Introduction to Ezra


THE Book of Ezra is a work of so simple a character as scarcely to require

an “Introduction.” It is a plain and straightforward account of one of the

most important events in Jewish history — the return of the people of God

from the Babylonian captivity. This return had two stages. It commenced

under Zerubbabel, the lineal descendant of the kings of Judah, in the first

year of Cyrus the Great in Babylon, which was B.C. 538; and it was

continued, and in a certain sense completed, under Ezra, in the seventh

year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, which was B.C. 458. The Book contains

an account of both these periods, and is thus, primarily, divisible into two

portions — the history of the first, and the history of the second return.

The former occupies the first six, the latter the last four chapters. A close

harmony may be observed between the two narratives. The origin of the

movement in either case is traced up to a sentiment of goodwill in the mind

of the reigning Persian monarch; the sentiment gives birth to a decree,

which is recited at length; then a commission to conduct the captives back

to their own land issues; the number of those who returned, and the names

of the leading men, are given; the exact weight of the sacred vessels which

the exiles brought back on each occasion is put on record, and the exact

number and character of the offerings which they severally made to the

God of Israel The history is also carried on in either case to the main result

which followed the return. And here again there is a parallelism. On the

first occasion the zeal of the exiles raised up with difficulty, and after much

opposition, the material church of God — the temple — which the

Chaldaeans had destroyed; on the second, they raised up and restored to its

pristine glory the spiritual Church, or congregation of the people of Israel,

which had sunk into a low and miserable condition through the influence of

the neighboring heathen. As history does not ever exactly repeat itself,

there is of course much diversity combined with this resemblance. The

rebuilding of the temple occupied a long term of years; the religious

reformation was accomplished in a few months. The one was the work of

the established civil ruler; the other of a mere scribe and priest, holding a

temporary commission. To effect the one it was necessary to struggle with

adversaries, and make appeals to the Persian king; prayer was the means by

which the other was brought about, and a single appeal to the King of

heaven sufficed.


The personal character of Ezra stands out in the narrative, both of “Ezra”

and “Nehemiah,” as that of a thoroughly earnest, God-fearing, and man-loving

man, and is without speck or flaw. Not, of course, that he was really

perfect; but his defects are unnoticed. In his indefatigable activity as a

teacher, in his deep sense of dependence upon God, in his combination of

horror at sin with pity for the sinner, he reminds us of St. Paul, while in the

depth of his self-humiliation on account of the transgressions of others he

recalls the utterances of Daniel. As a servant of the Persian king, he so

approves himself to his master as to be singled out for the high trust of an

important commission. In executing that commission he exhibits devotion,

trust in God, honorable anxiety to discharge his duties with exactitude,

and a spirit of prayer and self-mortification that cannot be too highly

commended. As supreme governor of Judaea, he is prompt and decided in

taking the measures necessary to purify the Jewish community, while he

abstains from all arbitrary acts, persuades rather than commands, and

effects his purpose with the good will and hearty acquiescence of all

classes. Placed in a subordinate position under Nehemiah after having held

the entire direction of affairs, he shows no jealousy or discontent, but

carries out with zeal the designs of his civil superior, is active within his

own sphere, and does good service to the nation. Simple, candid, devout,

sympathetic, full of energy, unselfish, patriotic, never weary in well doing,

he occupied a most important position at a most important time, and was a

second founder of the Jewish state. Eminent alike as a civil governor, as an

ecclesiastical administrator, and as a historian, he left behind him a

reputation among the Jews inferior only to that of Moses; and the

traditions which cluster about his name, even if they had no other value,

would at any rate mark the high esteem








Ezra 1





The origin of the return is found in an exertion of Divine influence on the mind of a

heathen king, who was moved thereby to put forth a proclamation or decree,

addressed to all the people of the Lord God of Israel dwelling in any part of His

dominions, granting them free permission to return to their own land, and

at the same time recommending his other subjects to expedite their

departure by giving them out of their abundance gold, silver, goods, and

cattle, so that none should be hindered by poverty from taking advantage

of the king’s kindness. Many things are remarkable in this decree:


1. Its promulgation by a heathen king, spontaneously as it would seem;

2. Its recognition of a single supreme God, “the Lord God of heaven;”

3. Its declaration that the supreme God had “charged” the king to rebuild

the temple at Jerusalem; and

4. Its actual origination in a “stir” of the king’s spirit by God Himself.

The secret government of the world by Jehovah is, in part, opened to us,

and we see how great political events, anteriorly improbable, are brought

about by His action on men’s hearts; we see that He does not leave, has

never left, the heathen wholly to themselves, but condescends to put

thoughts into their minds, and bend their wills, and so bring about His

purposes. We see, moreover, that the heathen were not universally without

some knowledge of the true God; and especially we perceive that in Persia

at this date (B.C. 538) there was a distinct recognition of a single supreme

Deity, and an identification of this Deity with Jehovah, the God of the

Jews. This fact throws light on the whole history of the Jews under the

Persians — on the friendly tone of the decrees of Darius (ch.6:6-12)

and Artaxerxes (ch.7:12-26), on the amicable relations between the

latter king and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:2-8), on the position occupied

by Mordecai under Ahasuerus (Esther 10:2-3), on the quiet submission

of the entire people to the Persian yoke for above two centuries, and on

their faithful adherence to the cause of the last Persian king when he was

attacked by Alexander (Joseph. ‘Ant. Jud.,’ 11:8, 3). A religious sympathy,

it is clear, united the two nations. We must not, however, carry this notion

too far, or regard the Persian religion (Zoroastrianism) with too favorable an

eye. The native literature shows that the Persians worshipped more gods than

one, although one was supreme, and that their religion was moreover dualistic,

involving a belief in a principle of evil, co-eternal and almost co-equal with

the principle of good.


1 “Now 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,”  In the first year of Cyrus. The context shows that it is the first

year of Cyrus at Babylon which is intended. Cyrus the Great became King

of Persia by his final defeat and capture of Astyages, in B.C. 559 probably.

His conquest of Babylon was, comparatively speaking, late in his reign

(Herod., Xenoph.), and is fixed by the Canon of Ptolemy to B.C. 538. He

took the city on the night of Belshazzar’s feast (Daniel 5:30), when

Daniel had just been appointed to the third place in the kingdom (ibid. v.

29), and was practically at the head of affairs. Thus the great king and the

great prophet of the time were brought into contact, and naturally

conferred together, as may be gathered from Josephus (‘Ant. Jud.,’ 11:1).

That the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be

fulfilled. The reference is to Jeremiah 25:11-12, and 29:10. Jeremiah

had prophesied not only the fact, but the date of the return, by assigning to

the captivity a duration of “seventy years.” There might be some doubt

when exactly this term would run out, since the year of 360 was in

prophetic use no less than the year of 365 days (‘Dict. of the Bible,’ s.v.

YEAR), and, moreover, the exact date of the commencement of the

captivity admitted of question; but Daniel appears to have calculated in

B.C. 538 that the term was approaching its termination (see Daniel 9:2-19).

If the captivity were regarded as commencing in the third year of

Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1-2), which was B.C. 606-605, and if years of 360

days were regarded as intended, this would clearly be so, since 360 x 70 =

25,200, and 365 × 68 = 24,820, so that in B.C. 538 only another year was

wanting. For the prophecy to be fulfilled, it was requisite that the first steps

towards bringing about the return and the cessation of desolation should

not be delayed beyond the close of B.C. 538. The Lord, accordingly, in this

year stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia. As God in earlier

times had worked on the minds of Abimelech (Genesis 20:3) and

Balaam (Numbers 23. 5, 16), and more recently of Nebuchadnezzar

(Daniel 2:28), so now, it would seem, He directly influenced the heart

and will of Cyrus. This is the less surprising, as Cyrus was, in the Divine

counsels, foreordained to do this work, and had been raised to his high

station for the purpose (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-4). Cyrus was thus induced

to make a proclamation (literally, “to make to pass a voice”) throughout

the whole kingdom, which reached from the AEgean Sea to the borders of

India, and from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf, and even to put it in

writing, bmiktab, that so it might be sure to become generally known.

Writing was probably of recent introduction into Persia; but there is

positive evidence in the native remains of its use by Cyrus. His

proclamation was probably issued in at least two languages, Persian and





The Crisis (v. 1)


The very first word of this book (literally “and,” has its importance. It shows the

book to be an additional and continuous portion of that most important of all histories,

the history of the Jews. How large is the place of that history in the Bible, beginning

at Genesis 12. and hardly passing again to that of the Gentiles at Acts 10. How

interesting a story in itself! No people so favored (Amos 3:2; Romans 3:1; 11:28).

No people so exalted (Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9;  John 1:47). How important a

story to us! So instructive (I Corinthians 10:11, etc., etc.). So vital (Genesis 12:1-3;

Numbers 24:9, etc.). We are all the better or the worse for the lessons of the story of

the Jewish people. This opening verse of Ezra introduces us to this singular

people at a very important juncture, and relates, in connection with their

history, a very momentous event.


  • THE IMPORTANCE OF THE JUNCTURE. We find the people, e.g.,

in very great tribulation. They are under the rule of a stranger, counting the

years of their history by the years of a “king of Persia.” This not so in

former days (see II Chronicles 34:8; 35:19; and, as perhaps an instance

of transition in this respect, Jeremiah 52:12). We are thus pointed

backward to the invasions of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, and to those three

successive waves of desolation which came over the land under him. See

II Chronicles 36:6-7; Daniel 1:1-2, for the first invasion, in the days

of Jehoiakim or Eliakim, about 607 B.C. For the second, in the days of

Jeconiah or Jehoiachin, about 599 B.C., see II Kings 24:13; II Chronicles

36:9-10. For the third, in the reign of Zedekiah, B.C. 588, see

II Kings 25:14; Jeremiah 52:8. Some idea of the desolation thus

caused in the land itself may be inferred from what is said in II Kings

24:14, of only “the poorest sort of the people” remaining after the second

incursion; and from what is said in Jeremiah 42:2, after the third; as

also from what we are told respecting the “few” mentioned there in

Jeremiah 43:5-7 No wonder we read the prophet lamenting, as in

Lamentations 1:1; 5:18. Awful indeed was that gray and silent Sabbath

which had fallen on Judah’s cities and fields! As to the people thence

carried away, equally desolate were their hearts. How grievous their

reproach and “confusion of face” (Daniel 9:7-8). How bitter their

recollections (Lamentations 1:10; 4:10, 20, etc.). How inconsolable

their anguish (Psalm 137:4). Could any sorrow be worse

(Lamentations 1:12; Daniel 9:12)? At the precise moment,

however, when our story begins there was a little light in this darkness.

Some of the people evidently were in expectation of some change for the

better. The name of the king mentioned seems to show this to begin. Also

the fact of its being the “first year” of his reign. Now that he had come to

the throne, what would he do? See, for evidence of the great interest

elsewhere attached to this date, Daniel 1:21, as compared with 6:28

and 10:1. How exceedingly natural is this interest if we believe Isaiah

41:25; 44:28, etc., according to the best commentators, to be prophecies

of this Cyrus by name! What a great turning-point in the history of the

exile, his capture of Babylon, and subsequent coming to the throne.

Another ground of great expectation at this juncture is also hinted at in the

text. The prophecies of Jeremiah, a prophet whom many of the exiles may

have heard for themselves, had foretold seventy years of sorrowful “rest”

to the land (see Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10, compared with II Chronicles

36:21, and Leviticus 26:34-35, 43). The end of those seventy years

coincided with this first year of King Cyrus. There was one at least

amongst the exiles who knew this “by books” (Daniel 9:2). This same

man had been the tried friend and chief adviser of the immediate

predecessor of Cyrus (Daniel 6:3, 14, 26), and had a deep thought and

constant love for his people and land (Ibid. v.10). From a man of

such a character, and with such influence and knowledge, what might not

be hoped for at such a time? And how exceedingly welcome, in such a

condition of misery, would be any such hope!


  • THE EVENT RELATED was quite in accordance with these natural

expectations. While the people were thus anxiously listening, there came a

sound on their ears. This new ruler had spoken; he had issued a

proclamation — no unimportant thing in itself. We do not expect kings to

speak unless they have something to say. It was also, as they would soon

learn (a more important point still), a proclamation about themselves.

Further yet, it was made in two ways, each worthy of note. On the one

hand, to make it public, it was made orally, by word of mouth (see margin,

caused a voice to pass”), throughout all his kingdom, for the information

of all who could hear (compare Daniel 3:4). On the other, to make it sure,

it was “put in writing,” as a thing meant to abide (compare Ibid. ch.6:8,

10). How momentous, therefore, even thus far, the thing which had

happened. It was a loud knocking at the door of their prison-house,

whatever it meant. Observe, in conclusion:


Ø      The fullness of God’s word. How much here (apparently) beneath

the surface; viz., the prophecies of Isaiah; the influence of Daniel;

also in the reference to the Sabbatical years, the legislation of Moses;

and, finally, in the appearance of Cyrus as a predicted restorer and

deliverer, the promise of Christ Himself.


Ø      The consistency of God’s word. How many, how various, and from

what widely-distant parts of it are the stones, as it were, thus brought

together. Yet how admirably they fit together, and what a whole they



Ø      The promptness of God’s mercy. Many centuries passed before God

visited His people for their neglect of the Sabbatical years; but as soon as

the seventy years of enforced compensatory rest are concluded, that

moment His mercy shines forth. See this characteristic illustrated in the

case of Israel (Genesis 15:16; Exodus 12:41). In the case of the world

(Galatians 4:4).



The Sovereignty of God (v. 1)


Dualities are everywhere seen. Amongst these are things passive and

active; things ruled over and things ruling. The mechanical heavens are

active and rule the passive earth. In animated nature rulers and subjects are

individualized; most remarkably so in the kingdom of men. Passing into the

spiritual world, we still find order and rule; “principalities and powers in

the heavenlies (Ephesians 6:12)  — amongst angels of light, also amongst angels

of darkness. But behind all these sovereignties and over them is THE GLORIOUS





Ø      “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.”


o       This he did by means. Josephus says that Cyrus was shown

the places in Isaiah where he was mentioned by name and

his exploits indicated about a century before he was born

(see Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-5). Possibly Daniel, who was in

Babylon when Cyrus entered it, and the fame of whose

wisdom was far-reaching, may have pointed them out to him.


o       By His Spirit God made the means he employed effective.

“The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.” “He can turn the

 hearts of princes as the rivers of the south.” Means are

ineffectual without His blessing. That blessing should be sought

upon all our undertakings.


Ø      By means of Cyrus God moved the Persian empire.


o       The royal edict was issued.


o       It was vocally proclaimed. Hebrew - caused a voice to pass, etc.

This form of proclamation is for the multitude. For the

multitude God causes His gospel to be preached.


o       It was also written. This was for the magistrates. Also for

reference.  The word of the truth of the gospel is also written.

This fixes its certainty.


Ø      The sequel shows how cordial was the response. As the exodus from

Egypt was a figure of the emancipation of the believer in Christ from

the bondage of sin, so was the return from the captivity of Babylon.




Ø      He rules the world according to a grand plan.


o       This fact is seen in the Scriptures of prophecy. Broad outlines

of future history of the world drawn (see for example Genesis

9:25-27). Here consider “the word of the Lord by the mouth of

Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10).


o       Further seen in the conversion of prophecy into history.

Examples abound. Example before us in the restoration of

Judah from the captivity of Babylon. The time was “in the

first year of Cyrus.” This was B.C. 536. Add

to this the seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy, and we have

the year B.C. 606, the very year in which “Nebuchadnezzar

carried Jehoiakim and the vessels of the house of the Lord

to Babylon (see II Chronicles 36:6-7).


Ø      The plan of Providence includes the means to be employed for the

accomplishment of His purposes.


o       Stirs up the spirits of men to study His word (see Daniel 9:2 –

hopefully, this is what this website is all about! – CY – 2014).


o       Stirred up the spirit of Cyrus also. Daniel was stirred up to pray;

Cyrus, to act. It is God’s order that His people should pray for

their blessings (see Ezekiel 36:37). There is often a connection

between the prayers of the good and the better actions of the





Ø      Afflictions do not spring out of the dust.

Ø      See the hand of God in our deliverances.



Ø      The seventy years of captivity were in retribution for seventy sabbatic

years in which selfishness refused the land her rest, and consequently

the poor their privileges (compare Leviticus 25:1-6, and II Chronicles


Ø      If we open our eyes we may see the operation of retributive

providences every day. “Be sure your sin will find you out.”

(Numbers 32:23)


2 “Thus 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.”  Thus saith Cyrus.

Persian inscriptions do not ordinarily commence in this way; but the formula

says Darius the king,” “says Xerxes the king” is frequent in them. King of Persia.

So the Behistun inscription: “I am Darius, the great king, the king of kings, the

king of Persia.The Lord God of heaven, Yehovah Elohey hashshamayim. “God

of heaven” seems to have been a usual title of the Supreme Being among

the Persians (see below, ch. 6:9-10; 7:12, 23), and perhaps

designated Ormuzd in contradistinction to Ahriman, who was lord of the

infernal regions. The use of the term “Jehovah,” instead of Ormuzd, is

remarkable, and was probably limited to the Hebrew transcript of the

proclamation. Hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth. An

acknowledgment that they have .received and hold their royal power from

Ormuzd is universal on the part of all the Persian kings who have left

inscriptions of any length; but they do not often indulge in such a hyperbole

as this of Cyrus. Artaxerxes Ochus, however, calls himself “king of this

world” (Rawlinson, ‘Cuneiform Inser.,’ vol. 1. p. 341). The mention of the

kingdoms of the earth” is appropriate, since Cyrus had not inherited his

empire, but built it up by the conquest of a vast number of independent

states (‘Herod.’ 1. passim). His own feeling that God had in all cases given

him the victory harmonizes with the statement of Isaiah in Isaiah 45:1.

He hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem. The He is

emphatic, and is expressed by αὐτὸς  - autos – He - in the Septuagint and

ipse in the Vulgate. He Himself, Jehovah-Elohim, has given it me in charge

to build Him a house. Most critics rightly explain by referring to Isaiah 44:28,

and accepting the statement of Josephus (‘Ant. Jud.,’ 11:1) that the

passage was shown to Cyrus shortly after his capture of Babylon. He

understood the prophecy as a command, and proceeded to obey it. Which

is in Judah. The addition of this clause marks strongly the oblivion into

which the ruined city had fallen. Apparently, it was necessary, to recall its

situation to men’s minds by an express mention of the province whereof it

had been the capital. Note the repetition of the clause in the next verse.


3 “Who 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.”  Who (is there) among you of all His people? Cyrus does not

limit his address to the Jews, or even to Judah and Benjamin, but extends it

to the whole people of Jehovah, i.e. to all the tribes equally. Gozan and

Media, to which the ten tribes had been transported by the Assyrian

monarchs, were within his dominions no less than Babylonia. That many

non-Jewish Israelites did return appears from I Chronicles 9:3. His

God be with him. A pious wish, almost a blessing, indicative of the deep

religious feeling and great goodness of heart which characterized Cyrus

alone of Persian monarchs. Among the Greeks, AEschylus, who first

speaks of him, calls him kindly” or (εὔφρων euphron - gracious); Herodotus

says he ruled his subjects like a father; Xenophon makes him a model prince;

Plutarch observes that “in wisdom and virtue and greatness of soul he

excelled all other kings;” Diodorus ascribes to him a remarkable power of

self-command, together with good feeling and gentleness. The Latin

writers, Cicero and others, add their meed of praise; and altogether it may

be said that, so far as the evidence reaches, no nobler character appears in

ancient history. The Scriptural notices, whether in this book or in Isaiah,

are in remarkable accord. Let him go up. Jerusalem was on a much higher

level than Babylon, and the travelers would consequently have to ascend

considerably. And build the house. The “charge” to Cyrus did not require

him to take a personal share in the building. He was simply to “say to

Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be

laid(Isaiah 44:28). He is therefore content to assign the actual work

to others. He is the God. The Septuagint and the Vulgate attach the last

clause of the verse to these words, and render “He is the God who is in

Jerusalem,” which greatly weakens the force of the expression. According

to this punctuation, Cyrus makes Jehovah a mere local Deity; according to

the far preferable arrangement of the Authorized Version, he declares

emphatically that Jehovah is the one true God, beside whom there is no

other. Compare the very similar confession of Nebuchadnezzar

(Daniel 6:26).


4 “And 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.”  Whosoever remaineth in any place where he

sojourneth.  Literally correct; but the meaning is, “And with regard to all

those who remain (of the captive people) in any part of the country where

they have their temporary abode, let the men of his district help him with

silver,” etc. Cyrus finishes his decree by calling upon his heathen subjects

to come to the aid of the poorer Israelites, and assist them with money,

cattle, and other commodities, in order that none may be hindered by

poverty, or by the want of beasts of burden, from joining the band of

emigrants, and setting out on their return to Jerusalem. Again, the

kindliness of his disposition is apparent. Beside the freewill offering.

So the Septuagint; but the Vulgate has, “Except the freewill offering,” etc.

The Septuagint and the Authorized Version are right. Cyrus means that

money, cattle, and goods are to be made over to the poorer Israelites,

in addition to any offering that might be entrusted to them for conveyance

to Jerusalem, either by himself or by his subjects. Individually, he was about

to send “a freewill offering,” consisting of a number of gold and silver

vessels for the service of the temple. His words suggest that his subjects

might follow this good example.



The Edict (vs. 2-4)


When the proclamation, which captive Israel had heard of with such

interest and expectation, came to be examined, what was it found to

contain? Besides a proper preamble, showing in whose name and by whose

authority it was issued, three principal things; viz.,


1. a remarkable confession;

2. a satisfactory permission; and

3. a considerate command.


  • A REMARKABLE CONFESSION. A confession or acknowledgment:


Ø      Of Jehovah’s existence. Cyrus, brought up as a worshipper of

Ormuzd, begins his proclamation here by mentioning Jehovah by



Ø      Of Jehovah’s greatness. Jehovah the “God of heaven” — so he goes on

to describe Him — i.e. according to Persian usage, the supreme God,

the Most High. This the more remarkable because neither

Nebuchadnezzar nor Darius before, nor Artaxerxes afterwards, when

much impressed with the power of Jehovah the God of the Jews, speak

of Him in this way (compare ch.7:15; also ch.6:12; Daniel 2:47; 3:29;



Ø      Of Jehovah’s goodness. He has given me all the kingdoms of the

earth.” How great a possession! how true a gift! This language very

significant from the lips of a Persian king.


Ø      Of Jehovah’s authority. “He hath charged me.” With all this authority

laid upon me, I am under His authority still (compare Matthew 8:9).

Cyrus speaks here of himself just as God had spoken before of

Nebuchadnezzar (see Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6). And


Ø      Of Jehovah’s will. “He hath charged me to build Him an house.

This is the special thing which He desires me to accomplish. Also

a significant acknowledgment, if we suppose (and there is really no

other supposition before us) that Cyrus understood the declarations

of Isaiah respecting him (see above) to imply a charge of this kind.

At the same time, with all that we know from other sources of the

singular integrity of his character, and with all that we can infer

from the Bible of his probable intimacy with and respect for

Daniel, only a natural thing in his case. Who so likely as his

prime minister Daniel to draw up this “king’s speech;” and if he

drew it up, to commence it in this way? Certain it is that no beginning,

taking it for all in all, could have been more full of hope and promise

to the Jews.




Ø      Satisfactory as to its object. The great thing that Israel needed for their

true restoration and deliverance from captivity was the restoration of

Jehovah’s House. On the one hand, there could be no restoration of Israel

without that of Jerusalem (see Psalm 137:1, 5-6; Daniel 6:10; 9:16),

and no true restoration of Jerusalem without that of the Temple (see

Psalm 122:4, 9, etc.). On the other hand, with Jerusalem and its

Temple restored, and all Israel going up to its feasts, the whole people,

even if in part dispersed, would still be one nation, one Church (compare

Acts 26:7). This seems to have been the exact ideal of the post-captivity

Church. Israel before the captivity was national, local, and

centralized; identified with one race, one land, one house. The true Israel

since Christ has been none of the three (Matthew 28:19-20; John 4:21;

I Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 4:26). Israel in the intermediate

centuries was in a kind of intermediate condition, still national and still

centralized, but only local in part — in part, on the contrary, becoming

almost as much dispersed as the “Catholic” Church is itself (Acts 2:5-

11). In these intermediate centuries, therefore, the importance of the”

house,” as a central bond by which to prevent the dispersion from

ending in total obliteration, was almost greater than ever. Accordingly

this whole book of Ezra has to do in the main with this question, and

may be called, not inaptly, the Book of the Restoration of the House.

Also the prophecies of Zechariah are greatly concerned with the same

subject, and the prophecy of Haggai in particular does not speak of

much else. This also is the great object of this permission of Cyrus:

“Let him go up and build the house;  the great topic, in fact, of

the whole proclamation — being mentioned in some way in each verse.

See, finally, how it is all summed up on a subsequent page: “Let the

house be builded (ch. 6:3). In other words, “Let that be done which

is needed the most.” So Cyrus speaks in this place.


Ø      The manner of the permission was equally satisfactory. It was very

definite, being addressed, it seems, to all Israel, and yet to Israel

alone, as was right (see beginning of v. 3). Contrast the Samaritans

afterwards, who offered to help in building God’s house, though

none of His people. It was very cordial. “Jehovah” (see II Chronicles

36:23) “his God be with him, and let him go up.” Cyrus would not

only have them go up, but go up with a blessing, such a blessing as he

himself had already received.  Compare the words of Jacob (Genesis

48:16). It was very complete.  Cyrus would have them “go,” or leave

where they were (Isaiah 51:14); he would have them go up, or reach

the place they desired (Psalm 122:2); he would have them “go up

and build,” i.e. do the very thing that was needed. What could he

do more to show his goodwill?


  • THE CONSIDERATE COMMAND which we have in v. 4 seems to

answer this question. Besides saying “Be ye warmed and filled” (James

2:16), he “gave” to the Israelites in various ways what was “needed” in

their case. He did so, partly, so we understand the words, by a tax. There

were various places in his dominions where some of the “remnant” of Israel

(“whosoever remaineth”: compare Nehemiah 1:2-3; Haggai 2:3,

etc.) were “sojourning” as strangers. In any such “place,” if any Israelites

wished to go up, the men of that place were hereby commanded (the

request of such a sovereign would be a special command) to assist them by

their gifts. But this was not all. The king helped the Israelites also in their

great undertaking by his personal gifts. So we understand those gifts

distinguished as “freewill offerings,’’ and mentioned at the end of v. 4

(and again at end of v. 6) as being “beside.” Not improbably we find

these afterwards partly specified in ch. 6:3-4.  At any rate, we learn from

that passage that the king did give of “his own.” Both by his people,

therefore, and by himself he did what he could.  So far as a mere

proclamation could do such a thing, he not only permitted,

he enabled them to go up. In this proclamation, as thus understood, may

we not see a picture of that great declaration of liberty to the captives

(Luke 4:18), the gospel of Christ Jesus?  How many the points of

resemblance. How “definite” its language. “Whosoever will, let him come”

(Revelation 22:17). How “cordial” its invitations. “I will in no wise cast

out (John 6:37). How “complete” its provisions (John 4:14;

Colossians 2:10, etc., etc.). How ample and “considerate” its gifts, God

Almighty both, as it were, taxing the whole world for the benefit of His true

servants (Romans 8:28; I Corinthians 3:21-22), and also being

pleased to give them indeed of “His own” (John 3:16; Romans 8:32).


NOTE. — It is interesting to observe how the intermediate condition of

Israel or the Church in the “fourteen generations” between Salathiel and

Christ (Matthew 1:12-17), as above noted, by leading to the establishment

of synagogues throughout the Roman world, prepared for the subsequent

founding of the New Testament Church or Israel. See, inter alia, how the

synagogues are mentioned in Acts 9:2, 20; 13:5, 14, etc.; 14:1; 16:13

(the Proseucha); 17:1-2 (as his manner was), 10, 17; 18:4; 19:8, etc., etc.

The effect also of so many thousand Jews coming up to Jerusalem at the

time of Christ’s death (the Passover) and at the descent of the Spirit (the

Pentecost) should be considered in this connection.


THE RESPONSE TO THE DECREE (vs. 5-11). The response made to

the decree fell short of what might have been expected. The “patriarchal

chiefs who responded belonged solely, or mainly, to the two tribes of

Judah and Benjamin; the “ten tribes” were for the most part deaf to the

invitation addressed to them. Some, however, of Ephraim and Manasseh

(I Chronicles 9:3), and perhaps some of other tribes, were more

zealous, and took part in the migration. Many, on the other hand, even of

Judah and Benjamin, preferred remaining in Babylonia to undertaking the

long and perilous (ch.7:22) journey to Palestine, and taking the

chance of what might happen to them there. They were, as Josephus says,

disinclined to relinquish their property.” In the course of nearly seventy

years great numbers of Jews had acquired wealth; some had invested their

money in lands and houses; others had extensive business connections;

others, again, though poor, may have been unenterprising; and the result

was that only some 42,000 persons took advantage of the opportunity, and

proceeded from Babylonia to Jerusalem (ch.2:64). The response to

the latter part of the decree, addressed by Cyrus to his heathen subjects,

was more satisfactory. The Jews were helped by their neighbors freely,

with gold, and with silver, and with goods, and with beasts, and with

precious things (v. 6); and besides all this, a certain number of freewill

offerings were contributed. As in Egypt at the time of the Exodus

(Exodus 11:3), so now, the Jews found favor in the eyes of the

heathen on their departure from among them, and were made partakers of

their worldly substance. We may well suppose that once more God gave

his people favor in the sight of those with whom they had been living, and

disposed their hearts to liberality.


5 “Then 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.”  Then rose up the chief of the fathers. The “chief of the

fathersare the hereditary heads of the families recognized as distinct and

separate (see ch. 2:3-19).


6 “And 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.”

All they that were about them. i.e. all their neighbors.

Strengthened their hands. This is the literal rendering. The margin gives

the right meaning — “helped them.” With precious things. Migdanoth, a

rare word, only used here, in Genesis 24:53, and in II Chronicles

21:3; always connected with silver and gold: derived from meged, which

meansprecious.Besides all that was willingly offered (compare v. 4).

The gold, silver, precious things, etc. previously mentioned were free gifts

to individual Jews, and were additional to certain offerings which were

entrusted to them for conveyance to Jerusalem. On the value attached by

the Persians to offerings made in Jerusalem to Jehovah, see below,

ch. 6:10, and 7:17.




God’s Action on the Minds of His People (vs. 5-6)


When Cyrus, moved of God, proclaimed liberty to the captives in Persia

and invited the children of Israel to return to their own land, there was a

very large proportion that preferred to stay, some from excusable and

others from insufficient motives, but a large company of the people of God

made an immediate and honorable response. These, to the number of

42,000 persons, forthwith made ready to leave their adopted country and

to go up to Jerusalem, to build again the house of the Lord, rebuilding, at

the same time, the shattered fortunes of the land of their fathers. The

response to the king’s overture illustrates God’s action on the minds of

His own people. We have:


  • HIS TWO METHODS OF APPROACH. “Then rose up,” (v. 5).


Ø      Instrumental. God worked on the minds of the chiefs of the

people by means of the proclamations and edicts of Cyrus,

and on the minds of the generality of ripe people by means

of their leaders. Then — when the king’s offer was circulated

“rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin,” etc.

And when Sheshbazzar (Zerubbabel) and the other natural

leaders came forward, then the multitude volunteered: there is

human agency here.


Ø      Direct. God’s spirit acted directly and immediately on their minds.

They were men “whose spirit God had raised;” they were like the

band of men whose hearts God had touched” (I Samuel 10:26).

God “laid his hand upon them,” and lifted them up, spiritually,

and they became strong and brave, ready to do a good work for

Him and for the world.


  • ITS SPIRITUAL RESULT. Elevation of soul. Their spirit was raised

as ours will be whenever God works within us as He did in them:


Ø      above its common level of thought and feeling. They saw, as

otherwise they would not have seen, the excellency of the service

of God and of their native land; they felt, as they did not usually

feel, how glorious a thing it was to lay everything on the altar of

God and strike a brave and faithful blow for their country’s

freedom and independence. Their views were cleared, their

ambition heightened, their mind enlarged, their soul exalted.

God “raised their spirit,” and they were lifted up!


Ø      above the inducements of a comfortable present; so that the

pleasant homes and prosperous employments and agreeable

friendships and enjoyable amusements in which they had

been spending their days, these they were willing to leave

behind them. And they were raised


Ø      above the fear of misfortune in the future; so that the difficulties

of the journey, the “lion in the way” (Proverbs 26:13), the

arrangements between one another, the desolate ruins of the

once-favored city, the enemies that might dispute

their right, all these dangers and difficulties they were prepared to

encounter and overcome. Under the touch of the hand of God they

became, as we may now become, men whose “heart was enlarged”

to dare and do great things, to attempt and accomplish what, in an

unenlightened and uninspired state, they would never have dreamed

of doing. God was with them, His spirit was in them, and these

children of men became the servants and the soldiers of God.

Dare to attempt nothing if God’s Spirit be not in the soul,

inciting and sustaining it. Dare to undertake anything if

He opens the eyes of the understanding and if He dwells

within the heart.


  • ITS MATERIAL ISSUES (v. 6). Such was the spirit of these men,



Ø      those of their kindred who did not accompany them and their

Persian neighbors “strengthened their hands with vessels of

silver and gold, with goods and beasts and precious, things;” and


Ø      thus equipped they marched out of their captivity, and went forth

free men to espouse the cause of Jehovah and to make their mark

on their age and, indeed, upon future ages.


Our great wisdom is to know when God comes to us; to listen when He

speaks; to respond when He calls. Many Jews in Persia heard but heeded

not that voice; they felt the touch of that Divine finger but obeyed it not.

They lived on in such comfort and enjoyment as their adopted country

yielded; but they entered not the open gate of opportunity; they rendered

no great service to their land, their church, their race. Not theirs the

victory and the crown; these were for the men who responded when

God called, and whose spirits rose to the height of that great occasion.



The Return (vs. 5-6)


The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are the historical introduction to this

third period of Jewish history. The first or formative period is that of the

exodus and the conquest of Canaan. The second, that of the kings, is the

period of national development, when all that was possible to them as a

nation was accomplished. The third period was that of national

dependence, and it lasted 600 years. From the return from captivity to the

fall of Jerusalem, the history of the Jews is bound up with the policy of the

great empires, Persia, Macedonia, Greece, and Rome, on whose favor

they depended, or to whom they offered a fruitless resistance.


Just as the exodus and the conquest trained the people for the second stage

in their development and prepared its way, so the third period prepared for

the fourth — Judaism in its relation to modem history. The true destiny of

Israel is now revealed, to exist as a “leaven” among the nations. The Divine

purpose in the Israelitish people is accomplished in Christendom; religious

susceptibility, fitness for inspiration, has been the signal endowment of the

Jews; theirs is a spiritual, not a national, glory. And the modem history of

the unconverted remnant is not without significance; we see in them the

natural stock out of which Christendom has grown. The tenacity and

steadfastness which still characterize the race, their patience, gentleness,

and readiness to serve or to rule, are some of the elements of their fitness

to affect most intimately the history of the world, some of their

qualifications to be the depositary of the promises of God.


The period of the return is sometimes contrasted with that of the exodus as

an unheroic with an heroic time. It is easy to exaggerate the force of this

contrast. That is not an unheroic or uneventful history which contains, as

its heart, the story of the Maccabees. Even in these two books — Ezra and

Nehemiah — the narratives of the rebuilding of the altar, the foundation

and dedication of the temple, the building of the walls of Jerusalem, and the

reorganization of a corrupt society, are not inglorious. The tact, the

courage, the patience, the fidelity displayed awaken admiration; and some

of the incidents strike the imagination and stir the soul.


The true contrast is rather that between ancient and modern life, the

conceptions and conditions of the old and the new world. Instead of

miracle, we read the story of providential guidance and of homely virtues

winning the hearts of the captors. We are involved in the details of foreign

policy, brought face to face with the intrigues of Oriental rulers. The

successive fortunes of the great heathen states profoundly affect the

fortunes of the Jews. Their history is becoming international, cosmopolitan.

A new source of interest appears in these books, commonly reputed dull,

as we perceive this. The history affects us not by its contrasts with our

more commonplace life, but by its revelations of the Divine and noble in

the commonplace; it appeals not to our wonder, but to our sympathy.

The period of the exodus was marked by a splendid cycle of miracles

inaugurated by Moses, and fitfully appearing down to far later days. In the

period of the monarchy God revealed Himself in a succession of prophets;

men whose glory and whose main office it was to declare the great moral

principles of the Divine rule into which they had the insight of spiritual

genius; but who yet had often conferred upon them a predictive gift, a

power to foresee and to foretell events, which fixed attention on their

utterances and confirmed their mission as from God. The period of which

we are now speaking was marked by regard for law; the reverence for God

as the God of order which characterizes modern thought and modern piety

had here its birth. Ezra was “a priest,” but he was also, and even more, “a

scribe;” and the scribe, as Dean Stanley points out, was the forerunner of

the Christian minister. We have wise men still, men of marvelous spiritual

insight, ability to read the secrets of the human heart and to forecast human

story; not these, however, but “pastors and teachers” are the officers of the

Church. With the study of the law began the recognition of the sphere of

the intellect in religion, the interpretation of God’s will. The synagogue —

in which, and not in the temple, the Christian congregation finds its historic

origin — dates from this time; and so does the common school of the Jews.

All this is of profound significance; it is the beginning of a religious

revolution. God will henceforth be increasingly conceived of, not as

interfering with, but directing, the course of events. Study is to take the

place of signs; the knowledge of His will is to be gained, not through rare

and fitful glimpses and glances, but by constant thought and careful



Two lessons may be noted here:


First, AS TO THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. “The fall of Sardis and

Babylon was the starting-point of European life; and it is a singular

coincidence that the beginning of Grecian art and philosophy, and the

foundation of the Roman constitution, synchronize with the triumph of the

Arian race in the East.”   (Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible – Cyrus)  Similarly,

Christ came “in the fulness of the times,” when Gentile history, as well as

Jewish expectation, had “prepared the way of the Lord.” These coincidences

have an evidential value; THEY MARK DESIGN IN HISTORY!   Time,

which removes us so far from events that they lose impressiveness, compensates

for the loss by revealing more fully correspondences that speak of purpose.

The majestic march of Providence makes also a direct appeal to the emotions

of piety.


Next, AS TO THE PURPOSE OF GOD. The object of the separation of

Israel to a peculiar destiny and discipline was that they might contribute

moral and spiritual force to humanity. The “election” was for the sake of

the human race. They were chosen not to judge mankind, but to influence

it. The Jewish people, like Him who was its archetype and greatest

representative, came not to condemn the world, but to save the world. And

this is the common order of spiritual efficiency. First separation, then

influence. The first precept is, “Come ye out from among them, and be ye

separate, and touch not the unclean thing” (II Corinthians 6:17); then we

can “be all things to all men” (I Corinthians 9:22), can “eat and drink

with publicans and sinners.”  (Mark 2:16)  Some of these

thoughts receive emphatic illustration in these verses.


  • IT WAS A PEACEFUL RETURN. God had “raised their spirit” “to go

up to build the house of the Lord.” They went with the good wishes of

Cyrus and the people. “All they that were about them strengthened their

hands.” Jeremiah (ch. 29.) had told them what spirit they were to cherish

during their years of bondage. “Seek the peace of the city whither I have

caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for

in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”  (Jeremiah 29:7)  It is still a

characteristic of the Jews that they are good citizens. Many of them signally

won the confidence of their masters; as Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Mordecai,

and the three Hebrew youths. The reward of their meekness and service came.

Contrast this return with the flight out of Egypt. “They were thrust out of

Egypt.”  (Exoudus 12:39)   “The Egyptians were urgent upon the people,

that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be

all dead men.”  (Ibid. v. 33)


  • THE CHARACTER OF CYRUS. It is a large assumption which

appears in his decree — “Jehovah the God of heaven hath charged me to

build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah;” but it is not out of

harmony with what we know of his character. The noblest epithets are

heaped upon him in the prophecy of Isaiah. He is “the anointed, the

Messiah, of Jehovah.” God saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall

perform all my pleasure.” He is “the righteous man” whom God “raised up

from the East.” Contrast this with the scorn of Egypt as an ally (Isaiah 30.,

31.), and the denunciation of the pride of Assyria, and the prophecy of its

doom (Isaiah 10.). And heathen writings illustrate the Scripture

representation of him. They speak of his virtues; they record romantic

circumstances in his early career which justify the belief that he was

providentially preserved for some great purpose.



AND THE PERSIAN FAITH. The unity of God; that He should not be

worshipped under the form of idols; that God was good, and that evil was

not from Him. Each faith was able to contribute something to the other; but

fundamentally they were in harmony. Contrast this with the idolatries of

Babylon, the scornful picture of Isaiah 46:1-2; and picture the meeting

in Babylon of the Persian victors and the Jewish exiles. An interest might

well be excited in one another such as is indicated in our text. The narrative

illustrates God’s making use of mens goodnessto advance His purpose.

He can make “the wrath of man to praise Him  (Psalm 76:10) but

He loves rather the frank service of those in sympathy with Him. We too

love to contemplate good acts done graciously; favors unmarred by any

bitter memories. The feeling of the return finds lyrical expression in the

joyousness and trust of Psalm 126.



The Response (vs. 5-6)


“Then rose up,” etc. The edict of Cyrus had been issued (see vs. 2-4).

The voice of God was in the voice of the king (see v. 1). But who






Ø      Happy the people whose magistrates lead them nobly.


o       In politics. The voice of the king. The purpose of that voice.

o       In religion. The voice of God. The purpose of that voice:

immediate; ulterior with respect to fulfilment of prophecy, etc.


Ø      Politics cannot be divorced from religion.


o       God has joined them in the constitution of our nature.

o       He holds citizens, as such, responsible to Himself.

o       Experience proves that godly men are the best citizens.


Ø      Evil rulers are scourges of God to wicked peoples.


o       Not appointed without his providence (see Isaiah 3:4).

o       Rulers are no worse than their people.


Representative governments — responsibility of the franchise. In hereditary

magistracies (see Isaiah 1:10). “Rulers of Sodom associated with

people of Gomorrah.”  When the vices of a people are purged away,

then worthy magistrates are raised up to them.  (see Ibid. vs.25-26).




Ø      Priests, leaders in religion.

o       Sons of Aaron — type of Christ, also of Christians.

o       Offices at the altar.

o       Offices in the sanctuary.

Ø      Levites, leaders in literature.

o       Scattered in Israel — schoolmasters, scribes of the law

(II Chronicles 34:13).

o       Services about the temple. Literature should be the

handmaid of religion. When otherwise, inversion of

God’s order fearfully mischievous.


  • SKILFUL ARTIFICERS RESPONDED. Those whose spirit God

hath raised to go up and build the house of the Lord.


Ø      All useful labor is from God.

o       He is the Author of our faculties.

o       His providence furnishes opportunities for their culture.

Ø      All talent should be devoted to God.

o       In building up His material temple.

o       In furthering the building of His living temple.

o       In our secular calling (see I Corinthians 10:31).




Ø      All they that were about them.

o       Not all the nation. Some elected to remain in Babylon. Gain of

merchandise, etc., etc.  So it is still when God calls us to forsake

the world.

o       Those responded whose sympathies were true — “about them.”

Frequently the children of godly persons elect the service of


Ø      These strengthened their hands.

o       True sympathy is help. Moral influence of virtuous citizens

strengthens the hands of magistrates.

o       Where sympathy is true it will furnish active help. Gifts from

the wealthy — viz., things of “gold and silver,” “goods,”

beasts,” viz., for transport (see ch.2:66-67); “precious things.”

Gifts from the multitude — “freewill offerings.” All is precious

that comes from a loyal heart.


Religion and politics may be harmonized without resorting to

compulsion. The response was voluntary. Uniformity is not unity. Endless

variety in living things.


Harmony in religion and politics is truest when free. With compulsion

comes resistance and contention. Admit the principle of coercion, then the

question is not between religion and politics, as abstract principles, but






(vs. 7-11).


Following the ordinary custom of the early Oriental conquerors,

Nebuchadnezzar, long before he destroyed the Jewish temple, had carried

off from it, partly as trophies of victory, partly as articles of value, many of

the sacred vessels used in the temple service (see II Chronicles 36:10;

Jeremiah 27:19-20; Daniel 1:2). At his final capture and destruction

of Jerusalem he bore off the remainder (II Kings 25:14-15). These he

deposited at Babylon in the temple of Merodach (or Bel), the god whom he

chiefly worshipped (Daniel 1:2), where they probably remained until

Belshazzar had them brought out and desecrated at his great banquet (ibid.

5:2). A religious instinct now prompted the Persian king to give the vessels

back, in order that they might revert to their original use. The careful

enumeration of them (vs. 9-11) is characteristic of Ezra, who is very

minute and exact in his details, and fond of making lists or catalogues.


7 “Also 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 vessels. Probably all

that he could find, yet scarcely all that had been taken away, since many

of these were of bronze (II Kings 25:14), and the restored vessels seem to

have been, all of them, either of gold or silver (see v. 11). Which

Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth.  The carrying off of sacred vessels,

as well as images, from temples is often represented in the Assyrian sculptures.

It was a practice even of the Romans, and is commemorated on the Pillar

of Titus, where the seven-branched candlestick of the Jewish temple is

represented as borne in triumph by Roman soldiers. And had put them in the

house of his gods.  Elohayv, which is the form used in the text, can only mean

his god,” not “his gods.” Nebuchadnezzar represents himself, in his

Inscriptions generally, as a special devotee of a single Babylonian god,

Merodach, whose temple, called by the Greeks that of Bel, is no doubt

here intended (compare Daniel 1:2).


8 “Even 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 the treasurer. Not “Mithridates, the son

of Gazabar,” as the Vulgate renders. The Hebrew gizbar represents a Persian

word, gazabara or ganzabara, which had no doubt the meaning of

treasurer,” literally “treasure-bearer.” We have here the first occurrence

of the famous name, borne by so many great kings, of Mithridates. The

name is thoroughly Persian, and is excellently rendered by the Hebrew

td;y]t]mi. It means either “given by Mithra” or “dedicated to Mithra,” and is

distinct evidence of the worship of Mithra by the Persians as early as the

time of Cyrus. Mithra was the sun, and was venerated as Mitra by the early

Vedic Indians. His worship in later Persia is clearly established; but, except

for the name of Mithredath in this place, it would have been doubtful

whether he was as yet an object of religious veneration to the Iranians.

Sheshbazzar. It is generally allowed that this was the Chaldaean or court

name of Zerubbabel. (The chief evidence of this is to be found in ch.5:16

compared with ch. 3:8.) What the name signified is uncertain.

The prince of Judah. Zerubbabel was the son of Pedaiah, brother of

Salathiel, who was the legal heir of Jehoiachin, king of Judah. He appears

to have been adopted by Salathiel as his son, and to have been recognized

as the legitimate heir to the throne of David. Thus he did not owe his

appointment to the mere favor of Cyrus, but was the natural leader of the



9 “And this is the number of them: thirty chargers of gold, a thousand

chargers of silver, nine and twenty knives,”  Chargers. Agarteley, a rare

word, perhaps Persian. The Septuagint translate ψυκτῆρες psuktaeres - wine-coolers;

the Vulgate has phialae, “vases;” the apocryphal Esdras, σπονδεῖα spondeia -

vessels for drink-offerings. Probably basons or bowls are intended. Knives.

Machaldaphim, another rare word of doubtful sense. The Septuagint render

παρηλλαγμένα paraellagmenachanges – regarding the word as derived

from ãlj, “to exchange.” The apocryphal Esdras has θυισκαι thuiskai

censers.  But the most usual translation is that of the Authorized Version,



10 “Thirty basons of gold, silver basons of a second sort four hundred

and ten, and other vessels a thousand.”  Of a second sort. Not “double,”

as the Septuagint render; but “secondary,” or “of inferior quality” (compare

I Samuel 15:9 where mishnim has the same meaning).


11 “All 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.”

All the vessels were five thousand and four hundred. The

numbers previously given produce a total of only 2,499, or less than half of

this amount. There must be some corruption, but whether in the total or

the items is uncertain. The apocryphal Esdras raises the total number of the

vessels to 5,469.



The Wide reach of the Rule of God.  (vs. 1-4, 7-11)


We are accustomed to pray that the kingdom of God may come; we desire,

and therefore ask, that men may offer themselves in willing subjection to

the service of their Divine Sovereign. For this we must labor and pray,

and always shall do so the more earnestly as we ourselves are the more

unreservedly subject to His benign and gracious rule. Meantime there is a

sense in which God’s rule is a present thing. The kingdom of God is among

us; the arms of His power are around us; the hand of His skill is directing

our affairs. And this rule of the Supreme is WIDER THAN SOME

SUPPOSE;  its reach is far beyond the thought of many, perhaps of most

of us. These verses will suggest to us how far it goes.



stirred up the spirit of Cyrus,” etc. “The Lord God of heaven hath charged

me(Cyrus) (vs. 1-4). The Jewish Church was slow to believe that God

had much to do with any nation beside Israel. Jehovah was, in their

thought, the God of Abraham and of his seed in a very distinctive if not

positively exclusive sense. His action on those outside the sacred pale was,

they popularly imagined, to punish or subdue rather than to control or rule

them. They did not expect Him to manifest Himself to “the uncircumcised,’’

or to use them in His service. But He was governing those outside nations,

and He did act upon others than the children of the faithful. He who

inspired Balaam to utter those exquisite words of poetic prophecy

(Numbers chapters 23 and 24. ) now “stirs up the spirit of Cyrus, king of

Persia;” makes this heathen monarch “His shepherd, performing His

pleasure(Isaiah 44:28); calls him His “anointed one whose right hand

He has holden(strengthened) (Isaiah 45:1), and constrains him to render

signal service to His people which had great and enduring issues. The

Christian Church is slow to believe that the hand of God is at the helm of

all national and international affairs, and that He lays that hand of Divine

power and wisdom upon men and things whether these be counted among

his own servants or not. “Upon whom doth not this light arise?” (Job 25:3)

It was by His all-wise direction that Greece prepared her thought and her

language, and Rome her highways for the gospel in the “fullness of times.”

(Galatians 4:4-7)  We know not to whom God is speaking, or whose hand He

is guiding, in civilized or savage lands, but we may be sure that He is where

we do not suspect His Presence, and is acting through men we should not

have ranked among His servants, as the end will one day show. “His kingdom

ruleth over all.”  (Psalm 103:19)


  • FURTHER THAN THE WORLD SUPPOSES (v. 2). We smile now

as we read that Cyrus imagined that God had given him “all the kingdoms

of the earth” (v. 2). The heathen monarch little dreamed what God was

doing elsewhere, and what strong workmen He had in other spheres that

were outworking His holy will, His gracious and redeeming purposes. Little

does the world know, greatly does it underestimate, the work which God

is doing in the midst of it.



THEMSELVES AWARE. Cyrus did not know what use the Lord was

making of him. “I girded thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah

45:5). The Persian king could not foresee that God was inducing him to

take a step which should have not only wide and lasting, but worldwide

and everlasting, issues and influences. God may be prompting us to take

steps as He has with many since the days of Cyruswhich, when

taken, will lead on to the most happy and fruitful consequences, stretching

on far into the future, reaching wide over land and sea.



(vs. 3-4, 7-11). God so acted on Cyrus that that king was:


Ø      inclined in his heart to take the generous course of liberating the

Israelites and causing the temple to be rebuilt. It was generous on his

part, for he was thus denuding his country of many of his most

industrious and skillful subjects, and he was acting on behalf of a

religion somewhat different from his own. And, thus disposed, he

took every necessary and desirable step for its thorough execution.



o       issued a proclamation, which he put into writing, authorizing

all Jews in his kingdom to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the

house of the Lord (vs. 2-3);


o       invited his subjects to aid the Israelites with money, cattle, and

other valuable gifts (v. 4); and


o       restored the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken

from Jerusalem (vs. 7-11).


God may use us whether we know it or not, whether we will or not. He

may employ us in His service even if, like Cyrus, we have a very partial

knowledge of His will, and some inclination to do it, though we are not

fully and wholly on His side. We may be, as many among the heathen have

been, instruments in His hand. But how much better to be, as Ezra and

Nehemiah were, agents of His, deliberately opening our minds to His truth,

fixedly and finally yielding our hearts and lives to His service, consciously


 It is only such co-workers that will win His final acceptance and, hearing His

well done,” enter into His glory.   (Matthew 25:23)




The Muster (vs. 5-11)


We have noted already that the great and primary feature in the restoration

of Israel from captivity was the restoration of the house. With a view to

this restoration, as we have seen, the whole edict of Cyrus was framed. In

the passage now before us we shall see, in the next place, that the results of

that edict were in accordance with this design. They secured, i.e., the two

first requisites for carrying out this design, providing, as they did, on the

one hand, the requisite men; and, on the other, the requisite means.




Ø      The requisite laymen. “Then rose up…. Judah (Hebrew of ch.7:14)

and Benjamin.” The Church is before its ministers (compare

Philippians 1:1).  Perhaps, also, the laymen in this case were the first to

be stirred. Next, the requisite lay-leaders, the “chief of the fathers of

Judah and Benjamin.”  Wherever any body of men moves towards an

enterprise, there must be some to go first. In this case it pleased God

so to arrange by His providence, and so to work by the edict of Cyrus,

that some of those were ready to go first who naturally stood first as

it were. This was particularly the case, as we afterwards find, with him

who stood first of all amongst these “chief of the fathers of Judah and

Benjamin,” viz., Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah,” mentioned in v. 8.

This Sheshbazzar, better known as Zerubbabel (compare ch.5:16 and

Zechariah 4:9; see also Daniel 1:6-7), about whose exact descent and

lineage it is difficult to make sure, seems, at any rate, to have been

regarded both by Israelites and Gentiles as the representative of the

house of David. As such, he was the natural leader of the movement

for restoration; and as such a leader, in God’s providence, he was

found willing to act. In addition, next, to this sufficient lay element,

we find also,


Ø      The requisite ecclesiastics. And that, as before, of all ranks. Both “the

priests and the Levites,” e.g., both the appointed ministers and their

appointed assistants, are specified in v. 5. Mention is also made

afterwards of Jeshua, the legitimate high priest, or supreme ecclesiastical

head (ch.2:2; 3:2, etc.); and of the Nethinims and children of

Solomon’s servants (ch.2:43-58), the lowest grades of all those

occupied in purely ecclesiastical work. This, therefore, completes the list.

If the Church is before its ministers, it is not, therefore, without them.

Neither Judah and Benjamin without Levi, nor Levi without Judah and

Benjamin, could have restored the kind of house that God wished. It is

to be admired, accordingly, that in this instance God caused the edict

of Cyrus so to operate as to call forth sufficient of both. And something

more than merely sufficient, so some have supposed. Besides men of

Judah and Benjamin, and men belonging to or connected with the

ecclesiastical tribe of Levi, some also belonging to other tribes of Israel

are thought to be pointed to in the words “with all them whose spirits

God had raised.” The return of some such appears clearly implied in

I Chronicles 9:3, and was only natural, when we bear in mind how

many men of other tribes at various times before the captivity had

joined themselves to that of Judah (see II Chronicles 11:14-16; 15:9;

30:1, 10-11, 18). It is further evident that such a separate ten-tribes

element amongst those returning from Babylon would be a fact of much

weight, since it would serve so greatly to make the restored house, as

originally intended (Psalm 122:4), a house for the whole race, a centre

of unity for all “the twelve tribes scattered abroad” (James 1:1). And it

would also aid us in understanding Paul’s long-subsequent description

of those “twelve tribes” as “instantly serving God day and night”

throughout the world (Acts 26:7). They did so in that common temple

which they had all thus helped to restore.


  • THE REQUISITE MEANS. The men thus duly called were also duly

equipped. Almighty God, by the edict of Cyrus, both “raised” their “spirit”

and filled their hands (see Psalm 110:3; Philippians 2:13). For

example, we find them provided with the requisite means of support. These

men would have to live whilst on their journey, and whilst building the

house. The “gold” and “goods” mentioned in v. 6, added to what we may

suppose them to have made by selling their possessions (Jeremiah 29:4-5),

may have been meant for this end. So also the “beasts” in the same

verse (compare ch. 2:66-67, where none but beasts of burden are

mentioned) may have supplied them with another requisite, viz., means of

transport. Next, if we are right in referring the last words of v. 6 to the

grant made by Cyrus himself, as afterwards defined in ch. 6:3-4, we

see that they had, further, at their disposal the requisite materials for

building. This point will perhaps appear more plainly if we compare the

last-quoted passage with what is said in I Kings 6:36. Not only, i.e.,

were the necessary materials for building the temple granted, but they were

granted, it would appear, of the precise shape and size required for erecting

one most important part of the new temple, viz., its inner court. Further

yet, another most important point, we find that the requisite temple vessels

were supplied in this case (vs. 7-10). God’s providence had so ordered it

that a sufficient number of these — sufficient, at any rate, to make a

beginning; sufficient also, it may be, to serve as a pattern for others (a

point of great importance according to Exodus 25:9, 40; I Chronicles 28:11);

and sufficient, in this way, to keep up the identity of the old worship and

the new, and make it a true restoration — were placed at

their service. This is a point to be marked. Taken away by Nebuchadnezzar

principally at his first capture of Jerusalem (II Chronicles 36:7, as

contrasted with II Kings 24:13; II Chronicles 36:19), placed by him

in the house of his “god” (Daniel 1:2), brought out thence at the great

feast of Belshazzar on the same night that Babylon was captured

(Ibid. ch. 5:3, 23, 30), they were preserved by God through all these

vicissitudes as something destined for further use. Exactly corresponding

with this is the careful way in which we find them handled by the Persian

treasurer Mithredath, taking.them in his “hand,” according to Lunge, so as

to inspect and recognize them as Jerusalem temple vessels; and afterwards

numbered or catalogued by him in the way that follows (vs. 9-10)

before giving them to Zerubbabel. What these vessels exactly were it is

impossible for us now to make out; but it is evident that they were

considered most important by all concerned at the time, and also evident

that they leave little else in the way of “requisites” to be named. We may,

perhaps, conjecture, however, that under the “precious things” of v. 6

may be included those priestly “garments” of which we read in ch.2:69,

and those musical instruments, no longer now to be hung on the

willows, of which Josephus informs us. Also (one other point yet), that

other vessels besides these preserved ones were now offered for temple

use, in such numbers as almost to double the whole number at the disposal

of the priests (compare the total of the numbers in vs. 9 and 10 with the

total given in v. 11). In fact, certain other “vessels of silver,” for which

no other use is specified, are mentioned by name in v. 6. But, whether

with or without these conjectures, we have much here to admire:


Ø      How willing are God’s people in the day of His power! (Psalm 110:3)

When He has special work to be performed in His Church, how easily,

how surely He provides the right men.  (“The gifts and calling of

God are without repentance.”  Romans 11:29)


Ø      How carefully, also, and how completely He enables them for their

work, either by providing them with fresh instruments, or by using

those which they have. Compare Ehud’s “left hand,” David’s “sling,”

the “eloquence” of Apollos, etc. If called, therefore, to any work (and

we are all called to the great work of glorifying Christ and fighting sin),

in that call itself is our strength. “Go in this thy might” (Judges 6:14;

see also Joshua 1:9; Judges 4:6).


Ø      At the same time, we must not mistake. Preparation is not

Accomplishment (I Kings 20:11). Collecting soldiers is one thing;

arming and supplying them another; actual campaigning another yet.

“Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.”  (Exodus

14:15)  Go in this thy might.”  (Judges 6:14)  The first word in that

 sentence as important as the last.



The Beginning of a Great Religious Movement (vs. 1-11)


Israel had experienced long bondage in a foreign land under a heathen king;

this would have a beneficial influence.


1. It would tend to cultivate within them a right view of the sorrow

consequent upon sin. Their captivity was a punishment for idolatry. SIN



2. It would tend to cultivate within them a right view of the external in

religion. Solomon’s temple was the pride of Israel. They prided themselves

in the magnificent masonry, in the richly-colored garments, in the lofty

altar; but now all is in ruins, and they in bondage, will they not learn to

worship God in simplicity, in spirit and in truth?  (Thus God wants to be

worshipped!  John 4:23-24)  The sensuous m religion leads to slavery. It is

well sometimes that our temple should be destroyed; God lays the outward

in ruins that we may see the inward. The Church has often to go into captivity

to learn the meaning of the spiritual.


3. It would tend to cultivate within them a right view of the Divine in

worship. Israel thought that the temple was the one place of worship; but

in captivity the scattered people learn that God will hear their cry from

heathen cities and in desert places.


4. It would cultivate within them a right view of the sympathetic feeling

which should prevail in their midst. Israel had been sore rent by faction; in

captivity they are one. The Church is united by its sorrows. We observe

respecting great religious movements:



AN INDIVIDUAL SOUL. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of



Ø      A Divine commencement. Here we see the beginning of the great

movement of Israel’s restoration to fatherland. History is unveiled

and God is seen. The voice of God is heard in the proclamation of

Cyrus. The human historian can only write the proclamation of the

king; the inspired historian makes known the secret working of God.

We know nothing ofthe Divine heart-stirrings which precede the great

movements of our age.  God is behind the king and we see Him not.

The political serves the spiritual. (In our day we have the cart before

the horse!  - CY – 2014)  Let us rightly interpret our heart-stirrings;

God is in them, they have great meanings. They are more than the

beatings of a pulse, they are the beginnings of spiritual liberty.

Heaven has various ways of STIRRING OUR SOULS!


Ø      A secret commencement. The restoration of Israel began in the secret

stirrings of one heart. It did not begin with the crowd, but with the

individual. And so great religious movements generally commence in

the secret awakening of the one man. See the power of a God-moved

heart.  The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Restorations

are in the heart before they are in the world.


Ø      An unlikely commencement. The Jews were looking for a rod out of the

stem of Jesse to restore them; God sent an alien deliverer. A man of war

becomes a man of peace; a man of conquest becomes an emancipator of

the people. God employs unexpected agencies. Great religious

movements often have unlikely beginnings.


Ø      An effectual commencement. The stirring of the heart of Cyrus had

great possibilities in it — it expanded into a temple of worship; its

pulsations are felt in our own age.



GOD. “That the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be

fulfilled.” Thus the captivity of Israel terminated in the set time of God.


Ø      The mercy of God. In the proclamation of Cyrus to the wretched

slaves see the Divine mercy to those most undeserving of it; the

word of God is A MERCIFUL MESSAGE TO MEN;  it is a word

of liberty, that the ruined temple of life MAY BE REBUILT!


Ø      The fidelity of God. Israel had the promise of liberty fulfilled; so all

the promises of God respecting the future glory of the Church will be



Ø      The purpose of God. The captives were not to go out of bondage

merely for their own freedom and enjoyment; but to build the temple

of the Lord. Men are freed from the tyranny of sin that they may

establish the kingdom of heaven; they must be liberated before

they can build. This is the Divine purpose in the salvation of men,

that they may engage in promoting spiritual good.





Ø      The hidden excellences of men. The Jews probably did not expect

much aid from Cyrus; but he had excellences of knowledge, of grace,

they little suspected. God saw this and used him. Men are often better

than we know, and are more prepared to aid the work of God than we



Ø      The revealed excellences of men. Cyrus incidentally shows by his

proclamation the good that is in him. Times of religious revival reveal

unexpected abilities in men; then the dull man becomes brilliant; the

man of little opportunity becomes rich in knowledge; the cold man

becomes generous in gift.


Ø      The utilised excellences of men. All that is good in men God uses

for the welfare of His Church.




The departure of such a people would require great preparation, and would

necessitate great expense. How are the captives to meet it? The

proclamation of Cyrus provides for it. A wondrous providence often

causes the world in unexpected ways to minister to the temporal needs of

the Church; men of the world often help to erect a temple in which they are

little interested, and into which they will never enter.



TO THEIR RIGHTFUL SERVICE (v. 7). The vessels of God were

brought from the heathen temple and given to the returning Jews. In times

of religious revival money, talents, children, all are brought from the

possession of sin and placed in the service of God. Heaven now proclaims

liberty to the captive!



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