Ezra 1 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Ezra 1
Pulpit Commentary
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
Verse 1. - In the first year of Cyrus. The context shows that it is the first year of Cyrus at Babylon which is intended. Cyrus the Great became King of Persia by his final defeat and capture of Astyages, in B.C. 559 probably. His conquest of Babylon was, comparatively speaking, late in his reign (Herod., Xenoph.), and is fixed by the Canon of Ptolemy to B.C. 538. He took the city on the night of Belshazzar's feast (Daniel 5:30), when Daniel had just been appointed to the third place in the kingdom (ibid. ver. 29), and was practically at the head of affairs. Thus the great king and the great prophet of the time were brought into contact, and naturally conferred together, as may be gathered from Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 11:1). That the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled. The reference is to Jeremiah 25:11, 12, and Jeremiah 29:10. Jeremiah had prophesied not only the fact, but the date of the return, by assigning to the captivity a duration of "seventy years." There might be some doubt when exactly this term would run out, since the year of 360 was in prophetic use no less than the year of 365 days ('Dict. of the Bible,' s.v. YEAR), and, moreover, the exact date of the commencement of the captivity admitted of question; but Daniel appears to have calculated in B.C. 538 that the term was approaching its termination (see Daniel 9:2-19). If the captivity were regarded as commencing in the third year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1, 2), which was B.C. 606-605, and if years of 360 days were regarded as intended, this would clearly be so, since 360 x 70 = 25,200, and 365 × 68 = 24,820, so that in B.C. 538 only another year was wanting. For the prophecy to be fulfilled, it was requisite that the first steps towards bringing about the return and the cessation of desolation should not be delayed beyond the close of B.C. 538. The Lord, accordingly, in this year stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia. As God in earlier times had worked on the minds of Abimelech (Genesis 20:3) and Balaam (Numbers 23:5, 16), and more recently of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:28), so now, it would seem, he directly influenced the heart and will of Cyrus. This is the less surprising, as Cyrus was, in the Divine counsels, fore-ordained to do this work, and had been raised to his high station for the purpose (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-4). Cyrus was thus induced to make a proclamation (literally, "to make to pass a voice") throughout the whole kingdom, which reached from the AEgean Sea to the borders of India, and from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf, and even to put it in writing, b miktab, that so it might be sure to become generally known. Writing was probably of recent introduction into Persia; but there is positive evidence in the native remains of its use by Cyrus. His proclamation was probably issued in at least two languages, Persian and Chaldee.
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
Verse 2. - Thus saith Cyrus. Persian inscriptions do not ordinarily commence in this way; but the formula "says Darius the king," "says Xerxes the king" is frequent in them. King of Persia. So the Behistun inscription: "I am Darius, the great king, the king of kings, the king of Persia." The Lord God of heaven, Yehovah Elohey hashshamayim. "God of heaven" seems to have been a usual title of the Supreme Being among the Persians (see below, Ezra 6:9, 10; Ezra 7:12, 23), and perhaps designated Ormuzd in contradistinction to Ahriman, who was lord of the infernal regions. The use of the term "Jehovah," instead of Ormuzd, is remarkable, and was probably limited to the Hebrew transcript of the proclamation. Hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth. An acknowledgment that they have received and hold their royal power from Ormuzd is universal on the part of all the Persian kings who have left inscriptions of any length; but they do not often indulge in such a hyperbole as this of Cyrus. Artaxerxes Ochus, however, calls himself "king of this world" (Rawlinson, 'Cuneiform Inser.,' vol. 1. p. 341). The mention of the "kingdoms of the earth" is appropriate, since Cyrus had not inherited his empire, but built it up by the conquest of a vast number of independent states ('Herod.' 1. passim). His earn feeling that God had in all cases given him the victory harmonizes with the statement of Isaiah in Isaiah 45:1. He hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem. The he is emphatic, and is expressed by αὐτὸς in the Septuagint and ipse in the Vulgate. He himself, Jehovah-Elohim, has given it me in charge to build him a house. Most critics rightly explain by referring to Isaiah 44:28, and accepting the statement of Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 11:1) that the passage was shown to Cyrus shortly after his capture of Babylon. He understood the prophecy as a command, and proceeded to obey it. Which is in Judah. The addition of this clause marks strongly the oblivion into which the ruined city had fallen. Apparently, it was necessary, to recall its situation to men's minds by an express mention of the province whereof it had been the capital. Note the repetition of the clause in the next verse.
Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
Verse 3. - Who (is there) among you of all his people? Cyrus does not limit his address to the Jews, or even to Judah and Benjamin, but extends it to the whole people of Jehovah, i.e. to all the tribes equally. Gozan and Media, to which the ten tribes had been transported by the Assyrian monarchs, were within his dominions no less than Babylonia. That many non-Jewish Israelites did return appears from 1 Chronicles 9:3. His God be with him. A pious wish, almost a blessing, indicative of the deep religious feeling and great goodness of heart which characterized Cyrus alone of Persian monarchs. Among the Greeks, AEschylus, who first speaks of him, calls him kindly" or "gracious" (εὔφραιν); Herodotus says he ruled his subjects like a father; Xenophon makes him a model prince; Plutarch observes that "in wisdom and virtue and greatness of soul he excelled all other kings;" Diodorus ascribes to him a remarkable power of self-command, together with good feeling and gentleness. The Latin writers, Cicero and others, add their meed of praise; and altogether it may be said that, so far as the evidence reaches, no nobler character appears in ancient history. The Scriptural notices, whether in this book or in Isaiah, are in remarkable accord. Let him go up. Jerusalem was on a much higher level than Babylon, and the travellers would consequently have to ascend considerably. And build the house. The "charge" to Cyrus did not require him to take a personal share in the building. He was simply to "say to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isaiah 44:28). He is therefore content to assign the actual work to others. He is the God. The Septuagint and the Vulgate attach the last clause of the verse to these words, and render "He is the God who is in Jerusalem," which greatly weakens the force of the expression. According to this punctuation, Cyrus makes Jehovah a mere local Deity; according to the far preferable arrangement of the A. V., he declares emphatically that Jehovah is the one true God, beside whom there is no other. Compare the very similar confession of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 6:26).
And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
Verse 4. - Whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth. Literally correct; but the meaning is, "And with regard to all those who remain (of the captive people) in any part of the country where they have their temporary abode, let the men of his district help him with silver," etc. Cyrus finishes his decree by calling upon his heathen subjects to come to the aid of the poorer Israelites, and assist them with money, cattle, and other commodities, in order that none may be hindered by poverty, or by the want of beasts of burthen, from joining the band of emigrants, and setting out on their return to Jerusalem. Again, the kindliness of his disposition is apparent. Beside the freewill offering. So the Septuagint; but the Vulgate has, "Except the freewill offering," etc. The Septuagint and the A. V. are right. Cyrus means that money, cattle, and goods are to be made over to the poorer Israelites, in addition to any offering that might be intrusted to them for conveyance to Jerusalem, either by himself or by his subjects. Individually, he was about to send "a freewill offering," consisting of a number of gold and silver vessels for the service of the temple. His words suggest that his subjects might follow this good example.

Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
Verse 5. - Then rose up the chief of the fathers. The "chief of the fathers" are the hereditary heads of the families recognized as distinct and separate (see Ezra 2:3-19).
And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.
Verse 6. - All they that were about them. i.e. all their neighbours. Strengthened their hands. This is the literal rendering. The margin gives the right meaning - "helped them." With precious things. Migdanoth, a rare word, only used here, in Genesis 24:53, and in 2 Chronicles 21:3; always connected with silver and gold: derived from meged, which means "precious. Besides all that was willingly offered (comp. ver. 4). The gold, silver, precious things, etc. previously mentioned were free gifts to individual Jews, and were additional to certain offerings which were intrusted to them for conveyance to Jerusalem. On the value attached by the Persians to offerings made in Jerusalem to Jehovah, see below, Ezra 6:10, and Ezra 7:17.

Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;
Verse 7. - The vessels. Probably all that he could find, yet scarcely all that had been taken away, since many of these were of bronze (2 Kings 25:14), and the restored vessels seem to have been, all of them, either of gold or silver (see ver. 11). Which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth. The carrying off of sacred vessels, as well as images, from temples is often represented in the Assyrian sculptures. It was a practice even of the Romans, and is commemorated on the Pillar of Titus, where the seven-branched candlestick of the Jewish temple is represented as borne in triumph by Roman soldiers. And had put them in the house of his gods. Elohayv, which is the form used in the text, can only mean "his god," not his gods. Nebuchadnezzar represents himself, in his inscriptions generally, as a special devotee of a single Babylonian god, Merodach, whose temple, called by the Greeks that of Bel, is no doubt here intended (comp. Daniel 1:2).
Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.
Verse 8. - Mithredath the treasurer. Not "Mithridates, the son of Gazabar," as the Vulgate renders. The Hebrew gizbar represents a Persian word, gazabara or ganzabara, which had no doubt the meaning of "treasurer," literally "treasure-bearer. We have here the first occurrence of the famous name, borne by so many great kings, of Mithridates. The name is thoroughly Persian, and is excellently rendered by the Hebrew מִתְיְדָת. It means either "given by Mithra" or "dedicated to Mithra," and is distinct evidence of the worship of Mithra by the Persians as early as the time of Cyrus. Mithra was the sun, and was venerated as Mitra by the early Vedic Indians. His worship in later Persia is clearly established; but, except for the name of Mithredath in this place, it would have been doubtful whether he was as yet an object of religious veneration to the Iranians. Sheshbazzar. It is generally allowed that this was the Chaldaean or court name of Zerubbabel. (The chief evidence of this is to be found in Ezra 5:16 compared with Ezra 3:8.) What the name signified is uncertain. The prince of Judah. Zerubbabel was the son of Pedaiah, brother of Salathiel, who was the legal heir of Jehoiachin, king of Judah. He appears to have been adopted by Salathiel as his son, and to have been recognized as the legitimate heir to the throne of David. Thus he did not owe his appointment to the mere favour of Cyrus, but was the natural leader of the people.
And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives,
Verse 9. - Chargers. Agarteley, a rare word, perhaps Persian. The LXX. translate ψυκτῆρες, "wine-coolers;" the Vulgate has phialae, "vases;" the apocryphal Esdras, σπονδεῖα, "vessels for drink-offerings." Probably basons or bowls are intended. Knives. Machaldaphim, another rare word of doubtful sense. The LXX. render παρηλλαγμένα, "changes," regarding the word as derived from חלã, "to exchange." The apocryphal Esdras has θυίσκαι "censers." But the most usual translation is that of the A. V., "knives."
Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.
Verse 10. - Of a second sort. Not "double," as the LXX. render; but "secondary," or "of inferior quality" (comp. 1 Samuel 15:9 where mishnim has the same meaning).
All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.
Verse 11. - All the vessels were five thousand and four hundred. The numbers previously given produce a total of only 2499, or less than half of this amount. There must be some corruption, but whether in the total or the items is uncertain. The apocryphal Esdras raises the total number of the vessels to 5469.

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