Ezra 4:12
Be it known to the king, that the Jews which came up from you to us are come to Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) Virulence and craft and exaggeration are stamped on every sentence of the letter. It only says, however, that “they are preparing the walls thereof, and joining the foundations.” Afterwards, however, the charge is modified in Ezra 4:13; Ezra 4:16.

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.4:6-24 It is an old slander, that the prosperity of the church would be hurtful to kings and princes. Nothing can be more false, for true godliness teaches us to honour and obey our sovereign. But where the command of God requires one thing and the law of the land another, we must obey God rather than man, and patiently submit to the consequences. All who love the gospel should avoid all appearance of evil, lest they should encourage the adversaries of the church. The world is ever ready to believe any accusation against the people of God, and refuses to listen to them. The king suffered himself to be imposed upon by these frauds and falsehoods. Princes see and hear with other men's eyes and ears, and judge things as represented to them, which are often done falsely. But God's judgment is just; he sees things as they are.A snapper was perhaps the official employed by Esar-haddon Ezra 4:2 to settle the colonists in their new country.

On this side the river - literally, "beyond the river," a phrase used of Palestine by Ezra, Nehemiah, and in the Book of Kings, as designating the region west of the Euphrates.

And at such a time - Rather, "and so forth." The phrase is vague, nearly equivalent to the modern use of et cetaera. It recurs in marginal references.

12. the Jews which came up from thee to us—The name "Jews" was generally used after the return from the captivity, because the returning exiles belonged chiefly to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Although the edict of Cyrus permitted all who chose to return, a permission of which some of the Israelites availed themselves, the great body who went to settle in Judea were the men of Judah. Have set up the walls thereof: either,

1. The Jews had begun to build or repair some part of the walls which Nebuchadnezzar had left, which they aggravate in this manner. Or,

2. This is a mere fiction, which, being confidently affirmed, they thought would easily find belief with a king whose heart and ears they possessed by their hired counsellors, and others of their friends, or the enemies of the Jews. Be it known unto the king,.... The intent of this letter was, that it might be known to the king what follows:

that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem; this they observe partly out of contempt of the Jews, having been lately captive in Babylon, and partly to insinuate what ingratitude they were guilty of; that having got their liberty, and come to Jerusalem, they made use of it to the king's detriment:

building the rebellious and the bad city; as they suggest it had been to kings, even his predecessors, in former times, Ezra 4:15

and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations; which was a falsehood; for the most they had done was setting up the walls of their houses in Jerusalem, and laying the foundation of the temple; as for the walls of the city, they had not as yet done anything unto them.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. the Jews] We have here practically the first application of this name to the new community at Jerusalem. It had been used of the Southern Kingdom (2 Kings 16:6; 2 Kings 25:25; 2 Chronicles 32:18) and of its exiles (Jeremiah 32:12; Jeremiah 34:9; Jeremiah 38:19; Jeremiah 40:11-12; Jeremiah 40:15; Jeremiah 41:3; Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 52:28; Jeremiah 52:30; Daniel 3:8; Daniel 3:12). As the return from the Captivity almost exclusively affected the exiles of the Southern Kingdom, the name was naturally applied to the new dwellers in Jerusalem and the neighbourhood, and was quickly adopted as the designation of all members of the race; cf. Zechariah 8:23; Ezra 4:23; Ezra 5:1; Ezra 5:5; Ezra 6:7-8; Ezra 6:14; ten times in Nehemiah, fifty-one times in Esther. The History of Israel had become the History of the Jews.

which came up from thee to us are come] R.V. which came up from thee are come to us, generally expressed; i.e. from exile on the banks of the Euphrates to dwell in Judæa and Jerusalem. The introductory statement of the subject.

building] R.V. they are building. A separate clause, containing an epitome of the charge against the Jews. ‘The rebellious and the bad city’, cf. Ezra 4:15. An appeal to its antecedents was calculated to prejudice the king against Jerusalem.

and have set up the walls] R.V. finished: the verb in the original has the idea of completion.

and joined the foundations] R.V. repaired, which gives the sense of the word better, and is more intelligible than the A.V.

The accusation that the Jews were engaged in rebuilding the city, strengthening and repairing the walls, seems to refer to the days of Artaxerxes and to the work either of Nehemiah or, as is more probable, of Ezra before Nehemiah’s arrival. Those who see Pseudo-Smerdis in Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7; Ezra 4:11) maintain that the accusation is designedly false, and intended to incense the Government against the Jews for exceeding the instructions of Cyrus’s decree, which limited them to the restoration of the Temple.Verse 12. - The Jews which came up from thee. i.e. from the central provinces - from that part of the empire where thou dwellest. To us. To our part of the world - to Palestine. Are... building the rebellious and the bad city. The ground of this accusation must be sought in the various revolts of the Jews from the Babylonians recorded in 2 Kings 24, 25. There had been one, or perhaps two, previous revolts from Assyria (2 Kings 18:7; 2 Chronicles 33:11); but of these the Samaritans probably knew nothing. They would, however, be likely to know that before Nebuchadnezzar took the extreme measure of removing the Jews from their own land to Babylon, they had rebelled against him three several times - once under Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:1), once under his son Jehoiachin (ibid. vers. 9, 10), and once under Zedekiah, the last king (ibid. ver. 20). Thus they had a basis of truth on which to ground their charge that Jerusalem was "the rebellious and the bad city." And have set up the walls thereof. It appears very clearly from the book of Nehemiah that the walls of Jerusalem were not restored till his time, seventy-five years after this. The Samaritans, however, would naturally exaggerate, and call the rebuilding of the temple, and of a certain number of dwelling-houses, a fortifying of the place. The exaggeration, however, is not so great in the Chaldee text as in the Authorized Version. What is said seems to be, that "they are setting up the walls and joining the foundations." That the work was far from complete is admitted in the next verse. We may doubt whether it was really begun. Complaints against the Jews to Kings Ahashverosh and Artachshasta. - The right understanding of this section depends upon the question, What kings of Persia are meant by Ahashverosh and Artachshasta? while the answer to this question is, in part at least, determined by the contents of the letter, Ezra 4:8-16, sent by the enemies of the Jews to the latter monarch.

Ezra 4:6-7

And in the reign of Ahashverosh, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. שׂטנה, not to mention the name of the well, Genesis 26:21, occurs here only, and means, according to its derivation from שׂטן, to bear enmity, the enmity; hence here, the accusation. ישׁבי על belongs to שׂטנה, not to כּתבוּ; the letter was sent, not to the inhabitants of Judah, but to the king against the Jews. The contents of this letter are not given, but may be inferred from the designation שׂטנה. The letter to Artachshasta then follows, Ezra 4:7-16. In his days, i.e., during his reign, wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions. כּנותו, for which the Keri offers the ordinary form כּנותיו mrof yra, occurs only here in the Hebrew sections, but more frequently in the Chaldee (comp. Ezra 4:9, Ezra 4:17, Ezra 4:23; Ezra 5:3, and elsewhere), in the sense of companions or fellow-citizens; according to Gesenius, it means those who bear the same surname (Kunje) together with another, though Ewald is of a different opinion; see 117, b, note. The singular would be written כּנת (Ewald, 187, d). And the writing of the letter was written in Aramaean (i.e., with Aramaean characters), and interpreted in (i.e., translated into) Aramaean. נשׁתּון is of Aryan origin, and connected with the modern Persian nuwishten, to write together; it signifies in Hebrew and Chaldee a letter: comp. Ezra 4:18, where נשׁתּונא is used for אגּרתּא of Ezra 4:11. Bertheau translates הנּשׁתּון כּתב, copy of the letter, and regards it as quite identical with the Chaldee אגּרתּא פּרשׁגן, Ezra 4:11; he can hardly, however, be in the right. כּתב does not mean a transcript or copy, but only a writing (comp. Esther 4:8). This, too, does away with the inference "that the writer of this statement had before him only an Aramaean translation of the letter contained in the state-papers or chronicles which he made use of." It is not כּתב, the copy or writing, but הנּשׁתּון, the letter, that is the subject of ארמית מתרגּם, interpreted in Aramaean. This was translated into the Aramaean or Syrian tongue. The passage is not to be understood as stating that the letter was drawn up in the Hebrew or Samaritan tongue, and then translated into Aramaean, but simply that the letter was not composed in the native language of the writers, but in Aramaean. Thus Gesenius rightly asserts, in his Thes. p. 1264, et lingua aramaea scripta erat; in saying which תרגם does not receive the meaning concepit, expressit, but retains its own signification, to interpret, to translate into another language. The writers of the letter were Samaritans, who, having sprung from the intermingling of the Babylonian settlers brought in by Esarhaddon and the remnants of the Israelitish population, spoke a language more nearly akin to Hebrew than to Aramaean, which was spoken at the Babylonian court, and was the official language of the Persian kings and the Persian authorities in Western Asia. This Aramaean tongue had also its own characters, differing from those of the Hebrew and Samaritan. This is stated by the words ארמית כּתוּב, whence Bertheau erroneously infers that this Aramaean writing was written in other than the ordinary Aramaean, and perhaps in Hebrew characters.

This letter, too, of Bishlam and his companions seems to be omitted. There follows, indeed, in Ezra 4:8, etc., a letter to King Artachshasta, of which a copy is given in Ezra 4:11-16; but the names of the writers are different from those mentioned in Ezra 4:7. The three names, Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel (Ezra 4:7), cannot be identified with the two names Rehum and Shimshai (Ezra 4:8). When we consider, however, that the writers named in Ezra 4:8 were high officials of the Persian king, sending to the monarch a written accusation against the Jews in their own and their associates' names, it requires but little stretch of the imagination to suppose that these personages were acting at the instance of the adversaries named in Ezra 4:7, the Samaritans Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel, and merely inditing the complaints raised by these opponents against the Jews. This view, which is not opposed by the כּתב of Ezra 4:7, - this word not necessarily implying an autograph, - commends itself to our acceptance, first, because the notion that the contents of this letter are not given finds no analogy in Ezra 4:6, where the contents of the letter to Ahashverosh are sufficiently hinted at by the word שׂטנה; while, with regard to the letter of Ezra 4:7, we should have not a notion of its purport in case it were not the same which is given in Ezra 4:8, etc.

(Note: The weight of this argument is indirectly admitted by Ewald (Gesch. iv. p. 119) and Bertheau, inasmuch as both suppose that there is a long gap in the narrative, and regard the Aramaean letter mentioned in Ezra 4:7 to have been a petition, on the part of persons of consideration in the community at Jerusalem, to the new king, - two notions which immediately betray themselves to be the expedients of perplexity. The supposed "long gaps, which the chronicler might well leave even in transcribing from his documents" (Ew.), do not explain the abrupt commencement of Ezra 4:8. If a petition from the Jewish community to the king were spoken of in Ezra 4:7, the accusation against the Jews in Ezra 4:8 would certainly have been alluded to by at least a ו adversative, or some other adversative particle.)

Besides, the statement concerning the Aramaean composition of this letter would have been utterly purposeless if the Aramaean letter following in Ezra 4:8 had been an entirely different one. The information concerning the language in which the letter was written has obviously no other motive than to introduce its transcription in the original Aramaean. This conjecture becomes a certainty through the fact that the Aramaean letter follows in Ezra 4:8 without a copula of any kind. If any other had been intended, the ו copulative would not more have been omitted here than in Ezra 4:7. The letter itself, indeed, does not begin till Ezra 4:9, while Ezra 4:8 contains yet another announcement of it. This circumstance, however, is explained by the fact that the writers of the letters are other individuals than those named in Ezra 4:7, but chiefly by the consideration that the letter, together with the king's answer, being derived from an Aramaean account of the building of the temple, the introduction to the letter found therein was also transcribed.

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