Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;Ezra 4:1. Now when the adversaries of Judah, &c. — The Samaritans, the relics of the ten tribes, and foreigners that had joined themselves to them, and patched up that mongrel religion of which we had an account 2 Kings 17:33, where it is said, They feared the Lord, and served their own gods. They are called the people of the land, Ezra 4:4. Thus, the worst enemies that Judah and Benjamin had were those that said they were Jews, and were not.
Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.Ezra 4:2. They came to Zerubbabel, &c., and said, Let us build with you — Hearing that the temple was in building, they were presently aware that it would be a fatal blow to their superstition, and therefore set themselves to oppose it. But as they had not power to do it openly and by force, they endeavoured to do it secretly and by wiles. They offer their service to build with them, but only that by this conjunction with them they might pry into their counsels, find some matter of accusation against them, and thereby retard the work, while they pretended to further it. For we seek your God, as ye do — This was false; for though they sought the same God, they did not seek him only, nor seek him in the way he had appointed, as the true Jews did. And we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon — Son of Sennacherib, and after him king of Assyria, who brought or sent these persons thither, either, 1st, in the days of Shalmaneser, who reigned in Assyria but eight years before Esar-haddon, and so Esar-haddon might be one of his commanders, and the man by whom that colony was sent; or, 2d, in the reign of Esar-haddon, who sent a second colony to strengthen the first.
But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.Ezra 4:3. Ye have nothing to do with us — The chief of the fathers were soon aware that they meant them no kindness, whatever they might pretend, but really designed to do them an injury; and therefore, (though they had need enough of help, if it had been such as they could confide in,) they told them plainly they could not accept it, nor unite with them, as being of another nation and religion, and therefore not concerned in Cyrus’s grant, which was confined to the Israelites. But we ourselves will build — For you are none of those with whom we dare hold communion. Thus we ought to take heed with whom we go partners, and on whose hand we lean. While we trust God with an absolute confidence, we must trust men with a prudent caution. They do not plead to them the law of their God, which forbade them to mingle themselves with strangers, though they especially had an eye to that, but they urge what they knew would have greater weight with them, the king’s commission, which was directed to themselves only. In doing good we have need of the wisdom of the serpent, as well as of the innocence of the dove.
Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,Ezra 4:4. But the people of the land — Hebrew of that land; namely, the Samaritans, the present inhabitants of that province. Weakened the hands of the people of Judah — As they could not divert them from the work, they endeavoured to discourage them in it, by persuading them it was in vain to attempt it, and that they would never be able to finish what they had begun. And troubled them in building — Laying all the impediments they could in their way; by false reports and slanders; by threatenings; and by preventing materials or provisions from coming to them; or by enticing away their workmen, and other means described afterward.
And hired counsellers against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.Ezra 4:5. And hired counsellors against them — Bribed some of the king’s council, in order that by their artifices, and interests in his court, they might give some stop to the work, and frustrate the purpose of the Jews. All the days of Cyrus king of Persia — For though Cyrus still favoured the Jews, yet he was then diverted by his wars, and his son Cambyses was left his viceroy, who was a wicked prince, and an enemy to the Jews. Even until the reign of Darius — The son of Hystaspis, who, having killed the magi, (that, after Cambyses, had possessed themselves of the kingdom,) was made king; and marrying Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, and loving her very much, confirmed the decree of Cyrus, and followed his steps, that he might stand the safer himself.
And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.Ezra 4:6. In the reign of Ahasuerus — A common name of divers kings of Persia. This Ahasuerus was probably Smerdis, one of the magi who seized the kingdom after Cambyses. Wrote they unto him an accusation against Judah and Jerusalem — Importing that they intended to set up for themselves, and not to depend upon the king of Persia.
And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.Ezra 4:7. In the days of Artaxerxes, &c. — The sacred writer, having in the foregoing verse mentioned a stop being put to the building of the temple, till the reign of Darius, now proceeds to relate particularly how it was effected. By Artaxerxes here is probably meant the son of Cyrus, called Cambyses by heathen writers. Written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue — That is, it was written both in the Syrian character, and the Syrian language: for sometimes the Chaldee or Syrian words were written in the Hebrew character.
Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:Ezra 4:8-9. Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter, &c. — These two, as it was their office, put into writing, or drew up, a letter, agreeable to what had been resolved on in a council of the great men, or governors, mentioned in the foregoing verse. The Dinaites, &c. — These nine nations came out of Assyria, Persia, Media, Susiana, and other provinces of that vast empire; who, with one consent, joined in this letter or petition.
Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites,
And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time.Ezra 4:10. Whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over — Some take Asnapper to be another name for Shalmaneser, or for Esar-haddon, who sent these colonies hither. But it is more reasonable to think he was some great commander, or other person of eminence, who was appointed captain of this colony, and intrusted with the office of conducting them over the river Euphrates, and seeing them settled in these countries.
This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time.
Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.Ezra 4:12. Thy servants, and at such a time, &c. — The particular time when the letter was written was no doubt expressed therein; but in this narrative it was sufficient to mention it in general.
Ezra 4:12. And have set up the walls thereof — This was a mere calumny, for they had attempted no such thing as to build the walls of Jerusalem. They had indeed built some houses, without which the place could not be inhabited, and were now employed in erecting the walls of the temple: but they had not begun to encompass the city with walls, to defend it against the incursions of their enemies. This was not undertaken till long after. The assertion of the Samaritans, therefore, was without foundation. But being confidently affirmed, they thought it would be easily credited by the king, whose heart and ears they had contrived to possess by their counsellors.
Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.Ezra 4:13. Then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom — “By the first of these, Grotius understands that which every head paid to the king, and which we call poll-money; by the second, the excise, as we now speak, which was upon commodities and merchandise; and by the last, the land- tax.” — Dodd.
Now because we have maintenance from the king's palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king;Ezra 4:14. Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace — In the Hebrew it is, we are salted with the salt of the palace. That is, are sustained by the king’s munificence, or have a salary from him, as Junius translates it. In ancient times, it appears, it was usual to allow those who had deserved well, and on that account were honourably provided for at the king’s charge, among other things, a daily quantity of salt; it being a thing very necessary in human life. Locke, however, who translates the clause, we have eaten of the king’s salt, understands the meaning to be, “We have engaged ourselves in a covenant of friendship with him.” It was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour — Thus they represent themselves as very loyal to the government, and mightily concerned for the honour and interest of it; and hence they urge the king to put a stop to the building of the city and temple of Jerusalem, as what would certainly be to his loss and dishonour.
That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed.Ezra 4:15. In the book of the records of thy fathers — That is, thy predecessors, the former emperors of this empire; namely, in the Assyrian and Babylonish records; which, together with the empire, were now in the hands of the Persian kings.
We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.
Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time.
The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.
And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein.Ezra 4:19-20. That rebellion and sedition have been found therein — One instance or two of it, in latter times, had served to fasten this odious character upon them, as if they had been always guilty of these crimes. There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem — And therefore the king thought it not advisable to permit them to go on with rebuilding the city, lest they should become powerful again.
There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them.
Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.Ezra 4:21. Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease — Thus he suffered himself to be imposed upon by their fraud and falsehood, and took no care to examine the allegations of their petition concerning what the Jews were now doing; but took all they had asserted for matter of fact, and therefore was very ready to gratify them with an order of council to stay proceedings. Until another commandment shall be given — So that, it appears, however, he kept his ears open to further information; which if he should receive, different from theirs, he might give other orders.
Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?Ezra 4:22. Take heed now that ye fail not, &c. — Let not a thing, which may be of such ill consequence, grow to a head, whereby others may be excited to follow the example, and rebel against the king.
Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.Ezra 4:23. And made them to cease by force and power — As they abused the king by their misinformations, in the obtaining of this order, so they abused him in the execution of it; for the order was only to prevent the building of the city and its walls. But, having power in their hands, they on this pretence stopped the building of the temple. See what need we have to pray, not only for kings, but for all in authority under them; because the quietness of our lives depends much on the integrity and wisdom of inferior magistrates as well as the supreme.
Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.Ezra 4:24. Then ceased the work of the house of God — For they neither could nor might proceed in that work against their king’s prohibition, without a special command from the King of heaven, which, however, they afterward received. But even then they were cold and indifferent about it, and were accordingly reproved by the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah 5:1, compared with Haggai 1:2. So that the work, in a great measure, stood still until the second year of the reign of Darius — This, as was intimated on Ezra 4:6, was Darius the son of Hystaspis, successor of Cambyses; not, as some would have it, Darius Nothus, the son of Artaxerxes Longimanus: for he was not emperor till above one hundred years after Cyrus, and, if he had been the Darius here intended, there must consequently have been about one hundred and thirty years from the beginning of the building of the temple to the finishing of it; which is not credible to any one that considers, 1st, That the same Zerubbabel did both lay the foundation, and finish the work, Zechariah 4:9. 2d, That some of the same persons who saw the finishing of this second house; had seen the glory of the first house, Haggai 2:3.