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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to Ezra
Though the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah were undoubtedly regarded as one book in two parts, both by the Jewish Church and by the early Christian Fathers, yet the judgment of modern criticism that Ezra and Nehemiah were originally two distinct works, seems to be, on the whole, deserving of acceptance.
The object of the writer of Ezra is to give an account of the return from the captivity, and of the subsequent fortunes of the Palestinian Jews until the eighth year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, 457 B.C. - The matters to which he directs attention are only three:
(1) The number, family, and (to some extent) the names of those who returned from Babylonia with Ezra and with Zerubbabel Ezra 2; Ezra 8:1-20;
(2) The rebuilding of the temple and the circumstances connected with it Ezra 1:1-11; Ezra 3-7; and
(3) The misconduct of the returned Jews with respect to mixed marriages, and the steps taken by Ezra in consequence Ezra 9-10.
The Book of Ezra is made up of two completely distinct sections:
(a) In Ezra 1-6, the writer treats of the return from the captivity and of the events following (538-516 B.C.), or a period of 23 years. It belongs to the time when Zerubbabel was governor of Judaea, Jeshua was high priest, and Zechariah and Haggai were prophets.
(b) Ezra 7-10. This relates the commission given to Ezra by Artaxerxes in the seventh year of his reign (458 B.C.), the journey of Ezra to Jerusalem, and his proceedings there (April 458 B.C. - April 457 B.C.). There is thus a gap of 57 years between the first section of the book and the second; from which it appears that the writer of the second portion cannot well have been a witness of the events recorded in the first.
Jewish tradition ascribes the authorship of the whole book to Ezra. Modern critics generally admit that Ezra was the original and sole author of the entire second section Ezra 7-10, but consider him the compiler of the first Ezra 1-6 from state documents, national records, and lists. It is probable that the Book of Ezra was composed soon after the arrangements with respect to the mixed marriages had been completed; i. e. in 457 or 456 B.C..
In character the Book of Ezra is historical, and like Chronicles, it lays great stress on the externals of religion; it gives special prominence to the Levites, and exhibits a genealogical bias; it lays down very distinctly the general principle of a special Providence Ezra 8:22; and it applies this principle to particular points of the history not unfrequently.
In style, Ezra more resembles Daniel than any other book of Scripture, always excepting Chronicles. This may be accounted for by these two writers being both Babylonian Jews. The work contains also a considerable number of proper names and words which are either known or suspected to be Persian, and altogether, the language is such as might have been looked for under the circumstances of the time, when the contact into which the Jews had been brought with the Babylonians and the Persians had naturally introduced among them a good many foreign words and modes of speech.
The text of Ezra is not in a good condition. The general bearing of the narrative is, however, untouched by slight blemishes which affect chiefly such minute points as the names and numbers of those who returned from the captivity, the weight and number of the sacrificial vessels, and the like.
1Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
By the first year of Cyrus is to be understood the first year of his sovereignty over the Jews, or 538 B.C.
2Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
The Lord God of heaven - Or, "Yahweh, the God of heaven." In the original Persian, the document probably ran - " Ormazd, the God of heaven." The Hebrew transcript took "Yahweh" as the equivalent of "Ormazd." The Persian notion of a single Supreme Being - Ahura-Mazda, "the much-knowing, or much-bestowing Spirit" - did, in fact, approach nearly to the Jewish conception of Yahweh.
Hath given me all the kingdoms ... - There is a similar formula at the commencement of the great majority of Persian inscriptions.
He hath charged me to build him an house - It is a reasonable conjecture that, on the capture of Babylon, Cyrus was brought into contact with Daniel, who drew his attention to the prophecy of Isaiah Isa 44:28; and that Cyrus accepted this prophecy as a "charge" to rebuild the temple.
3Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
4And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
Let the men of his place help him - i. e., "Let the pagan population help him" (see Ezra 1:6).
The freewill offering - Probably that made by Cyrus himself Ezra 1:7-11.
5Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.
Only a portion of the Israelites took advantage of the permission of Cyrus. Many remained in Babylon, since they were disinclined to relinquish their property. They who returned were persons whom God had especially stirred up to make sacrifices for His glory.
6And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered.
7Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods;
The house of his gods - Rather, "of his god" Daniel 1:2, i. e., Merodach, "his lord" (see 2 Chronicles 36:7 note).
8Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.
Mithredath - Or, "Mithridates." The occurrence of this name, which means "given by Mithra" or "dedicated to Mithra," is an indication that the sun-worship of the Persians was at least as old as the time of Cyrus.
Sheshbazzar - i. e., Zerubbabel. On his royal descent, see 1 Chronicles 3:19 note.
9And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives,
Chargers - The word in the original thus translated occurs only in this passage. Its meaning is doubtful. Some derive it from a Hebrew root, "to hollow out," and translate "cup" or "vessel."
Knives - This is another doubtful word, only used here. The etymology points to some employment of basket-work.
10Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort four hundred and ten, and other vessels a thousand.
11All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up with them of the captivity that were brought up from Babylon unto Jerusalem.
The sum of the numbers as they stand in the present Hebrew text is 2,499, instead of 5,400. In the Apocryphal Book of Esdras the sum given is 5,469, and with this sum the items in that place exactly agree (1 Esdras 2:13, 14). Most commentators propose to correct Ezra by the passage of Esdras; but the items of Esdras are improbable. Probably the sum total in the present passage has suffered corruption.