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Ezra Four

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

Ezra 4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;

Ezra 4:2 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.

Esar-haddon King of Assur. Esar-haddon was the son of Sennacherib, whose armies had been destroyed by God's angel, at the siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35-37). The Assyrians made no further attempt to take Jerusalem, but Esar-haddon did carry out the work of replacing the population of the northern kingdom with people of other nations.

Ezra 4:3 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.

nothing to do with us. Just as in the rebuilding of the temple, Christians and Christian organizations are often tempted to compromise with the world system in doctrine or practice with the supposed motive of getting the work more acceptable to worldly people, but this is the route to ultimate apostasy or defeat. The Lord's work should be done by the Lord's people in the Lord's way. Note 2 Peter 3:17.

Ezra 4:4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,

people of the land. These “people of the land” thus demonstrated their insincerity in offering to help build the temple. They claimed to worship the true God of creation as Israel did (Ezra 4:2) but actually they had mixed this with the worship of the pagan gods of Israel's ancient adversaries (2 Kings 17:33). It was vital that true Biblical theism not be corrupted with pagan pantheism.

Ezra 4:5 And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

frustrate their purpose. Ezra 4:6-24 seems to constitute a general summary by Ezra of the opposition received against the rebuilding of the temple during the reigns of four different emperors of Persia: first Cyrus (approximately 550-530 b.c.), later also Ahasuerus (or Xerxes), Artaxerxes I and Darius Hystaspes. The precise chronology and identification of these kings are uncertain and controversial, even among conservative scholars, but the general history and message are clear.

Ezra 4:6 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.

Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus is considered the Hebrew equivalent of Xerxes, probably the Xerxes whose fleet was defeated by the Greeks in 480 b.c. If so, he was probably also the Ahasuerus who married Queen Esther (Esther 1:1). Others identify him as Cambyses, the son of Cyrus.

Ezra 4:7 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.

Syrian tongue. The “Syrian tongue” is the Aramaic language. Although the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, a few portions are written in Aramaic. One such section is Ezra 4:8-6:18.

Ezra 4:8 Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:

Artaxerxes. This is believed to be either the short-lived King Smerdis, who succeeded Cambyses, or the emperor who granted Ezra the decree he requested to go to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:13), and later to Nehemiah as well (Nehemiah 2:1-8). He was, thus, possibly the stepson of Queen Esther.

Ezra 4:9 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,

Ezra 4:10 And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time.

Asnapper. Asnapper is believed to be the same as Ashurbanipal, the last truly great king of the Assyrian empire.

the river. The “river” here means the Euphrates.

Ezra 4:11 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.

Ezra 4:12 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.

Ezra 4:13 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.

Ezra 4:14 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;

Ezra 4:15 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.

Ezra 4:16 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.

Ezra 4:17 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.

Ezra 4:18 The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.

Ezra 4:19 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.

Ezra 4:20 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.

Ezra 4:21 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.

Ezra 4:22 Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?

Ezra 4:23 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.

made them to cease. This decree resulted in the cessation of work on the temple for many years, perhaps about sixteen years.

Ezra 4:24 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.

Darius. Darius Hystapses, known to history as Darius the Great. It was he who left the famous Behistun Inscription chronicling his military conquests in three languages (Persian, Elamite and Babylonian), on a great vertical escarpment northwest of Babylon. These writings enabled Sir Henry Rawlinson to decipher the ancient Babylonian language.