Ezra 4
Pulpit Commentary
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;
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).
Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.
Verse 2. - We seek your God, as ye do. "We seek your God" was true; "as ye do" was not true. The Samaritans worshipped Jehovah, but not, as the Jews did, exclusively. "They feared the Lord, and worshipped their own gods" (2 Kings 17:33). Such worship dishonours Jehovah almost more than total neglect of him. Since the days of Esar-haddon. There was more than one colonisation of Central Palestine by the Assyrians. Sargon relates that he placed Arabians in the country; the writer of Kings tells us that it was occupied by Babylonians, Cuthaeans, Avites, Hamathites, and Sepharrites (2 Kings 17:24); the Samaritans themselves said that they were "Dinaites, Apharsathchites, Tarpelites, Apharsites, Archevites, Babylonians, Susanchites, Debarites, and Elamites" (infra, ver. 9). They attributed this last colonization to Esar-haddon. We may suspect that the second colonisation was by Sennacherib, who appears to have taken Babylon, Hamath, Sepharvaim, and Ivah or Avah (2 Kings 18:34). The result was that the Samaritans were a very mixed race.
But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.
Verse 3. - Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God. You have no ground on which to rest your claim of uniting with us in this matter. You do not really wish to build to our God simply and singly; nor were you mentioned in the decree of Cyrus, which is our warrant for what we are doing.
Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
Verse 4. - Then the people of the land (i.e. the Samaritans) weakened the hands of the people of Judah. As aiding is called "strengthening the hands (infra, Ezra 6:22; Isaiah 35:3; Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:49, etc.), so hindering is expressed by "weakening the hands" (Jeremiah 38:4), though this latter phrase is, comparatively speaking, unusual. And troubled them in building. Probably as Sanballat and his followers troubled the builders of the wall in Nehemiah's time (Nehemiah 4:1-12).
And hired counsellers against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Verse 5. - And hired counsellors against them. It is always possible at an Oriental court to bribe some of the royal favourites, and induce them to use their influence with the monarch for the furtherance, or hindrance, of any work that is being proceeded with in any part of the country. The Samaritans now had recourse to this system, and employed it with great success for a considerable period. All the days of Cyrus. i.e. "all the remaining days," from B.C. 537 to B.C. 529, when Cyrus died, and was succeeded by his son Cambyses. Even until the reign of Darius. It is implied that the reign of Darius did not immediately follow on that of Cyrus. Profane history tells us of two intermediate kings, via, Cambyses, son of Cyrus, who reigned from B.C. 529 to B.C. 522, and Smerdis, or Bardes, a usurper, who occupied the throne for about ten months in the years B.C. 522, 521. Darius became king in this last-named year, but seems to have counted his reign from the date of the decease of Cambyses.
And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
Verse 6. - And in the reign of Ahasuerus. Some critics regard this Ahasuerus as identical with the Ahasuerus of Esther, who is generally allowed to be Xerxes, the son and successor of Darius Hystaspis, and the invader of Greece. In this case the Artaxerxes of the next verse is taken to be Artaxerxes Longimanus, and the entire passage, from ver. 6 to ver. 23 inclusively, is regarded as parenthetic, having reference to events which happened later than any of those recorded in ch. 6. But the evident nexus of vers. 23, 24 is fatal to this view, which has nothing in its favour beyond the sequence of the royal names, an uncertain argument in this instance, since we know that Persian kings had often more than one name. If on these grounds we reject the proposed identification, and regard the chapter as chronologically consecutive, Ahasuerus here must be explained as Cambyses, and the Artaxerxes of ver. 7 as Smerdis. This is the view most usually taken, and it seems to the present writer to present fewer difficulties than any other. In the beginning of his reign. As soon as ever a new king mounted the throne, fresh representations were made to him by the "adversaries," lest the work should be recommenced. Wrote they an accusation. Comp. vers. 12-16, by which we see the sort of "accusation that could be plausibly brought.

CHAPTER 4:7-116.
And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.
Verse 7. - And in the days of Artaxerxes. See the comment on ver. 6. If Artaxerxes be the Pseudo-Smerdis, we can readily understand why an application was not made to him at once, and how it came about that the Jews recommenced their building, as they appear from vers. 12, 13 to have done. The Pseudo-Smerdis was a usurper; his reign was a time of partial anarchy; in a distant part of the empire it would not be known for a while who was king. Men would be thrown on themselves, and would do as it seemed good in their own eyes. Later, there may have been some doubt whether a king, who was known to be a religious reformer, would follow the policy of his predecessor with respect to the Jews, or reverse it. Hence a delay, and then a more formal application than before for a positive decree to stop the building (see ver. 21). The rest of their companions. Literally, of their companies - the abstract for the concrete. The writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue. Rather, "in the Syrian fashion," i.e. in Syriac characters. And interpreted in the Syrian tongue. Or "translated into the Syriac language." The character and the words were alike Syriac (comp. 2 Kings 18:26). Ezra gives the letter in Chaldee.
Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:
Verse 8. - Rehum the chancellor. Literally, "the lord of judgment." It may be conjectured that Rehum was the sub-satrap (ὑποσατράπης, Xen.), of the province of Samaria. And Shimshai the scribe. Or "secretary." Herodotus tells us that in every Persian province the governor had a secretary attached to him, who was appointed by the crown, and acted as a check upon his nominal master (Herod., 3:128). The position assigned to Shim-shai in this chapter (see especially vers. 9, 17, 23) is such as might be expected under these circumstances.
Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites,
Verse 9. - The Dinaites, etc. It is curious that the Samaritans, instead of using a general appellation, describe themselves under the names of the various nations and cities which had furnished the colonists of whom they were the descendants. It would seem that they were not yet, in the time of the Pseudo-Smerdis, amalgamated into a single people. From the list of names we may gather that the colonists of Esar-haddon's time had been derived chiefly from Southern Babylonia and the adjacent regions of Susiana, Persia, and Elymais. The Babylonians, Susanchites, and Elamites speak for themselves, and require no explanation. The Archevites are the people of Ereeh or Orchoe (now Warka), a city to the south-east of Babylon. The Apharsites are no doubt Persians; the Dehavites, Dai or Dahae, a tribe located in Persia Proper ('Herod.,' 1:125). If uncertainty attaches to any of the names, it is to two only - the Dinaites and the Tarpelites. Of these, the Dinaites are probably the people of Dayan, a country bordering on Cilicia, whose inhabitants are often mentioned by the Assyrian monarchs. The Tarpelites have been regarded as the people of Tripolis; but it is improbable that that city had as yet received its Greek name. Perhaps they are the Tuplai, or people of Tubal, mentioned in Scripture and the Assyrian inscriptions, the letter r being a euphonic addition, as in Darmesek for Dammesek sharbith for shebeth, and the like.
And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time.
Verse 10. - The rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over. Nothing more is known of "the great and noble Asnapper," who is here mentioned as bringing the colonists and setting them in the cities of Samaria. We must suppose him to have been an officer employed by Esar-haddon on this service. The name is Assyrian in form, and may have meant "Asshur pursues." The rest that are on this side the river. Rather, "across the river." As Romans in North Italy, writing to Rome, would have spoken of themselves as "Transpadani," so Persian subjects, writing to Susa from the west of the Jordan, speak of theft country as "across the Jordan." And at such a time. Rather, "and so forth." This and the preceding verse set forth the address of Rehum's letter. The whole address not being given, the writer ends with the phrase uk'eneth, which means "and so forth," or "et cetera" (comp. Ezra 7:12).
This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time.
Verse 11. - This is the copy of the letter. The address having been given, the writer now proceeds to the contents of the letter. Thy servants the men on this side the river, etc. This was a sort of heading inside the letter - a repetition in brief of the address.
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.
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.
Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.
Verse 13. - Then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom. This was plausible reasoning. In Greece, if a subject city set to work to fortify itself, rebellion was immediately anticipated, not unfairly. But the circumstances of the Persian empire were different. In the remoter parts of that empire the central government was weak, and disorders frequently occurred. A city might need fortifications to protect it against its immediate neighbours, when it had not the slightest intention of asserting independence. Judging from the later history, which shows no revolt of the Jews against Persia, we may say that the accusation now alleged was unfounded, though perhaps it was not made in bad faith. Toll, tribute, and custom represent the chief heads of Persian taxation, which, however, did not include "custom" in our sense of the word. The three terms used by the Samaritans really represent, respectively, "tribute," or the money payment required from each province, "provision," or the payment in kind equally required (Herod., 1:192; 3:91), and "toll," or contributions from those who made use of the Persian highways. According to the Samaritans, none of these would be paid by the Jews if Jerusalem was once fortified. And so thou shalt endamage the revenue. The general meaning is given correctly enough by this rendering, but "revenue" is not expressly mentioned. Aphthom, the word so translated, means really "at length," "at last." Translate, "And so at last thou shalt endamage the kings."
Now because we have maintenance from the king's palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king;
Verse 14. - We have maintenance from the king's palace. The marginal rendering is better, and shows the true sense. "Eating a man's salt" in the East is deriving one's subsistence from him. The man who eats another's salt is bound to look after his interests. It was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour. Rather, "the king's detriment or loss" - it was not meet for us to stand by tamely and see the king stript of his due.
That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed.
Verse 15. - That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers. It was the practice at the Persian court to register all important events in a book, which from time to time was read to the kings (Esther 2:23; Esther 6:1). The Samaritans suggest a consultation of this book, which would at any rate contain their own previous accusations against Jerusalem (supra, vers. 5, 6), and might make some mention of the revolts from Babylon (see the comment on ver. 12). For which cause was this city destroyed. This was the great fact on which the Samaritans relied. Nebuchadnezzar had only destroyed Jerusalem in consequence of repeated rebellions. True; but no sufficient indication that there would be revolt from Persia, which was anti-idolatrous, and had proved herself so true a friend to the Jews.
We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.
Verse 16. - Thou shalt have no portion on this side the river. It is not quite clear whether the river intended here and in ver. 10 is the Euphrates or the Jordan. Generally in the Old Testament hannahar means the Euphrates, but the exaggeration is gross if that river was intended here. Only twice in their history had the Israelites advanced their frontier as far as that stream - under Solomon (1 Kings 4:21) and under Menahem (2 Kings 15:16); in their present depressed condition it was absurd to imagine that they could rival those early glories. But jealousy does not stop to weigh the reasonableness of its accusations.

CHAPTER 4:17-24.
Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time.
Verse 17. - Then sent the king an answer. The complaint made was of such importance that an answer was returned without delay. It was addressed both to Rehum and Shimshai, since they were independent authorities.. Peace, and at such a time. "Peace" (sheldm) is the ordinary Oriental salutation. The other word, uk'eth, is taken by our translators to refer to the date; but it really means, like uk'eneth (ver. 10), "and so forth," or "et cetera."
The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.
Verse 18. - The letter hath been plainly read before me. Despatches are read to, not by, Oriental sovereigns, who have often no literary education. (Compare Esther 6:1.)
And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein.
Verse 19. - I commanded, and search has been made. The Pseudo-Smerdis, who was a fanatical adherent of Magism, which disallowed temples altogether (Herod., 1:130), and who had already destroyed the temples of Ormuzd in Persia ('Behistun Ins.,' col. 1. par. 14, 5), was naturally willing enough to do as the Samaritans desired, and stop the restoration of the Jewish temple. Accordingly, he had a search made among the state records, and found, as they had expected he would, evidence of insurrections on the part of the Jews against the foreign countries to which they had been subject, as Assyria (2 Kings 18:7) and Babylon (ibid. 24:1; Jeremiah 52:3), and also proof of the formidable power possessed by certain Jewish or Israelite kings; upon which he thought himself justified in complying with the Samaritan request, and ordering the work that was going on at Jerusalem to cease (see ver. 21).
There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them.
Verse 20. - Mighty kings. David and Solomon best answer to this description, possessing as they did a kingdom which extended from the Euphrates to the borders of Egypt (1 Kings 4:21, 24), and drawing tribute from the various petty princes or chiefs of the nations dwelling within those limits (2 Samuel 8:6-12; 1 Kings 10:14, 25). Josiah had perhaps, more recently, possessed an almost equally extensive sway.
Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.
Verse 21. - Until another commandment shall be given. It can scarcely be supposed that the Pseudo-Smerdis had any intention of issuing "another commandment;" but, since "the laws of the Medes and Persians," as a general rule, "altered not" (Esther 1:19; Daniel 6:15), it may well be that the clause before us was one inserted as a matter of form in most decrees, to prevent them from being irrevocable.
Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?
Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.
Verse 23. - They went up in haste. The "adversaries" lost no time. Having obtained the decree which forbad further building, they proceeded with it to Jerusalem, and by a display of force compelled the Jews to submission. No doubt resistance might have been made, but resistance would have been rebellion.
Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Verse 24. - Then ceased the work... until the second year of the reign of Darius. The interval of compelled inaction was not long. The Pseudo-Smerdis reigned, at the utmost, ten months; after which a revolution occurred, and the throne was occupied by Darius, the son of Hystaspes. If the work was resumed early in this monarch's second year, the entire period of suspension cannot have much exceeded a year and a half. King of Persia. There is probably no intention of distinguishing the Darius of this book from "Darius the Mede" (Daniel 5:31; Daniel 6:1). "King of Persia" is appended to his name merely out of respect and honor, as it is to the names of Cyrus (Daniel 1:1, 2, 8), Artaxerxes I. (Daniel 4:7), and Artaxerxes II. (Daniel 6:14). Such a superfluous attachment to his name of the style and title of a monarch is common throughout the Old Testament, and generally marks a distinct intention to do the individual honour (see Genesis 41:46; 1 Kings 3:1; 1 Kings 9:11, 16; 1 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 36:22, etc.).

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