Ezra 5:4
Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?
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(4) Then said we.—The LXX. must here have read, “then said they.” But there is no need to change the text; the sentence is not a question, but a statement: “we said to the effect, what the names were.”

What are the names of the men . . .?—It is clear that this graphic account is much compressed. We must understand (see Ezra 5:10) that the authorities demanded the names of the chief promoters of the building in order to make them responsible.

5:3-17 While employed in God's work, we are under his special protection; his eye is upon us for good. This should keep us to our duty, and encourage us therein, when difficulties are ever so discouraging. The elders of the Jews gave the Samaritans an account of their proceedings. Let us learn hence, with meekness and fear, to give a reason of the hope that is in us; let us rightly understand, and then readily declare, what we do in God's service, and why we do it. And while in this world, we always shall have to confess, that our sins have provoked the wrath of God. All our sufferings spring from thence, and all our comforts from his unmerited mercy. However the work may seem to be hindered, yet the Lord Jesus Christ is carrying it on, his people are growing unto a holy temple in the Lord, for a habitation of God through the Spirit.Then said we - The Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions have "Then said they," which brings this verse into exact accordance with Ezra 5:10. 3, 4. At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river—The Persian empire west of the Euphrates included at this time Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Phœnicia, and other provinces subject to Darius. The empire was divided into twenty provinces, called satrapies. Syria formed one satrapy, inclusive of Palestine, Phœnicia, and Cyprus, and furnished an annual revenue of three hundred fifty talents. It was presided over by a satrap or viceroy, who at this time resided at Damascus. Though superior to the native governors of the Jews appointed by the Persian king, he never interfered with their internal government except when there was a threatened disturbance of order and tranquillity. Tatnai, the governor (whether this was a personal name or an official title is unknown), had probably been incited by the complaints and turbulent outrages of the Samaritans against the Jews; but he suspended his judgment, and he prudently resolved to repair to Jerusalem, that he might ascertain the real state of matters by personal inspection and enquiry, in company with another dignified officer and his provincial council. Then said we; either,

1. We Tatnai and Shethar-boznai. And so this is an additional and more express inquiry concerning the names of the builders. And this sense is favoured by comparing Ezra 5:9,10, where the same questions here severally made, Ezra 5:3,4, are in like manner distinguished. And so the sacred writer speaks this in their person; such variation of persons being frequent in the Hebrew language, as the learned know. Or,

2. We Jews; and so the translation must be a little varied, and the words read without an interrogation, thus, Then we told them accordingly (i.e. according to what they asked)

what were the names of the men that made this building, i.e. who were the chief undertakers and encouragers of this work; for although the Hebrew particle mah, rendered what, seems always to be used interrogatively, yet the Chaldee particle man, here rendered what, is used otherwise, as is manifest from Daniel 4:17.

Then said we unto them after this manner,.... In answer to their questions; namely, Ezra and other Jews replied; for though Ezra is said after this to come from Babylon in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, he might go thither on some business, and then return again at that time; some indeed think these are the words of Tatnai and those with him; so Ben Melech, which seems to be favoured by Ezra 4:10, and by reading the words with an interrogation, as we do; Aben Ezra says they are either the words of the builders, or of the scribes, the secretaries that came to question them; but they are the words of the former, as order requires, or otherwise no answer would be returned, at least as expressed; and the next clause may be read without an interrogation, and the sense be, that they told them not only that they acted according to an edict of Cyrus king of Persia, for this was said, as appears from Ezra 5:13, but they declared

what were the names of the men that did make this building; or employed them in it, namely, Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the chief men of the Jews; they made no scruple of telling them who they were; neither ashamed of their masters nor of their work, nor afraid of any ill consequences following hereafter.

{b} Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?

(b) That is, the enemies asked this, as in Ezr 5:10.

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.

Verse 4. - Then said we unto them. It is impossible that the existing text can be sound here. Ezra must have written, "Then said they to them." Tatnai and Shethar-boznai followed up their first question by a second, "What are the names of the men that make this building?" (comp. below, vers. 9, 10). Ezra 5:4Then told we them after this manner (כּנמא, Ezra 4:8), what were the names of the men who were building this building. From אמרנא, we said, it is obvious that the author of this account was an eye-witness of, and sharer in, the work of building. These is not a shadow of reason for altering אמרנא into אמרוּ, or into the participle אמרין (Ew., Berth., and others); the εἴποσαν of the lxx being no critical authority for so doing. The answer in Ezra 5:4 seems not to correspond with the question in Ezra 5:3. The royal officials asked, Who had commanded them to build? The Jews told them the names of those who had undertaken and were conducting the building. But this incongruity between the question and answer is merely caused by the fact that the discussion is reported only by a short extract restricted to the principal subjects. We learn that this is the case from the contents of the letter sent by the officials to the king. According to these, the royal functionary inquired not merely concerning the author of the command to build, but asked also the names of those who were undertaking the work (comp. Ezra 5:9 and Ezra 5:10); while the rulers of the Jews gave a circumstantial answer to both questions (Ezra 5:11-15).
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