Ezra 4:1
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity built the temple to the LORD God of Israel;
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(1) The adversaries.—The Samaritans, so termed by Nehemiah (Ezra 4:11). These were a mixed race, the original Israelite element of which was nearly lost in the tribes imported into the northern part of the land by Sargon, Sennacherib, and Esar-haddon. (See 2Kings 17:24-34.)



Ezra 4:1 - Ezra 4:5

Opposition began as soon as the foundations were laid, as is usually the case with all great attempts to build God’s house. It came from the Samaritans, the mingled people who were partly descendants of the ancient remnant of the northern kingdom, left behind after the removal by deportation of the bulk of its population, and partly the descendants of successive layers of immigrants, planted in the empty territory by successive Assyrian and Babylonian kings. Esar-haddon was the first who had sent colonists, about one hundred and thirty years before the return. The writer calls the Samaritans ‘the adversaries,’ though they began by offers of friendship and alliance. The name implies that these offers were perfidious, and a move in the struggle.

One can easily understand that the Samaritans looked with suspicion on the new arrivals, the ancient possessors of the land, coming under the auspices of the new dynasty, and likely to interfere with their position if not reduced to inferiority or neutralised somehow. The proposal to unite in building the Temple was a political move; for, in old-world ideas, co-operation in Temple-building was incorporation in national unity. The calculation, no doubt, was that if the returning exiles could be united with the much more numerous Samaritans, they would soon be absorbed in them. The only chance for the smaller body was to keep itself apart, and to run the risk of its isolation.

The insincere request was based on an untruth, for the Samaritans did not worship Jehovah as the Jews, but along with their own gods {2 Kings 17:25 - 2 Kings 17:41}. To divide His dominion with others was to dethrone Him altogether. It therefore became an act of faithfulness to Jehovah to reject the entangling alliance. To have accepted it would have been tantamount to frustrating the very purpose of the return, and consenting to be muzzled about the sin of idolatry. But the chief lesson which exile had burned in on the Jewish mind was a loathing of idolatry, which is in remarkable contrast to the inclination to it that had marked their previous history. So one answer only was possible, and it was given with unwelcome plainness of speech, which might have been more courteous, and not less firm. It flatly denied any common ground; it claimed exclusive relation to ‘our God,’ which meant, ‘not yours’; it underscored the claim by reiterating that Jehovah was the ‘God of Israel’; it put forward the decree of Cyrus, as leaving no option but to confine the builders to the people whom it had empowered to build.

Now, it is easy to represent this as a piece of impolitic narrowness, and to say that its surly bigotry was rightly punished by the evils that it brought down on the returning exiles. The temper of much flaccid Christianity at present delights to expand in a lazy and foolish ‘liberality,’ which will welcome anybody to come and take a hand at the building, and accepts any profession of unity in worship. But there is no surer way of taking the earnestness out of Christian work and workers than drafting into it a mass of non-Christians, whatever their motives may be. Cold water poured into a boiling pot will soon stop its bubbling, and bring down its temperature. The churches are clogged and impeded, and their whole tone lowered and chilled, by a mass of worldly men and women. Nothing is gained, and much is in danger of being lost, by obliterating the lines between the church and the world. The Jew who thought little of the difference between the Samaritan worship with its polytheism, and his own monotheism, was in peril of dropping to the Samaritan level. The Samaritan who was accepted as a true worshipper of Jehovah, though he had a bevy of other gods in addition, would have been confirmed in his belief that the differences were unimportant. So both would have been harmed by what called itself ‘liberality,’ and was in reality indifference.

No doubt, Zerubbabel had counted the cost of faithfulness, and he soon had to pay it. The would-be friends threw off the mask, and, as they could not hinder by pretending to help, took a plainer way to stop progress. All the weapons that Eastern subtlety and intrigue could use were persistently employed to ‘weaken the hands’ of the builders, and the most potent of all methods, bribery to Persian officials, was freely used. The opponents triumphed, and the little community began to taste the bitterness of high hopes disappointed and noble enterprises frustrated. How differently things had turned out from the expectations with which the company had set forth from Babylon! The rough awakening to realities disillusions us all when we come to turn dreams into facts. The beginning of laying the Temple foundations is put in 536 B.C.; the first year of Darius was 522. How soon after the commencement of the work the Samaritan tricks succeeded we do not know, but it must have been some time before the death of Cyrus in 529. For weary years then the sanguine band had to wait idly, and no doubt enthusiasm died out: they had enough to do in keeping themselves alive, and in holding their own amidst enemies. They needed, as we all do, patience, and a willingness to wait for God’s own time to fulfil His own promise.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.4:1-5 Every attempt to revive true religion will stir up the opposition of Satan, and of those in whom he works. The adversaries were the Samaritans, who had been planted in the land of Israel, 2Ki 17. It was plain that they did not mean to unite in the worship of the Lord, according to his word. Let those who discourage a good work, and weaken them that are employed in it, see whose pattern they follow.Adversaries - i. e., the Samaritans, a mixed race, partly Israelite but chiefly foreign, which had replaced to some extent the ancient inhabitants after they were carried into captivity by Sargon (see 2 Kings 17:6 note). CHAPTER 4

Ezr 4:1-6. The Building Hindered.

1. the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin—that is, strangers settled in the land of Israel.The adversaries, being not accepted in the building of the temple with the Jews, endeavour to hinder it, Ezra 4:1-6. Their false and malicious letter to Artaxerxes, Ezra 4:7-16. Artexerxes’s decree: the building is hindered, Ezra 4:17-24.

The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin; the Samaritans, as appears from Ezra 4:2,10.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin,.... The Samaritans, as appears from Ezra 4:2,

heard that the children of the captivity; the Jews, who had been in captivity seventy years, and were just come out of it, and still were not quite free, but under the jurisdiction and control of the king of Persia:

builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel; that they were going about it, and had laid the foundation of it, which might soon come to their ears, the distance not being very great. Josephus (c) says they heard the sound of the trumpets, and came to know the meaning of it.

(c) Antiqu. l. 11. c. 4. sect. 3.

Now when {a} the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;

(a) Meaning, the inhabitants of Samaria, whom the king of Assyria had placed in the place of the ten tribes, 2Ki 17:24,19:37. They professed God but worshipped idols and therefore were the greatest enemies to the true servants of God.

Ch. 4. The Record of Opposition. (1) Ezra 4:1-5, from the reign of Cyrus to the reign of Darius. (2) Ezra 4:6, during the reign of Xerxes. (3) Ezra 4:7-23, during the reign of Artaxerxes

1. Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin] Here called ‘adversaries’ by anticipation. From the Compiler’s point of view, the Samaritans were never anything but foes of the Jews.

The word ‘adversaries’ is applied to them again Nehemiah 4:11.

Judah and Benjamin] as in chap. Ezra 1:5. The great majority of those who returned, exclusive of priests and Levites, belonged to these two tribes. In view of the use of the expression chap. Ezra 1:5, there is no necessity to see here (as some commentators have done,) an allusion to the old hostility between the Northern and Southern Tribes.

the children of the captivity] i.e. the ‘b’nê hag-gôlah’. The phrase occurs also in Ezra 6:16; Ezra 6:19-20; Ezra 8:35; Ezra 10:7; Ezra 10:16. On ‘the Captivity’ see note on Ezra 1:11. The meaning is the same as ‘the children of the province’ Ezra 2:1. ‘The children of the captivity’ recalls their past calamities; ‘the children of the province’, their new position of subjection in the old homes.

unto the Lord God of Israel] R.V. unto the lord, the God of Israel cf. Ezra 1:3.Verse 1. - The adversaries. Notwithstanding the friendly guise in which they came, the historian sees from the first that the Samaritans are in reality "adversaries," or "persecutors" (tsazey), identical in spirit with Sanballat and his followers, whom Nehemiah designates by the same word (Ezra 4:11). The foundation of the temple laid. - Ezra 3:8 In the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, i.e., after their arrival at Jerusalem on their return from Babylon, in the second month, began Zerubbabel and Joshua to appoint the Levites from twenty years old and upwards to the oversight of the work (the building) of the house of the Lord. That is to say, the work of building was taken in hand. Whether this second year of the return coincides with the second year of the rule of Cyrus, so that the foundations of the temple were laid, as Theophil. Antioch. ad Autolic. lib. 3, according to Berosus, relates, in the second year of Cyrus, cannot be determined. For nothing more is said in this book than that Cyrus, in the first year of his reign, issued the decree concerning the return of the Jews from Babylon, whereupon those named in the list, Ezra 2, set out and returned, without any further notice as to whether this also took place in the first year of Cyrus, or whether the many necessary preparations delayed the departure of the first band till the following year. The former view is certainly a possible though not a very probable one, since it is obvious from Ezra 2:1 that they arrived at Jerusalem and betook themselves to their cities as early as the seventh month of the year. Now the period between the beginning of the year and the seventh month, i.e., at most six months, seems too short for the publication of the edict, the departure, and the arrival at Jerusalem, even supposing that the first year of Cyrus entirely coincided with a year of the Jewish calendar. The second view, however, would not make the difference between the year of the rule of Cyrus and the year of the return to Jerusalem a great one, since it would scarcely amount to half a year. ויּעמידוּ...החלּוּ, they began and appointed, etc., they began to appoint, i.e., they began the work of building the temple by appointing. Those enumerated are-1. Zerubbabel and Joshua, the two rulers: 2. The remnant of their brethren equals their other brethren, viz., a, the priests and Levites as brethren of Joshua; b, all who had come out of captivity, i.e., the men of Israel, as brethren of Zerubbabel. These together formed the community who appointed the Levites to preside over, i.e., to conduct the building of the temple. For the expression, comp. 1 Chronicles 23:4-24.
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