Ezra 1:1
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,
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
I. THE FIRST RETURN UNDER ZERUBBABEL.

(1-4) The decree of Cyrus: marking an epoch of very great importance, and therefore repeated almost word for word from the end of Chronicles.

(1) The first year.—Cyrus became king of Persia in B.C. 559. Twenty years afterwards he took Babylon from Belshazzar; and this first year of his rule in Babylon was his beginning as an agent in Jewish affairs and for the Kingdom of God.

Stirred up.—By a direct influence, probably through the instrumentality of Daniel. This prophet we may suppose Cyrus to have found in Babylon, and to have had his mind directed to the express prediction of Isaiah 44:28, where his name is mentioned. But the writer, who again and again records the prophetic intervention of Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14), makes no allusion to the part that Daniel the earlier prophet had taken. He refers only to the Divine prediction by Jeremiah, which must be fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon” ( Jeremiah 25:12); “For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10).

(2) Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia.—In the interpretation of this decree two courses are open. We may suppose that “the spirit” of Cyrus was so effectually “stirred up” by the Spirit of God, through the prophecies of Isaiah, as to send out a written proclamation avowing his faith in Jehovah-Elohim, and thus publicly accepting the prediction: He hath charged me to build.” In this case the parenthesis of Ezra 1:3 (He is the God) may be compared with the confession of his father-in-law, Darius the Mede: “He is the living God” (Daniel 6:26). Or we may assume that “Ormazd” in the original was reproduced in the Hebrew version that accompanied it by its equivalent, Jehovah.” The latter supposition avoids the difficulty involved in making Cyrus disavow the national faith in the presence of his empire. The decree itself runs much in the style of those found in the majority of Persian inscriptions, such as “By the grace of Ormazd is Darius king;” and the spirit of tolerance! and piety in it is perfectly in harmony with all ancient testimonies to the character of Cyrus.

(4) Whosoever remaineth.As to all the Remnant in all places. There is a singular correspondence between this and the beginning of Nehemiah; but there this familiar name for the survivors of the great national catastrophe is used of those who had returned to Jerusalem, while here it is used for the dispersion in all the provinces of the empire (Nehemiah 1:3).

Where he sojourneth.—Every individual Jew is thus significantly supposed to be only an exile.

Let the men of his place help him.—The heathen subjects of Cyrus are required to assist the departing sojourner, and expected also to send freewill offerings to the Temple. Note that in all these terms the spirit and phrase of the Hebrew people are used; and that there was more in the decree than is here given, as appears in the sequel. Cyrus was under strong influence, both human and Divine.

Ezra

THE EVE OF THE RESTORATION

Ezra 1:1 - Ezra 1:11
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Cyrus captured Babylon 538 B.C., and the ‘first year’ here is the first after that event. The predicted seventy years’ captivity had nearly run out, having in part done their work on the exiles. Colours burned in on china are permanent; and the furnace of bondage had, at least, effected this, that it fixed monotheism for ever in the inmost substance of the Jewish people. But the bulk of them seem to have had little of either religious or patriotic enthusiasm, and preferred Babylonia to Judea. We are here told of the beginning of the return of a portion of the exiles-forty-two thousand, in round numbers.

‘The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.’ That unveils the deepest cause of what fell into place, to the superficial observers, as one among many political events of similar complexion. We find among the inscriptions a cylinder written by order of Cyrus, which shows that he reversed the Babylonian policy of deporting conquered nations. ‘All their peoples,’ says he, in reference to a number of nations of whom he found members in exile in Babylonia, ‘I assembled and restored to their lands and the gods . . . whom Nabonidos . . . had brought into Babylon, I settled in peace in their sanctuaries’ {Sayce, Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments, p. 148}. It was, then, part of a wider movement, which sent back Zerubbabel and his people to Jerusalem, and began the rebuilding of the Temple. No doubt, Cyrus had seen that the old plan simply brought an element of possible rebellion into the midst of the country, and acted on grounds of political prudence.

But our passage digs deeper to find the true cause. Cyrus was God’s instrument, and the statesman’s insight was the result of God’s illumination. The divine causality moves men, when they move themselves. It was not only in the history of the chosen people that God’s purpose is wrought out by more or less conscious and willing instruments. The principle laid down by the writer of this book is of universal application, and the true ‘philosophy of history’ must recognise as underlying all other so-called causes and forces the one uncaused Cause, of whose purposes kings and politicians are the executants, even while they freely act according to their own judgments, and, it may be, in utter unconsciousness of Him. It concerns our tranquillity and hopefulness, in the contemplation of the bewildering maze and often heart-breaking tragedy of mundane affairs, to hold fast by the conviction that God’s unseen Hand moves the pieces on the board, and presides over all the complications. The difference between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ history is not that one is under His direct control, and the other is not. What was true of Cyrus and his policy is as true of England. Would that politicians and all men recognised the fact as clearly as this historian did!

I. Cyrus’s proclamation sounds as if he were a Jehovah-worshipper, but it is to be feared that his religion was of a very accommodating kind. It used to be said that, as a Persian, he was a monotheist, and would consequently be in sympathy with the Jews; but the same cylinder already quoted shatters that idea, and shows him to have been a polytheist, ready to worship the gods of Babylon. He there ascribes his conquest to ‘Merodach, the great lord,’ and distinctly calls himself that god’s ‘worshipper.’ Like other polytheists, he had room in his pantheon for the gods of other nations, and admitted into it the deities of the conquered peoples.

The use of the name ‘Jehovah’ would, no doubt, be most simply accounted for by the supposition that Cyrus recognised the sole divinity of the God of Israel; but that solution conflicts with all that is known of him, and with his characterisation in Isaiah 45:4 as ‘not knowing’ Jehovah. More probably, his confession of Jehovah as the God of heaven was consistent in his mind with a similar confession as to Bel-Merodach or the supreme god of any other of the conquered nations. There is, however no improbability in the supposition that the prophecies concerning him in Isaiah xlv, may have been brought to his knowledge, and be referred to in the proclamation as the ‘charge’ given to him to build Jehovah’s Temple. But we must not exaggerate the depth or exclusiveness of his belief in the God of the Jews.

Cyrus’s profession of faith, then, is an example of official and skin-deep religion, of which public and individual life afford plentiful instances in all ages and faiths. If we are to take their own word for it, most great conquerors have been very religious men, and have asked a blessing over many a bloody feast. All religions are equally true to cynical politicians, who are ready to join in worshipping ‘Jehovah, Jove, or Lord,’ as may suit their policy. Nor is it only in high places that such loosely worn professions are found. Perhaps there is no region of life in which insincerity, which is often quite unconscious, is so rife as in regard to religious belief. But unless my religion is everything, it is nothing. ‘All in all, or not at all,’ is the requirement of the great Lover of souls. What a winnowing of chaff from wheat there would be, if that test could visibly separate the mass which is gathered on His threshing-floor, the Church!

Cyrus’s belief in Jehovah illustrates the attitude which was natural to a polytheist, and is so difficult for us to enter into. A vague belief in One Supreme, above all other gods, and variously named by different nations, is buried beneath mountains of myths about lesser gods, but sometimes comes to light in many pagan minds. This blind creed, if creed it can be called, is joined with the recognition of deities belonging to each nation, whose worship is to be co-extensive with the race of which they are patrons, and who may be absorbed into the pantheon of a conqueror, just as a vanquished king may be allowed an honourable captivity at the victor’s capital. Thus Cyrus could in a sense worship Jehovah, the God of Israel, without thereby being rebellious to Merodach.

There are people, even among so-called Christians, who try the same immoral and impossible division of what must in its very nature be wholly given to One Supreme. To ‘serve God and mammon’ is demonstrably an absurd attempt. The love and trust and obedience which are worthy of Him must be wholehearted, whole-souled, whole-willed. It is as impossible to love God with part of one’s self as it is for a husband to love his wife with half his heart, and another woman with the rest. To divide love is to slay it. Cyrus had some kind of belief in Jehovah; but his own words, so wonderfully recovered in the inscription already referred to, proved that he had not listened to the command, ‘Him only shalt thou serve.’ That command grips us as closely as it did the Jews, and is as truly broken by thousands calling themselves Christians as by any idolaters.

The substance of the proclamation is a permission to return to any one who wished to do so, a sanction of the rebuilding of the Temple, and an order to the native inhabitants to render help in money, goods, and beasts. A further contribution towards the building was suggested as ‘a free-will offering.’ The return, then, was not to be at the expense of the king, nor was any tax laid on for it; but neighbourly goodwill, born of seventy years of association, was invoked, and, as we find, not in vain. God had given the people favour in the eyes of those who had carried them captive.

II. The long years of residence in Babylonia had weakened the homesickness which the first generation of captives had, no doubt, painfully experienced, and but a small part of them cared to avail themselves of the opportunity of return. One reason is frankly given by Josephus: ‘Many remained in Babylon, not wishing to leave their possessions behind them.’ ‘The heads of the fathers’ houses [who may have exercised some sort of government among the captives], the priests and Levites,’ made the bulk of the emigrants; but in each class it was only those ‘whose spirit God had stirred up’ {as he had done Cyrus’} that were devout or patriotic enough to face the wrench of removal and the difficulties of repeopling a wasted land. There was nothing to tempt any others, and the brave little band had need of all their fortitude. But no heart in which the flame of devotion burned, or in which were felt the drawings of that passionate love of the city and soil where God dwelt {which in the best days of the nation was inseparable from devotion}, could remain behind. The departing contingent, then, were the best part of the whole; and the lingerers were held back by love of ease, faint-heartedness, love of wealth, and the like ignoble motives.

How many of us have had great opportunities offered for service, which we have let slip in like manner! To have doors opened which we are too lazy, too cowardly, too much afraid of self-denial, to enter, is the tragedy and the crime of many a life. It is easier to live among the low levels of the plain of Babylon, than to take to the dangers and privations of the weary tramp across the desert. The ruins of Jerusalem are a much less comfortable abode than the well-furnished houses which have to be left. Prudence says, ‘Be content where you are, and let other people take the trouble of such mad schemes as rebuilding the Temple.’ A thousand excuses sing in our ears, and we let the moment in which alone some noble resolve is possible slide past us, and the rest of life is empty of another such. Neglected opportunities, unobeyed calls to high deeds, we all have in our lives. The saddest of all words is, ‘It might have been.’ How much wiser, happier, nobler, were the daring souls that rose to the occasion, and flung ease and wealth and companionship behind them, because they heard the divine command couched in the royal permission, and humbly answered, ‘Here am I; send me’!

III. The third point in the passage is singular-the inventory of the Temple vessels returned by Cyrus. As to its particulars, we need only note that Sheshbazzar is the same as Zerubbabel; that the exact translation of some of the names of the vessels is doubtful; and that the numbers given under each head do not correspond with the sum total, the discrepancy indicating error somewhere in the numbers.

But is not this dry enumeration a strange item to come in the forefront of the narrative of such an event? We might have expected some kind of production of the enthusiasm of the returning exiles, some account of how they were sent on their journey, something which we should have felt worthier of the occasion than a list of bowls and nine-and-twenty knives. But it is of a piece with the whole of the first part of this Book of Ezra, which is mostly taken up with a similar catalogue of the members of the expedition. The list here indicates the pride and joy with which the long hidden and often desecrated vessels were received. We can see the priests and Levites gazing at them as they were brought forth, their hearts, and perhaps their eyes, filling with sacred memories. The Lord had ‘turned again the captivity of Zion,’ and these sacred vessels lay there, glittering before them, to assure them that they were not as ‘them that dream.’ Small things become great when they are the witnesses of a great thing.

We must remember, too, how strong a hold the externals of worship had on the devout Jew. His faith was much more tied to form than ours ought to be, and the restoration of the sacrificial implements as a pledge of the re-establishment of the Temple worship would seem the beginning of a new epoch of closer relation to Jehovah. It is almost within the lifetime of living men that all Scotland was thrilled with emotion by the discovery, in a neglected chamber, of a chest in which lay, forgotten, the crown and sceptre of the Stuarts. A like wave of feeling passed over the exiles as they had given back to their custody these Temple vessels. Sacreder ones are given into our hands, to carry across a more dangerous desert. Let us hear the charge, ‘Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord,’ and see that we carry them, untarnished and unlost, to ‘the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.’Ezra 1:1. Now in the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia — This is that famous Cyrus who, one hundred and forty years before the temple was destroyed, and two hundred years before he was born, was mentioned by name in the prophecies of Isaiah, as raised up, and appointed by God, for the restoration of his people, Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:4. This remarkable prediction, it is probable, Daniel showed to Cyrus, and that it induced him to give forth the following edict. So Prideaux thinks, with many other learned men. Cyrus, it appears, at his first coming to Babylon, found Daniel there, an old minister of state, famed for his great wisdom over all the East; and hence he not only himself employed him as such, but, upon settling the government, made him first superintendent, or prime minister of state, over all the provinces of the empire. In this station of life Daniel must have been a person of great authority at court, and highly in the esteem of his prince; and, as there could be no doubt but he would use his good offices in behalf of the enlargement of the Jews, so it is not likely he should use them in vain, especially if he showed Cyrus the prophecies just mentioned, which, it is evident from the decree itself, that Cyrus had seen. It must be observed that, strictly speaking, this decree was not given forth in the first year of Cyrus’s reign; for then the Jews were not his subjects; but in the first year after his conquest of Babylon, where the Jews then lived in captivity.

That the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled — Who foretold that after seventy years the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans should be destroyed, and the people of Judah restored to their own land. This prophecy was first delivered in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar; and the same year Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judea, besieged and took Jerusalem, made Jehoiakim his subject and tributary, transported the finest children of the royal family and of the nobility to Babylon, to be bred up there for eunuchs and slaves in his palace, and also carried away the vessels of the house of the Lord and put them in the temple of his god at Babylon. Seventy years from this time will bring us down to the first year of Cyrus, (2 Chronicles 36:22; Ezra 1:3,) when he made his proclamation for the restoration of the Jews, and for the building of the temple at Jerusalem. This computation of the seventy years captivity appears to many to be the truest and most agreeable to Scripture. But, if we fix the commencement of these seventy years at the time when Jerusalem was burned and destroyed, their conclusion will fall about the time when Darius issued his decree for rebuilding the temple, after the work had been suspended and stopped. Or, if we fix their commencement at the time when Nebuzaradan carried away the last remainder of the people, and completed the desolation of the land, their conclusion will fall about the time when the temple was finished and dedicated, and the first passover was solemnized in it. “So that,” as Dean Prideaux says, “taking it which way we will, and at what stage we please, the prophecy of Jeremiah will be fully and exactly accomplished concerning this matter.” It may be said to have been accomplished, indeed, at three different times, and in three different manners, and therefore, possibly, all might have been intended, though the first, without doubt, was the principal subject of the prophecy.

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia — God, who had long before designed him for this work, now suggested these thoughts and intentions to him, and excited him to begin to prosecute them, (for it was not all accomplished in the first year of Cyrus,) which he did, not only by causing his will and pleasure to be proclaimed, but to be put in writing, that none might mistake his meaning.1:1-4 The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus. The hearts of kings are in the hand of the Lord. God governs the world by his influence on the spirits of men; whatever good they do, God stirs up their spirits to do it. It was during the captivity of the Jews, that God principally employed them as the means of calling the attention of the heathen to him. Cyrus took it for granted, that those among the Jews who were able, would offer free-will offerings for the house of God. He would also have them supplied out of his kingdom. Well-wishers to the temple should be well-doers for it.By the first year of Cyrus is to be understood the first year of his sovereignty over the Jews, or 538 B.C. THE BOOK OF EZRA Commentary by Robert Jamieson

CHAPTER 1

Ezr 1:1-6. Proclamation of Cyrus for Building the Temple.

1. in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—The Persian empire, including Persia, Media, Babylonia, and Chaldea, with many smaller dependencies, was founded by Cyrus, 536 B.C. [Hales].

that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled—(See Jer 25:12; 29:10). This reference is a parenthetic statement of the historian, and did not form part of the proclamation.Cyrus's proclamation to Israel for building the Lord's temple at Jerusalem, Ezr 1:1-4. The chief of the people prepare for their return, Ezr 1:5,6. Cyrus restores the vessels of the temple to Sheshbazzar prince of Judah, Ezr 1:7,8. Their number, Ezr 1:9-11.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, to wit, of his empire or reign in Babylon; for he had now been king of Persia for many years. Stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, i.e. put into him a mind and will to his work.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia,.... Not in the first of his reign over Persia, for he had been many years king over that, and now had all the kingdoms of the earth given him, Ezra 1:2, but over Babylon, and the dominions belonging to it, which commenced with Darius upon the taking of Babylon; he reigned in all thirty years, as Cicero (g) from a Persian writer relates; or twenty nine, according to Herodotus (h); but in what year this was is not certain; Africanus (i), has proved, from various historians, that it was the first year of the fifty fifth Olympiad, perhaps about the twentieth of Cyrus's Persian government (k); See Gill on Daniel 10:1,

that the word of the Lord, by the mouth of Jeremiah, might be fulfilled; which foretold that the Jews should return from their captivity at the end of seventy years, which fell on the first of Cyrus, reckoning from the fourth of Jehoiakim, and the first of Nebuchadnezzar, see Jeremiah 25:1.

The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia; who has the hearts of all men in his hands, and even of the kings of the earth, and can turn them as he pleases; he wrought upon him, put it into his heart, enlightened his mind, showed him what was right, and his duty to do, and pressed him to the performance of it; so that he could not be easy until he had done it, and he was made thoroughly willing, and even eager to do it:

that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing; gave it in writing to his heralds to read and proclaim throughout all his dominions:

saying; as follows.

(g) De Divinatione, l. 1.((h) Clio, sive, l. 1. c. 214. (i) Apud Euseb. Praepar. Evangel. l. 10. c. 10. p. 488. (k) Nic. Abrami Pharus, p. 303.

Now in the {a} first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the {b} mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the {c} spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,

The Argument - As the Lord is always merciful to his Church, and does not punish them, but so that they should see their own miseries, and be exercised under the cross, that they might contemn the world, and aspire to the heavens: so after he had visited the Jews, and kept them in bondage 70 years in a strange country among infidels and idolaters, he remembered his tender mercies and their infirmities, and therefore for his own sake raised up a deliverer, and moved both the heart of the chief ruler to pity them, and also by him punished those who had kept them in slavery. Nonetheless, lest they should grow into a contempt of God's great benefits, he keeps them still in exercise, and raises domestic enemies, who try as much as they can to hinder their worthy enterprises: yet by the exhortation of the prophet they went forward little by little till their work was finished. The author of this book was Ezra, who was a priest and scribe of the Law, as in Ezr 7:6. He returned to Jerusalem the sixth year of Darius, who succeeded Cyrus, that is, about fifty years after the first return under Zerubbabel, when the temple was built. He brought with him a great company and much treasure, with letters to the king's officers for all things needed for the temple: and at his coming he fixed that which was amiss, and set things in order.

(a) After he and Darius had won Babylon.

(b) Who promised deliverance to them after 70 years were past, Jer 25:12.

(c) That is, moved him and gave him heart.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. Now] or ‘and’. At first sight a strange word with which to open a book. It implies the resumption or continuance, not the commencement, of a history. The use of it, however, receives explanation from either hypothesis mentioned in the preceding note. Regarding our book as having been compiled with the books of Chronicles, we see the precise usage of the word here by a reference to the context in which it stood 2 Chronicles 36:22. Reasons of a similar character explain the same word beginning Joshua, Judges, 1 Sam., 1 Kings.

in the first year of Cyrus] i.e. in the same year that Cyrus captured Babylon and became master of the Babylonian Empire. To the Jews and other subject races it would be ‘the first year of Cyrus’. This year is generally computed to have been 538 b.c. Cyrus was born about 590 b.c. He ascended the throne of Elam 558, conquered Media 549, Persia about 548, overthrew Crœsus and became king of Lydia 540, captured Babylon 538, died 529. The Jewish ‘first year of Cyrus’ was therefore about the twentieth of his reign over the Elamites and the tenth of his reign over Persia.

Cyrus king of Persia] The Hebrew pronunciation of the name of the great Persian king is generally supposed to have been ‘Kôresh’. There is, however, good reason for preferring ‘Kûresh’, which corresponds more closely with the Greek ‘Kuros’ (κῦρος), Latin ‘Cyrus’. In Persian the name seems to have been ‘Kurusch’. The Babylonian Inscriptions speak of him as ‘Kurasch’. The name is said to be derived from that of a mythical Persian hero ‘Kuru’.

Recent discoveries have shown that Cyrus, prince of Anzan, a province of Elam, became first, probably by rightful succession, King of Elam, and styled himself by this title in his inscriptions. This fact explains how it happened that Susa, the old Capital of Elam, continued to be the seat of the Medo-Persian Empire along with Ecbatana, the Capital of the Median Kingdom.

Cyrus, then, the conqueror and King of Persia, was an Elamite by birth, a Persian by descent. His greatgrandfather Teispes was a Persian. But although he was thus descended from a Persian ancestor, it seems to be a mistake to impute to him the Monotheistic views which characterised Persian Zoroastrianism.

He is called ‘the King of Persia’, not because he was born a Persian prince, but because the Persian Kingdom was the most important of his conquests.

that the word of the Lord] The Divine purpose. This thought is well illustrated by reference to Psalm 102:13-22, beginning ‘Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion; for it is time to have pity upon her, yea, the set time is come’.

by the mouth of Jeremiah] Literally, ‘from the mouth of’. The word proceeds ‘from the mouth’. It is declared ‘by the mouth’, as in the reading of 2 Chronicles 36:22, the parallel passage. The reference here is to Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years, Jeremiah 29:10, ‘For thus saith the Lord, After seventy years be accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place’, cf. Jeremiah 25:11.

It is clear that in the writer’s opinion ‘the 70 years for Babylon’ were completed at the occupation of Babylon by Cyrus. This period of 70 years has been computed in different ways. (1) By some the attempt is made to discover an exact interval of 70 years between the third year of king Jehoiakim (cf. Daniel 1:1) and the taking of Babylon by Cyrus. (2) By others the term is understood to express an interval of time in round numbers, commencing (a) either, in the year 605, with the battle of Carchemish, and the supremacy of Babylon, and the reign of Nebuchadnezzar; (b) or in the year 598, when the king Jehoiachin and the mass of the population were carried away captive; (c) or in the year 587, when the city and Temple of Jerusalem were destroyed. Our verse certainly implies that the period terminated with ‘the first year of Cyrus’ (538).

might be fulfilled] R.V. accomplished, i.e. brought to a conclusion. Referring to the substance of the utterance, touching the 70 years.

The word in the original is different from that in 2 Chronicles 36:21 (R.V. rightly ‘fulfil’), and Jeremiah 29:10, where the R.V. unfortunately renders the same word by accomplished. The completion of the thing predicted is here emphasised rather than the fulfilment of the prediction.

the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus] The act of Divine interposition, taking effect in the domain of spirit, of will and desire. Cf. Exodus 35:21. The phrase occurs in a hostile sense, e.g. 1 Chronicles 5:26; 2 Chronicles 21:16; Jeremiah 51:11; but, as here and Ezra 1:5, with a favourable meaning in Haggai 1:14.

that he made a proclamation] A peculiar phrase in the original, occurring again in Ezra 10:7; Nehemiah 8:15; 2 Chronicles 30:5; Exodus 36:6, meaning literally, ‘he caused a voice to pass’. Here used of proclamation by herald.

all his kingdom] i.e. nearly the whole of Western Asia; the kingdoms of Elam, Media, Persia, Lydia and Babylon.

and put it also in writing] This is added not so much to express that written copies of the proclamation were forwarded to the various officials of the Empire, as to record the fact, which to the Jew was of so much importance, that the edict, so far from being a Jewish invention, had been written at the command of Cyrus, and was accessible among official papers. (Cf. Ezra 6:2.)

saying] The decree itself would have been written in Persian or Aramaic. The following verses (2–4) contain the substance of the decree translated into Hebrew and adapted to Jewish readers. It is a popular reproduction rather than a literal translation.

Ch. Ezra 1:1-4. The Decree of Cyrus

The history of the time throws light upon the action of Cyrus, whose Decree gave life to the seemingly lifeless bones of Israel (Ezekiel 37) and restored the scattered flock to their pasture (34). Except by his personal attendants, the fall of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, had been hailed by all with satisfaction. The priests had been alienated from him by his neglect of the defences of the great temples. The generals and nobles despised a king, who absented himself from his capital and his troops, and entrusted to his son the chief command. The poorer classes had no respect for a weak monarch, who failed to protect them from the invader and only imposed on them heavy tasks of building. Cyrus was welcomed in Babylon as Deliverer and saluted as ‘the Great King.’ The Jewish colony who, although they had been taught by their prophets to expect Cyrus’ ultimate success, could hardly have foreseen so easy a victory, so bloodless a capture of Babylon, as that which the Inscriptions describe, would have been among the most demonstrative in their rejoicing over his success. They saw before them the possibility of the near realization of their hopes.

Cyrus was too shrewd a sovereign to throw away any opportunity of cementing together the various elements of his newly conquered empire. He could cheaply earn the affection of many a subject race by gratifying its hopes and removing from Babylon the symbols of its servitude. He gave permission therefore to those of this class resident in the Capital, to take back their gods that had been forcibly removed to Babylon, and to set them up in their former homes. To the Jews he granted corresponding (and, perhaps, in recognition of their special services in his cause, peculiar) privileges. He gave permission to the worshippers of Jehovah to return to their own country, to resume the worship and to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem. They had no images or gods to carry with them. But the sacred vessels, regarded with deep veneration, which had been carried off from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, were given back once more into the keeping of the priests.

Ezra 1:1-3 (as far as the words ‘let him go up’) are almost word for word the same as 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. The very slight differences clearly arise from errors of transcription. We have here (a) Ezra 1:1, the short form ‘Yirm’yah’ instead of the longer ‘Yirmyahu’—(both of which are found for Jeremiah): (b) Ezra 1:1 ‘by the mouth’ instead of ‘at the mouth’: (c) Ezra 1:3, ‘his God be with him’ instead of ‘the Lord his God be with him’.

The fact, that the book of Ezra opens with the same passage as closes the books of Chronicles, has been differently explained.

(1) On the hypothesis, that Ezra-Nehemiah are a separate composition from the books of Chronicles, it is supposed that the compilers of both works made use of the same written documents.

(2) On the hypothesis, that Ezra-Nehemiah come from the hands of the same compiler as the books of Chronicles, we must suppose (a) that there was a time when Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah, in some form or another, constituted a single work: (b) that Ezra-Nehemiah were detached for the purpose of completing the history of the people, narrated in 2 Kings, by an account of the Return from Captivity and of the foundation of the new Jewish Constitution: (c) that afterwards, when the books of Chronicles were added as a sort of historical appendix to the Jewish Canon, they were made to conclude with the opening words of Ezra-Nehemiah. The records of the People thus ended, not with the reminiscence of captivity, but with the announcement of release. Furthermore Chronicles, though placed in the Jewish Canon after Ezra-Nehemiah, thus retained, by means of the concluding verses, a witness to its identity of origin with the books which preceded.

The second hypothesis, for reasons given in the Introd., appears to be the preferable.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. All the vessels of the house of God, the treasures of the temple, and of the palace of the king and of the princes, all he brought to Babylon.
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