Ezra 5
Pulpit Commentary
Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them.
Verse 1. - Zechariah the son of Iddo. Really the grandson (Zechariah 1:1). But Bere-chiah, his father, probably died while he was a child, and, being brought up by Iddo, he was called "the son of Iddo. Prophesied unto the Jews. The addresses of Haggai and Zechariah were only occasionally "prophetic," as we now commonly understand the word. But in the language of the Biblical writers all religious teaching is "prophesying," and Ezra here refers mainly to the exhortations addressed to the Jews by Zechariah and Haggai.
Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.
Verse 2. - Then rose up Zerubbabel... and Jeshua. Haggai's preaching was especially addressed to these two leaders (Haggai 1:1), and their spirit was especially "stirred up" (ibid. ver. 14) by his preaching. The prophets of God - Haggai and Zechariah - were with them, throughout their work, helping them; and that in various ways.

1. By direct command to the people - "Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house" (Haggai 1:8);

2. By warnings - "Because of mine house that is waste... therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit" (ibid. vers. 9, 10);

3. By exhortations - "Be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be ye strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work" (Haggai 2:4); and

4. By encouraging prophecy - "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it" (Zechariah 4:9); and "the glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Haggai 2:9). By these and similar means the two prophets aroused a spirit of enthusiasm, which caused the work to make rapid progress, and was an invaluable assistance.

CHAPTER 5:3-17 RENEWAL OF OPPOSITION ON THE PART OF THE NEIGHBOURING HEATHEN. LETTER WRITTEN BY THEM AND SENT TO DARIUS (vers. 3-17). Once more opposition showed itself. Tatnai, a high officer, called "governor on this side the river" (ver. 3), perhaps satrap of Syria, and Shethar-boznai, or Sitrabarzanes, a Persian noble probably, at this time took the lead, and learning that the building was making progress, came in person to Jerusalem, and demanded to know by what authority the temple and city were being restored. Zerubbabel seems to have answered, "By the authority of a decree of Cyrus, issued in the year that he became king of Babylon" (ver. 13); whereupon a second question was asked, "What are the names of the men responsible for carrying on the work?" Zerubbabel answered that he was alone responsible, giving his name as Sheshbazzar, and declaring himself to be acting under a commission received from Cyrus (ver. 15), and never revoked. Thereupon Tatnai and Shethar-boznai seem to have proposed a cessation of the building until reference could be made to Darius and his pleasure learnt (ver. 5); but Zerubbabel declined to agree to this, and the work proceeded without intermission (ibid.). Meanwhile, a letter was written to Darius, not unfairly stating the case, and suggesting that the state archives should be searched for the decree ascribed to Cyrus, that it might be seen what exactly it was that the decree sanctioned, and further that the king should expressly declare what his own pleasure was in the matter (ver. 17). This letter Tatnai, in his capacity of satrap, despatched to the court by special messenger, and so left the business to the decision of Darius and his counsellors, without further seeking to influence him. Remark the strong contrast between this despatch and that of the Samaritans. In the Samaritan letter private pique and enmity show themselves - Jerusalem is "the rebellious and the bad city" (Ezra 4:12), "hurtful unto kings and provinces" (ibid. ver. 15); its intention to revolt is assumed (ver. 13); the king is warned that his dominion and revenue are in danger (ver. 16); no hint is given of there having ever been any such document as the decree of Cyrus; no reference is made to Sheshbazzar or the royal commission that he had received; altogether, the case is stated as strongly as possible against the Jews, with great and manifest unfairness. Here, on the contrary, where the person who takes up the matter is the Persian governor, a dispassionate tone prevails; no charges are made; no abuse uttered; the letter is confined to a statement of facts and an inquiry; the Jews are allowed to give their own account of their proceedings, nearly half the letter being their statement of their own case (vers. 11-15); the decree of Cyrus is brought into prominence, asserted on the one hand, not denied on the other; that it should be searched for is suggested; and finally there is a simple request that the king will declare his will in respect of the building.
At the same time came to them Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and their companions, and said thus unto them, Who hath commanded you to build this house, and to make up this wall?
Verse 3. - Tatnai, governor on this side the river. The title given to Tatnai is the same which is assigned to Zerubbabel, both in Ezra 6:7 and in Haggai (Haggai 1:1, 14, etc.), viz., pechah, which is a somewhat vague term of authority, translated sometimes "captain" (1 Kings 20:24; Daniel 3:2, 3, etc.), sometimes "deputy (Esther 8:9; Esther 9:3), but generally, as here, "governor." The etymology is uncertain, but seems not to be Semitic (see Pusey's 'Daniel,' pp. 570-572). The respective rank of Tatnai and Zerub-babel is indicated, not by this term, but by what follows it. Tatnai was pechah "beyond the river," i.e. governor of the whole tract west of the Euphrates; Zerubbabel was pechah of Judah only. A Greek writer would have called the one "satrap of Syria," the other "sub-satrap of Judaea." It was the duty of Tatuai to watch the proceedings of his sub-satraps.
Then said we unto them after this manner, What are the names of the men that make this building?
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).
But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter.
Verse 5. - The eye of their God was upon the elders. "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous" (Psalm 34:15) with a jealous watchfulness, which never for a moment slackens. "He withdraweth not his eyes from them" (Job 36:7). Nothing happens to them that he does not know and allow. At this time the elders, who pre-aided over the workmen employed in the restoration, were a special subject of God's watchful care, so that those who would fain have hindered them could not. The work of rebuilding went on uninterruptedly during the whole time that the messengers were away.
The copy of the letter that Tatnai, governor on this side the river, and Shetharboznai, and his companions the Apharsachites, which were on this side the river, sent unto Darius the king:
Verse 6. - The Apharsachites recall the "Apharsites" and the "Apharsathchites" of Ezra 4:9. Possibly all the three forms are provincial variants of the more correct Parsaya, which appears in Daniel (Daniel 6:28) as the Chaldaean equivalent of "Persian." Here the Apharsachite "companions" of Tatnai and Shethar-boznai are perhaps the actual Persians who formed their body-guard and their train.
They sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus; Unto Darius the king, all peace.
Be it known unto the king, that we went into the province of Judea, to the house of the great God, which is builded with great stones, and timber is laid in the walls, and this work goeth fast on, and prospereth in their hands.
Verse 8. - We went into the province of Judaea. It has been supposed (Pusey's 'Daniel,' p. 571), on the strength of a doubtful passage in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:7), that Tatnai ordinarily resided at Jernsalem. But this expression indicates the contrary. Most probably the satrap of Syria held his court at Damascus. The house of the great God is a remarkable expression in the mouth of a heathen. It has some parallels, e.g. the expressions of Cyrus in Ezra 1:2, 3, and of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:47 and Daniel 3:29; but they were persons who had been brought to the knowledge that Jehovah was the one true God, under very peculiar and miraculous circumstances. Tatnai, on the other hand, represents the mere ordinary Persian official; and his acknowledgment of the God of the Jews as "the great God" must be held to indicate the general belief of the Persians on the subject (see the comment on Ezra 1:2). Which is builded. Rather, "being builded." With great stones. Literally, "stones of rolling," which is commonly explained as stones so large that they had to be rolled along the ground. But the squared stones used in building neither were, nor could be, rolled; they are always represented as dragged, generally on a rough sledge. And it is not at all probable that in the "day of small things" (Zechariah 4:10) the Jews were building with very large stones. The LXX. translate "choice stones;" the Vulgate "unpolished" or "rough stone." Some of the Jewish expositors suggest "marble." And timber is laid. A good deal of timber had been employed in the old temple, but chiefly for the floors of chambers (1 Kings 6:10), for the internal lining of the walls (ibid. vers. 9, 15), and probably for the roofing. In the new temple, timber seems to have been employed also as the main material of the party-walls. Here again we have a trace of the economy necessary in the "day of small things."
Then asked we those elders, and said unto them thus, Who commanded you to build this house, and to make up these walls?
We asked their names also, to certify thee, that we might write the names of the men that were the chief of them.
And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up.
Verse 11. - We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth. Instead of doing as they were requested, and giving in a long list of names and titles of office, the elders merge their individuality in this general phrase; as though they would say, "As individuals, we are nothing; as men of mark in our nation, we are nothing; what we do, we do simply as servants of God, directed by him (Haggai 1:8), bound to obey him, answerable only to him for our conduct." They speak of God as "the God of heaven and earth" - a very rare title - partly in humble acknowledgment of his universal and absolute dominion, as Christians speak when they call God "the Maker of heaven and earth;" partly to impress favourably those to whom they speak, persons accustomed to regard God primarily as the Being who "gave mankind earth and heaven" (Rawlinson's 'Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persia,' vol. 1. pp. 285, 291, 319, 324, etc.). And build. That is "rebuild." The house that was builded these many years ago. The old house, begun more than 400, finished nearly 400 years previously, and only just beginning to rise again from its ruins, after lying waste for nearly seventy years. Which a great king of Israel builded and set up. Solomon, the greatest of the Jewish monarchs, if we consider the extent and prosperity of his kingdom, and the position that it occupied among the other kingdoms of the earth - a "great king" under whatever aspect we view him, though one who sowed the seeds of that corruption which ultimately sapped the national life, and provoked God to bring the monarchy to an end.
But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.
Verse 12. - Our fathers provoked the God of heaven unto wrath. Mainly by their long series of idolatries, with the moral abominations that those idolatries involved - the sacrifice of children by their own parents, the licentious rites belonging to the worship of Baal, and the unmentionable horrors practised by the devotees of the Dea Syra. For centuries, with only short and rare intervals, "the chief of the priests, and the people, had transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen," and had even "polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 36:14). Therefore, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. He punished, as he always does, national apostasy with national destruction. Making an idolatrous people, but a less guilty one, his sword, he cut off Judah, as he had previously cut off Israel, causing the national life to cease, and even removing the bulk of the people into a distant country. Not by his own power or might did Nebuchadnezzar prevail. God could have delivered the Jews from him as easily as he had delivered them in former days from Jabin (Judges 4:2-24), and from Zerah (2 Chronicles 14:11-15), and from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:20-36). But he was otherwise minded; he "gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar" (comp. 2 Chronicles 36:17). He divided their counsels, paralysed their resistance, caused Pharaoh Hophra to desert their cause (2 Kings 24:7), and left them helpless and unprotected. Nebuchadnczzar was his instrument to chastise his guilty people, and in pursuing his own ends merely worked out the purposes of the Almighty.
But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God.
Verse 13. - In the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon. Recent discoveries of contract tablets have shown that at Babylon Cyrus bore the title of "king of Babylon" from the date of his conquest of the city. The same title was passed on to his successors, Cambyses, Darius, etc. Hence we find Artaxerxes Longimanus called "king of Babylon" by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:6).
And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor;
Verse 14. - The vessels also of gold and silver. See Ezra 1:7-11. On the great importance attached to these vessels, see the comment on Ezra 1:7. So long as they remained at Babylon they were a tangible evidence of the conquest, a glory to the Babylonians, and a disgrace to the Jews. Their retention was a perpetual desecration. Their restoration by Cyrus was an act at once of piety and of kindliness. On the temple of Babylon, out of which Cyrus took them, see the comment on Ezra 1:7.
And said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place.
Verse 15. - Let the house of God be builded in his place. i.e. upon the old holy site - the place where Abraham offered his son Isaac, in a figure (Hebrews 11:17-19), where the angel stood and stayed the pestilence in David s time (2 Samuel 24:16-18), and where "the glory of the Lord descended and filled the house" under Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:1).
Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished.
Verse 16. - Since that time even until now hath it been in building. It is not quite clear whether these words are part of the answer given by the Jews to Tatnai, which he reports to Darius (see ver. 11), or Tatnai's own statement of what he believes to have been the fact. Perhaps the latter view is the more probable; and we may suppose Tatnai not to have been aware that from the second year of Cyrus to the commencement of the reign of Smerdis, and again during the latter part of this reign and the first eighteen months of the reign of Darius, the work had been suspended.
Now therefore, if it seem good to the king, let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send his pleasure to us concerning this matter.
Verse 17. - Let there be search made in the king's treasure house. The Vulgate has "in the king's library;" and this, though not the literal rendering, is probably what was intended by Tatuai. Libraries or record chambers were attached to the royal residences under the old Assyrian and Babylonian kings; and the practice was no doubt continued by the Persians. Some of these record offices have been recently found, and their stores recovered. In the year 1850 Mr. Layard came upon the royal library of Asshur-bani-pal at Koyunjik, and obtained from it several hundreds of documents. More recently, in 1875-6, some Arab explorers happened upon a similar collection near Babylon, which yielded from 3000 to 4000 tablets ('Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology,' vol. 6. pp. 4, 582). It is quite possible that the "decree of Cyrus" may still exist, and be one day recovered.

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