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
year of Cyrus the Great in
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
Chaldaeans had destroyed; on the second, they raised up and restored to its
pristine glory the spiritual Church, or congregation of the people
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
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
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
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
THE FIRST RETURN FROM THE CAPTIVITY
THE DECREE OF CYRUS (vs. 1:1-4)
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
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
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
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. ‘
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
LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD
stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of
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
His conquest of
(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
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
whole kingdom, which reached from the
writing, b’ miktab, that so it might be sure to become generally known.
Writing was probably of recent introduction into
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.
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD!
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
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
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
the bondage of sin, so was the return from the captivity of
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
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
The plan of
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.”
2 “Thus saith Cyrus king of
given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to
build him an house at
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
So the Behistun inscription: “I am Darius, the great king, the king of kings, the
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
understood the prophecy as a command, and proceeded to obey it. Which
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
house of the LORD God of
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
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,
in remarkable accord. Let him go up.
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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.
Satisfactory as to its object. The great thing that
true restoration and deliverance from captivity was the restoration of
House. On the one hand, there could be
no restoration of
without that of
and no true restoration of
Psalm 122:4, 9, etc.). On the
other hand, with
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
centralized; identified with one race, one land, one house. The true
since Christ has been none of the three (Matthew 28:19-20; John 4:21;
1:2; Galatians 4:26).
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
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?
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
(“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
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
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
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
long and perilous (ch.7:22) journey to
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
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
(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
fathers” are 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
means “precious.” 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
Persians to offerings made in
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
invited the children of
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
go up to
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:
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.
— 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.
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
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
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
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
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
dedication of the temple, the building of the walls of
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
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
Next, AS TO THE PURPOSE OF GOD. The object of the separation of
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.
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
that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be
all dead men.” (Ibid. v. 33)
appears in his decree — “Jehovah the God of heaven hath charged me to
build him an house at
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
31.), and the denunciation of
the pride of
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
well be excited in one another such as is indicated in our text. The narrative
illustrates “God’s making use of men’s goodness” to 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
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.
(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.
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.
Not all the
nation. Some elected to remain in
merchandise, etc., etc. So it is still when God calls us to forsake
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
becomes often AN AMBITIOUS AND UNHOLY STIFE.
THE RESTORATION OF THE SACRED VESSELS BY CYRUS
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
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).
those did Cyrus king of
Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar,
the prince of
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
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.
Salathiel, who was the legal heir of Jehoiachin, king of
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 – paraellagmena – changes – 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
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
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
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
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
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
(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)
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 Cyrus — which, 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
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
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
and rejoicingly WORKING WITH HIM IN HIS BENEFICIENT DESIGN!
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
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.
The requisite laymen. “Then
“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
Benjamin,” viz., “Sheshbazzar the prince
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
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
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
30:1, 10-11, 18). It is further evident that such a separate ten-tribes
element amongst those returning from
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.
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
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
(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
“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
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)
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
SENDS MEN INTO SLAVERY!
2. It would tend to cultivate within them a right view of the external in
religion. Solomon’s temple was the pride of
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
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.
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
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!
A secret commencement. The restoration of
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
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
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!
The fidelity of God.
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.
EXCELLENCES OF MORAL CHARACTER.
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.
MATERIAL AID IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED MANNER (v. 6).
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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