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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Ezra 4

 

 

Verses 1-5

Ezra 4:1-5. The Rebuilding of the Temple Opposed.

Ezra 4:1. the adversaries: i.e. the northern Israelites of mixed race, Samaritans; they are called adversaries by anticipation, as they did not oppose the building of the Temple until their co-operation had been refused.—builded a temple: better "were building", note that while here the building of the Temple is in question the next section deals with the building of the walls.

Ezra 4:2. we seek your God: the words show that these people were not true worshippers of Yahweh, whatever their intention for the future might be.—and we do sacrifice unto him: but the Massoretic text reads (cf. mg.), "we have not offered sacrifice."—the days of Esarhaddon: cf. 2 Kings 19:37*; he was king of Assyria from 681-668 B.C. (pp. 59f.)—which brought us up hither: they were, therefore, not Israelites; they had, in some sort, accustomed themselves to the worship of the land because they had been in danger of wild beasts (see 2 Kings 17:28); but it was not, according to 2 Kings 17:41, of a genuine character, and they evidently soon reverted to their ancestral worship.

Ezra 4:3. Ye have nothing to do with US . . . : this refusal is quite comprehensible since these mixed people were, for the most part, non-Israelites; so that neither in relation to race nor worship could there be any bond of sympathy between them and the Jews.—as king Cyrus . . . hath commanded us (cf. Ezra 1:1-3).

Ezra 4:4. the people of the land: in Heb. ‘am ha'aretz, the name given in post-exilic times to those dwelling in Palestine who were of non-Israelite extraction. M. Friedländer (Die religiösen Bewegungen, pp. 78ff.) in writing of somewhat later times, has shown how erroneous it is to maintain that the expression "people of the land" became a synonym for the unlearned and ignorant; the passage usually quoted in support of this idea (John 7:49) refers to the multitude in Jerusalem, and does not mention the ‘am ha'aretz, which became a recognised name for those of anti-Pharisaic tendency.—troubled them in building: read "terrified them from building."

Ezra 4:5. all the days of Cyrus . . .: since what is recounted in the previous verses presumably took place in the second year of Cyrus (see Ezra 3:8), i.e. 536 B.C., and Darius came to the throne in 521 (though it was not until the second year of his reign that the building recommenced), there is, according to the text, a period of about sixteen years during which nothing was done; there is clearly a displacement of the text.


Verse 6-7

Ezra 4:6 f. These are two stray verses which have been left in the text here by mistake. This offers a good example of the way in which fragments of sources are jumbled together in our book. Ezra 4:6 refers to a letter (the writer is not mentioned) written to Xerxes, who is not mentioned elsewhere in the book, containing an accusation, not specified, against the Jews. Ezra 4:7 refers to another letter written in Aramaic by Mithredath (mentioned in Ezra 1:8 as the treasurer of Cyrus) and others to Artaxerxes; but it does not say what the letter was about. In Ezra 4:5 we are in the reign of Cyrus, 536, and Darius, 521; in Ezra 4:6 at the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, 485; in Ezra 4:7 in the days of Artaxerxes, 464-424; in Ezra 4:8 ff. again in the days of Artaxerxes, but a different letter from that referred to in Ezra 4:7 is dealt with. This shows the inextricable tangle in which these verses are as they now stand. Scholars have suggested a number of solutions, but they differ from each other considerably.


Verses 8-23

Ezra 4:8 to Ezra 6:18. Extract from an Aramaic Document.

Ezra 4:8-23 contains a letter, together with the king's reply to it, written by adversaries of the Jews to Artaxerxes for the purpose of frustrating the building of the city walls. The writers are different from those mentioned in Ezra 4:7 as writing to Artaxerxes; two letters are, therefore spoken of, so that what is said in Ezra 4:7 cannot be in reference to the letter now dealt with. Moreover, this letter has nothing to do with the events recorded in Ezra 4:1-5, for it refers to the building of the Temple, while Ezra 4:8-23 refers to the building of the city walls. Ezra 4:8-23 is, therefore, out of place here.

Ezra 4:8. Rehum and Shimshai are probably both foreign names. The "chancellor" = the governor of the province; "scribe" = here the governor's secretary.

Ezra 4:9. The names of these nationalities to which the Samaritans belonged show the non-Jewish origin of the latter, or at least of the bulk of them.

Ezra 4:10. Osnappar: i.e. Assurbanipal, 668-626 B.C., the son and successor of Esarhaddon.

Ezra 4:12. and have finished the walls: see note on Ezra 3:8; this was the point of supreme importance, for with the walls of the city complete, Jerusalem could defy her enemies.

Ezra 4:13. if . . . finished: cf. Ezra 4:16; these words do not agree with what is said in Ezra 4:12, where the walls are spoken of as completed.

Ezra 4:14. we eat the salt of the palace: i.e. since we are in the service of the king and receive maintenance from him.

Ezra 4:15. the book of the records of thy fathers: cf. Ezra 6:1 f., Esther 2:23; Esther 6:1; Esther 10:2; the words show the care with which the records of the past were kept by the Persian kings.

Ezra 4:16. . . . thou shalt have no portion beyond the river: i.e. he will lose his Syrian province.

Ezra 4:18. hath been plainly read: cf. Nehemiah 8:8, and see note there; read "translated," the king was not likely to understand Aramaic.

Ezra 4:22. why . . . kings: read "lest damage should increase to the kings' loss"; there is no interrogative in the Aramaic.


Verse 24

Ezra 4:24 to Ezra 5:17. The narrative which was broken off at the end of Ezra 4:5 is now resumed. There is silence regarding the period 536-520 B.C.; in 516, however, it is said that the building had been proceeding during the whole of this time. Owing to the action of Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews are once more roused to undertake the work, which had been interrupted sixteen years before, of rebuilding the Temple (so according to our present text). This time there is no objection; on the contrary, application is made to Darius by the governor, who is supported herein by some of the Samaritans (the Apharsachites), to permit the Jews to go on with their work (which is continued, however, pending the arrival of the king's reply) on the ground that a former king (i.e. Cyrus) had given permission for the work to be undertaken. The reply is favourable. The very different attitude from that spoken of in Ezra 4:1-5, adopted by the Samaritans (the Apharsachites are mentioned in both passages, possibly this word means eparchs, i.e. "rulers," but this would not affect the point) shows that the relationship between them and the Jews had undergone a change for the better. Presumably during the sixteen years of which nothing is recorded, a more friendly feeling had by degrees sprung up, and this resulted in the intermarriages so bitterly resented by Ezra and Nehemiah later on. We must suppose that it was owing to this change of feeling that, so far from antagonism, the governor, supported by the Samaritans themselves, now seeks permission on behalf of the Jews to build, and even raises no objection to their continuing operations pending the arrival of the reply to his letter. The governor regarded it as his duty to get legal sanction from headquarters for this building, seeing that it had previously been specifically forbidden; otherwise we may well suppose he would have permitted it to go on without taking further official notice of it.

Ezra 4:24. the second year of Darius: 520 B.C.

Ezra 5:1. Now the prophets . . .: cf. Haggai 1:1, Zechariah 1:1.—in the name of . . . : read "in the name of the God of Israel which was upon them," cf. Deuteronomy 28:10.

Ezra 5:3. this work: i.e. of the Temple.

Ezra 5:4. Then spake we . . .: read "Then spake they unto them."

Ezra 5:11. a great king of Israel . . .: i.e. Solomon (see 1 Kings 6:1).

Ezra 5:15. put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem: these words are so directly contrary to what immediately follows that they can only be regarded as an unskilful gloss; they should be deleted.

Ezra 5:16. since that time . . .: clearly out of harmony with Ezra 4:24. What is said of Sheshbazzar here does not agree with Ezra 3:8; Ezra 3:10.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ezra 4:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/ezra-4.html. 1919.

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