Ezra 1:2
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.
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Ezra 1:2. The Lord God of heaven — It is observable, says Mr. Locke, that God, in the former books, is called the Lord of hosts, but in the last of Chronicles, in this, in Nehemiah, and Daniel, that is, in the books written after the captivity, he is styled the God of heaven, and not Lord of hosts, though the sense of both expressions is the same. Probably those who showed or interpreted to Cyrus the prophecy of Isaiah concerning himself, acquainted him that the God, whose prophet Isaiah was, was worshipped by the Jews, not as the God of their particular country merely, but as the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. And Cyrus, though it is likely he did not entirely forsake the religion of his country, yet might acknowledge and revere Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, as the true and great God. For, though the Jews were strictly commanded to worship one God, and not to admit another into fellowship with him, yet many in the heathen nations, while they worshipped idols, acknowledged a true and supreme God, and often worshipped the gods of other countries in common with their own. Hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth — All in those parts of the world; all those large dominions which the Assyrians and Babylonians had possessed: the eastern kings were wont, as they are still, to speak magnificently of their dominions. The gift of these Cyrus ascribes to the great God, through the above-mentioned prophecy of Isaiah concerning him, which must have carried a great evidence with it, especially to him who was so highly encouraged by it; or through some special illumination which God had vouchsafed to him, as he had to Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, and some other heathen princes. And he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem — So he might conclude from the prophecy just referred to, (Isaiah 45:13,) where God says of Cyrus, He shall build my city, of which the temple was a principal part, and more plainly from Isaiah 44:28, He shall say to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

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.The Lord God of heaven - Or, "Yahweh, the God of heaven." In the original Persian, the document probably ran - " Ormazd, the God of heaven." The Hebrew transcript took "Yahweh" as the equivalent of "Ormazd." The Persian notion of a single Supreme Being - Ahura-Mazda, "the much-knowing, or much-bestowing Spirit" - did, in fact, approach nearly to the Jewish conception of Yahweh.

Hath given me all the kingdoms ... - There is a similar formula at the commencement of the great majority of Persian inscriptions.

He hath charged me to build him an house - It is a reasonable conjecture that, on the capture of Babylon, Cyrus was brought into contact with Daniel, who drew his attention to the prophecy of Isaiah Isa 44:28; and that Cyrus accepted this prophecy as a "charge" to rebuild the temple.

2. The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth—Though this is in the Oriental style of hyperbole (see also Da 4:1), it was literally true that the Persian empire was the greatest ruling power in the world at that time.

he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem—The phraseology of this proclamation, independently of the express testimony of Josephus, affords indisputable evidence that Cyrus had seen (probably through means of Daniel, his venerable prime minister and favorite) those prophecies in which, two hundred years before he was born, his name, his victorious career, and the important services he should render to the Jews were distinctly foretold (Isa 44:28; 46:1-4). The existence of predictions so remarkable led him to acknowledge that all his kingdoms were gifts bestowed on him by "the Lord God of heaven," and prompted him to fulfil the duty which had been laid upon him long before his birth. This was the source and origin of the great favor he showed to the Jews. The proclamation, though issued "in the first year of Cyrus" [Ezr 1:1], did not take effect till the year following.

All the kingdoms of the earth, to wit, in those parts of the world; all that vast empire formerly under the Assyrians and Babylonians. The gift of which he ascribes to the great God, either by virtue of those common notions which were in the minds of the heathens, who though they worshipped idols, yet many of them did acknowledge a true and supreme God; or by that clear and express prophecy of Isaiah concerning him, Isaiah 44:28 45:1,13, so long before he was born; which prophecy the Jews had doubtlessly showed him, which also carried a great evidence with it, especially to him, who was so highly gratified and encouraged by it; or by a special illumination which God vouchsafed to him, as he did to Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, and some others of the heathen princes.

He hath charged me; either by his prophets, Isaiah formerly, or Daniel now; or by an inward suggestion to his mind.

Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia,.... Of whom, and this edict of his, Isaiah prophesied two hundred years before he was born, Isaiah 44:28

the Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; many he had conquered before he took Babylon, and then the whole Babylonian monarchy fell into his hands. Herodotus (l) says, he ruled over all Asia; Xenophon (m) reckons up many nations that were under his government, Medes and Hyrcanians, Syrians, Assyrians, Arabians, Cappadocians, both the Phrygians, Carians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Bactrians, Indians, Cilicians, Sacae or Scythians, Paphlagonians, Megadinians, and many other nations, the Greeks inhabiting Asia, and the Cyprians, and Egyptians; and elsewhere he says (n), the borders of his kingdom were, to the east the Red sea, to the north the Euxine Pontus, to the west Cyprus and Egypt, and to the south Ethiopia. And the possession of these kingdoms Cyrus ascribes, not to his own martial courage and skill, but to the providence and disposal of the God of heaven, which he seems to have had some notion of:

and he hath charged me to build an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah; in the prophecy of Isaiah, which, according to Josephus (o), he had seen and read, and believed it to be a charge upon him, and a command unto him to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem; however, to give leave for the rebuilding of it, and to encourage to it, and assist in it; an Arabic writer says (p), that Cyrus married a sister of Zerubbabel, and that it was at her request that the Jews had leave to return; which is merely fabulous.

(l) Clio, sive, l. 1. c. 130. So Sallust, Bell. Catalin. p. 2.((m) Cyropaedia, l. 1. in principio. (n) L. 8. c. 48. (o) Antiqu. l. 11. c. 1. sect. 1, 2.((p) Abulpharag. Hist. Dynast. Dyn. 5. p. 82.

Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me {d} all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

(d) For he was chief monarch and had many nations under his dominion, which this heathen king confesses to have received from the living God.

2. The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth] R.V. all the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord, the God of heaven, given me. More correctly, (1) bringing out the emphasis implied by the position of the words in the original; (2) showing more accurately the usage of the Divine name.

The acknowledgment that all earthly sway is derived from Heavenly authority forms the basis of the decree. ‘All the kingdoms of the earth’, the universality of the mission, with which Cyrus is divinely entrusted, justifies his action in dealing with the fortunes of a part.

The Lord God of heaven] literally ‘Jahveh (i.e. Jehovah), the God of heaven’. This use of the sacred name of the God of the Jews in the decree of Cyrus gives occasion to the question, whether Cyrus knew, and, if he knew, believed in and worshipped the God of the Jews.

Commentators generally used to hold this view. This was not unnatural. For (1) they considered these verses to reproduce verbatim the decree of Cyrus: (2) they very generally supposed that Cyrus, being a Persian, was also a monotheist, who favoured the Jews on account of their monotheism, and saw in Jahveh a local representation of the One God that he adored: (3) they accepted and reproduced the statement of Josephus that Cyrus, having seen in Isaiah the Jewish prophecies relating to himself, recognised their fulfilment, and worshipped and believed in Jahveh: (4) they derived support for their view from analogous utterances of allegiance to the God of the Jews recorded of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius in Daniel 3:28-29; Daniel 4:2-37; Daniel 6:25-28.

But (1) it is evident that the edict in these verses is recorded in the words of the Hebrew translator and presented in its Jewish form. (2) Recent discoveries have shown that Cyrus was no monotheist. His own inscriptions testify to his having been a polytheist to the last. He acted as High Priest towards the great deities of Babylon. He constantly styles himself and his son Cambyses the worshippers of Nebo and Merodach. (3) The policy of the victorious monarch was to include among the lesser divinities of his Pantheon the gods of the subjugated countries, and to secure the favour of those who presided over different territories. The deities of whom he avowed himself the servant were (a) those of his own land, who had protected him in his career of victory, (b) those of the conquered kingdoms who had transferred to him their favour, and had thus permitted him to be victorious.

Whether Josephus’ story that Cyrus had seen the prophecies of Isaiah is correct or not we cannot say. There is nothing in it intrinsically impossible. On the other hand, it was a very probable hypothesis to suggest itself to the mind of a Jew by which to account for Cyrus’ benevolent action towards his race (see note on Ezra 1:4).

When Cyrus here, in his edict, made use of a Divine name, he (a) either referred to one of the great gods whom he especially worshipped, e.g. Merodach, Nebo, Bel, for which the Hebrew version has reverently substituted the name of Jahveh: (b) or actually referred by name to Jahveh, as the god of the people, in whose favour the edict was promulgated.

The author of the book presupposes the acquaintance of heathen people with the popular use of the sacred Name which the Jew of later days was forbidden to pronounce.

God of heaven] A title, found also in Darius’ letter, chap. Ezra 6:9-10, and in Artaxerxes’ letter, Ezra 7:12; Ezra 7:21; Ezra 7:23. It is found in the Jewish reply reported in Tattenai’s letter Ezra 5:12. In Nehemiah it occurs Ezra 1:4-5, Ezra 2:4; Ezra 2:20; cf. Psalm 136:26; Daniel 2:18-19; Daniel 2:44. Like the similar phrase ‘the God of heaven and earth’ (Ezra 5:11) the title implies boundless sovereignty. For ‘Heaven’ combined the ideas of infinite space, cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 31:37, the forces of nature, cf. Psalm 19:1, and the dwelling-place of Spiritual beings (cf. Isaiah 66:1; 1 Kings 8:30; Psalm 2:4; Psalm 115:3.)

given me] An expression of pious humility on the part of Cyrus in acknowledgment of the fact that he had won by his sword, and not inherited, the kingdoms of his empire.

he] Very emphatic in the original (cf. LXX. αὐτὸς. Vulgate ipse).

hath charged me] The Divine mission which Cyrus probably unconsciously discharged is described in Isaiah 44:24-28; Isaiah 45:1-13. The view that he was shown these prophecies and was influenced by reading them has been already referred to. Some have also supposed that Cyrus was actuated by statements of Daniel as to his duty towards the chosen people. For neither view is there any historical evidence.

a house] i.e. a Temple.

at Jerusalem which is in Judah] with geographical detail, Judah being a small and obscure province, unknown probably in many quarters of the great Persian Empire.

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. Ezra 1:2The proclamation - "Jahve the 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" - corresponds with the edicts of the great kings of Persia preserved in the cuneiform inscriptions, inasmuch as these, too, usually begin with the acknowledgment that they owe their power to the god Ahuramazd (Ormuzd), the creator of heaven and earth.

(Note: Comp. e.g., the inscription of Elvend in three languages, explained in Joach. Mnant, Expos des lments de la grammaire assyrienne, Paris 1868, p. 302, whose Aryan text begins thus: Deus magnus Auramazd, qui maximus deorum, qui hanc terram creavit, qui hoc coelum creavit, qui homines creavit, qui potentiam (?) dedit hominibus, qui Xerxem regem fecit, etc. An inscription of Xerxes begins in a similar manner, according to Lassen, in Die altperisischen Keilinschriften, Bonn 1836, p. 172.)

In this edict, however, Cyrus expressly calls the God of heaven by His Israelitish name Jahve, and speaks of a commission from this God to build Him a temple at Jerusalem. Hence it is manifest that Cyrus consciously entered into the purposes of Jahve, and sought, as far as he was concerned, to fulfil them. Bertheau thinks, on the contrary, that it is impossible to dismiss the conjecture that our historian, guided by an uncertain tradition, and induced by his own historical prepossessions, remodelled the edict of Cyrus. There is, however, no sufficient foundation for such a conjecture. If the first part of the book of Ezra is founded upon contemporary records of the events, this forbids an priori assertion that the matter of the proclamation of Cyrus rests upon an uncertain tradition, and, on the contrary, presupposes that the historian had accurate knowledge of its contents. Hence, even if the thoroughly Israelitish stamp presented by these verses can afford no support to the view that they faithfully report the contents of the royal edict, it certainly offers as little proof for the opinion that the Israelite historian remodelled the edict of Cyrus after an uncertain tradition, and from historical prepossessions. Even Bertheau finds the fact that Cyrus should have publicly made known by a written edict the permission given to the Jews to depart, probable in itself, and corroborated by the reference to such an edict in Ezra 5:17 and Ezra 6:3. This edict of Cyrus, which was deposited in the house of the rolls in the fortress of Achmetha, and still existed there in the reign of Darius Hystaspis, contained, however, not merely the permission for the return of the Jews to their native land, but, according to Ezra 6:3, the command of Cyrus to build the house of God at Jerusalem; and Bertheau himself remarks on Ezra 6:3, etc.: "There is no reason to doubt the correctness of the statement that Cyrus, at the time he gave permission for the re-settlement of the community, also commanded the expenses of rebuilding the temple to be defrayed from the public treasury." To say this, however, is to admit the historical accuracy of the actual contents of the edict, since it is hence manifest that Cyrus, of his own free will, not only granted to the Jews permission to return to the land of their fathers, but also commanded the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. Although, then, this edict was composed, not in Hebrew, but in the current language of the realm, and is reproduced in this book only in a Hebrew translation, and although the occurrence of the name Jahve therein is not corroborated by Ezra 6:3, yet these two circumstances by no means justify Bertheau's conclusion, that "if Cyrus in this edict called the universal dominion of which he boasted a gift of the god whom he worshipped as the creator of heaven and earth, the Israelite translator, who could not designate this god by his Persian name, and who was persuaded that the God of Israel had given the kingdom to Cyrus, must have bestowed upon the supreme God, whom Cyrus mocked, the name of Jahve, the God of heaven. When, then, it might further have been said in the document, that Cyrus had resolved, not without the consent of the supreme God, to provide for the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, - and such a reference to the supreme God might well occur in the announcement of a royal resolution in a decree of Cyrus, - the Israelite translator could not again but conclude that Cyrus referred to Jahve, and that Jahve had commanded him to provide for the building of the temple." For if Cyrus found himself impelled to the resolution of building a temple to the God of heaven in Jerusalem, i.e., of causing the temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar to be rebuilt, he must have been acquainted with this God, have conceived a high respect for Him, and have honoured Him as the God of heaven. It was not possible that he should arrive at such a resolution by faith in Ahuramazd, but only by means of facts which had inspired him with reverence for the God of Israel. It is this consideration which bestows upon the statement of Josephus, Antt. xi. 1. 1, - that Cyrus was, by means of the predictions of Isaiah, Isaiah 41:25., Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1., who had prophesied of him by name 200 years before, brought to the conviction that the God of the Jews was the Most High God, and was on this account impelled to this resolution, - so high a degree of probability that we cannot but esteem its essence as historical.

For when we consider the position held by Daniel at the court of Darius the Mede, the father-in-law of Cyrus, - that he was there elevated to the rank of one of the three presidents set over the 120 satraps of the realm, placed in the closest relation with the king, and highly esteemed by him (Daniel 6), - we are perfectly justified in adopting the opinion that Cyrus had been made acquainted with the God of the Jews, and with the prophecies of Isaiah concerning Coresh, by Daniel.

(Note: Hence not only ancient expositors, but also in very recent times Pressel (Herzog's Realencycl. iii. p. 232), and A. Koehler, Haggai, p. 9, etc., defend the statement of Josephus, l.c., ταῖτ ̓ (viz., the previously quoted prophecy, Isaiah 44:28) οὖν ἀναγνόντα καὶ θαυμάσαντα τὸ θεῖον ὁρμή τις ἔλαβε καὶ φιλοτιμία ποιῆσαι τὰ γεγραμμένα, as historically authentic. Pressel remarks, "that Holy Scripture shows what it was that made so favourable an impression upon Cyrus, by relating the rle played by Daniel at the overthrow of the Babylonian monarchy, Daniel 5:28, Daniel 5:30. What wonder was it that the fulfiller of this prediction should have felt himself attracted towards the prophet who uttered it, and should willingly restore the vessels which Belshazzar had that night committed the sin of polluting?" etc. The remark of Bertheau, on the contrary, "that history knows of no Cyrus who consciously and voluntarily honours Jahve the God of Israel, and consciously and voluntarily receives and executes the commands of this God," is one of the arbitrary dicta of neological criticism.)

Granting, then, that the edict of Cyrus may have been composed in the current language of the realm, and not rendered word for word in Hebrew by the biblical author of the present narrative, its essential contents are nevertheless faithfully reproduced; and there are not sufficient grounds even for the view that the God who had inspired Cyrus with this resolution was in the royal edict designated only as the God of heaven, and not expressly called Jahve. Why may not Cyrus have designated the God of heaven, to whom as the God of the Jews he had resolved to build a temple in Jerusalem, also by His name Jahve? According to polytheistic notions, the worship of this God might be combined with the worship of Ahuramazd as the supreme God of the Persians. - On וגו עלי פּקד, J. H. Mich. well remarks: Mandavit mihi, nimirum dudum ante per Jesajam Isaiah 44:24-28, Isaiah 45:1-13, forte etiam per Danielem, qui annum hunc Cyri primum vivendo attigit (Daniel 1:21; Daniel 7:1) et Susis in Perside vixit Daniel 8:2 (in saying which, he only infers too much from the last passage; see on Daniel 8:2).

Ezra 1:3

In conformity with the command of God, Cyrus not only invites the Jews to return to Jerusalem, and to rebuild the temple, but also requires all his subjects to assist the returning Jews, and to give free-will offerings for the temple. מי בכם, who among you of all his people, refers to all those subjects of his realm to whom the decree was to be made known; and all the people of Jahve is the whole nation of Israel, and not Judah only, although, according to Ezra 1:5, it was mainly those only who belonged to Judah that availed themselves of this royal permission. עמּו אלהיו יהי, his God be with him, is a wish for a blessing: comp. Joshua 1:17; 1 Esdras 2:5, ἔστω; while in 2 Chronicles 36:23 we find, on the other hand, יהוה for יהי. This wish is followed by the summons to go up to Jerusalem and to build the temple, the reason for which is then expressed by the sentence, "He is the God which is in Jerusalem."

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