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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Ezra 4

Verses 7-16

EXPOSITION

Ezra 4:7

And in the days of Artaxerxes. See the comment on Ezra 4:6. If Artaxerxes be the Pseudo-Smerdis, we can readily understand why an application was not made to him at once, and how it came about that the Jews recommenced their building, as they appear from Ezra 4:12, Ezra 4:13 to have done. The Pseudo-Smerdis was a usurper; his reign was a time of partial anarchy; in a distant part of the empire it would not be known for a while who was king. Men would be thrown on themselves, and would do as it seemed good in their own eyes. Later, there may have been some doubt whether a king, who was known to be a religious reformer, would follow the policy of his predecessor with respect to the Jews, or reverse it. Hence a delay, and then a more formal application than before for a positive decree to stop the building (see Ezra 4:21). The rest of their companions. Literally, of their companies—the abstract for the concrete. The writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue. Rather, "in the Syrian fashion," i.e. in Syriac characters. And interpreted in the Syrian tongue. Or "translated into the Syriac language." The character and the words were alike Syriac. Ezra gives the letter in Chaldee.

Ezra 4:8

Rehum the chancellor. Literally, "the lord of judgment." It may be conjectured that Rehum was the sub-satrap (ὑποσατράπης, Xen.), of the province of Samaria. And Shimshai the scribe. Or "secretary." Herodotus tells us that in every Persian province the governor had a secretary attached to him, who was appointed by the crown, and acted as a check upon his nominal master (Herod; 3:128). The position assigned to Shim-shai in this chapter (see especially Ezra 4:9, Ezra 4:17, Ezra 4:23) is such as might be expected under these circumstances.

Ezra 4:9

The Dinaites, etc. It is curious that the Samaritans, instead of using a general appellation, describe themselves under the names of the various nations and cities which had furnished the colonists of whom they were the descendants. It would seem that they were not yet, in the time of the Pseudo-Smerdis, amalgamated into a single people. From the list of names we may gather that the colonists of Esar-haddon's time had been derived chiefly from Southern Babylonia and the adjacent regions of Susiana, Persia, and Elymais. The Babylonians, Susanchites, and Elamites speak for themselves, and require no explanation. The Archevites are the people of Ereeh or Orchoe (now Warka), a city to the south-east of Babylon. The Apharsites are no doubt Persians; the Dehavites, Dai or Dahae, a tribe located in Persia Proper ('Herod.,' 1:125). If uncertainty attaches to any of the names, it is to two only—the Dinaites and the Tarpelites. Of these, the Dinaites are probably the people of Dayan, a country bordering on Cilicia, whose inhabitants are often mentioned by the Assyrian monarchs. The Tarpelites have been regarded as the people of Tripolis; but it is improbable that that city had as yet received its Greek name. Perhaps they are the Tuplai, or people of Tubal, mentioned in Scripture and the Assyrian inscriptions, the letter r being a euphonic addition, as in Darmesek for Dammesek sharbith for shebeth, and the like.

Ezra 4:10

The rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over. Nothing more is known of "the great and noble Asnapper," who is here mentioned as bringing the colonists and setting them in the cities of Samaria. We must suppose him to have been an officer employed by Esar-haddon on this service. The name is Assyrian in form, and may have meant "Asshur pursues." The rest that are on this side the river. Rather, "across the river." As Romans in North Italy, writing to Rome, would have spoken of themselves as "Transpadani," so Persian subjects, writing to Susa from the west of the Jordan, speak of theft country as "across the Jordan." And at such a time. Rather, "and so forth." This and the preceding verse set forth the address of Rehum's letter. The whole address not being given, the writer ends with the phrase uk'eneth, which means "and so forth," or "et cetera" (comp. Ezra 7:12).

Ezra 4:11

This is the copy of the letter. The address having been given, the writer now proceeds to the contents of the letter. Thy servants the men on this side the river, etc. This was a sort of heading inside the letter—a repetition in brief of the address.

Ezra 4:12

The Jews which came up from thee. i.e. from the central provinces—from that part of the empire where thou dwellest. To us. To our part of the world—to Palestine. Are … building the rebellious and the bad city. The ground of this accusation must be sought in the various revolts of the Jews from the Babylonians recorded in 2 Kings 24:1-20; 2 Kings 25:1-30. There had been one, or perhaps two, previous revolts from Assyria (2 Kings 18:7; 2 Chronicles 33:11); but of these the Samaritans probably knew nothing. They would, however, be likely to know that before Nebuchadnezzar took the extreme measure of removing the Jews from their own land to Babylon, they had rebelled against him three several times—once under Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:1), once under his son Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:9, 2 Kings 24:10), and once under Zedekiah, the last king (2 Kings 24:20). Thus they had a basis of truth on which to ground their charge that Jerusalem was "the rebellious and the bad city." And have set up the walls thereof. It appears very clearly from the book of Nehemiah that the walls of Jerusalem were not restored till his time, seventy-five years after this. The Samaritans, however, would naturally exaggerate, and call the rebuilding of the temple, and of a certain number of dwelling-houses, a fortifying of the place. The exaggeration, however, is not so great in the Chaldee text as in the Authorized Version. What is said seems to be, that "they are setting up the walls and joining the foundations." That the work was far from complete is admitted in the next verse. We may doubt whether it was really begun.

Ezra 4:13

Then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom. This was plausible reasoning. In Greece, if a subject city set to work to fortify itself, rebellion was immediately anticipated, not unfairly. But the circumstances of the Persian empire were different. In the remoter parts of that empire the central government was weak, and disorders frequently occurred. A city might need fortifications to protect it against its immediate neighbours, when it had not the slightest intention of asserting independence. Judging from the later history, which shows no revolt of the Jews against Persia, we may say that the accusation now alleged was unfounded, though perhaps it was not made in bad faith. Toll, tribute, and custom represent the chief heads of Persian taxation, which, however, did not include "custom" in our sense of the word. The three terms used by the Samaritans really represent, respectively, "tribute," or the money payment required from each province, "provision," or the payment in kind equally required (Herod; 1.192; 3.91), and "toll," or contributions from those who made use of the Persian highways. According to the Samaritans, none of these would be paid by the Jews if Jerusalem was once fortified. And so thou shalt endamage the revenue. The general meaning is given correctly enough by this rendering, but "revenue" is not expressly mentioned. Aphthom, the word so translated, means really "at length," "at last." Translate, "And so at last thou shalt endamage the kings."

Ezra 4:14

We have maintenance from the king's palace. The marginal rendering is better, and shows the true sense. "Eating a man's salt" in the East is deriving one's subsistence from him. The man who eats another's salt is bound to look after his interests. It was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour. Rather, "the king's detriment or loss"—it was not meet for us to stand by tamely and see the king stript of his due.

Ezra 4:15

That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers. It was the practice at the Persian court to register all important events in a book, which from time to time was read to the kings (Esther 2:23; Esther 6:1). The Samaritans suggest a consultation of this book, which would at any rate contain their own previous accusations against Jerusalem (supra, Ezra 4:5, Ezra 4:6), and might make some mention of the revolts from Babylon (see the comment on Ezra 4:12). For which cause was this city destroyed. This was the great fact on which the Samaritans relied. Nebuchadnezzar had only destroyed Jerusalem in consequence of repeated rebellions. True; but no sufficient indication that there would be revolt from Persia, which was anti-idolatrous, and had proved herself so true a friend to the Jews.

Ezra 4:16

Thou shalt have no portion on this side the river. It is not quite clear whether the river intended here and in Ezra 4:10 is the Euphrates or the Jordan. Generally in the Old Testament hannahar means the Euphrates, but the exaggeration is gross if that river was intended here. Only twice in their history had the Israelites advanced their frontier as far as that stream—under Solomon (1 Kings 4:21) and under Menahem (2 Kings 15:16); in their present depressed condition it was absurd to imagine that they could rival those early glories. But jealousy does not stop to weigh the reasonableness of its accusations.

HOMILETICS

Ezra 4:6-16

The work maligned.

Besides "hiring counsellors," as mentioned in Ezra 4:5; or, it may be, in order to provide these counsellors with documents to present and act on; we are here told that the Samaritan "adversaries" sent various letters to the Persian kings against the temple builders at Jerusalem. One of these, sent to a king here styled Ahasuerus, is merely referred to as an "accusation." Another and more successful one, sent "in the days of Artaxerxes," is described at full length. With many commentators of note and of various schools (see Wordsworth, in loc.), we shall assume these two kings, notwithstanding the apparent diversity of their names, to be Cambyses and the Pseudo-Smerdis, the son and pretended son, and two next successors, of Cyrus. In any case the latter-named letter (verse 33), if not an exact copy, may be regarded as a fair sample, of what was sent. Looked at thus from the Jewish side of the question, it was a most formidable production:—equally so whether we now consider, on the one hand, its writers; or, on the other hand, its contents.

I. THE WRITERS. Much of the importance of a letter turns, of course, on this point. Were they

(1) persons of note? It is evident that they were in this case. "Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel"(Ezra 4:7) were clearly well-known names at that time. No one then required to be told who they were. It is also evident that they were

(2) persons of much acuteness. They had their letter written in the Syrian or Aramaic language and characters, as being those used (Lange) in Western Persia in all official documents. Such a plan, of course, would give their letter all the better chance of perusal. Further, it was so contrived that some of those signing the letter should be

(3) men of rank. Every Persian governor (so Herodotus, quoted by Rawlinson) was accompanied to his province by a royal secretary, having an independent authority of his own. These correspond in this instance to the "chancellor" and the "scribe" who are described in Ezra 4:8 as writing the "letter against Jerusalem." Bish-lam, etc; in all probability, were its concocters and framers; Rehum and Shimshai its official senders. Both sets appear also to have been

(4) men of much influence. Mention is made both of them and their "companions." They acted for others besides themselves; for others who could be named, but are not. At the same time, there were others named by them, as persons joining with them in sending this letter, whose names were such as to give it much additional weight. These were men, for example, who, in the matter of origin, represented very various cities, provinces, and races in the wide empire of Persia; such as ancient Erech (Genesis 10:10), mighty Babylon, royal Susa, and others. Yet they were men, again, who, as to recent history and present position, represented only the province from which the letter came, having been brought long ago to where they were by the same kind of imperial authority as that to which they appealed (Ezra 4:10). All these things made them the right persons to address the ruler of the whole empire respecting a matter affecting the welfare of the whole empire, yet arising exclusively in that province of it in which they all dwelt. Not only so, these same individuals, as a matter of fact, represented the whole of that province. With the exception of those they wrote about, they were able to speak of themselves as all "the men on that side the river." In a word, numbers, rank, influence, authority, character, origin, situation—the writers of the present letter had all these things on their side. It was, indeed, a great league; reminding us of what we read of in Psalms 83:3-8, and Acts 4:27, and (as something to happen hereafter) in Revelation 20:7-9. In the presence of such a league the temple builders were like the two flocks described in 1 Kings 20:27; or like the disciples when the Saviour said to them as in Matthew 10:16.

II. THE CONTENTS of the letter. These also were very formidable, because both weighty and well put. They comprised—

1. A severe accusation. The returned Jews were described as rebuilding a city always notorious for its evil name—Jerusalem "the rebellious" (Matthew 10:12). Such a charge no chief governor could afford to pass by. Such a charge, also, in this instance, had a very plausible look. Situated as the temple was, at the eastern edge of the city heights, the building of its foundation and enclosures (the real work of the men of Jerusalem) might easily be misrepresented as a "making ready" of the "walls" of the "city" itself.

2. A plain warning. "In the judgment of us who live on the spot, this thing is even worse than it seems. The building of this city means, in reality, the building of a fortress against the king; and that means, in turn, serious loss of revenue; for no taxes of any sort will that city pay, whether in money, or kind, or for using the highways."

3. A skilful apology. Why do we refer at all to so unpleasant a contingency? Simply as a matter of duty, and because of our loyalty. Having eaten of the king's salt (margin), being his dependents and subjects (possibly also his covenanted servants, 2 Chronicles 13:5), we could not see even such possibility of hurt without speaking.

4. An appeal to history. Besides, the king can judge for himself on this subject. He has only to inquire for himself in the government records, and see what has always been said there about this city. Why, in fact, if not thus "rebellious," was it ever destroyed?

5. An appeal to reason. If things be thus, what must be the consequence—the inevitable consequence of such a city being again established? Has our warning gone far enough, in reality? There will not only be rebellion here, but a rival sovereignty; not only some revenue, but a whole province, lost. Such, at any rate (so we assure the king), is our fear.

This subject illustrates—

1. The perilous nature of Christian warfare. All the neighbours of the Jews were against them; all that could be urged was urged against them, and in the very best way. It would be difficult to improve the letter before us, considering the purpose in view. So many, so powerful, so subtle always are the enemies of the Church. (Comp. Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:16, Luke 21:17; Acts 28:22.) Consider also, in a different sphere, Job 1:9-11; Job 2:4-6; Revelation 12:10; and the very meaning of the name Diabolus.

2. The secret of Christian vitality. How has the Church survived all this except by help from above? Could Jerusalem have survived this present league and letter if left to itself? Comp. "I have reserved to myself," in Romans 11:4; 1 Kings 19:18.

3. The proper direction of Christian trust. With such enemies, with such accusers, to whom must we look for defence? Not to other men, not to ourselves, but only to the appointed "Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). He is more than all that are against us (Numbers 14:9; Psalms 27:1-3; Psalms 118:6). Also, being our "propitiation" (1 John 2:2), he can say more for us than they against us. (Comp. "I have prayed for thee," in Luke 22:31, Luke 22:32; and see Romans 8:33, Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25.)

HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL

Ezra 4:4-16

The world's opposition to the Church.

We observe, in reference to the world's opposition to the Church—

I. THAT IT OFTEN SEEKS TO HINDER USEFUL ENTERPRISE, These Samaritans sought to "trouble them in building" (Ezra 4:4). As Israel was employed in rebuilding the ruined temple, so the Church is engaged in erecting a great spiritual temple; this noble enterprise is hindered by the varied enmity of the world. The moral building is hindered as well by the pleasures as by the enmity of men: how sinful to hinder the work of God.

II. THAT IT COMBINES A VARIED AGENCY.

1. Costly. "And hired counsellors against them" (Ezra 4:5). The world often expends much time and money in its opposition to the work of God; it always has "counsellors" ready to take its unprofitable pay. The Church opposes with the unsearchable riches of Christ.

2. Numerous. The enemies of the Church are legion; but more are for it than all that can be against it.

3. Competent. The men here named were capable of the most effective method of obtaining their end; the enemies of the Church are often socially great and mentally gifted. Learning is sometimes arrayed against the Church. But God hath chosen the weak things of the earth to confound the mighty.

4. Influential. These men have influence with the king, and stay the work of Israel. But a faithful Israel has power with God, and shall prevail. Strange are the intellectual and social elements allied against the Church.

III. THAT IT TAKES ADVANTAGE OF POLITICAL CHANGES. "And in the reign of Ahasuerus" (Ezra 4:6). During the former reign the Samaritan enmity did not obtain much favour; but it is more successful with the new king. This opposition is—

1. Persistent. Kings may die, but it continues.

2. Vigilant. It is ever on the outlook for new opportunity.

3. Flattering. Thus it seeks to win its way with the new monarch. The Church must remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and ever; his purpose standeth sure.

4. An appeal to self-interest. "En-damage the revenue of the kings" (Ezra 4:13)."

IV. THAT IT MAKES A CUNNING USE OF MISREPRESENTATION. "They will not pay toll" (Ezra 4:13). The worldly opposition represents the Church of God as injurious to the state.

1. Rebellious. "Building the rebellious" (Ezra 4:12). That the Church will obey God rather than the king; true if their laws come into collision; but are not Christians the most law-abiding subjects?

2. Defrauding. "They will not pay toll." But does not the Church render unto God the things that are his, and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's?

3. Hypocritical. They build not the walls of Jerusalem for God, but to shut out the king.

4. Wicked. They designate Jerusalem a "bad city." Thus the world maligns the Church; it spoke evil of Christ; it will undervalue his followers.

V. THAT IT MAKES THE PRETENCE OF A DISINTERESTED MOTIVE. "It was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour" (Ezra 4:14). The world will not allow that its opposition is angry or jealous. The most wicked plans seek the aid of righteous pleas. This opposition appears—

1. Disinterested. It does not seek its own, but the king's welfare.

2. Loyal. They had "the king's maintenance," and therefore inform the king of his peril.

3. Open. They will tell the king plainly of the matter, and he can decide. Thus would the world conceal its hatred to the Church.

VI. THAT IT PUTS A FALSE INTERPRETATION UPON NATIONAL HISTORY. "That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers" (Ezra 4:15).

1. The historical record. The history of the Church is blended with the history of the world; the Divine and human records move together.

2. The historical argument.

3. The historical perversion. History, rightly interpreted, is on the side of the Church.

4. The historical vindication. We justify Israel now and condemn the Samaritans; time will surely vindicate the Church.—E.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Ezra 4:6-24

Three thoughts from old documents.

The determined attempts made by the Samaritans to prevent the Jews from building the temple and the walls of Jerusalem are well illustrated in the correspondence between them and the king of Persia. Documents passed between the two of which we have the superscription and contents in these verses. They remind us—

I. THAT MEN MAY TAKE AN IMMENSITY OF TROUBLE TO DO OTHER PEOPLE HARM AND MAKE THEMSELVES INFAMOUS. These men, "in the days of Artaxerxes" (Ezra 4:7), secured the sympathy and co-operation of the Persian "chancellor" and "scribe" (Ezra 4:8); also of their "companions," various Persian colonists then living in Samaria (Ezra 4:9), with "the rest of the nations" whom "Asnapper brought over and set in their cities" (Ezra 4:10): with their aid and through their medium they gained access to King Artaxerxes, and induced him to listen to a long statement of complaint. They had a momentary success, as the king granted their prayer and arrested the work; but in the end their evil designs were defeated, and those against whom they plotted gained their end. All that these malignant Samaritans did was to annoy and delay without defeating their neighbours, while they have earned for themselves a most unenviable immortality. This document is only read now by those who will condemn their conduct. How often do we see men putting forth patient energy, expending great ingenuity and labour, to compass that in which it is best for them to fail, of which they will live to be ashamed. If there be a sense in which "all labour is profit" (Proverbs 14:23), it is also painfully true that thousands of men are laboriously engaged in doing work which will perish, and had better perish; in making a name and repute which they would be glad afterwards to hide. Well for those who are doing that which really serves, that which will stand, that for which other generations will not rebuke but bless them.

II. THAT A TIME OF SPECIAL ACTIVITY WILL PROBABLY PROVE A TIME OF UNUSUAL ENDURANCE (Ezra 4:12-16). The Jews at this time were actively engaged in building—not merely in erecting stone walls, but in rebuilding a nation, in relaying the foundations of the kingdom and cause of God. Thus employed, they found themselves exposed to bitter hostility and deadly machination. Their nearest neighbours were plotting against them; and now they were doing that which is always found very difficult to endure—they were misrepresenting and maligning them; they were reporting them to the king as a "rebellious and bad city" (Ezra 4:12), bent on refusing to "pay toll, tribute, and custom" (Ezra 4:13), "hurtful unto kings and provinces," intending to break off their allegiance, so that the king "would have no portion on this side the river." Though not incapable of turbulence, and not indisposed to throw off a foreign yoke when that should be possible, the Jews were not cherishing any purpose of this kind; they had been faithful subjects when in Persia, and they had honourable and loyal intentions now. This "accusation" (Ezra 4:6) was essentially false; it was a malignant misrepresentation. When men are actively engaged in building the kingdom of Christ, they may expect Samaritan misrepresentations. Things will be said-by the ill-disposed which, as here, may have a colouring of truth, but which are essentially false. We must not mind misrepresentation when we are doing earnest and faithful work. The very excellency of our effort will bring down the hatred and opposition of those who are enemies of the truth, and our work and ourselves will be slandered; we may find ourselves members of a "sect everywhere spoken against." We shall not, then, forget who it was that was charged with sedition, and so far from being surprised that "the disciple is not above his master," we shall rejoice that we are counted worthy to "partake of the sufferings of Christ." No truly great work has ever been wrought which has not been covered at times with black clouds of misrepresentation.

III. THAT SELFISHNESS AND JUSTICE ARE SELDOM ASSOCIATED TOGETHER. The king listened to those who seemed so desirous of serving him; he was inclined to believe those that were anxious his "revenue should not be endamaged" (Ezra 4:13), who did not wish to "see the king's dishonour" (Ezra 4:14), and who took measures that he should not lose his "portion on one side the river" (Ezra 4:16). And search being made, it was easy to find some incidents which might be construed in the sense of these complainants: the city "of old time had made insurrection," etc. (Ezra 4:19); there had been "mighty kings" to whom "toll, tribute, and custom" had been paid, etc.—there might be some possible danger too in the future; let the work cease for the present (Ezra 4:21), for "why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?" (Ezra 4:22). Rather send bitter disappointment to the holiest hopes of a province than endanger the prosperity of kings. Thus does self-interest pervert justice. To save themselves from slight, remote, and contingent harm, men will cause much present and certain injury to their fellows. Selfishness is unfair and often cruel. To be true and just one must be disinterested.—C.

Verses 17-24

EXPOSITION

Ezra 4:17

Then sent the king an answer. The complaint made was of such importance that an answer was returned without delay. It was addressed both to Rehum and Shimshai, since they were independent authorities.. Peace, and at such a time. "Peace" (sheldm) is the ordinary Oriental salutation. The other word, uk'eth, is taken by our translators to refer to the date; but it really means, like uk'eneth (Ezra 4:10), "and so forth," or "et cetera."

Ezra 4:18

The letter hath been plainly read before me. Despatches are read to, not by, Oriental sovereigns, who have often no literary education. (Compare Esther 6:1.)

Ezra 4:19

I commanded, and search has been made. The Pseudo-Smerdis, who was a fanatical adherent of Magism, which disallowed temples altogether (Herod; 1.130), and who had already destroyed the temples of Ormuzd in Persia ('Behistun Ins.,' Colossians 1:0. par. 14, 5), was naturally willing enough to do as the Samaritans desired, and stop the restoration of the Jewish temple. Accordingly, he had a search made among the state records, and found, as they had expected he would, evidence of insurrections on the part of the Jews against the foreign countries to which they had been subject, as Assyria (2 Kings 18:7) and Babylon (2 Kings 24:1; Jeremiah 52:3), and also proof of the formidable power possessed by certain Jewish or Israelite kings; upon which he thought himself justified in complying with the Samaritan request, and ordering the work that was going on at Jerusalem to cease (see Ezra 4:21).

Ezra 4:20

Mighty kings. David and Solomon best answer to this description, possessing as they did a kingdom which extended from the Euphrates to the borders of Egypt (1 Kings 4:21, 1 Kings 4:24), and drawing tribute from the various petty princes or chiefs of the nations dwelling within those limits (2 Samuel 8:6-12; 1 Kings 10:14, 1 Kings 10:25). Josiah had perhaps, more recently, possessed an almost equally extensive sway.

Ezra 4:21

Until another commandment shall be given. It can scarcely be supposed that the Pseudo-Smerdis had any intention of issuing "another commandment;" but, since "the laws of the Medes and Persians," as a general rule, "altered not" (Esther 1:19; Daniel 6:15), it may well be that the clause before us was one inserted as a matter of form in most decrees, to prevent them from being irrevocable.

Ezra 4:23

They went up in haste. The "adversaries" lost no time. Having obtained the decree which forbad further building, they proceeded with it to Jerusalem, and by a display of force compelled the Jews to submission. No doubt resistance might have been made, but resistance would have been rebellion.

Ezra 4:24

Then ceased the work … until the second year of the reign of Darius. The interval of compelled inaction was not long. The Pseudo-Smerdis reigned, at the utmost, ten months; after which a revolution occurred, and the throne was occupied by Darius, the son of Hystaspes. If the work was resumed early in this monarch's second year, the entire period of suspension cannot have much exceeded a year and a half. King of Persia. There is probably no intention of distinguishing the Darius of this book from "Darius the Mede" (Daniel 5:31; Daniel 6:1). "King of Persia" is appended to his name merely out of respect and honor, as it is to the names of Cyrus (Daniel 1:1, Daniel 1:2, Daniel 1:8), Artaxerxes I. (Daniel 4:7), and Artaxerxes II. (Daniel 6:14). Such a superfluous attachment to his name of the style and title of a monarch is common throughout the Old Testament, and generally marks a distinct intention to do the individual honour (see Gen 41:46; 1 Kings 3:1; 1Ki 9:11, 1 Kings 9:16; 1 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 36:22, etc.).

HOMILETICS

Ezra 4:6-16

The work maligned.

Besides "hiring counsellors," as mentioned in Ezra 4:5; or, it may be, in order to provide these counsellors with documents to present and act on; we are here told that the Samaritan "adversaries" sent various letters to the Persian kings against the temple builders at Jerusalem. One of these, sent to a king here styled Ahasuerus, is merely referred to as an "accusation." Another and more successful one, sent "in the days of Artaxerxes," is described at full length. With many commentators of note and of various schools (see Wordsworth, in loc.), we shall assume these two kings, notwithstanding the apparent diversity of their names, to be Cambyses and the Pseudo-Smerdis, the son and pretended son, and two next successors, of Cyrus. In any case the latter-named letter (verse 33), if not an exact copy, may be regarded as a fair sample, of what was sent. Looked at thus from the Jewish side of the question, it was a most formidable production:—equally so whether we now consider, on the one hand, its writers; or, on the other hand, its contents.

I. THE WRITERS. Much of the importance of a letter turns, of course, on this point. Were they

(1) persons of note? It is evident that they were in this case. "Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel"(Ezra 4:7) were clearly well-known names at that time. No one then required to be told who they were. It is also evident that they were

(2) persons of much acuteness. They had their letter written in the Syrian or Aramaic language and characters, as being those used (Lange) in Western Persia in all official documents. Such a plan, of course, would give their letter all the better chance of perusal. Further, it was so contrived that some of those signing the letter should be

(3) men of rank. Every Persian governor (so Herodotus, quoted by Rawlinson) was accompanied to his province by a royal secretary, having an independent authority of his own. These correspond in this instance to the "chancellor" and the "scribe" who are described in Ezra 4:8 as writing the "letter against Jerusalem." Bish-lam, etc; in all probability, were its concocters and framers; Rehum and Shimshai its official senders. Both sets appear also to have been

(4) men of much influence. Mention is made both of them and their "companions." They acted for others besides themselves; for others who could be named, but are not. At the same time, there were others named by them, as persons joining with them in sending this letter, whose names were such as to give it much additional weight. These were men, for example, who, in the matter of origin, represented very various cities, provinces, and races in the wide empire of Persia; such as ancient Erech (Genesis 10:10), mighty Babylon, royal Susa, and others. Yet they were men, again, who, as to recent history and present position, represented only the province from which the letter came, having been brought long ago to where they were by the same kind of imperial authority as that to which they appealed (Ezra 4:10). All these things made them the right persons to address the ruler of the whole empire respecting a matter affecting the welfare of the whole empire, yet arising exclusively in that province of it in which they all dwelt. Not only so, these same individuals, as a matter of fact, represented the whole of that province. With the exception of those they wrote about, they were able to speak of themselves as all "the men on that side the river." In a word, numbers, rank, influence, authority, character, origin, situation—the writers of the present letter had all these things on their side. It was, indeed, a great league; reminding us of what we read of in Psalms 83:3-8, and Acts 4:27, and (as something to happen hereafter) in Revelation 20:7-9. In the presence of such a league the temple builders were like the two flocks described in 1 Kings 20:27; or like the disciples when the Saviour said to them as in Matthew 10:16.

II. THE CONTENTS of the letter. These also were very formidable, because both weighty and well put. They comprised—

1. A severe accusation. The returned Jews were described as rebuilding a city always notorious for its evil name—Jerusalem "the rebellious" (Matthew 10:12). Such a charge no chief governor could afford to pass by. Such a charge, also, in this instance, had a very plausible look. Situated as the temple was, at the eastern edge of the city heights, the building of its foundation and enclosures (the real work of the men of Jerusalem) might easily be misrepresented as a "making ready" of the "walls" of the "city" itself.

2. A plain warning. "In the judgment of us who live on the spot, this thing is even worse than it seems. The building of this city means, in reality, the building of a fortress against the king; and that means, in turn, serious loss of revenue; for no taxes of any sort will that city pay, whether in money, or kind, or for using the highways."

3. A skilful apology. Why do we refer at all to so unpleasant a contingency? Simply as a matter of duty, and because of our loyalty. Having eaten of the king's salt (margin), being his dependents and subjects (possibly also his covenanted servants, 2 Chronicles 13:5), we could not see even such possibility of hurt without speaking.

4. An appeal to history. Besides, the king can judge for himself on this subject. He has only to inquire for himself in the government records, and see what has always been said there about this city. Why, in fact, if not thus "rebellious," was it ever destroyed?

5. An appeal to reason. If things be thus, what must be the consequence—the inevitable consequence of such a city being again established? Has our warning gone far enough, in reality? There will not only be rebellion here, but a rival sovereignty; not only some revenue, but a whole province, lost. Such, at any rate (so we assure the king), is our fear.

This subject illustrates—

1. The perilous nature of Christian warfare. All the neighbours of the Jews were against them; all that could be urged was urged against them, and in the very best way. It would be difficult to improve the letter before us, considering the purpose in view. So many, so powerful, so subtle always are the enemies of the Church. (Comp. Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:16, Luke 21:17; Acts 28:22.) Consider also, in a different sphere, Job 1:9-11; Job 2:4-6; Revelation 12:10; and the very meaning of the name Diabolus.

2. The secret of Christian vitality. How has the Church survived all this except by help from above? Could Jerusalem have survived this present league and letter if left to itself? Comp. "I have reserved to myself," in Romans 11:4; 1 Kings 19:18.

3. The proper direction of Christian trust. With such enemies, with such accusers, to whom must we look for defence? Not to other men, not to ourselves, but only to the appointed "Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). He is more than all that are against us (Numbers 14:9; Psalms 27:1-3; Psalms 118:6). Also, being our "propitiation" (1 John 2:2), he can say more for us than they against us. (Comp. "I have prayed for thee," in Luke 22:31, Luke 22:32; and see Romans 8:33, Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25.)

HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL

Ezra 4:4-16

The world's opposition to the Church.

We observe, in reference to the world's opposition to the Church—

I. THAT IT OFTEN SEEKS TO HINDER USEFUL ENTERPRISE, These Samaritans sought to "trouble them in building" (Ezra 4:4). As Israel was employed in rebuilding the ruined temple, so the Church is engaged in erecting a great spiritual temple; this noble enterprise is hindered by the varied enmity of the world. The moral building is hindered as well by the pleasures as by the enmity of men: how sinful to hinder the work of God.

II. THAT IT COMBINES A VARIED AGENCY.

1. Costly. "And hired counsellors against them" (Ezra 4:5). The world often expends much time and money in its opposition to the work of God; it always has "counsellors" ready to take its unprofitable pay. The Church opposes with the unsearchable riches of Christ.

2. Numerous. The enemies of the Church are legion; but more are for it than all that can be against it.

3. Competent. The men here named were capable of the most effective method of obtaining their end; the enemies of the Church are often socially great and mentally gifted. Learning is sometimes arrayed against the Church. But God hath chosen the weak things of the earth to confound the mighty.

4. Influential. These men have influence with the king, and stay the work of Israel. But a faithful Israel has power with God, and shall prevail. Strange are the intellectual and social elements allied against the Church.

III. THAT IT TAKES ADVANTAGE OF POLITICAL CHANGES. "And in the reign of Ahasuerus" (Ezra 4:6). During the former reign the Samaritan enmity did not obtain much favour; but it is more successful with the new king. This opposition is—

1. Persistent. Kings may die, but it continues.

2. Vigilant. It is ever on the outlook for new opportunity.

3. Flattering. Thus it seeks to win its way with the new monarch. The Church must remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and ever; his purpose standeth sure.

4. An appeal to self-interest. "En-damage the revenue of the kings" (Ezra 4:13)."

IV. THAT IT MAKES A CUNNING USE OF MISREPRESENTATION. "They will not pay toll" (Ezra 4:13). The worldly opposition represents the Church of God as injurious to the state.

1. Rebellious. "Building the rebellious" (Ezra 4:12). That the Church will obey God rather than the king; true if their laws come into collision; but are not Christians the most law-abiding subjects?

2. Defrauding. "They will not pay toll." But does not the Church render unto God the things that are his, and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's?

3. Hypocritical. They build not the walls of Jerusalem for God, but to shut out the king.

4. Wicked. They designate Jerusalem a "bad city." Thus the world maligns the Church; it spoke evil of Christ; it will undervalue his followers.

V. THAT IT MAKES THE PRETENCE OF A DISINTERESTED MOTIVE. "It was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour" (Ezra 4:14). The world will not allow that its opposition is angry or jealous. The most wicked plans seek the aid of righteous pleas. This opposition appears—

1. Disinterested. It does not seek its own, but the king's welfare.

2. Loyal. They had "the king's maintenance," and therefore inform the king of his peril.

3. Open. They will tell the king plainly of the matter, and he can decide. Thus would the world conceal its hatred to the Church.

VI. THAT IT PUTS A FALSE INTERPRETATION UPON NATIONAL HISTORY. "That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers" (Ezra 4:15).

1. The historical record. The history of the Church is blended with the history of the world; the Divine and human records move together.

2. The historical argument.

3. The historical perversion. History, rightly interpreted, is on the side of the Church.

4. The historical vindication. We justify Israel now and condemn the Samaritans; time will surely vindicate the Church.—E.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Ezra 4:6-24

Three thoughts from old documents.

The determined attempts made by the Samaritans to prevent the Jews from building the temple and the walls of Jerusalem are well illustrated in the correspondence between them and the king of Persia. Documents passed between the two of which we have the superscription and contents in these verses. They remind us—

I. THAT MEN MAY TAKE AN IMMENSITY OF TROUBLE TO DO OTHER PEOPLE HARM AND MAKE THEMSELVES INFAMOUS. These men, "in the days of Artaxerxes" (Ezra 4:7), secured the sympathy and co-operation of the Persian "chancellor" and "scribe" (Ezra 4:8); also of their "companions," various Persian colonists then living in Samaria (Ezra 4:9), with "the rest of the nations" whom "Asnapper brought over and set in their cities" (Ezra 4:10): with their aid and through their medium they gained access to King Artaxerxes, and induced him to listen to a long statement of complaint. They had a momentary success, as the king granted their prayer and arrested the work; but in the end their evil designs were defeated, and those against whom they plotted gained their end. All that these malignant Samaritans did was to annoy and delay without defeating their neighbours, while they have earned for themselves a most unenviable immortality. This document is only read now by those who will condemn their conduct. How often do we see men putting forth patient energy, expending great ingenuity and labour, to compass that in which it is best for them to fail, of which they will live to be ashamed. If there be a sense in which "all labour is profit" (Proverbs 14:23), it is also painfully true that thousands of men are laboriously engaged in doing work which will perish, and had better perish; in making a name and repute which they would be glad afterwards to hide. Well for those who are doing that which really serves, that which will stand, that for which other generations will not rebuke but bless them.

II. THAT A TIME OF SPECIAL ACTIVITY WILL PROBABLY PROVE A TIME OF UNUSUAL ENDURANCE (Ezra 4:12-16). The Jews at this time were actively engaged in building—not merely in erecting stone walls, but in rebuilding a nation, in relaying the foundations of the kingdom and cause of God. Thus employed, they found themselves exposed to bitter hostility and deadly machination. Their nearest neighbours were plotting against them; and now they were doing that which is always found very difficult to endure—they were misrepresenting and maligning them; they were reporting them to the king as a "rebellious and bad city" (Ezra 4:12), bent on refusing to "pay toll, tribute, and custom" (Ezra 4:13), "hurtful unto kings and provinces," intending to break off their allegiance, so that the king "would have no portion on this side the river." Though not incapable of turbulence, and not indisposed to throw off a foreign yoke when that should be possible, the Jews were not cherishing any purpose of this kind; they had been faithful subjects when in Persia, and they had honourable and loyal intentions now. This "accusation" (Ezra 4:6) was essentially false; it was a malignant misrepresentation. When men are actively engaged in building the kingdom of Christ, they may expect Samaritan misrepresentations. Things will be said-by the ill-disposed which, as here, may have a colouring of truth, but which are essentially false. We must not mind misrepresentation when we are doing earnest and faithful work. The very excellency of our effort will bring down the hatred and opposition of those who are enemies of the truth, and our work and ourselves will be slandered; we may find ourselves members of a "sect everywhere spoken against." We shall not, then, forget who it was that was charged with sedition, and so far from being surprised that "the disciple is not above his master," we shall rejoice that we are counted worthy to "partake of the sufferings of Christ." No truly great work has ever been wrought which has not been covered at times with black clouds of misrepresentation.

III. THAT SELFISHNESS AND JUSTICE ARE SELDOM ASSOCIATED TOGETHER. The king listened to those who seemed so desirous of serving him; he was inclined to believe those that were anxious his "revenue should not be endamaged" (Ezra 4:13), who did not wish to "see the king's dishonour" (Ezra 4:14), and who took measures that he should not lose his "portion on one side the river" (Ezra 4:16). And search being made, it was easy to find some incidents which might be construed in the sense of these complainants: the city "of old time had made insurrection," etc. (Ezra 4:19); there had been "mighty kings" to whom "toll, tribute, and custom" had been paid, etc.—there might be some possible danger too in the future; let the work cease for the present (Ezra 4:21), for "why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?" (Ezra 4:22). Rather send bitter disappointment to the holiest hopes of a province than endanger the prosperity of kings. Thus does self-interest pervert justice. To save themselves from slight, remote, and contingent harm, men will cause much present and certain injury to their fellows. Selfishness is unfair and o

HOMILETICS

Ezra 4:17-24

The work stopped.

The ostensible object of the letter to Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:11-16) was to stop the building of the walls of Jerusalem. Its real object was to put a stop to the building of God's house. In this for a time it succeeded, as our present passage records. Two things are to be especially noticed in the story of this grievous success. The weapon obtained was most efficient; the use made of it was most effectual.

I. As EFFICIENT AID IS AS EVIL PLAN. This the Samaritans found provided for them in the reply of King Artaxerxes. Besides the bare fact of having a reply at all, which was satisfactory so far as showing that their accusation had reached headquarters (as they had planned), the reply itself, when examined, turned out all they could wish. For example, its language showed that their representations had met

(1) with most favourable attention. The number and character of those making them (as noted in our last) had been duly observed (Ezra 4:17). Their friendly object in doing so was acknowledged by the usual friendly salutation ("Peace," etc. ) in return. Also, the contents of the letter had been submitted carefully to the notice of the king (Ezra 4:18; comp. Esther 6:1). As a beginning, therefore, what could be better? Next, we find that the recommendations of the letter had met

(2) with most ready compliance. The suggested "search" had been formally ordered, and properly instituted and carried out. Further, the result of that search had proved such as to give their words of warning

(3) most ample support. All that they had said was found true. Jerusalem,was found described in the government archives as "seditious," and that "of old (Ezra 4:19). Also their fears as to the loss of revenue, and even of the province, had been fully justified by the search. Jerusalem, so it was found, had formerly both ruled and taxed all "beyond the river;" and might do so again, of course, if rebuilt (Ezra 4:20). Not only so, but it may perhaps be noticed that, so far as the search went, nothing of an adverse nature had been found; or, at any rate, if found, had not been referred to. Esther 6:2, Esther 6:4 are at least sufficient to show how different a complexion the results of this search might have had, if thorough and earnest. Also, that, had it been so, the designs of the Samaritans would probably not have met, as we find them doing,

(4) with such signal success. For example, the builders at Jerusalem were to be made to "cease," the very upshot wished for. Not only so, they were not to begin again, except by express permission for it from the king himself. This "commandment" was to continue binding until there should be "another commandment" in its place. Added to which, the Samaritans themselves were not only at liberty, as though by a kind of "permissive legislation," to see to the execution of this decree of the king, but they were strongly urged, and almost entreated in fact, to prevent its infraction. One can see, in that concluding remonstrance, how well their (mis)-representations had told; and how fully they had succeeded in alarming and arousing the jealous covetousness of the king. "Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?" Must they not have read this language with a smile of triumph as well as joy? Here was the king, in urging his own desires, forwarding theirs even more. Here was that which could be used against the Jewish elders at their only. strong point—as it seemed. The one thing, as noted before, which appeared to give any strength to the builders of the temple, was the edict of Cyrus. Here was a similar edict, still more urgent and quite as explicit, on the exactly opposite side. Surely the means of success, if not success itself, was now placed in their power.

II. AN EFFICIENT AID IN AN EVIL PLAN EFFECTUALLY EMPLOYED. Were the Samaritans able to use the aid thus placed in their hands? Were they satisfied with merely obtaining so welcome a decree? Unless a weapon is effectually wielded, it might as well remain hanging up in the armoury. Unless a decree is made known and enforced, it differs nothing from one not yet passed—so far, at any rate, as its results are concerned? The Samaritan leaders and council, to whom came, in the first instance, the above-described decree of the king, seem to have been fully alive to these truths. They appear to have met together (verse 23) in order to hear its contents. It was doubtless "read before" them with all proper state. After this, there was

(1) no delay. They proceeded to take action on it "in haste." They determined to strike, as we say, while the iron was hot. Also, they did this, we find,

(2) in person; not deputing action, it seems, on so pressing a matter, to any kind of subordinates. "They" themselves, who had thus received the letter, and heard it read, at once proceeded to act. May we not notice, too, in what way they did so? Namely, on the one hand,

(3) as to place. They went to Jerusalem, the city in question, the place which the king's letter and their wishes had both so plainly in anew. Also, on the other hand,

(4) as to persons. They went "to Jerusalem to the Jews," it is stated; i.e; as we take it, to the Jewish rulers and elders (so the expression "the Jews" is constantly used by St. John in his Gospel); in other words, to those men at Jerusalem who were actually engaged in directing and overseeing the erection of the temple, and so were those really responsible, in fact, for the whole of that work. Nor is this quite all we are told. We are told, further, of these Samaritan authorities—and the point being expressly mentioned seems worthy of a special note, at least, in passing—that they "made" the Jewish authorities "to cease" from their work; and that they did so, also, "by force and power"—that is to say, no doubt, with a very considerable exhibition of ill-usage and threat. In a word, it is as though, with this decree from Shushan in their hands, they had rushed all the way from Samaria and struck these Jerusalem Jews as they worked; and that with so much force and such a degree of skill as to deprive them of all power to go on. Nothing, in fact, could be better aimed, nothing more effectual, than this their stroke. It utterly destroyed the thing struck; at any rate for so long a time, and so completely, that there was nothing more to be said. "Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem." Not till a year and a half have passed by, not till a new king and even a new dynasty have appeared on the scene, shall we hear of it again!

See, therefore, in this matter—

1. The mystery of God's ways. The omnipotent God himself allowed his own work to be stopped l Not merely his own workmen. That is another thing, and often the case. Even such a stoppage, however, is, not uncommonly, a sufficiently mysterious thing in our eyes. The Baptist, apparently, felt this himself (Matthew 11:2-6). Who, again, without marvel, can see the glorious sunrise of Stephen's ministry (Acts 6:8-13) so suddenly set before men (Jeremiah 15:9; Acts 7:59). But this phenomenon of the cessation of the work itself is more marvellous still, because it appears at first hardly consistent with God's own attributes and nature. Does it mean that he has changed his purposes (1 Samuel 15:29; Romans 11:29; James 1:17)? Or that he cannot carry them out? Especially may we ask thus where the work in question is one for which he has done so much and so triumphantly, as in this instance (see chaps, 1.-3; almost throughout). And still more where the cessation of the work is brought about by the enemies of himself and his people, and that with such a spring-tide of success as our eyes have just seen. The greatest things and the smallest (so our attention to some of the very minutiae of this case has served to show us), the "stars in their courses" and the dust of the desert have seemed in league here with God's foes And the end has been—what? The open failure, in the eyes of his enemies, and in the eyes of his friends as well, of the undertaking on which he had set his heart. That is what that deserted temple enclosure, with its manifestly interrupted labours, and its sorry wealth of unused materials, seemed to say for so long. It was like the flag of the enemies of Jehovah waving triumphantly over the very citadel of his strength (Psalms 74:7)!

2. The mercy of God's ways. After all, the case was not desperate. There was just a gleam of light in the darkness; a gleam, it is possible, that would never have been noticed unless the surrounding darkness had been so extreme; a gleam, however, all the more worthy of notice on that very account. Why that singular suggestion of a possible second "commandment" in the (otherwise) unfaltering royal decree of this chapter? Does Scripture tell us of anything like it in any other document of this nature (comp. Ezra 1:2-4; Ezra 6:6-12; Ezra 7:11-26; Daniel 3:29; Daniel 6:25-27)? Considering, indeed, the almost excessive value attached by the ancient Persian government to the idea of "finality" in its legislation (Daniel 6:1-28. throughout), is not this curious hint in the exactly opposite direction a feature of most singular note? And may we not believe, therefore, with all reverence, that we see in it the special handiwork and the special mercy of God himself? Often does he give such dim but priceless glimmerings of hope to those on the very verge of despair (see Judges 13:22, Jdg 13:23; 2 Samuel 24:12-14; Jeremiah 4:27; Jeremiah 5:9, Jeremiah 5:10, Jeremiah 5:18; Luke 8:49, Luke 8:50; Luke 24:17, Luke 24:32; Acts 20:9, Acts 20:10). This is equally true of his Church (Psalms 12:1), and of souls (Psalms 27:13). So often may it be said of both of them, as in 2 Corinthians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 4:9.

ften cruel. To be

HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL

Ezra 4:17-24

Man hindering the work of God.

I. THAT MEN ARE CAPABLE OF HINDERING THE WORK OF GOD. "Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded" (Ezra 4:21).

1. Presumptuous. "Then ceased the work of the house of God." How could presumption be greater than to stop the work of God; let men pluck the stars from the heavens, but let them not injure the Church of Christ.

2. Perplexing. Is it not a mystery that the Eternal will allow frail and sinful men to impede the work of his people?

3. Prejudicial. The walls of Jerusalem required restoration. The temple must be built and the old worship restored. This hindrance is injurious to the Jewish commonwealth. How do men prejudice great interests by staying the beneficent ministries of the Church.

4. Permitted. These hindrances were allowed for a time, that new energy might be stimulated, that the mercy of God might be seen in the aid given to the dejected workers, and his glory in the final defeat of all enemies.

5. Preparatory. To greater success; the pent-up stream will soon flow on more rapidly.

6. Patient. The work of the Church is patient; it will outlive all enmity.

II. THE METHODS WHICH ARE MOST CALCULATED TO HINDER THE WORK OF GOD. The letter to the king caused the work to cease. The impediments to Church work are—

1. External. The political may hinder the moral; unjust law, civil persecution, and the force of circumstances may sometimes cause the work of God to cease

(1) Haste.

(2) Force (verse. 23).

2. Internal. The work of God is more often hindered by a low spiritual condition, by a quarrelsome temper, by a critical spirit, by the thoughtless word; it is indeed sad to cause moral work to cease from within. See the responsibility of conduct, when a word may, like this letter to the king, stay the work of God.

III. THE CONSEQUENCES WHICH FOLLOW WHEN THE WORK OF GOD IS HINDERED.

1. Disappointment. After the generous edict of Cyrus how disappointing this order to cease work. How often is the Church disappointed in her best efforts.

2. Complaint. No doubt many Israelites would indulge a complaining spirit. The Church should not grumble when its work is hindered, but pray.

3. Sorrow. That the good work should be unfinished.

4. Hope. That God will yet undertake their cause.—E.

true and just one must be disinterested.—C.

HOMILIES BY A. MACKENNAL

Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:1

Hindrances.

These two verses suggest the two sorts of hindrances which, immediately after the foundation of the temple, interfered with the progress of the building of it Circumstances were adverse to the Jews; these are recorded in Ezra

4; and are illustrated in the Persian history of the time. There crept over the people a growing indifference to the work; they became unready for the self-denial which it demanded; their spiritual unfitness for it was increased by the presence of the external obstacles: to understand this we must turn to the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. This is the right way to study all history. The issue of events cannot be understood apart from the moral condition of the men who are affected by them; men's moral condition, again, and their actions are profoundly affected by circumstances. The Divine Providence ordains and permits events; in the use we make of them our character reveals itself, here our responsibility lies. The letter of Artaxerxes effectually prevented the progress of the building: "then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem." No prophet rebuked the people during this period; rebukes of inaction, when activity is impossible, only fret and wear out the soul. There is "a time to keep silence," as well as "a time to speak." With the accession of Darius, work, though it might be arduous, became possible; and then Haggai and Zechariah did not spare their words. God gives us men as well as times and seasons. He gives also men of different qualifications according to different needs: the preacher as well as the workman; him who has insight into the springs of human conduct as well as him who can lend activity. Haggai and Zechariah are henceforth joined with Zerubbabel and Jeshua as builders of the temple (Ezra 5:2; Ezra 6:14).

I. THE OUTWARD HINDRANCES.

(a) The jealousy of the surrounding heathen (Ezra 4:1-3). These were the people mentioned in 2 Kings 17:24-41, sent to occupy the northern kingdom when the Israelites were carried away into Assyria. They were superstitious (2 Kings 17:26), followers of the lustful and cruel worship, to contend against which the Hebrew nation was raised up (2 Kings 17:29-31). They had no conception of Deity but that of polytheism (2 Kings 17:26, 2Ki 17:32, 2 Kings 17:33, 2 Kings 17:41). It was impossible for the Jews to admit their partnership in building the temple. It would have been treason to the object for which Cyrus had sent them back; it would have been a denial of their own faith; it would have been a new provocation of God. Our age, which understands that truth is one and indivisible, ought to be able to see that not intolerance, but fidelity, prompted their refusal. These people, from whom the leaders of the Jews expected trouble at the first, (Ezra 3:3), and whom they counted "adversaries" (Ezra 4:1) directly opposed them and intrigued against them at the court of Persia.

(b) No direct appeal was made to cyrus to countermand the proclamation which was the charter of the Jews' return. "The law of the Medes and Persians altereth not." But no protection was afforded them. The history of the later years of Cyrus is obscure. "The warlike prince," says Rawlinson, "who conquered the Persian empire did little to organise it." He was pursuing schemes of conquest to the last. The Jews were left in their feebleness to execute his original decree in their favour as best they could.

(c) The troubled history of Cambyses, the Ahasuerus of Ezra, enables us to understand why he too was indifferent to a local quarrel in a distant province. His jealousy of his brother was his first engrossing care. Then came his schemes of conquest, necessitating his absence from his capital; and, finally, the revolution which placed the Pseudo-Smerdis (Artaxerxes) on the throne. We can understand the indecisive character of Ezra 4:6.

(d) The whole character of the Persian rule was changed on the accession of Artaxerxes. A usurper, he had no loyalty to the purpose of Cyrus. A "Magian," he was out of sympathy with the Zoroastrianism of his great predecessor. Appeal was made to political jealousy alone; the history of the Jews had shown they were too strong to be tolerated (Ezra 4:12-16). The appeal was successful: "then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem."

II. THE MORAL HINDRANCES. The people were reluctant to resume work when the accession of Darius made it possible. Darius was a second Cyrus; "the greatest of the Persian monarchs." He was a strong man, a conqueror. He knew the need of good government, and organised his empire. He abolished tributary kingships, and placed in every district an officer directly responsible to the supreme authority. Such a man would not tolerate petty local jealousies; he was worthy of trust. Hence Haggai and Zechariah began to urge on the work of building; and Zerubbabel and Jeshua began to build. Then appeared the old vices of the people, testified against by many a prophet; they were also demoralised by their enforced inaction.

(a) They were dispirited. Haggai urges them "be strong." God is with them: "my spirit remaineth among you, fear ye not." All resources are his, "the silver and the gold? He can make all nations serve them. "The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former" (Haggai 2:1-9). Zechariah's prophecy glows with encouragement and hope. God loves his people (Zechariah 1:14-17; Zechariah 2:8, Zechariah 2:10-12). Jeshua and Zerubbabel are his chosen servants (Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10.). The prosperity of Jerusalem is assured (Ezra 8:1-8).

(b) They were worldly. The force of character native to the Jews, diverted from the work of building, had found a channel in agriculture and trade. Some were rich, dwelling in "celled houses" (Haggai 1:4); they were very active (Haggai 1:6). And they were hypocritical, making professed regard for God's word an excuse for their unreadiness. They had begun too soon; the "seventy years" of Jeremiah were not completed: "the time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built."

(c) They were selfish. The old sins of oppression were rife (Zechariah 7:8-10), side by side with sanctimoniousness (verses 1-7). They were careless of justice and truth (Ezra 8:16, Ezra 8:17). They were dishonest and perjured (v. 4). These are the very vices that a time of adversity is likely to foster. One of the perils against which we ought to be on our guard when a check is imposed on our prosperity, and we find ourselves unable, for a time, to execute a noble purpose, is that we drop into an altogether lower mood. A few men can mould circumstances; there are more, but still few, who are indifferent to them; most men are profoundly affected by them. Practical lessons:—

1. Since circumstances so intimately affect our moral and spiritual life, the sphere of circumstance is a sphere for prayer. "Give me neither poverty nor riches." To limit the use of prayer to personal character is impossible; for among the influences affecting personal character are the order of nature, and the course of events.

2. Let all circumstances be rightly used by us. There are virtues, as well as vices, fostered by special seasons. Prosperity may nourish the generous virtues; a liberal habit acquired in prosperity may help to preserve us from a craven, niggardly spirit in times of care. Adversity may give us an opportunity for patience, meekness, and faith; and, by teaching us to be indifferent to personal ease, may fit us to consecrate returning prosperity to God and our fellows.

3. Our responsibility for the use we make of varying circumstances. These may master us or we may master them. Our ability to read the "signs of the times" is an indication of our moral character. Contrast the Jews' perversion of the "seventy years'" prophecy (Haggai 1:2) with the prophets' quick perception, so soon as the second year of Darius, that here was a man on whom they could rely, and that the time was come to resume work. Compare also our Lord's solemn denunciations of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:1-4). It is thus, by events working upon and revealing character, that time is preparing our eternity.—M.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:1, Ezra 5:2

Spiritual amendment.

It is quite true that the building of the house of the Lord ceased in consequence of the opposition of the Samaritans; it is also true that this cessation continued because of their animosity and opposition. Yet this does not express the whole truth. Here, as elsewhere, if not everywhere, different causes combined to produce the one result. The long inactivity on the part of the returned Jews was partly due to their own moral deficiency; there was with them some—

I. SLACKNESS. "Then ceased the work," etc. (verse 24). We have here the great advantage of being able to compare one book of Scripture with another, and (what is more) a historical with a prophetical book. Comparing Haggai 1:1-15. with Ezra 5:1-17; we conclude that, under the pressure from without, the first zeal of the liberated captives cooled, and that they allowed themselves to be too much affected by the unfriendliness of their neighbours. If it was really necessary—as perhaps it was—to lay down their weapons at the first, they might have resumed them much sooner than they did. They permitted nearly two years to pass without venturing to take up that which they laid down. Meantime the first ardour abated, and priests and people, taking their tone from the governor and the high priest, settled down into satisfaction when they should have been filled with eagerness and anxiety. A noble aspiration was rapidly giving way to an ignoble contentment. This is but too frequently recurring a page in the history of human goodness. First an all-consuming ardour, an intensity of heat which promises to shine with utmost brilliance and burn up everything which is impure; then, after a while, the light dies down, the spirit cools, and only a few sparks, with a little smoke, are left. First devotion, which thinks the hours of worship all too short; zeal which longs to multiply its labours; consecration which prefers the post of danger and the field of difficulty. Then languor, laziness, love of ease; the hours of worship are too long; the duties too heavy; the perils too great. The sanctuary is passed by, the vineyard deserted, the enterprise abandoned.

II. REPROOF (Ezra 5:1). "Then the prophets … prophesied," etc. How vigorously, after the manner of a Hebrew prophet, Haggai reproved and incited Zerubbabel and Jeshua, we may read in both chapters of that book of prophecy. "Is it time for you to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?" is the burden of the Lord which Haggai delivered. These men of God—for he was joined by Zechariah—must have sought the praise of God rather than that of man; their one care was to be faithful to him in whose name they spoke, and so to "deliver their soul." They did not "prophesy smooth things," but rough, hard, trying things. Not only those whose chief vocation and profession it is to speak for God, but all who fear his name and call themselves his disciples, must be ready, on occasion, to declare the "burden of the Lord," to speak the word which is unpalatable, which wounds and troubles the soul. Sometimes it is our duty, like the Master, to send men away "sorrowful" (Matthew 19:22). Sometimes we must receive in grief rather than anger the reproaches of our friends. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."

III. RECOVERY. "Then rose up Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and began to build" (verse 2). The Jewish leaders hearkened to the voice of God speaking to them through the prophets, and they regained their lost devotedness. "Then they rose up, and began to build." They heeded the admonitions given, and cheerfully co-operated with those who gave them. They had the wisdom to perceive that they were wrong; they frankly owned it, and they promptly and energetically set themselves to rectify their ways. Here is true manliness as well as wisdom. It is a weak and foolish thing for a man to go on in a false course when he sees that he is in the wrong. There is nothing which more

(1) honours our manhood than to submit at once to the known will of God, whether by pursuing our path, or by returning in our way, or by holding our hand. There is nothing which more

(2) conduces to our own spiritual elevation and dignity. Before honour is humility; if we humble ourselves, when wrong, we begin at once to enter the path which leads to true exaltation. There is nothing which more

(3) conducts to lasting usefulness and joy. If Zerubbabel had rejected the counsel of the Lord, he would certainly have suffered. As it was, he was honoured and enriched of heaven.—C.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/ezra-4.html. 1897.