Ezra 5
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.
Chap. Ezra 5:1-2. The Voice of the Prophets and the National Revival

1. Then the prophets] R.V. Now the prophets. The beginning of a new paragraph, cf. Ezra 1:1, Ezra 2:1, Ezra 3:8, Ezra 4:1.

Haggai the prophet] After ‘the prophets’, immediately preceding, this designation seems superfluous. But a comparison with chap. Ezra 6:14, Haggai 1:1, shows that the phrase was commonly attached to Haggai’s name. The short extant book of Haggai’s prophecy combines reproof for the neglect with encouragement for the renewal of the work on the Temple. The book preserves prophecies uttered in the second year of Darius, (1) on the first day of the sixth month (Ezra 1:1), (2) on the twenty-first day of the seventh month (Ezra 2:1), (3) on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (Ezra 2:10).

Zechariah the son of Iddo] cf. Ezra 6:14. In Zechariah 1:1; Zechariah 1:7 he is called ‘Zechariah the son of Berechiah the son of Iddo the prophet’. An ‘Iddo’ is mentioned in Nehemiah 12:4 among the heads of priestly families that returned with Zerubbabel and Jeshua: again in Nehemiah 12:16 we find a Zechariah mentioned as the son of Iddo and the head of a priestly house, in the days of Nehemiah. Zechariah was probably the grandson of Iddo, and in the genealogies called in preference ‘the son of Iddo’ rather than ‘the son of Berechiah’, either on account of his father’s early death, or because the name of ‘Zechariah the son of Berechiah’ would have been liable to confusion with ‘Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah’ (Isaiah 8:2). In the same way Laban is called the son of Nahor, not of Bethuel (cf. Genesis 24:47; Genesis 29:5), Jehu the son of Nimshi, not of Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 9:14; 2 Kings 9:20), because the grandfather was the better known and the reputed founder of the house.

Zechariah must have been a very young man (cf. Zechariah 2:4) when he began to prophesy, if (which is hardly likely) he was still alive in the time of Nehemiah (445 b.c.). The date given to the first prophecy in his book is the eighth month of the second year of king Darius (Zechariah 1:1).

Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem] i.e. as distinguished from the Jews that were in the Captivity in Babylon.

in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them] R.V. in the name of the God of Israel prophesied they unto them. R.V. marg. in the name of the God of Israel which was upon them. The words ‘unto’ or ‘upon them’ close the verse strangely. The R.V. text expresses with greater distinctness the rendering of the A.V. ‘unto them’. The rendering of the R.V. margin ‘which was upon them’ (i.e. the name of the God of Israel) although a harsh condensed expression, seems preferable. It is not at first sight evident who are intended by ‘upon them’. Most commentators accepting this rendering explain the words as having reference to the two prophets, and illustrate them by Jeremiah 15:16, ‘Thy word was unto me a joy and the rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts.’ This indeed is very possible. But the other explanation, which refers ‘which was upon them’ to ‘the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem’, seems most suited to the context. Not the ground of the personal courage of the two prophets, but the basis of their prophetic appeal, i.e. the spiritual calling of the nation, is the purport of the phrase. The prophets prophesied to the Jews in the name of the God Who had chosen them, Whose Name was called upon them. Cf. Isaiah 43:5-7; Isaiah 63:19; Isaiah 65:1; Jeremiah 7:10; Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 7:30; Daniel 9:18-19. The message of the prophets was to arouse the people from their neglect of the spiritual work which they were to perform—a work of which the Temple was a pledge,—the testimony to the nations that God had made Himself known unto Israel.

Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
2. Zerubbabel—Jeshua] see notes on Ezra 3:1; Ezra 3:8, Ezra 4:3.

began to build] The building had been begun in the second year of Cyrus, 537–6 (chap. Ezra 3:8; Ezra 3:10, Ezra 5:16). The work was now recommenced. The voice of the prophets supplied the needed encouragement. The effect of Haggai’s witness is described in Haggai 1:12-14.

At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?
3–17. The Complaint against the Jews

3. And] Omit R.V. Not in the original.

Tatnai, governor on this side the river] R.V. Tattenai, the governor beyond the river. Tattenai appears as Sisinnes in 1Es 6:3, as Θανθεναὶ in the LXX. The name is not found except in this connexion. He was governor (probably satrap) of the whole district of Syria and Cilicia on the west of the Euphrates. There were twenty satrapies in the Persian kingdom (Herod. III. 89). Tattenai was therefore a man of the greatest eminence in Syria, next to the king himself. The expression ‘governor beyond the river’ is not due to the writer living on the eastern or Babylonian side of the river. It was the technical title of the governor of that satrapy. It appears on the coins of the Persian empire. Thus upon one coin appears the inscription “Maydi who is over the ‘Abhar Nahara’ (country beyond the River) and Cilicia”.

Tattenai was the superior official, to whom Zerubbabel, the pekhah or governor of the small district of Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, would have to give account upon any report being made of treacherous action.

Shethar-boznai] R.V. Shethar-bozenai. 1Es 6:3, ‘Sathrabuzanes’, LXX. Σαθαρβουζαναί, has been conjectured to be the Persian ‘Chitrabarschana’ (cf. a Persian name, ‘Satibarzanes’, in Arrian). His position is not described. Perhaps a ‘secretary’ to Tattenai, as Shimshai to Rehum (Ezra 4:8).

Who hath commanded you] R.V. gave yon a decree. The original requires the more weighty and official ‘decree’. Cf. Ezra 4:21, Ezra 5:13.

to build this house] referring to the Temple: the first subject of complaint: very different from the passage in Ezra 4:8-23.

and to make up this wall] R.V. ‘and to finish this wall’. 1Es 6:4, ‘By whose appointment do ye build this house and this roof, and perform all the other things?

We may assume that complaints from the Samaritans induced the satrap to inquire what authority the Jews had received to undertake the work. Seventeen or eighteen years had elapsed since Cyrus issued his decree. Two other kings had succeeded him. The third, Darius, was only just assuring his position upon the throne after two years of incessant warring. During this interval the affairs of a comparatively unimportant city in Syria may well have been almost forgotten.

Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?
4. Then said we unto them, &c.] R.V. Then spake we unto them after this manner, What, &c. Margin, ‘Or, Then spake we unto them after this manner. What, said they, are the names’, &c. ‘Or, according to some ancient versions, Then spake they unto them, &c. See Ezra 5:10.’

(a) The reading followed in the A.V. and R.V. is practically unintelligible. ‘Then spake we’ would naturally introduce the Jews’ reply (the first person being remarkable, but quite intelligible): but the question, ‘What are the names of the men that make this building?’ is as obviously the question of the governor. It is equally impossible to apply ‘we’ to the governor and his companions, and to see in ‘Then spake we unto them’, &c. a continuance of ‘came Tattenai’, &c. The only possible rendering is, ‘Then spake we unto them after this manner (with reference to the question), What are’, &c. But the ellipse is so harsh as to make this, even if it were grammatically possible, inadmissible.

(b) On the other hand, the alternative reading, given as the second alternative in the Margin of the R.V., supplies the sense needed by the context, i.e. ‘They said’. This is supported by the LXX. (τότε ταῦτα εἴποσαν αὐτοῖς) and the Peshitto Syriac. It is also supported by internal evidence. In Ezra 5:3, Tattenai and his friends ask the first question relating to official permission; in Ezra 5:4 (according to the emended reading) they ask a further question, as to the names of the Jewish leaders. To neither question is the answer of the Jews directly recorded, since the substance of their answers is reported in the letter to Darius (2–16). That letter mentions also the interrogatories. The first interrogation is repeated verbatim (Ezra 5:9). The second is described (Ezra 5:10), ‘We asked them their names also’, in a manner exactly corresponding to the present verse, Then spake they unto them after this manner, What are the names?

The emendation, it must be admitted, is the easier reading, and is therefore perhaps to be suspected as a correction. But it is impossible to accept the A.V. text as representing the original. It is best to receive the reading of the LXX. ‘They said’, and to regard the reading ‘we said’, as a very early error of a scribe who by a natural mistake began to write the 4th verse as the answer in a dialogue.

What are the names, &c.] Cf. Ezra 5:10, ‘the names of the men that were at the head of them’.

This enquiry would hardly have been made if the correspondence recorded in Ezra 4:7-23 had taken place in the seven months’ reign of Pseudo-Smerdis, and had brought official investigation so recently to bear upon the affairs of Jerusalem.

But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter.
5. But the eye of their God] Cf. Deuteronomy 11:12, ‘a land which God careth for; the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it’; Psalm 33:18, ‘The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him’; Psalm 34:15, ‘The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous’.

upon the elders of the Jews] Cf. Ezra 10:8, ‘the princes and elders’. The LXX. by a strange mistake render ‘the captivity’ (τὴν αἰχμαλωσίαν).

God’s favour was shewn in that Tattenai did not immediately stop the work, but let it go on until he learned his master’s wishes.

that they could not cause them to cease] R.V. and they did not make them cease. This gives the original accurately, and corrects the impression produced by the A.V.

till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer] R.V. till the matter should come to Darius, and then answer should he returned. Marg. Or, they returned answer. The R.V. corrects the grammatical mistake of the A.V. Both clauses are dependent upon the previous sentence. The governor and his party forebore to stay the work, until (1) the matter had been reported to Darius, (2) Darius’s reply had been received by the governor. Then only would they, if it were necessary, interfere.

And then answer should be returned’ or, ‘And then they returned answer by letter’. In the former case the reference is to the answer of the king or of his officials to Tattenai: in the latter case, it is to the final reply of Tattenai, after hearing from the king, to the Jews. Perhaps the former is to be preferred on account of the formal ‘by letter (nishtewan, cf. Ezra 4:7) concerning it’.

concerning this matter] R.V. concerning it. The A.V. unnecessarily here repeats the word ‘matter’. See Ezra 5:17.

The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king:
6. Tatnai, the governor on this side the river] R.V. Tattenai, the governor beyond the river, and Shethar-bozenai. See note on Ezra 5:3.

the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river] R.V. the Apharsachites which were beyond the river. Who the Apharsachites of the ‘Abhar Nahara’ were is not known. Possibly the same as the ‘Apharsathcites’ of chap. Ezra 4:9 (where see note), represented officially by Shethar-bozenai, whose companions they are called.

They sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus; Unto Darius the king, all peace.
7. a letter] In Ezra 5:6 called in the Aramaic ‘iggarta’ (cf. ἀγγαρεύω), here ‘pithgama’ (cf. Ezra 4:17), the more official designation.

all peace] Literally ‘peace, the completeness or entirety’. The two words in apposition. ‘Peace in every respect.’

Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands.
8. the province of Judea] R.V. the province of Judah. On ‘the province’ see Ezra 2:1. The A.V. gives the title ‘Judea’, which belongs to a later time, as the name of a country inhabited by the Jews. It occurs first in the Apocrypha (Tob 1:18; 1Ma 3:34; 2Ma 1:10, &c.). ‘Judah’ occurs frequently in Ezra, e.g. Ezra 4:6, Ezra 5:1. The LXX. gives εἰς τὴν Ἰονδαίαν χώραν: the Vulgate ‘ad Judæam provinciam’.

to the house of the great God] The governor uses terms of great reverence towards the God of the Jews. In consequence some have called in question the genuineness of this letter. But there is in reality nothing unusual in the use of such expressions by Eastern potentates with reference to the gods of a conquered or subject country.

with great stones] Literally ‘stones of rolling’. Stone, that is to say, too large for ordinary transport and requiring to be moved on rollers. The immense size of the stones used in the construction of the temples in early days is an unending source of amazement, e.g. Baalbec.

The LXX. renders by ‘chosen stones’ 1Es 6:9, by ‘polished stones very precious’: misunderstanding the original. Such adjectives applied to the foundations of the Temple were perhaps before the mind of the Apostle when he employs the metaphor of the building, cf. 1 Peter 2:4-7 (Isaiah 28:16). Vulg. ‘lapide impolito’.

timber is laid in the walls] i.e. beams or joists for supporting floor or roof. Some suggest party-walls, for the division of chambers.

goeth fast on] R.V. goeth on with diligence. ‘With diligence’, a Persian word ‘osparna’ (used also Ezra 6:8; Ezra 6:12-13, Ezra 7:17; Ezra 7:21; Ezra 7:26) which denotes care and attention as well as energy.

in their hands] referring to the Jews, implied in the words ‘the province of Judah’.

Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?
9. Who commanded …, and to make up] R.V. Who gave … a decree, … and to finish. Cf. on Ezra 5:3.

these walls] R.V. ‘this wall’ as in Ezra 5:3.

We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them.
10. We asked their names] R.V. we asked them their names. So the Aramaic. For the names of the Elders, cf. Ezra 2:2.

the chief of them] R.V. at the head of them. Literally ‘at or in the heads of them’. The R.V. renders as if the word was in the singular; cf. 2 Chronicles 20:27, ‘Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in the forefront of them’, (lit. at their head). But the rendering ‘that were their heads’ would be equally correct, and would account for the use of the plural.

And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up.
11. We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth] The words of this profession are very emphatic in the original.

the God of heaven and earth] i.e. the God not of one kingdom only, but of the whole world, not of terrestrial supremacy alone, but of heavenly as well: see on chap. Ezra 1:2.

build the house that was builded &c.] i.e. we restore the house which having been built in remote times stood as the temple of our God for centuries.

a great king of Israel] i.e. Solomon. The expression here used shows that Tattenai like Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:20), had heard the rumour either from the Jews themselves or from those acquainted with them, that there had been ‘mighty kings over Jerusalem’. Solomon’s temple was built 1014–1007, nearly 500 years before the reign of Darius.

and set up] R.V. finished.

But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.
12. after that] So R.V., R.V. marg. ‘because that’. The purpose of the passage is to account for the destruction of the Temple and the captivity of God’s people. The conjunction is not temporal, but causal: ‘for this reason, namely, that &c.’ The rendering of the R.V. margin is preferable.

provoked … unto wrath] The word used here for ‘provoke’ is found in the Hebrew books with this meaning only in Job 12:6. Elsewhere to ‘shake’, ‘disquiet’, 1 Samuel 28:15; Isaiah 13:13; Isaiah 23:11; Jeremiah 50:34.

the God of heaven] See on Ezra 1:2. A general description of Israel’s provocation of their God is given in 2 Chronicles 36:14-21.

Nebuchadnezzar] Cf. on Ezra 1:7 : the Chaldean, i.e. the Babylonian.

But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.
13. Cyrus the king of Babylon] Cyrus so called frequently in the Inscriptions: cf. Artaxerxes king of Babylon, Nehemiah 13:6, and Darius king of Assyria, Ezra 6:22.

the same king Cyrus] R.V. Cyrus the king: see on Ezra 1:1-2.

And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor;
14. And the vessels also of gold and silver] R.V. And the gold and silver vessels. See note on Ezra 1:7-11.

into the temple of Babylon] See note on Ezra 1:7, ‘the house of his gods’, i.e. the great temple at Babylon, which Nebuchadnezzar had restored.

Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor] Literally ‘pekhah’. In Ezra 1:8, Sheshbazzar is called ‘prince of Judah’. In Haggai 1:1 &c. Zerubbabel is called ‘pekhah’. For the identification see note on Ezra 1:8.

And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.
Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.
16. Then came the same Sheshbazzar] The work here ascribed to Sheshbazzar is evidently that over which Zerubbabel presided in chap. 3.

the foundation] R.V. ‘the foundations’; so the Aramaic and Ezra 4:12.

since that time &c.] A sentence showing that the cessation of the work mentioned in Ezra 4:5; Ezra 4:24 must not be taken perfectly literally. Building was carried on from time to time, but no longer on any effective scale. The interval of time was from 536 to 520.

finished] R.V. completed. A different word in the original from that rendered ‘finish’ in Ezra 5:3; Ezra 5:9; Ezra 5:11, Ezra 6:14.

Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter.
17. if it seem good to the king] A similar phrase in Ezra 7:18; Esther 1:19.

in the king’s treasure house] which apparently was the repository of important documents as well as of treasure. The expression occurs again in Esther 3:9; Esther 4:7. The word rendered ‘treasure’ (ginzayya) is rendered by ‘gaza’ (γάζα) in the LXX. Compare Ezra 1:8; (gizbar) ‘treasurer’; 1 Chronicles 28:11 (ganzak) ‘treasure’; chap. Ezra 6:1 gives the full explanation of the present phrase. The Vulgate too narrowly renders ‘bibliotheca’.

at Babylon] i.e. where would be kept the records of the Babylonian Empire.

his pleasure] Same word as that in Ezra 7:18, ‘the will of God’. The LXX. by a mistake of similar letters renders ‘having learnt’ (γνούς).

concerning this matter] Same phrase as in Ezra 5:5 (where see note). The word ‘matter’ added here in the English for the sake of explicitness. Tattenai asks for instructions as to how he should proceed generally in dealing with the Jews and their Temple-building.

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