרַךְ , arrange.—Therefore have we sent, namely, this letter, and made known to the king, namely, the following.
Ezra 4:15. That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers.—subj. of יְבַקַּר is he whose duty it is to search, the keeper of the archives, properly indef. subj.—דַּכְרָנָה and דִּבְרוֹנָה (comp. Ezra 6:2) is the memorable occurrence from זבר=דבר. In Esther 6:1; this book is called more completely: the book of the memorable events of the day. The fathers of Artaxerxes are here his predecessors on the throne, and indeed including also those not Medo-Persian, especially the Chaldean, who in this connection come very particularly into consideration. For the rebellions that follow must mean above all those under Jehoiachim and Zedekiah. The manner of expression is properly explained from an inclination of the inhabitants of Western Asia to assume a connection of families between the dynasties that succeeded one another, but also from figurative language, which was all the more natural if Artaxerxes already had had many real ancestors for predecessors on the throne.—So shalt thou find.—These words may be taken as depending upon the verb make known in the previous verse, but yet really contains the consequence of the investigation. אֶשְׁתַּדּוּר is nom. verb, of Ithpaal of the verb שְׁדַר, uproar; it is found elsewhere only in Ezra 4:19. עָבְדִין, they make (continually) uproar, indefin. subject, they make; in Ezra 4:19 there is made.מִן יוֹמַת עַלְמָא, from the days of old. The fem. form יוֹמַת is also found in Syriac alongside of the masc.; otherwise in Bib. Chald. the masc. יוֹמֵי is used, as then in Heb. likewise the masc. is throughout the usual form, the fem. only occurring in poetry. With the clause: For which cause was this city destroyed, we certainly are to look back to the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar. הָחָר֭בַת is Hoph., which is used throughout in Bib. Chaldee for the Ittaphal.
Ezra 4:16. We certify the king, that if—by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.—The verse concludes with this inference and summing up. לָקְבֵל דְּנָה=on this account, in consequence of this circumstance as in Daniel 2:12. They supposed that the fortified Jerusalem would not merely free itself from taxes, but also appropriate to itself all the territory on the west of the Euphrates, so that the great king would have nothing left, comp. Ecc 9:6; 2 Chronicles 10:16; Joshua 22:25; Joshua 22:27.
Ezra 4:17-22. The writers of the letter had manifestly desired to obtain by means of their information authoritative measures, authorizing them to restrain the Jews. These they obtained.—The king sent an edict—The abrupt way in which the letter of the king is mentioned may be explained from the fact that the same address as in Ezra 4:11 is here used, even if with slight differences. פִּתְגָּמָה from the Zend. patigama (modern Persian paigam, Armenian pattkam) is the command, and in this sense has even passed over into the Hebrew, comp. Ecclesiastes 8:11; Esther 1:20. At its root is the word paiti (πρός) and gam = go, accordingly=the approaching message (comp. Keil on Daniel 3:16). Moreover, comp. notes on Ezra 4:10.
Ezra 4:18. The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.—מְפָרַשׁ, Pael part, passive, means here, since the Aramaic without doubt was chosen only because it was used at court, not translated, but explained, or adverbially, plainly, comp. the Pual part. in this sense in Nehemiah 8:8, as then this word has the same meaning also in the Talmud.9
Ezra 4:19. And I commanded.—שׂים properly, Kal passive part.; in Bib. Chaldee is used instead of a tertia pers. praet. pass, accordingly, instead of the Ithpael (comp. Ezra 5:17; Daniel 4:3); moreover the Peil part, in Bib. Chald. usually gives a new preterite passive, and is for this purpose conjugated throughout with the afformatives of the verb. Alongside of שִׂים, the form שׂוּם also occurs, in fem שׂוּמַת, Daniel 6:18.—Search hath been made, and it is found that this city—hath made insurrection.—הִתְנַשָּׂא is here used as in 1 Kings 1:5 in Hebrew, of rising up in rebellion. Comp. Ezra 4:15.
Ezra 4:20. There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem which have ruled.—The reference is to Uzziah, Jotham, and perhaps David and Solomon, if in any way a rumor of them had come to Babylon and to the Persians.10 Since these kings had subjugated the land to the west of the Euphrates, especially the territory of the Moabites and Ammonites and similar tribes, the suspicion was quite natural that Jerusalem would again strive for such a supremacy. בְּ before כֹּל depends upon the previous שַׁלִּיטִין: ruling over all on that side of the river. With reference to the following clause comp. Ezra 4:13.
Ezra 4:21. Give ye now commandment, namely, to those who are building in Jerusalem. טְעֵם is here as in Ezra 4:19, not in the sense of investigation, observation, as in Daniel 3:12, in connection with שׂוּם עַל, but in the sense of decision, command, לְבַּטָּלָא = that you cause to cease by your command. From this infinitive, as frequently in Hebrew, the construction passes over into the finite verb: and that this city be not built. The additional clause: until a command shall be given from me, namely, that defined by the context, for building, hence the stat. emph.טַעֲמָא. This is not a mere phrase, that would make all things dependent upon himself and his words, but a product of his prudence, since he really had in view the possibility of a change. With this agrees very well the earnestness and severity with which in
Ezra 4:22 he sharpens the previous command: and be careful—so זְהִיר, which is especially frequent in Syriac,—to make a mistake = that you may not make a mistake with reference to this matter. לְמָה properly “to what” = that not, comp. Ezra 7:23, so also in Syriac. Accordingly the meaning is, that חֲבָלָהּ, damage, which easily grows as a pest, may not become great.
Ezra 4:23. The consequences of the royal edict are now added, probably by the same hand, that had added the introductory address of the original document.—Now when the contents of the letter . . . were read. A parenthetical clause begins with מִן־דּי. It is not until אֲזַלוּ that the principal clause continues.—They went up to Jerusalem, unto the Jews.—אַזָל may be connected with לְ and עַל in the sense of “going to or unto” (comp. Daniel 2:24; Daniel 2:24; here both prepositions follow. The subject is supplied from the parenthetical clause. בְּאֶדְרָע, properly, “with arm,” or “the power of the arm,” but this could not be the meaning here, were it not for וְחָיִל= troops, which is accordingly added. The Sept. renders freely, but not incorrectly (against Keil): ἐν ἵπποις κὰι δυνάμει, comp. the Hebrew זְרוֹעַ, Ezekiel 17:9, and זְרוֹעוֹת, or זְרוֹעִים, Daniel 9:15, 31, where also Keil explains the meaning as warlike powers. Instead of אדרע, almost always דּרע occurs without the prosthetic א.
Ezra 4:24. Then ceased the work of the house of God.—This verse already begins the continuation of Ezra 4:1-5, the further history of the building of the temple; at least it is introductory thereto. Our author himself (comp. notes on Ezra 4:6) here gives the results of the hostile effort, but not those of the last struggle, but those of the first under Cyrus, which already results from the idea of בטל, if it is taken in the strict sense. The author would not have gone back to the cessation, were it not that he would come to something that had already connected itself with the first intimation which had occasioned the cessation.11
thoughts upon the history of redemption
Ezra 4:1-3. (1) The release of Israel and the re-establishment of Jerusalem and the temple connected therewith was a beginning of the fulfilment of the great prophetic promises. Among these promises were those that said that the heathen would come near, to walk in the light of the Lord (especially Micah 4:0. Isq.; Isaiah 2:2, 24; Isaiah 60:1 sq.); they were to take part in the communion with Him, and accordingly in His worship and kingdom, and rejoice in His blessings. When now the Samaritans drew nigh with the request that they might help in building the temple, was not their claim sustained by these prophets? Should not Israel have been ready gladly to contribute their part for the accomplishment of the prophecy, even if it should for the moment be burdensome to them? Did they not have to fear lest they should by a refusal strive against God’s own great thoughts and designs which had been expressed long before? If the one prophecy is compared and explained by the other, then it follows, certainly, that this conversion of the heathen was not to be expected until the appearance of the Messiah. But if the Lord had given the one thing that was to come with the better and Messianic times, namely the return to the land of their fathers, could He not then very soon also afford them the other, the appearance of the Messiah itself? At present, indeed, Israel had no other prince than Zerubbabel, who did not even have the majesty of an ordinary king, not to speak of Messianic majesty and glory. But if now the congregation had gained in strength and numbers by the reception of the Samaritans, would it not thereby have also gradually advanced an important stage, and would not other tribes and families also have gradually followed the Samaritans ? The congregation was obliged in those times, when so much was but feeble, and began to have but little prospect of improvement (comp. Zechariah 4:10), to look at so many things with the eye of faith, if they would make no mistakes; and grasp them in faith, if they would not lack courage for them from the outset—should they not then have seen here also in faith a beginning, that would have its continuation and completion; should they not have covered over with the veil of mildness and forbearance the many weaknesses which might still adhere to the Samaritans, and have excused them with the hope of better things? They felt themselves too weak to overcome the heathen elements that were natural to them, and to meet the influences which they would exert in case of a union. But should they not have overcome their feeling of weakness in the power of the enthusiasm of their faith? They were obliged to recognise likewise that something of good was in the Samaritans, and were in duty bound to God to trust in Him that He would make the good to prevail over the evil and secure the victory to the truth. Was it not, if they rejected the Samaritans, looking deeper, a lack of faith, unnecessary anxiety, and was not national narrow-mindedness, and uncharitable-ness mingled therewith? There are many who take this view of it, and are very much inclined to make use of such thoughts with reference to similar things, which are not entirely lacking at present. But however difficult it may appear to take a safe course in such a state of affairs, one thing is sure: The Samaritans had no right to an entrance into the congregation on their assertion that they had already always and from the beginning worshipped the Lord, for on the contrary this could have been the case only in that they could have shown at some period of their history a decisive break with their previous heathenism and a real conversion to Jehovah. Such a conversion, however, of a true and hearty character, such as the prophets had prophesied as taking place in the Messianic time (comp. Isaiah 19:16 sq ) was not at all possible on their part. They needed first for this a turning unto them, a change on the part of the Lord. Israel was what it was in consequence of the divine election. The Samaritans also, and indeed all other nations, can become God’s people only when God extends His election clearly and effectually unto them likewise. They cannot choose Him, but He must choose them. It was His prerogative in this as in all other things, to take the initiative, if indeed He was the God of revelation, and was to be honored as such. It was necessary that He should reveal Himself in some manner, that He should draw near them and become apprehensible; He must send a mediator, under whom they likewise might find themselves, and in whom there should be a righteousness, a perfection and glory which would be undoubtedly for them, yea, overpowering them, and above all, likewise rendering satisfaction for them, and of a sufficiently representative character; He must do a redemptive act, by which He should purchase and fake them to Himself. It was necessary that there should first be a new manifestation, which should lay anew foundation, and even on this account also another instrument than Zerubbabel and Jeshua, coming from heaven, the appearance of the Sum of righteousness itself, with healing in its beams even for the heathen. That the congregation in Jerusalem rightly judged the Samaritans has been attested by the Lord Himself in John 4:22, as Hengstenberg has well shown in his Gesch. des Reiches Gottes (“ye worship ye know not what”) and the history itself has shown that they justly estimated that the hour of God had not yet come. This hour did not strike until Christ the Lord authoritatively removed the fence that had been erected between Israel and the heathen.
(2) The congregation had at first for their own sake as well as for the sake of the Samaritans, to adopt an exclusive policy. Whilst, if they had taken the Samaritans into their membership they would have been ruined by the latter through their worldly conformity, now they remained a salt, that in good time might become useful even to them, yea, they became already in advance a warning and an impulse to them, in consequence of which they gradually turned to better things. The good Samaritan in the gospel makes it probable that the lord found here and there among them, hearts that were less hard than those of the priests and Levites in Jerusalem. The story of the Samaritan who was healed of leprosy, who alone rendered thanks to the Lord, is an evidence that the noblest virtue might easily thrive among them better than among the Jews. The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and the people of Sychar, then those in Samaria itself (Acts 8:0) show a susceptibility for the Saviour, by which they might become true members of the people of God before many in the ancient congregation. Would that those, who as the Samaritans do not worship the true and holy God who does not allow His people to be put to shame, but only their own idols who are easily satisfied might have a clearer and stronger conception of the chasm that separates them from the true con gregation of the Lord! It would be a help for them that they need first of all.
(3) The congregation had to do without an increase such as would have come through the Samaritan element; they must rather remain small and suffer persecutions than abandon unto corruption the blessings entrusted to them. But after that Jesus Christ has come into the world and redemption has been made for all, so that only the innermost inclination of the heart need be brought into consideration, it is much more difficult to properly recognize the Samaritan influence that would press into the Church, and there is need in this respect of a very great and especial care. Above all we must take this to heart, that no one has to be converted to us, to our opinions and methods, but that every one is to be converted to Jesus Christ alone. The two do not coincide as long as we are still in an imperfect state. But at all events conversion is the decisive thing. How necessary this is and how fundamental it must be has now become still clearer in the light of Jesus Christ. He who now without conversion thinks that he can take part in the kingdom of God, who disputes the necessity of conversion, the depth of human sinfulness, the strictness of the divine holiness, in that he sets before him the grand aim of humanizing Christianity, reconciling it with culture, would set aside the opposition of the world against the Church, the Church’s rigor, narrowness, lack of culture, whilst in truth he seeks to make the Church conformable unto the world—such an one is in fact to be placed on a par with the Samaritans: he is, indeed, because he is more accountable, worse than a Samaritan.—The state of affairs, however, to-day is an entirely different one, inasmuch as Samaritanism is not without, but within the congregation [that is, in the State Churches especially; to a limited extent in the free evangelical churches—Tr.], yea, at times indeed is to be found in those who govern the congregation, where then at any rate the parable of the wheat and tares comes into consideration with reference to the way of judging it and treating it.
Ezra 4:4-5. The Samaritans were able for a time to prevent the building of the house of God. But what God would have, must finally come to pass. Just as at a previous time when David could not at once and himself execute his design of building a temple to the Lord (2 Samuel 7:0), so the Lord now showed that He did not require under all circumstances that which the world was still able to take away from Him and His people. Thus then the Church should never be discouraged when their enemies triumph for a season, and when it is as if they accomplished nothing, as if they lacked the most necessary things, and walked in a way that is not good. When the progress of their work is rendered more difficult by a thousand persecutions, by the spread of many calumnies and the like, then is the time, as Starke says, to pray the third petition that God would prevent all and every wicked counsel and purpose. But we should not judge by success whether we have chosen the right or the wrong way, but only by God’s word and truth. We should not find it too hard to be miserable and poor so long as it pleases God. It so easily happens, as it is elsewhere said, that the better the work, the greater hindrances are found, and that where God proposes something good, the devil does not rest, but sows tares with it (Starke).
Ezra 4:7-16. It was calumniation when the Samaritans charged the Jews behind their back at the Persian court with pursuing political ends, although in Artaxerxes’ time the question was no longer of the temple, but of the city and its walls. The Jews had nothing to do with political deliverance and independence, but with securing their existence and freedom of worship which could hardly be refused them by the Persians. But such slanders were almost a necessity. The Church must ever be prepared for them. The world knows only worldly motives, worldly aims, and cannot but ascribe them also to the Church; with all things that they allow themselves, they make a crime for the Church. But all the more care must the Church take that such calumniations may not gain ground; all the more carefully accordingly must it hold itself aloof from the world and its aims. Otherwise it not only injures itself for the present, but also for the future; it makes itself suspected. For their accusers already, to gain credence for their word, refer to the fact that the Jews had already in former times snatched to themselves a great worldly power. O that the congregation might not be so much denied by their own and their forefathers’ sins ! how much more irreproachably, powerfully and charmingly would they be able to carry out their work of missions in the world.
Ezra 4:17-23. The Persian king Artaxerxes commanded that the building of the walls of Jerusalem should cease. We might ask how it was possible that the only true God, the Lord of heaven and earth, should make the lot of His people, and accordingly the history of His kingdom dependent upon the command of the king of Persia; that He should allow His people, and indeed His cause in general, to fall into such dependence upon men, and indeed heathen? But this is indeed His method. Even the individual is allowed a free and determining influence upon his action. And in the very fact that He limits Himself, makes Himself dependent, lets Himself be satisfied, so that the world may enjoy an independent, true existence, and men may have a real freedom, He shows His highest and best greatness. Only the false God, the one merely conceived, is the entirely unlimited one who takes away every freedom of the creature, who wills and does everything himself, and thereby becomes of the nature of the creature and sinful. It is shown here so truly how that which is truly great and important may be externally weak and inversely.
Ezra 4:24. When Cyrus had given the congregation permission to return and build the temple of the Lord, it almost appeared as if already heathenism was capable and ready under the circumstances to establish a free church in a free state. But when afterwards the building was obliged to stop and remain so long unfinished, when so to speak the Church must lie down in chains, the saying of the free church in the free state became a fable, and as such must it ever anew prove itself to be. The interests and also the callings of the State and the Church are involved in too many ways and in too close relations for the former not to claim when it has the power an oversight of the latter and an influence upon it. The most favorable thing for the Church is ever the Christian State, which really wishes the Church well and ministers to it; as the last thing, however, it has to expect the antichristian state, which restrains it, persecutes it, and where it is possible, enchains and destroys it.
[The author’s view of the relations between Church and State are the usual ones prevailing on the continent of Europe and among State-church men in Great Britain. It has been sufficiently proved, however, in the United States and the British colonies that a free Church in a free State is no fable, but a historical fact, and a condition in which the Church is purest, strongest and most dominant in the land through the Christianizing influence that it freely exerts on all classes of the community. And whilst Church and State are closely related in many questions of morals and religion, in education, in marriage and divorce, the observance of the Sabbath, questions of property, individual rights, etc., and conflict will more or less arise, yet the relations will become more and more accurately defined without interfering with the prerogatives of either. Comp. the section on Church and State in the Evangelical Alliance proceedings, N. Y., 1873.—Tr.]
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Ezra 4:1-3. The Church cannot receive every one into her communion or suffer all to remain therein. Her duty to excommunicate is shown: 1) From what would happen if she excluded none—they would be made to conform to the world by the worldly-minded; 2) From what happens when they do exclude them—they manifest the worldly disposition in their hearts, and do much damage by their hostility; but they cannot ruin the congregation: the possibility remains that they themselves may be the subjects of saving influences.—Starke: No one should enter into communion in religious matters with strange and false religious opinions, 2 Corinthians 4:14; Titus 3:10. Tale-bearers and false and wicked talkers are cursed; for they perplex those who enjoy good peace (Sir 28:15), and invent villany, Psalms 64:7; Psalms 140:4 The Church of God and its members suffer greater injury by false friends than by open enemies, Psalms 41:10; 2 Corinthians 11:26.
Ezra 4:1-5. The duty of the congregation to be apparently intolerant: 1) Towards whom—even against many who would enjoy its communion; 2) how—excluding that which is excluded by its entire character and then bearing whatever evil is ascribed to them on account of this; 3) for what purpose—in order to preserve its best things and thereby at the proper time likewise offer salvation to their enemies.—Brentius: Ejusdem farinæ sunt, qui nunc hujus nunc illius religionis sunt. Injustum est; qui fides est persuasio certa de divinis promissionibus. Hi autem, cum hinc inde fluctuent, non habent fidem.—The foolish behaviour of the world towards the Lord’s people: 1) The world would belong to the Lord’s people, and yet not be converted unto God; 2) They seek to set aside the worship of the true God, and yet can prosper only in the light that streams forth from it.
Ezra 4:7-16. The charges raised by the world against the people of God; their apparent justice and their lack of grounds. 1) The congregation builds itself at present not with peaceful, but rebellious disposition: in fact, it must obey God rather than men; but they know also how falsely this word is applied by those who have forgotten that the kingdom of the Lord is not of this world. 2) They have in past times constantly sought after worldly power, and have been guilty of manifold encroachments; in fact, the Church has at first more and more taken a political form and equipped itself with external worldly power; but the consciousness that according to its own idea something different was more appropriate has never been able to be entirely suppressed. 3) The church will, if it have its own way, in future endanger the existence of the state; in fact, it cannot acquiesce in the state as it is; the church must seek to gain power over the king, but in a spiritual sense; not with power, but kindness; not from without, but from within. It would not oppress, but change, transform, glorify.—Brentius: Vide, mirabilem piorum sortem in hoc sæculo. Pii sunt, propter quos omnia bona hominibus hujus seculi eveniunt. Attamen accusantur, quod soli hi sint, propter quos omnia mala, bella, fames et seditiones eveniant.—Starke: God’s church has at all times been subjected to false accusations. Christ and His apostles could give sufficient witness of this. Let us only avoid the doing, the lie is good counsel, Acts 24:5 sq.
Ezra 4:14-24. The church’s independence of the state. God makes His church dependent on the world: 1) on its own account to glorify its faith and to exercise its patience; 2) for His own sake in order to bring it to a proper conception of the fact that it does not need external majesty and power, a magnificent cultus, etc.; 3) for the sake of the world—that it may learn to see that the church cannot be suppressed by it, that there is something higher than it can reach with all its power.—Starke: God often lets it happen that a good intention is interrupted by the craft of enemies, in order to try His believers. Magistrates are God’s officers. If, however, they do not properly fulfil their office, a severe judgment will pass over them, Wis 6:5-6. God is a long-suffering God who allows Himself to be interfered with and presents Himself as a hero who is faint-hearted (Jeremiah 14:9), but He will wake up some time, Sir 17:19.
[Scott: Every vigorous and successful attempt to revive true religion will excite the opposition of Satan and of the children of disobedience in whom he worketh.—Henry: The worst enemies Judah and Benjamin had were those that said they were Jews and were not, Revelation 3:9.—Take heed who we go partners with, and on whose hand we lean. While we trust God with a pious confidence, we must trust men with a prudent jealousy and caution.—See how watchful the church’s enemies are to take the first opportunity of doing it a mischief. Let not its friends be less careful to do it a kindness.—A secret enmity to Christ and His gospel is oft gilded over with a pretended affection to Cæsar and his power.—At some times the church has suffered more by the coldness of its friends than by the heat of its enemies; but both together commonly make church work slow work.—Tr.]
[Also Smith, the Assyrian Canon, p. 138, and Rawlinson in loco, who says: “There appear to have been at least three colonizations of Samaria by the Assyrian Kings. Sargon, soon after his conquest, replaced the captives whom he had carried of by colonists from Babylonia and from Hamath (2 Kings 17:24). Later in his reign he added to these first settlers an Arabian element (Ancient Monarchies, II., p. 415). Some thirty or forty years afterwards, Esar-haddon, his grandson, from largely augmented the population of colonists drawn from various parts of the empire, but especially from the southeast, Susiana, Elymais, and Persia. Thus the later Samaritans were an exceedingly mixed race.”—Tr.]
It was not until very late that their historians invented a return of three hundred thousand men from the Assyrian banishment, and a new establishment of ancient Israel in the midst of the land by this great band, and especially on Mt. Gerizim. (Comp. Abulfatah’s Arab. Chronik. in Paulus’ Memorabilien. II., S. 54–100, and in the Samaritan book of Joshua, published at Leyden, in 1848. Vid. Ewald IV., S. 125.)
Kleinert already in the Beitragen der Dorp. Professoren Theol., 1832, Bd. 1, had to a certain extent pointed to the correct opinion which has been commonly recognized, as in my article “Cyrus der Grosse” Stud. u. Krit. 1853, S. 624 sqq.; by Baihinger. Stud. u. Krit. 1857, S. 87 sqq.; by Hengst., Christologie II., S. 143; by Berth. and Keil in their Commentaries, et al..
[So also Rawlinson in loco, who refers to the “well-known fact of history,” that Persian kings had often two names.—Tr.]
[Rawlinson in loco regards them as colonists from the nation which the Assyrians called Tuplai, the Greeks “Tibareni,” and the Hebrews generally “Tabal.”—Tr.]
According to Hitzig’s faithful disciple Egli, it would be an appellative, that would show us the relationship of the Assyrian with the German and would be essentially the same as the German “Schnapper.”
[More properly it is the characteristic of the subjunctive or optative force of the verb. See Luzatto’s Gram. der bib chald., § 109, and Rigg’s Manual of Chaldee, p. 65.—Tr.]
[“The Persian satraps had no salaries, but taxed the provinces for the support of themselves and their courts.” Rewlinson in loco.—Tr.]
[“It is doubtful if the Persian monarchs could ordinarily read (Ancient Monarchies, Vol. IV., p. 185). At any rate it was not their habit to read, but to have documents read to them (comp. Esther 6:1).” Rawlinson in loco.—Tr.]
[Rawlinson in loco doubts the reference to David and Solomon, and thinks the reference more probable to Menahem (2 Kings 15:16), and Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:6-7; 2 Chronicles 35:18).—Tr.]
[“The stoppage of the building by the Pseudo Smerdis is in complete harmony with his character. He was a Magus, devoted to the Magian elemental worship, and opposed to belief in a personal god. His religion did not approve of temples (Herod. i. 130); and as he persecuted the Zoroastrian (Behist. Inscr., Colossians 1:0, par. 14), so would he naturally be inimical to the Jewish faith (comp. Ancient Monarchies, Vol. IV., pp. 347, 398)” Rawlinson in loco.—Tr.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ezra 4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany