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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;
Adversaries - i. e., the Samaritans, a mixed race, partly Israelite but chiefly foreign, which had replaced to some extent the ancient inhabitants after they were carried into captivity by Sargon (see 2 Kings 17:6 note).
2Then 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.
Compare 2 Kings 17:24-28 notes.
Since the days - Esar-haddon reigned from 681-668 B.C. Thus, the Samaritans speak of what had taken place at least 130 years previously. There appear to have been at least three colonizations of Samaria by the Assyrian kings. The first is mentioned in 2 Kings 17:24. Later in his reign Sargon added to these first settlers an Arabian element. Some 30 or 40 years afterward, Esarhaddon, his grandson, largely augmented the population by colonists drawn especially from the southeast parts of the Empire Ezra 4:10. Thus, the later Samaritans were an exceedingly mixed race.
3But 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.
Ye have nothing to do with us - Because the Samaritans had united idolatrous rites with the worship of Yahweh 2 Kings 17:29-41. To have allowed them a share in restoring the temple would have been destructive of all purity of religion.
As king Cyrus ... commanded us - The exact words of the edict gave the right of building exclusively to those who should "go up" from Babylonia to Judaea Ezra 1:3.
4Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
5And 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.
Hired counselors - Rather, "bribed" officials at the Persian court to interpose delays and create difficulties, in order to hinder the work.
Darius - i. e., Darius, the son of Hystaspes
6And 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 - Or, Cambyses, the son and successor of Cyrus. Persian kings had often two names.
7And 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.
Artaxerxes - Gomates, the Pseudo-Smerdis. He succeeded Cambyses (521 B.C.), and reigned for seven months, when he was deposed and executed by Darius Hystaspis.
Written in the Syrian tongue ... - Or, "written in Syriac characters and translated into Syriac." On the use of this tongue as a medium of communication between the Jews and their Eastern neighbors, see 2 Kings 18:26 note.
8Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:
The chancellor - literally, "Lord of judgment;" the title, apparently, of the Persian governor of the Samaritan province. Every Persian governor was accompanied to his province by a "royal scribe" or "secretary," who had a separate and independent authority.
9Then 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,
These verses form the superscription or address of the letter (Ezra 4:11, etc.) sent to Artaxerxes.
The Dinaites were probably colonists from Dayan, a country often mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions as bordering on Cilicia and Cappadocia. No satisfactory explanation can be given of the name Apharsathchites (see Ezra 5:6 note). The Tarpelites were colonists from the nation which the Assyrians called Tuplai, the Greeks "Tibareni," and the Hebrews generally "Tubal." (It is characteristic of the later Hebrew language to insert the letter "r" (resh) before labials. Compare Darmesek for Dammesek, 2 Chronicles 28:23 margin). The Apharsites were probably "the Persians;" the Archevites, natives of Erech (Warka) Genesis 10:10; the Susanchites, colonists from Shushan or Susa; the Dehavites, colonists from the Persian tribe of the Dai; and the Elamites, colonists from Elam or Elymais, the country of which Susa was the capital.
10And 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.
A snapper was perhaps the official employed by Esar-haddon Ezra 4:2 to settle the colonists in their new country.
On this side the river - literally, "beyond the river," a phrase used of Palestine by Ezra, Nehemiah, and in the Book of Kings, as designating the region west of the Euphrates.
And at such a time - Rather, "and so forth." The phrase is vague, nearly equivalent to the modern use of et cetaera. It recurs in marginal references.
11This 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.
12Be 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.
13Be 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.
Toll, tribute, and custom - Rather, "tribute, provision, and toll" (so Ezra 4:20). The "tribute" is the money-tax imposed on each province, and apportioned to the inhabitants by the local authorities; the "provision" is the payment in kind, which was an integral part of the Persian system; the "tolI" is probably a payment required from those who used the Persian highways.
The revenue - The word thus translated is not found elsewhere, and can only be conjecturally interpreted. Modern commentators regard it as an adverb, meaning "at last," or "in the end," and translate, "And so at last shall damage be done to the kings."
14Now 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;
We have maintenance - See the margin. The phrase "to eat a man's salt" is common in the East to this day; and is applied not only to those who receive salaries, but to all who obtain their subsistence by means of another. The Persian satraps had no salaries, but taxed their provinces for the support of themselves and their courts.
15That 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.
The book of the records - Compare Esther 2:23; Esther 6:1; Esther 10:2. The existence of such a "book" at the Persian court is attested also by Ctesias.
Of thy fathers - i. e., thy predecessors ripen the throne, Cambyses, Cyrus, etc. If Artaxerxes was the Pseudo-Smerdis (Ezra 4:7 note), these persons were not really his "fathers" or ancestors; but the writers of the letter could not venture to call the king an impostor.
16We 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.
17Then 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.
18The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.
Hath been ... read - It is doubtful if the Persian monarchs could ordinarily read. At any rate, it was their habit to have documents read to them (compare Esther 6:1). This is still the ordinary practice in Eastern courts.
19And 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.
The archives of the Babylonian kingdom would contain accounts of the insurrections raised, or threatened, by Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah 2 Kings 24:1, 2 Kings 24:10, 2 Kings 24:20. It does not appear that there had ever been any rebellion against Persia.
20There 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.
Mighty kings ... - If this reference can scarcely have been to David or Solomon (see marginal reference), of whom neither the Babylonian nor the Assyrian archives would be likely to have had any account - it would probably be to Menahem 2 Kings 15:16 and Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:6-7; 2 Chronicles 35:18).
21Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me.
22Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?
23Now 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.
24Then 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.
It ceased - The stoppage of the building by the Pseudo-Smerdis is in complete harmony with his character. He was a Magus, devoted to the Magian elemental worship, and opposed to belief in a personal god. His religion did not approve of temples; and as he persecuted the Zoroastrian so would he naturally be hostile to the Jewish faith. The building was resumed in the second year of Darius (520 B.C.), and was only interrupted for about two years; since the Pseudo-Smerdis reigned less than one year.