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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Ezra 1



Verses 1-4

Cyrus" edict1:1-4

"It is not strange according to the Semitic style to start a book with a waw ["And" or "Now"], especially when the author intended to write a continuation of the history of his people. He connects the history which he wants to write with the already-written history of his people by using the conjunction "and."" [Note: Fensham, p42. Cf. Exodus 1:1; Joshua 1:1; Judges 1:1; et al.]

One of Cyrus" first official acts after capturing Babylon was to allow the Jews to return to their land. This took place in his "first year" ( Ezra 1:1), that Isaiah , as king over all Medo-Persia including Babylonia (i.e, 538 B.C.). The writer of Ezra regarded539 B.C. as the beginning of Cyrus" reign probably because when Cyrus defeated Babylonia he gained authority over Palestine that had until then been under Babylonian sovereignty.

Chronology of Ezra 1-6


Cyrus conquered Babylon and took over the Babylonian Empire.


Cyrus" first year. He issued his decree ( Ezra 1:1).


Sheshbazzar returned with almost50 ,000 Jews ( Ezra 2).
The returnees rebuilt the altar in Jerusalem, offered sacrifices, and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (
Ezra 3:2). [Note: Andrew E. Steinmann, "A Chronological Note: The Return of the Exiles under Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel ( Ezra 1-2)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society51:3 (September2008):513-22 , argued that Sheshbazzar arrived in Jerusalem in533 B.C, and in the same year the Jews completed the altar in Jerusalem and offered the first sacrifices on it. He believed the Jews began rebuilding the temple the following year, 532 B.C, and that work on the temple halted in531 B.C.]


The returnees laid the temple foundation ( Ezra 3:8-10).
Reconstruction ceased due to opposition (
Ezra 4:1-5; Ezra 4:24).







Cyrus died and Cambyses II began reigning.






Cambyses conquered Egypt.




Cambyses died and Darius I (Hystaspes) began reigning.



Haggai urged the people to resume temple construction, and they did so.
Darius confirmed Cyrus" decree.
Zechariah began ministering.






The people completed temple construction and celebrated the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread ( Ezra 6:15).

About150 years earlier, Jeremiah had prophesied that the Babylonian captivity would last70 years ( Jeremiah 25:12; Jeremiah 29:10). Cyrus proclaimed his edict67 years after the first Babylonian deportation from Judah (605 B.C.). Important matters were put in writing in the ancient Near East. [Note: Breneman, p68.]

Ezra 1:2 reads as though Cyrus was a believer in Yahweh. However, Isaiah presented him as an unbeliever ( Isaiah 45:4-5). Evidently he was a polytheist and worshipped several gods. [Note: See Edwin M. Yamauchi, "The Archaeological Background of Ezra ," Bibliotheca Sacra137:547 (July-September1980):200.] On the "Cyrus Cylinder," the clay cylinder on which Cyrus recorded his capture of Babylon, the king gave credit to Marduk for his success. He said he hoped the people under his authority would pray for him to Bel and Nebo. [Note: James B. Pritchard, ed, The Ancient Near East, pp206-8. Cf. Amelie Kuhrt, "The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid Imperial Policy," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament25 (1983):83-97.] Probably Cyrus gave lip service to all the gods his people worshipped, but the evidence suggests that he did not believe that Yahweh was the only true God.

Apparently Cyrus knew about Isaiah"s prophecies concerning himself ( Ezra 1:2; cf. Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:4-5; Isaiah 45:12-13).

He ". . . read this, and . . . an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written." [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 11:1:2.]

The "house in Jerusalem" ( Ezra 1:2) was, of course, the house of Yahweh, the temple. Cyrus not only gave permission for the Jews to return to Jerusalem ( Ezra 1:3), but he encouraged them to rebuild the temple ( Ezra 1:3). He also urged their neighbors to support this project financially ( Ezra 1:4).

"The Holy City and the house of God are both prominent subjects in Ezra -Nehemiah. Jerusalem occurs eighty-six times, and the phrases "temple," "house of the Lord," and "house of God" appear fifty-three times." [Note: Yamauchi, " Ezra -, Nehemiah ," p602.]

"Although they are neither great literature nor important historical sources, the Murashu documents do provide a significant glimpse into the social and commercial life of a Babylonian city [i.e, Nippur] under Persian rule, and thus help to augment our knowledge of the onomastic practices, occupations and circumstances of the Diaspora. Like their contemporaries at Elephantine [in Egypt], by the fifth century B.C. the exiles at Nippur had become fully integrated into the economic life of their society, fulfilling the injunctions of Jeremiah 29:5 ff. Perhaps even more thoroughly than the prophet had intended!" [Note: Michael D. Coogan, "Life in the Diaspora," Biblical Archaeologist37:1 (1974):12.]

"Onomastic" means relating to, connected with, or explaining names.

Verse 5-6

The people"s response1:5-6

Judah and Benjamin were the only tribes the writer mentioned, because these were the tribes that made up the Southern Kingdom, which had suffered exile in Babylon. Those who gave to the reconstruction project evidently included Jews who decided to remain in Babylon, as well as Babylonian Gentiles. Many Jews chose not to return because they did not want to leave their possessions. [Note: Josephus, 11:1:3.] This was contrary to the will of God ( Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6; cf. Jeremiah 29:10; Deuteronomy 30:1-5). They should have returned.

Verses 7-11

Preparations for the return1:7-11

Sometimes warring armies in the ancient Near East carried images of their gods into battle to help secure victory (cf. 2 Samuel 5:21; 1 Chronicles 14:12). When one army defeated the other, the victors would take the images of their defeated foes captive, and lock them up, to testify to the impotence of those gods.

"To displace the authority of a city, it was normal practice for a conquering power to carry off the emblems of deity (cf. Jeremiah 48:7)." [Note: William J. Dumbrell, "The Theological Intention of Ezra -, Nehemiah ," Reformed Theological Review45:3 (September-December1986):65.]

Since the Israelites had no images of Yahweh, Nebuchadnezzar took the temple utensils in their place. [Note: Kidner, p34.] Cyrus released these utensils so the returning Jews could take them back to Jerusalem (cf. Daniel 5:1-4).

"The return of the temple vessels ( Ezra 1:7) reverses this and empowers Jerusalem once more in Persian eyes to become the city of Yahweh. Doubtless in this task Cyrus saw himself in typical Achaemenid fashion, as the representative and thus the "servant" of Yahweh." [Note: Dumbrell, p65.]

"Achaemenid" refers to the dynasty of Persian rulers who were in power from the seventh through the fourth centuries B.C. Achaemenes, who ruled from about700 to675 B.C, founded this royal dynasty.

There is no evidence that the Babylonians took the ark of the covenant to Babylon, or that the returning Jews brought it with them back to the Promised Land. Most scholars speculate that the Babylonians broke it up when they sacked the temple. Josephus wrote that the ark was not in the holy of holies in the second temple. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5:5:5.] Edersheim wrote that it was empty except for a rock, called the Foundation Stone, that, according to tradition, previously covered the mouth of the pit on which the world was founded. [Note: Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:245-46.]

Sheshbazzar was evidently the uncle of Zerubbabel ( 1 Chronicles 3:17-19). Another less likely view is that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel were the same individual (cf. Ezra 1:8; Ezra 3:8-10; Ezra 5:14). [Note: See John C. Whitcomb, " Ezra ," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p428.] He seems to have been the leader and governor when the first group of captives returned. [Note: Breneman, p47; David J. A. Clines, Ezra ,, Nehemiah ,, Esther , p41.] Shenazzar was a variation of the name Sheshbazzar. [Note: Bright, p343.] The writer named both Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel as having had a part in the rebuilding of the temple ( Ezra 5:16; Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:12; Zechariah 4:9). It seems most probable that Zerubbabel succeeded his uncle as the chief man in the restoration leadership, since Zerubbabel became the governor of Judah ( Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:14; Haggai 2:2; Haggai 2:21). These were, therefore, not two names for the same man (cf. 1 Esdras 6:18).

The inventory of temple articles here ( Ezra 1:9-11) poses a problem. Ezra 1:9-10 give the following quantities.

Gold dishes


Silver dishes

1 ,000



Gold bowls


Silver bowls


Other articles

1 ,000


2 ,499

However, Ezra 1:11 says the total was5 ,400. Perhaps the writer counted only the larger [Note: Yamauchi, " Ezra -, Nehemiah ," p604.] or most important [Note: Breneman, p73.] vessels, and the5 ,400 figure represents the grand total including many lesser vessels.

"The closing words of the chapter, from Babylon to Jerusalem, mark one of the turning points of history." [Note: Kidner, p35.]

"Throughout chap1the author"s purpose was clearly to show the small postexilic Jewish community their legitimate continuity with the preexilic community and with God"s plan of redemption. Therefore he used motifs from the exodus; he emphasized God"s providence; he mentioned Judah, Benjamin, priests, and Levites; and he explained that even the former articles from the temple had been returned." [Note: Breneman, p73. See also P. R. Ackroyd, "The Temple Vessels-A Continuity Theme," Vetus Testamentum Supplement23 (1972):166-81.]


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezra 1:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

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