TO THE REBUILDING OF THE
BYTHE SAMARITANS (vs. 1-24)
In this world, whenever a good work is begun, some kind of opposition is sure to
show itself, since Satan will never suffer any attack upon his kingdom without
resenting it. The opposition may, however, be of two kinds. It may be open and
proclaimed, or it may take the subtler and more dangerous shape of seeming
approval and patronage. In the case before us, the opposition to Zerubbabel’s
mission was, at the first, of this latter kind. The mixed race, partly Israelite
but mainly heathen, which had been settled by the Assyrian monarchs in
Jewish prince, acceptance of which would have been fatal to the entire movement.
The movement was one for the reestablishment of God’s peculiar people in their
own land, under their own system, as a witness to the nations against:
o materialism and
o sensualism in religion.
As the Samaritans had adopted a mixed or mongrel worship, uniting idolatrous
rites with the acknowledgment of Jehovah (II Kings 17:29-41), their admission
by Zerubbabel to a partnership in his work would have been equivalent to the
abandonment of pure religion, and the acceptance of a syncretism
inherently vicious, and sure to develop into pronounced forms of impurity
and corruption. Zerubbabel therefore declined the offer made him — most
properly, since there is no “communion between light and darkness” (II
Corinthians 6:14), no “agreement between the
(ibid. v. 16). His determination was bitterly resented. Unable to seduce
him into alliance with them, the Samaritans became his open and avowed
enemies; during three reigns — the remainder of the reign of Cyrus, the
reign of Cambyses (Ahasuerus), and that of the Pseudo-Smerdis
(Artaxerxes) — they so worked upon the Persian court that the rebuilding
of the temple was almost wholly stopped; no progress was made until the
second year of Darius, when a new opposition showed itself, as appears by
the next section.
1 “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the
children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of
they came, the historian sees from the first that the Samaritans are in reality
“adversaries,” or “persecutors” (tsazey), identical in spirit with Sanballat
and his followers, whom Nehemiah designates by the same word
2 “Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and
said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye
do; and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esarhaddon
king of Assur, which brought us up hither.” We seek your God, as ye do.
“We seek your God” was true; “as ye do” was not true. The Samaritans
worshipped Jehovah, but not, as the Jews did, exclusively. “They feared the
Lord, and worshipped their own gods” (II Kings 17:33). Such worship
dishonors Jehovah almost more than total neglect of Him. Since the days
of Esar-haddon. There was
more than one colonisation of
by the Assyrians. Sargon relates that he placed Arabians in the country; the
writer of Kings tells us that it was occupied by Babylonians, Cuthaeans,
Avites, Hamathites, and Sepharrites (II Kings 17:24); the Samaritans
themselves said that they were “Dinaites, Apharsathchites, Tarpelites,
Apharsites, Archevites, Babylonians, Susanchites, Debarites, and Elamites”
(here - v. 9). They attributed this last colonization to Esar-haddon. We
may suspect that the second colonization was by Sennacherib, who appears
to have taken
18:34). The result was that the Samaritans were a very mixed race.
3 “But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers
house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the
LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of
commanded us.” Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our
God. You have no ground on which to rest your claim of uniting with us in
this matter. You do not really wish to build to our God simply and singly;
nor were you mentioned in the decree of Cyrus, which is our warrant for
what we are doing.
The Work Endangered (vs. 1-3)
Moses was exposed to danger whilst still in his cradle. The same was true
about Christ. There is yet another parallel in this passage. No sooner is the
foundation-stone of the restored temple laid, than we hear of that branch of
the great work of Restoration being in imminent peril. To profit rightly by
this story of danger, two things must be pondered, viz., the nature of the
danger, in the first place; and the manner of the deliverance, in the second.
Ø Serious in itself. It was a serious thing for the Jews, in their
circumstances, that their work should have so strongly attracted the
notice of their “adversaries.” “The adversaries” (see v.3) “heard” of
their doings. This was bad, to begin. Such hearing was only too likely to
lead to “doing;” and to unfriendly doing, of course. So, in fact, it turned
out. After unfriendly notice came unfriendly interference. The people
referred to “came.” How unwelcome a sight to the Jewish builders and
rulers. How far from “beautiful” the “feet” of these strangers on the
for?” Not merely to inquire and observe; but to interfere, and that not for
good (compare I Samuel 16:4; II Kings 9:17-23). Still more serious, when
these adversaries did come, was the course which they took. We must bear
in mind who they were. A “mixed multitude” in every sense. Of various
stocks; of various creeds. The descendants of men brought to the cities and
empire; bringing with them, in all cases, their old idols and creeds; but
grafting on to these afterwards, through the mere motive of fear,
something of that already grievously-corrupted worship of Jehovah
which had prevailed in the kingdom of the ten tribes previously to its
final overthrow and dispersion (see II Kings 17:7-18, 24-33). Such
mingled worship, being in violation of the very first of the ten
commandments, was especially displeasing to the one true God; and
had, indeed, in this instance, been already condemned by Him as no
true worship of His name (see ibid. vs. 34-39). It was the children then
of these men, walking in the steps of their fathers, who now came to
captivity” who had been so careful to prove themselves of the stock
holy mountain to restore there, in a for ever purified form, the
worship of Jehovah alone. To such men came this mixed multitude, as
though brothers in blood and religion. “We seek your God; we would
help in your work; let us build by your side.” A serious proposal, indeed;
being a proposal virtually to break down the very division which they
were engaged in constructing, and for neglecting and despising which
that long, just-completed Babylonian exile had come upon their race.
To consent to such a proposal would be to consent to their ruin. They
could never so build the house of Jehovah. What could they so build,
fact, but a
themselves, and of no benefit even to their adversaries? Better not
build at all than build thus. At the same time this danger was:
Ø Most treacherous as to its form. After all, the proposal made came in the
shape of an offer of help. Better to have that help than be without it. So
many would think. Better to have such neighbors for us than against us
(see II Chronicles 25:9); especially they being so many and we so few.
Besides which, to all appearance, it was an offer of help made in perfect
good faith; and by men even of tried sincerity, it also appeared. “We seek
your God, as ye do; we have done so ever since coming to these regions,
some 150 years from this date.”How harsh it would seem to reject such
assistance! How bigoted! How “narrow!” How opposed indeed to true
religion ! Even supposing these men to be seeking Jehovah in a somewhat
ignorant and unacceptable way, might they not be won over to the truth by
a little brotherly kindness? Might not the influence of the Jews tell for
good on them, if they two were associated in so good a work? Whereas,
if rejected and driven away from the work, would they not also be
driven away even more from the truth? In a word, be servants to them
so far; afterwards they will be your servants — and, what is more, the
servants of Jehovah — for ever. So plausible, and, therefore, so doubly
dangerous, was this offer of help. (In reality, a synopsis of their
history was “these nations fered the Lord, and served their graven
images, both their children, and their children’s children: as did
their fathers, so do they unto this day.” - II Kings 17:41 – CY – 2015)
marked. God, who allowed this great and subtle temptation to come on His
servants, made them also a way of escape (I Corinthians 10:13). This
He did by granting to them:
Ø A spirit of discrimination. “Ye have nothing to do with us to build.” In
other words, This is not a task “for you and us in common” (see
Judges 11:12; II Kings 3:13). The root or foundation
of the proposal made lay in the assumption that there was much in
common between the Samaritans and the Jews. In reality, so far as this
matter was concerned, there was nothing in common except a name.
The Samaritans worshipped other gods first, and Jehovah only second.
The Jews worshipped Jehovah first, and no one else second.
This was not holding common ground, but being at opposite poles. How
could forces thus intrinsically antagonistic work efficiently together?
Ø A spirit of decision. Besides seeing the truth thus clearly, the Jewish
leaders were also enabled to act on it boldly. Was it indeed for “them
alone” to undertake this enterprise? They alone, as one body, would
do so. They would say so openly, and in so many words. Let their
Samaritan neighbors at once understand that so their minds were
made up. “We ourselves together” will be responsible for this task.
Ø A spirit of discretion. God gave them this in conclusion, so that they put
the matter, in concluding, on a very wise ground. The decision arrived at
might not be pleasing to the Samaritans; but at any rate it ought not to be
regarded by them as an injury or a grievance; for it was only in strict
accordance with the will of one whom they were all bound to obey.
Cyrus, the king of
has given express commands on this point, as you know. He has
commanded us to erect this building. He has commanded us alone to
do so (see ch. 1:3). That being so, let us all obey him; some by laboring,
some by abstaining. Possibly, also, this further thought can be traced in
their words: — “If Cyrus himself as a Gentile did not engage personally
in this work, but only commissioned us Israelites to perform it, why
should any others who are not Israelites put their hands to the task?”
At any rate the reply answered the immediate purpose in hand. It
delivered the Jews completely from that great danger to which they
were at that moment exposed. The Samaritans were compelled
thereby to retire, and, like another adversary in another case on a
subsequent occasion, to leave them alone “for a season” (Luke 4:13).
Amongst other general lessons the following may be noted:
Ø The need of patience in God’s work. True progress, from its very
nature, creates resistance and opposition. This applies to our work for
others (I Corinthians 16:9). Also to much of the skepticism of the day.
That skepticism is not a wholly desperate sign (see Revelation 12:12).
Also to our own spiritual progress (Luke 9:42; Acts 13:7-8). Per
aspera ad ardua tendo is a very wide rule.
Ø The need of firmness in God’s work. True toleration will not go out of
its way to interfere with others; but it will not allow others to interfere
with it. Neither will it prevent us from telling others the truth. Compare,
in connection with certain later Samaritans, “They went to another
village” (Luke 9:56), and, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
Ø The need of scrutiny in God’s work. Scrutiny, first, as to faith.
There are some errors of doctrine which affect the root of the tree.
There are some which only tend to hinder its full development and
fruitfulness. These must be dealt with in different ways. Scrutiny,
next, as to persons. Those who are altogether “without” we leave in
God’s hands. Not so those who, though really aliens, claim to be
considered as brethren (compare I Corinthians 5:9-13). None are so
truly the enemies of the Church as those “who call themselves Jews
but are not” (see Revelation 3:9).
Peace and Purity (vs. 1-3)
No sooner had the “children of the captivity” begun their good work of
rebuilding the house of the Lord than difficulties began to arise. They
found, as we find, that the work of God does not proceed smoothly from
beginning to end, as, at the outset, we are apt to think it will; that from
without and from within obstacles and discouragements spring up and
beset us. They soon found that they had to do with:
Samaritans, a mixed people, composed in part of the remnant of the ten
tribes and in part of the Assyrians deported by Esar-haddon from their own
country and planted there, made offers of alliance. Moved by jealousy,
that the name and fame of a temple at
anything of the kind they had, perhaps fearing lest it should win the hearts
of the people away from the “mongrel religion” which they had adopted —
a miserable compromise between pure religion and gross superstition —
they came proposing to make common cause with the returned Israelites.
“Let us unite our forces,” they said. “We will build together; this temple,
erected by our joint labors, shall be common property: we worship the
same God whom you worship, and there need not be any separation
between us.” Thus impurity approaches purity; thus error seeks alliance
with truth; thus worldliness addresses piety. “Let us walk together,” it says.
“We will sink our differences; we will keep unpleasant divergencies of
conviction in abeyance, and stroll together in sweet communion along the
path of life.” Here was:
who was answerable for the peace and order of the community — may
well have thought that it was a time for conciliation. The little state was
not yet fairly established. It was still in its very infancy, and might well
shrink from the field of contention. It was a time when they might
excusably go far in the direction of peace. Would it not be wrong, by any
churlishness or obstinacy on small points or narrowness of view, to plunge
the infant Church into strife, perhaps mortal strife, with those who had so
much in common with them, and whom charity might consider brethren?
What a pity to endanger the work in hand and, it might be, bring everything
to failure when the prospects of success were so bright, if, by entering on
an alliance with these men, they could insure the consummation of their
hopes! Perchance, too, they might win these men to a purer faith; the sight
of the temple on its old site, the performance of the old rites, the singing of
the old psalms, etc. might purge their hearts of the evil leaven that had
crept in, etc. Thus their minds may have been agitated by doubt and
distraction, questioning whether they should have a perilous alliance or a
defiant and dangerous isolation. So purity, truth, piety find themselves
courted by those who are their adversaries, but who speak with the voice
and use the language of friendship. And often do they find themselves
greatly tempted to make peace and enter into alliance. Sometimes they do,
disastrous is the’ result. Like the Rhone and the Arve
the pure blue waters of the one flow for some time side by side, without
mingling, with the muddy and earth-discolored waters of the other; but
farther down they intermix, and the blueness and the purity are gone!
(Courtesy – Wikipedia)
But here we have:
peremptorily declined the offered alliance. “Ye have nothing to do with
us.” “We ourselves will build,” etc. (v. 3). Whatever inward conflict
there might have been, there was no vagueness or hesitancy in their
answer. It was explicit and downright, as an answer should be to a
deceitful offer. It was seen to be their duty to keep apart from men whose
association would too probably have ended in corruption, and they dared
all consequences. First purity, then peace (James 3:17). Let there be no
compromise when the maintenance of principle is at stake. There is far
more to lose than to gain in having the help of those who are not really and
heartily at one with us. Mere matters of detail are things for arrangement,
and it is often wise and Christian to forego our preferences for the sake of
brotherly accord. But when great and vital truths are at stake, truths on
which human hearts live, truths which heal and save and sanctify the soul,
truths for the purity and integrity of which we exist to testify, then let us
put our foot firmly down, and, risking misrepresentation and attack, say,
“Ye have nothing to do with us.” We must walk apart.
4 “Then the people of the land (the Samaritans) weakened the hands
of the people of
As aiding is called “strengthening the hands” (ch. 6:22; Isaiah 35:3;
Jeremiah 23:14; Ezekiel 16:49, etc.), so hindering is expressed by “weakening
the hands” (Jeremiah 38:4), though this latter phrase is, comparatively
speaking, unusual. And troubled them in building. Probably as Sanballat
and his followers troubled the builders of the wall in Nehemiah’s time
5 “And hired counselors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all
the days of Cyrus king of
an Oriental court to bribe some of the royal favorites, and induce them to
use their influence with the monarch for the furtherance, or hindrance, of
any work that is being proceeded with in any part of the country. The
Samaritans now had recourse to this system, and employed it with great
success for a considerable period. All the days of Cyrus. i.e. “all the
remaining days,” from B.C. 537 to B.C. 529, when Cyrus died, and was
succeeded by his son Cambyses. Even until the reign of Darius. It is
implied that the reign of Darius did not immediately follow on that of
Cyrus. Profane history tells us of two intermediate kings, via, Cambyses,
son of Cyrus, who reigned from B.C. 529 to B.C. 522, and Smerdis, or
Bardes, a usurper, who occupied the throne for about ten months in the
years B.C. 522, 521. Darius became king in this last-named year, but seems
to have counted his reign from the date of the decease of Cambyses.
Ø The people. “The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” (v. 1). These
were a mixed race, partly Israelitish but chiefly foreign. The more
because the more nearly related to
dangerous when allied with truth.
Ø The pretext.
Utility. “Let us build.” They would help in
the enterprise of
Sinful alliances always seem advantageous.
o Religion. “For we seek your God” (v. 2). Those who seek sinful
alliances often assume the garb of piety; they come as angels of
o Community of interest. The Samaritans wanted to make a common
(II Corinthians 6:14)
Ø The plan.
o Secret, and not open. They concealed their real intentions.
Suspect the world.
o Friendly, and not hostile. They came not as warriors, but as
helpers. Be not deluded by the smiles of sin.
o Dangerous, and not safe. The kiss of sin is perilous; the
dagger is behind.
Wisdom. The hypocrisy was detected by the leaders of
spiritual discernment in dealing with the world; we must try the spirits.
(I John 4:1) Be wise as serpents. (Matthew 10:16)
Church can do its own work; it needs not the aid of the unholy. God
requires the good man to be independent of carnal helpers and of
worldly compacts; dare to reject apparent advantage.
Ø Determination. A most decided reply was given to the proposed allies,
Ø Disaster. The professed friends soon reveal their enmity: reject the
world, and it will soon “trouble you in building.” The enmity of sin is
better than its friendship; sin triumphs for a time.
The Friendship of the World (vs. 1-5)
Two classes, strongly contrasted, divide the human race (see Ephesians
5:8; I Thessalonians 5:4-8; I John 3:10). There is no intermediate
class (see Matthew 12:30). Between these classes genuine sympathy is
impossible. The siren voice of “charity” must not be heeded here; it is
treachery to Christ. “The friendship of the world,” however this may be
taken, “is enmity against God.” (James 4:4) Selfishness and hypocrisy
often guide the policy of malignity. Hence:
GODLY IN THEIR PROSPERITY.
Ø The world is cold to them in their adversity.
No sympathy came to
apparently was to he gained. They were only “children of the
captivity” — born in captivity, scarcely emerging from bondage,
impoverished by a four months’ march; comparatively few, 50,000
persons, scattered over the south, and likely to be absorbed into
the mass of “the people of the land.”
There were even signs
of hostility. For the elders of
venture to build the altar of the Lord until encouraged by the
demonstration of strength in the universal response to their
summons to the convocation (see ch. 3:1-3). Lesson: It is folly
to look to the wicked for help. Even Rabshakeh spoke truly
(II Kings 18:21; compare Ezekiel 29:6-7).
Ø But when prosperity comes this policy is changed.
o The “children of the captivity” had made rapid progress
towards national consolidation. Not content to become
gradually absorbed in other nationalities, they have raised
a national altar, and laid the foundations of their national
temple. Note: Religion is the strongest bond of national
union. It touches the deepest sympathies of our nature
Proverbs 14:31). (This explains
with such anti-christian sentiment of the last forty years.
CY – 2015)
o This made its impression upon “the people of the land.” They
of association the value of the patronage of Cyrus would gain in
and the traditions of the ancient greatness of
o Therefore they now volunteered their friendship. They said,
“Let us build with you.” Let us share your labors and the
charges, and we will reap with you also. “We seek your God
as you do.” “Do not hesitate to trust us.” “We do sacrifice to
him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which
brought us hither.” “We will not cause you embarrassment by
any disagreement with your worship.” Lesson: First, be aware
of worldly plausibility. Why was not all this pleaded earlier?
Secondly, discern the selfishness which guides the policy of
worldly friendship. Thirdly, never lose sight of the nature of
the carnal mind (Romans 8:7).
FRUSTRATED, MALICE WILL DISCOVER ITS HYPOCRISY.
Ø The reply discovered to the Samaritans that they were comprehended
o “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God.”
You say, “We seek your God as ye do.” This we do not accept.
You say, “We do sacrifice to him,” etc. This also we dispute.
We have too good reason to do so (see II Kings 17:34-38).
§ The true God is not worshipped at all if other gods are
worshipped along with him (see also John 4:22).
§ No sacrifice to God is true that is associated with spurious
sacrifices. Is not the sacrifice of Christ “made of none
effect” to those who associate with it the sacrifice of the
mass and works of supererogation? (doing more than is
o Therefore “we ourselves together,” in a unity of faith and love
which we would not have interrupted by your heresy and
build unto the Lord God of
king Cyrus the king of
commanded us.” So, take notice that in thus serving God
we are countenanced by the pleasure of the king. Note, here,
the lawful mingling of the wisdom of the serpent with the
harmlessness of the dove. (Matthew 10:16)
Ø They now appear as the “adversaries of Judah and Benjamin.” They
have now no policy of selfishness to restrain their malignity. So:
o “the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of
be variously viewed by the people; worldly men would no
doubt think that the Samaritans’ offer should have been
accepted by the chiefs, who with advancing years were
grown too conservative and narrow. Note: Dissension in
sentiment is a weakening of the hands.
o “They troubled them in the building.” This would be the effect of
dissension. They would aggravate the embarrassment by ridicule,
o “They hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose.”
Some of these would operate upon the workmen; others in the
o This was continued “all the days of Cyrus.” To what extremities
will the malignity of the wicked carry them! Reflect — The
worst enemies of Judah and Benjamin were those “who said they
were Jews and were not” (Revelation 3:9). Let those who
discourage a good work consider whose example they follow.
The Work Checked (vs. 4-5)
The incidents related in the previous verses would happen some time after
the second month of the second year of King Cyrus, that being about the
date of laying the foundation-stone of the restored temple (see ch.
3:8, 10). Tidings of these incidents, and of the discouragement and
intrigues which they led to, as described in the present passage, would
probably reach the Persian court towards the end of that year. In the
beginning of the next year — so we find from Daniel 10:1, etc. — the
aged prophet Daniel was still alive, but in a state of much sorrow and
perplexity, near the river Hiddekel
recorded vision was given to him at that time. The two passages, therefore,
seem sufficiently contemporaneous in character to be considered together;
and may serve to give us thus a more complete conception of what was
then coming to pass. We will first consider the human view, and then the
superhuman view, of the scene.
In the province. What
were men doing now at
their recent rebuff? Were they likely to be, if like other men? The Jews did
right, and did wisely, as we have seen, in rejecting their help; but who
could expect things to end in that manner? Such a repulse, however
justifiable, would be felt as an insult, a moral soufflet. The more justified,
in fact, by the circumstances, the more galling it would seem, and the
more insulting. The greater the truth, in this sense, the greater the libel
(compare Genesis 19:9). We cannot wonder, therefore, that Samaritan
feeling now took a different turn. If they cannot help on the terms they
had offered, — the virtually destructive terms they had offered, —
they will do the next best (in their view) — they will thwart. The Jews
are anxious to do all by themselves. Let us take care they do none. Such
was their inward resolve. Their outward actions accorded. They contrived,
g., to “weaken the hands of the people of
people, figuratively speaking, may mean those persons on whose manual
labor the work of building depended. Just so we often speak now of
“factory hands.” By weakening their hands, therefore, is not improbably
meant causing those who labored for them to retire from the work:
whether those hired carpenters and masons, of whom we have read,
on the spot (ch.3:7); or those Tyrian laborers, of whom we have also
necessary to convey to
It would not be difficult for the Samaritans, as long-established
Gentiles of superior wealth and influence, either by bribes or threats
to draw or drive many of such men away from their work; and it
would not be easy for the Jews to go on with it in that case.
But, besides this, the Samaritans are said to have “troubled them in
building.” Besides depriving them of laborers, they deprived them,
that is, of peace. Besides weakening the “hands,” they distracted
the heads; most probably by such measures as those we read of,
many years afterwards, in the story of Nehemiah (see Nehemiah
4:2-3, 7-9, 16-23; 6.). But, above all:
Ø They seem to have directed their chief endeavors, with true military
instinct, against the key of the position before them. To human eyes the
chief Jewish reliance was on the assured favor of Cyrus. Hence the edict,
and all its consequences. Hence this whole attempt of theirs to rebuild the
temple, and their very presence there, on its ancient site. Deprive them of
that imperial favor, and you deprive them of all. Moved, apparently, by
such considerations, the Samaritans, as we said, delivered their chief
assault at the great (human) center of Jewish hope. They secured those (for
they were able to do so) who could speak “against the Jews at the court of
the king; they sought out the most fitting men (counselors) to do this; they
secured them by proper fees; they instructed them as to the object wished
for; and they urged their point with a spirit of pertinacity which nothing
seemed to wear out. What must have been the original vigor of that
impetus which survived “all the days” described in v. 5? And what, on
the whole, therefore, the Jewish prospects, humanly speaking, when first it
took place? How weak, how distracted the builders! How powerful, how
united, how embittered, how skilful, how unsparing, how determined their
opponents! The deadly Samaritan friendship had, no doubt, been escaped.
But was not this furious Samaritan enmity almost as great a ground for
despair? And was not the whole work, in short, if not dead already, at
least ready to die?
have seen, the prophet Daniel, who, of all the Israelites then alive, would
be most concerned and confounded at this condition of things (compare
Daniel 9:16-19), was in great sorrow and deep perplexity (ibid. ch.10:2-3,12).
Just at this time, also, a vision was sent him, having for its
object to give him instruction respecting the destiny of his people (ibid.
14). We believe, therefore, that we have in that vision a superhuman view
of that time of trouble — a light from heaven itself on that day of
disappointment and fear. Here was the work for which he had prayed and
labored all his lifetime, and for which God had done so much, and which
He had treated as so important, almost brought to a stand. What did it all
mean? This the vision seems to explain. It meant:
Ø So much we can see without going into any of the disputed features
of this remarkable vision — that the matter now perplexing him was one
exceedingly deep. It had to do, e.g., with that glorious Person before
whom he fell as one dead (vs. 5-9), and so with that great and all-
restoring kingdom which that Holy One was to set up upon earth
(Daniel 7:13-14; Acts 3:21). Being so, it was a matter of great
interest to angelic intelligences of all kinds (Matthew 8:29; I Peter
1:12); even leading in consequence (so we understand the passage) to
long-continued contentions and struggles among them (see Daniel
10:13, 20-21; and compare Ephesians 5:11-12; II Peter 2:11; Jude
1:9; Revelation 12:7).
Ø A purpose thus deep would naturally appear sometimes exceedingly
deliberate in its rate of progress. Such great contending forces, such
wide embracing operations, such evidently intricate and far-seeing
methods, could not do otherwise than take time. Hence the language
of Daniel 10:1, 14, and the repeated reference to the future, and the
“end” and the “time of the end,” and the blessing pronounced on
“waiting” in (ibid. 12:1, 4, 6, 8, 12-13 (compare also II Peter 3:9).
Ø But if deliberate, it was also sure — all the surer, in fact, on that ground.
See again Daniel 10:21 about the “Scripture of truth” (a purpose, it
would seem, “written” down in order that the exact terms of the
purpose and the exact nature of its fulfillment might afterwards be
compared); also ibid. 11:2; also the solemn oath in ibid. 12:7; also,
as showing the effect left on Daniel’s mind when he began recording
the vision, the opening declaration, “the thing was true,” in ibid. 10:1.
Thus we see how the prophet was lifted up in order that he might see
things from above. And thus, as it were, in his company, we are enabled
to take a like view. We learn from it:
o How great is our natural ignorance. “There are more things”
indeed “in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy”
yes, in our philosophy, with all its talk. More things, by far, are
concealed than are revealed, both by our sight and by our search.
o How false the estimate of our senses. The assaults of earthly
enemies, disputes of Jews and Samaritans, the doings of kings
and counselors, the delays of years and centuries, only seem
great to us because we see them so close. Viewed from a proper
distance, as the mount of prophecy enables us to view them,
they almost shrink out of sight — only important because
of those larger issues of which they form part. At the same time,
we also see:
o How great is God’s care for His people. Even in these smaller
matters His eye is on them for good. Even in the darkest days
He is shaping their path towards the light. The things of earth
are not too petty, the things above earth are not too lofty, all
together are not too intricate for His omnipotent care (see Psalm
Romans 8:28). What was said of Gad is true of all
(Genesis 49:19) — They “shall overcome at the last.”
o How great is God’s concern even for the comfort of those who
fear Him. How affecting, on this view, at this crisis, is this
seasonable vision to the afflicted prophet. How significant, also,
that it should have been recorded and preserved to us as a kind
of standing illustration to us of GOD’S WAYS ON THIS
MATTER! He is not only always caring for His people; He is
always wishing them to know that He is. Never more so than
when it seems to them, as it probably seemed to Daniel and the
Jerusalem Jews in this day of rebuke and blasphemy, that He had
“forsaken His people” (see Judges 6:13).
Human Hatred (vs. 4-5)
Whatever drops of neighborly kindness there may have been in the cup of
friendship offered by the Samaritans to “the children of the captivity,”
these, on the refusal of Zerubbabel to enter into alliance with them, turned
into bitterest animosity. Thenceforward they “breathed threatening” and
made opposition to those whom they had courted. We have illustration or
suggestion here of the character and out-workings of human hatred.
what it did.” It thought it was only indulging in a natural and proper
resentment; in truth it was lifting up its hand against the people of God,
and was doing its best (which was indeed its worst) to undermine and bring
to naught the good work of God. Anger is always blind. It does not see its
own hideousness; nor does it perceive the end of its doing. Its eye is
darkened or discolored, and its hand is a suicidal, a self-injuring hand.
undo what their neighbors had begun. No mere out-flash of indignation
theirs, but deep, steady, well-cherished purpose to be avenged. Nothing
was left undone, no stone unturned, that these new-comers might feel the
full weight of their wrath. They found means to hinder them in their work,
and they got up all the evidence they could collect of past excitements and
court of Babylon (v. 5), that they might frustrate and overthrow the
saddening evidence and consequence of sin, than the fact of men cherishing
and nursing a rancorous hatred in their hearts against their fellows, and
plotting and scheming, month after month, to do them injury, to break their
schemes, to disappoint their hopes.
interferers had all too much success. They did weaken the hands of those
whom they sought to hinder; “they troubled them in building;” they
succeeded in gaining the ear and winning the support of Cyrus, and
ultimately they caused the work of building the temple to cease. There is a
prevalent belief that persecution defeats its own ends — and this is true.
We say that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” — and
often it is. The fires it lights are often, if not always, purifying, cleansing
the gold of its dross, and making the vessels of the Lord more “meet for
the Master’s use.” (II Timothy 2:21) Yet, on the other hand, it often works
most serious mischief to the Church and the world, from which they painfully
and only gradually recover. History shows that human rage against the truth
and cause of God has done injury on a large scale, and doubtless it is
continually making its evil power felt on a small one: it is “weakening the
hands” (v. 4) of the people of God; it is troubling them in building up His
kingdom; it is causing “the work to cease;” it is “hindering the gospel.” This
instance of unrighteous anger, like all other illustrations of it, reminds us of:
enough to these Samaritans to indulge in this bitter wrath and to take these
vindictive measures. One of the greatest of the Romans, writing only a few
years before Christ, declared that “war was the natural relation between
neighboring nations.” But how really and essentially unnatural it is for one
human heart, made to be the home of love and kindness and compassion,
made to be the spring and source of beneficence and generosity, to be
harboring hatreds, to be finding pleasure in another’s pain, to be rejoicing
in the humiliation and disappointment of another human heart! What blank
contradiction to the will of our Creator! What a wretched departure from
His design! How utterly unbeautiful, how infinitely repugnant to His eye!
6 “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote
they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of
Ahasuerus as identical with the Ahasuerus of Esther, who is generally
allowed to be Xerxes, the son and successor of Darius Hystaspis, and the
be Artaxerxes Longimanus, and the entire passage, from v. 6 to v. 23
inclusively, is regarded as parenthetic, having reference to events which
happened later than any of those recorded in ch. 6. But the evident nexus
of vs. 23-24 is fatal to this view, which has nothing in its favor beyond
the sequence of the royal names, an uncertain argument in this instance,
since we know that Persian kings had often more than one name. If on
these grounds we reject the proposed identification, and regard the chapter
as chronologically consecutive, Ahasuerus here must be explained as
Cambyses, and the Artaxerxes of v. 7 as Smerdis. This is the view most
usually taken, and it seems to the present writer to present fewer
difficulties than any other. In the beginning of his reign. As soon as ever
a new king mounted the throne, fresh representations were made to him by
the “adversaries,” lest the work should be recommenced. Wrote they an
accusation. Compare vs. 12-16, by which we see the sort of “accusation
that could be plausibly brought.
7 “And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel,
and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes
and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, and
interpreted in the Syrian tongue.” And in the days of Artaxerxes. See the
comment on v. 6. If Artaxerxes be the Pseudo-Smerdis, we can readily understand
why an application was not made to him at once, and how it came about that the
Jews recommenced their building, as they appear from vs. 12-13 to have
done. The Pseudo-Smerdis was a usurper; his reign was a time of partial
anarchy; in a distant part of the empire it would not be known for a while
who was king. Men would be thrown on themselves, and would do as it
seemed good in their own eyes. Later, there may have been some doubt
whether a king, who was known to be a religious reformer, would follow
the policy of his predecessor with respect to the Jews, or reverse it. Hence
a delay, and then a more formal application than before for a positive
decree to stop the building (see v. 21). The rest of their companions.
Literally, of their companies — the abstract for the concrete. The writing
of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue. Rather, “in the Syrian
fashion,” i.e. in Syriac characters. And interpreted in the Syrian tongue.
Or “translated into the Syriac language.” The character and the words were
alike Syriac (compare II Kings 18:26). Ezra gives the letter in Chaldee.
8 “Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter
Rehum the chancellor. Literally, “the lord of judgment.” It
may be conjectured that Rehum was the sub-satrap (ὑποσατράπῃς -
huposatrapaes p Xen.), of the
Or “secretary.” Herodotus tells us that in every Persian province the governor
had a secretary attached to him, who was appointed by the crown, and acted
as a check upon his nominal master (Herod., 3:128). The position assigned to
Shimshai in this chapter (see especially vs. 9, 17, 23) is such as might be
expected under these circumstances.
9 “Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and
the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the
Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the
Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites,”
The Dinaites, etc. It is curious that the Samaritans, instead of
using a general appellation, describe themselves under the names of the
various nations and cities which had furnished the colonists of whom they
were the descendants. It would seem that they were not yet, in the time of
the Pseudo-Smerdis, amalgamated into a single people. From the list of
names we may gather that the colonists of Esar-haddon’s time had been
derived chiefly from
speak for themselves, and require no explanation. The Archevites are the
people of Ereeh or Orchoe (now Warka), a city to the southeast of
Dahae, a tribe located in Persia Proper (‘Herod.,’ 1:125). If uncertainty
attaches to any of the names, it is to two only — the Dinaites and the
Tarpelites. Of these, the Dinaites are probably the people of Dayan, a
country bordering on
Assyrian monarchs. The Tarpelites have been regarded as the people of
Tripolis; but it is improbable that that city had as yet received its Greek
name. Perhaps they are the Tuplai, or people of Tubal, mentioned in
Scripture and the Assyrian inscriptions, the letter r being a euphonic
addition, as in Darmesek for Dammesek sharbith for shebeth, and the like.
10 “And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper
brought over, and set in the cities of
on this side the river, and at such a time.” The rest of the nations whom
the great and noble Asnapper brought over. Nothing more is known of
“the great and noble Asnapper,” who is here mentioned as bringing the colonists
and setting them in the cities of
officer employed by Esar-haddon on this service. The name is Assyrian in form,
and may have meant “Asshur pursues.” The rest that are on this side the
river. Rather, “across the river.” As Romans in
subjects, writing to
country as “across the
forth.” This and the preceding verse set forth the address of Rehum’s
letter. The whole address not being given, the writer ends with the phrase
uk’eneth, which means “and so forth,” or “et cetera” (compare ch.7:12).
11 “This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto
Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river,
and at such a time.” This is the copy of the letter. The address having been
given, the writer now proceeds to the contents of the letter. Thy servants the
men on this side the river, etc. This was a sort of heading inside the letter,
a repetition in brief of the address.
12 “Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee
to us are come unto
city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.”
The Jews which came up from thee. i.e. from the central
provinces — from that part of the empire where thou dwellest. To us. To
our part of the world — to
the bad city. The ground of this accusation must be sought in the various
revolts of the Jews from the Babylonians recorded in II Kings 24., 25.
There had been one, or perhaps two, previous revolts from Assyria (II
Kings 18:7; II Chronicles 33:11); but of these the Samaritans probably
knew nothing. They would, however, be likely to know that before
Nebuchadnezzar took the extreme measure of removing the Jews from
their own land to
times — once under Jehoiakim (II Kings 24:1), once under his son
Jehoiachin (ibid. vs. 9-10), and once under Zedekiah, the last king (ibid.
v. 20). Thus they had a basis of truth on which to ground their charge
walls thereof. It appears very clearly from the book of Nehemiah that the
this. The Samaritans, however, would naturally exaggerate, and call the
rebuilding of the temple, and of a certain number of dwelling-houses, a
fortifying of the place. The exaggeration, however, is not so great in the
Chaldee text as in the Authorized Version. What is said seems to be, that
“they are setting up the walls and joining the foundations.” That the work
was far from complete is admitted in the next verse. We may doubt
whether it was really begun.
13 “Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the
walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom,
and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.”
Then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom. This was
plausible reasoning. In
rebellion was immediately anticipated, not unfairly. But the circumstances
central government was weak, and disorders frequently occurred. A city
might need fortifications to protect it against its immediate neighbors,
when it had not the slightest intention of asserting independence. Judging
from the later history, which shows no revolt of the Jews
we may say that the accusation now alleged was unfounded, though
perhaps it was not made in bad faith. Toll, tribute, and custom represent
the chief heads of Persian taxation, which, however, did not include
“custom” in our sense of the word. The three terms used by the Samaritans
really represent, respectively, “tribute,” or the money payment required
from each province, “provision,” or the payment in kind equally required
(Herod., 1:192; 3:91), and “toll,” or contributions from those who made
use of the Persian highways. According to the Samaritans, none of these
would be paid by the Jews if
shalt endamage the revenue. The general meaning is given correctly
enough by this rendering, but “revenue” is not expressly mentioned.
Aphthom, the word so translated, means really “at length,” “at last.”
Translate, “And so at last thou shalt endamage the kings.”
14 “Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it
was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonor, therefore have we
sent and certified the king;” We have maintenance from the king’s palace.
The marginal rendering is better, and shows the true sense. “Eating a man’s salt”
in the East is deriving one’s subsistence from him. The man who eats another’s
salt is bound to look after his interests. It was not meet for us to see the
king’s dishonour. Rather, “the king’s detriment or loss” — it was not
meet for us to stand by tamely and see the king stripped of his due.
15 “That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers:
so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this
city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and
that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for
which cause was this city destroyed.” That search may be made in the
book of the records of thy fathers. It was the practice at the Persian court to
register all important events in a book, which from time to time was read to
the kings (Esther 2:23; 6:1). The Samaritans suggest a consultation of this book,
which would at any rate contain their own previous accusations against
(supra, vs. 5-6), and might make some mention of the revolts from
destroyed. This was the great fact on which the Samaritans relied.
Nebuchadnezzar had only destroyed
rebellions. True; but no sufficient indication that there would be revolt
friend to the Jews.
16 “We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls
thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side
the river.” Thou shalt have no portion on this side the river. It is not
quite clear whether the river intended here and in v. 10 is
Only twice in their history had the Israelites advanced their frontier as far
as that stream — under Solomon (I Kings 4:21) and under Menahem
(II Kings 15:16); in their present depressed condition it was absurd to
imagine that they could rival those early glories. But jealousy does not stop
to weigh the reasonableness of its accusations.
The World’s Opposition to the Church (vs. 4-16)
We observe, in reference to the world’s opposition to the Church:
Samaritans sought to “trouble them in building” (v. 4).
was employed in rebuilding the ruined temple, so the Church is engaged in
erecting a great spiritual temple; this noble enterprise is hindered by the
varied enmity of the world. The moral building is hindered as well by the
pleasures as by the enmity of men: how sinful to hinder the work of God.
Ø Costly. “And hired counselors against them” (v. 5). The world
often expends much time and money in its opposition to the work
of God; it always has “counselors” ready to take its unprofitable pay.
The Church opposes with the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Ø Numerous. The enemies of the Church are legion; but more are for it
than all that can be against it.
Ø Competent. The men here named were capable of the most effective
method of obtaining their end; the enemies of the Church are often
socially great and mentally gifted. Learning is sometimes arrayed
against the Church. But God hath chosen the weak things of the
earth to confound the mighty. (I Corinthians 1:27)
Ø Influential. These men have influence with the king, and stay the work
Strange are the intellectual and social elements allied against the Church.
“And in the reign of Ahasuerus” (v. 6). During the former reign the
Samaritan enmity did not obtain much favor; but it is more successful
with the new king. This opposition is:
Ø Persistent. Kings may die, but it continues.
Ø Vigilant. It is ever on the outlook for new opportunity.
Ø Flattering. Thus it seeks to win its way with the new monarch. The
Church must remember that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today,
and ever (Hebrews 13:8); His purpose standeth sure.
Ø An appeal to self-interest. “Endamage the revenue of the kings”
MISREPRESENTATION. “They will not pay toll” (v. 13). The worldly
Ø Rebellious. “Building the rebellious” (v. 12). That the Church will
obey God rather than the king; true if their laws come into collision;
but are not Christians the most law-abiding subjects?
Ø Defrauding. “They will not pay toll.” But does not the Church render
unto God the things that are His, and to Caesar the things that are
Hypocritical. They build not the walls of
out the king.
Wicked. They designate
the Church; it spoke evil of Christ; it will undervalue His followers.
MOTIVE. “It was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour” (v. 14).
The world will not allow that its opposition is angry or jealous. The most
wicked plans seek the aid of righteous pleas. This opposition appears:
Ø Disinterested. It does not seek its own, but the king’s welfare.
Ø Loyal. They had “the king’s maintenance,” and therefore inform the
king of his peril.
Ø Open. They will tell the king plainly of the matter, and he can decide.
Thus would the world conceal its hatred to the Church.
HISTORY. “That search may be made in the book of the records of thy
fathers” (v. 15).
Ø The historical record. The history of the Church is blended with the
history of the world; the Divine and human records move together.
Ø The historical argument.
Ø The historical perversion. History, rightly interpreted, is on the side of
the Church. (This the main reason for the rewriting of modern United
States history by the Progressive Movement! CY – 2015)
The historical vindication. We justify
Samaritans; time will surely vindicate the Church.
The Work Maligned (vs. 6-16)
Besides “hiring counselors,” as mentioned in v. 5; or, it may be, in order
to provide these counselors with documents to present and act on; we are
here told that the Samaritan “adversaries” sent various letters to the
Persian kings against the temple builders at
to a king here styled Ahasuerus, is merely referred to as an “accusation.”
Another and more successful one, sent “in the days of Artaxerxes,” is
described at full length. With many commentators of note and of various
schools, we shall assume these two kings, notwithstanding the apparent
diversity of their names, to be Cambyses and the Pseudo-Smerdis, the son and
pretended son, and two next successors, of Cyrus. In any case the latter-named
letter (v. 23), if not an exact copy, may be regarded as a fair sample, of what was
sent. Looked at thus from the Jewish side of the question, it was a most formidable
production: equally so whether we now consider, on the one hand, its writers; or, on
the other hand, its contents.
this point. Were they:
Ø persons of note? It is evident that they were in this case. “Bishlam,
Mithredath, Tabeel” (v. 7) were clearly well-known names at that time.
No one then was required to be told who they were. It is also evident
that they were:
Ø persons of much acuteness. They had their letter written in the Syrian
or Aramaic language and characters, as being those used in Western
their letter all the better chance of perusal. Further, it was so contrived
that some of those signing the letter should be:
Ø men of rank. Every Persian governor (so Herodotus, quoted by
Rawlinson) was accompanied to his province by a royal secretary,
having an independent authority of his own. These correspond in this
instance to the “chancellor” and the “scribe” who are described in
8 as writing the “letter against
Tabeel in all probability, were its concocters and framers; Rehum and
Shimshai its official senders. Both sets appear also to have been:
Ø men of much influence. Mention is made both of them and their
“companions.” They acted for others besides themselves; for others who
could be named, but are not. At the same time, there were others named by
them, as persons joining with them in sending this letter, whose names
were such as to give it much additional weight. These were men, for
example, who, in the matter of origin, represented very various cities,
and races in the wide empire of
were men, again, who, as to recent history and present position,
represented only the province from which the letter came, having been
brought long ago to where they were by the same kind of imperial
authority as that to which they appealed (v. 10). All these things made
them the right persons to address the ruler of the whole empire respecting
a matter affecting the welfare of the whole empire, yet arising exclusively
in that province of it in which they all dwelt. Not only so, these same
individuals, as a matter of fact, represented the whole of that province.
With the exception of those they wrote about, they were able to speak of
themselves as all “the men on that side the river.” In a word, numbers,
rank, influence, authority, character, origin, situation — the writers of the
present letter had all these things on their side. It was, indeed, a great
league; reminding us of what we read of in Psalm 83:3-8, and Acts
4:27, and (as something to happen hereafter) in Revelation 20:7-9. In
the presence of such a league the temple builders were like the two flocks
described in I Kings 20:27; or like the disciples when the Saviour said
to them as in Matthew 10:16 to be wise as serpents and harmless as
because both weighty and well put. They comprised:
Ø A severe accusation. The returned Jews were described as rebuilding a
always notorious for its evil name —
(v.12). Such a charge no chief governor could afford to pass by. Such a
charge, also, in this instance, had a very plausible look. Situated as the
temple was, at the eastern edge of the city heights, the building of its
and enclosures (the real work of the men of
easily be misrepresented as a “making ready” of the “walls” of the
Ø A plain warning. “In the judgment of us who live on the spot, this thing
is even worse than it seems. The building of this city means, in reality, the
building of a fortress against the king; and that means, in turn, serious loss
of revenue; for no taxes of any sort will that city pay, whether in money,
or kind, or for using the highways.”
Ø A skilful apology. Why do we refer at all to so unpleasant a
contingency? Simply as a matter of duty, and because of our loyalty.
Having eaten of the king’s salt (margin), being his dependents and
subjects (possibly also his covenanted servants, II Chronicles 13:5),
we could not see even such possibility of hurt without speaking.
Ø An appeal to history. Besides, the king can judge for himself on this
subject. He has only to inquire for himself in the government records, and
see what has always been said there about this city. Why, in fact, if not
thus“rebellious,” was it ever destroyed?
Ø An appeal to reason. If things be thus, what must be the consequence,
the inevitable consequence of such a city being again established? Has
our warning gone far enough, in reality? There will not only be rebellion
here, but a rival sovereignty; not only some revenue, but a whole
province, lost. Such, at any rate (so we assure the king), is our fear.
This subject illustrates:
1. The perilous nature of Christian warfare. All the neighbors of the Jews
were against them; all that could be urged was urged against them, and in
the very best way. It would be difficult to improve the letter before us,
considering the purpose in view. So many, so powerful, so subtle always
are the enemies of the Church. (Compare Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:16-17;
Acts 28:22.) Consider also, in a different sphere, Job 1:9-11; 2:4-6;
Revelation 12:10; and the very meaning of the name Diabolus (devil).
2. The secret of Christian vitality. How has the Church survived all this
except by help from above? Could
league and letter if left to itself? Compare “I have reserved to myself
seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of
Baal” in Romans 11:4; I Kings 19:18.
3. The proper direction of Christian trust. With such enemies, with such
accusers, to whom must we look for defense? Not to other men, not to
ourselves, but only to the appointed “Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous”
(I John 2:1). He is more than all that are against us (Numbers 14:9;
Psalm 27:1-3; 118:6). Also, being our “propitiation” (I John 2:2),
He can say more for us than they against us. (Compare “I have prayed for
thee,” in Luke 22:31-32; and see Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 7:25.)
17 “Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and to
Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions that dwell
time.” Then sent the king an answer. The complaint made was of
such importance that an answer was returned without delay. It was
addressed both to Rehum and Shimshai, since they were independent
authorities.. Peace, and at such a time. “Peace” (sheldm) is the ordinary
Oriental salutation. The other word, uk’eth, is taken by our translators to
refer to the date; but it really means, like uk’eneth (v. 10), “and so forth,”
or “et cetera.”
18 “The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.”
The letter hath been plainly read before me. Dispatches are
read to, not by, Oriental sovereigns, who have often no literary education.
(Compare Esther 6:1.)
19 “ And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that
this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that
rebellion and sedition have been made therein.” I commanded, and search has
been made. The Pseudo- Smerdis, who was a fanatical adherent of Magism, which
disallowed temples altogether (Herod., 1:130), and who had already destroyed the
temples of Ormuzd in
naturally willing enough to do as the Samaritans desired, and stop the
restoration of the Jewish temple. Accordingly, he had a search made
among the state records, and found, as they had expected he would,
evidence of insurrections on the part of the Jews against the foreign
countries to which they had been subject, as
power possessed by certain Jewish or Israelite kings; upon which he
thought himself justified in complying with the Samaritan request, and
ordering the work that was going on at
20 “There have been mighty
kings also over
ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and
custom, was paid unto them.” Mighty kings. David and Solomon best answer
to this description, possessing as they did a kingdom which extended from the
Euphrates to the borders of
tribute from the various petty princes or chiefs of the nations dwelling
within those limits (II Samuel 8:6-12; I Kings 10:14, 25). Josiah
had perhaps, more recently, possessed an almost equally extensive sway.
21 “Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that
this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given
from me. 22 Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should
damage grow to the hurt of the kings?” Until another commandment shall
be given. It can scarcely be supposed that the Pseudo-Smerdis had any intention
of issuing “another commandment;” but, since “the laws of the Medes and
Persians,” as a general rule, “altered not” (Esther 1:19; Daniel 6:15), it may well
be that the clause before us was one inserted as a matter of form in most
decrees, to prevent them from being irrevocable.
23 “Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before
Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went
up in haste to
force and power.” They went up in haste. The “adversaries” lost no time.
Having obtained the decree which forbad further building, they proceeded
with it to
submission. No doubt resistance might have been made, but resistance
would have been rebellion.
24 “Then ceased the work
of the house of God which is at
So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of
Smerdis reigned, at the utmost, ten months; after which a revolution
occurred, and the throne was occupied by Darius, the son of Hystaspes. If
the work was resumed early in this monarch’s second year, the entire
period of suspension cannot have much exceeded a year and a half. King
this book from “Darius the Mede” (Daniel 5:31; 6:1). “King
is appended to his name merely out of respect and honor, as it is to the
names of Cyrus (ch.1:1-2, 8),
Artaxerxes II. (ch.6:14). Such a superfluous attachment to his
name of the style and title of a monarch is common throughout the Old
Testament, and generally marks a distinct intention to do the individual
honor (see Genesis 41:46; I Kings 3:1; 9:11, 16; 11:18; II Chronicles
Three Thoughts from Old Documents (vs. 6-24)
The determined attempts made by the Samaritans to prevent the Jews from
building the temple and the walls of
correspondence between them and the king of
between the two of which we have the superscription and contents in these
verses. They remind us:
OTHER PEOPLE HARM AND MAKE THEMSELVES INFAMOUS.
These men, “in the days of Artaxerxes” (v. 7), secured the sympathy and
cooperation of the Persian “chancellor” and “scribe” (v. 8); also of their
“companions,” various Persian colonists then living in
with “the rest of the nations” whom “Asnapper brought over and set in
their cities” (v. 10): with their aid and through their medium they gained
access to King Artaxerxes, and induced him to listen to a long statement of
complaint. They had a momentary success, as the king granted their prayer
and arrested the work; but in the end their evil designs were defeated, and
those against whom they plotted gained their end. All that these malignant
Samaritans did was to annoy and delay without defeating their neighbors,
while they have earned for themselves a most unenviable immortality. This
document is only read now by those who will condemn their conduct. How
often do we see men putting forth patient energy, expending great
ingenuity and labor, to compass that in which it is best for them to fail, of
which they will live to be ashamed. If there be a sense in which “all labor
is profit” (Proverbs 14:23), it is also painfully true that thousands of
men are laboriously engaged in doing work which will perish, and had
better perish; in making a name and repute which they would be glad
afterwards to hide. Well for those who are doing that which really serves,
that which will stand, that for which other generations will not rebuke but
PROVE A TIME OF UNUSUAL ENDURANCE (vs. 12-16). The Jews
at this time were actively engaged in building — not merely in erecting
stone walls, but in rebuilding a nation, in relaying the foundations of the
kingdom and cause of God. Thus employed, they found themselves
exposed to bitter hostility and deadly machination. Their nearest
neighbors were plotting against them; and now they were doing that
which is always found very difficult to endure — they were
misrepresenting and maligning them; they were reporting them to the king
as a “rebellious and bad city” (v. 12), bent on refusing to “pay toll,
tribute, and custom” (v. 13), “hurtful unto kings and provinces,”
intending to break off their allegiance, so that the king “would have no
portion on this side the river.” Though not incapable of turbulence, and not
indisposed to throw off a foreign yoke when that should be possible, the
Jews were not cherishing any purpose of this kind; they had been faithful
This “accusation” (v. 6) was essentially false; it was a malignant
misrepresentation. When men are actively engaged in building the kingdom
of Christ, they may expect Samaritan misrepresentations. Things will be
said-by the ill-disposed which, as here, may have a coloring of truth, but
which are essentially false. We must not mind misrepresentation when we
are doing earnest and faithful work. The very excellence of our effort will
bring down the hatred and opposition of those who are enemies of the
truth, and our work and ourselves will be slandered; we may find ourselves
members of a “sect everywhere spoken against.” (Acts 28:22) We shall not,
then, forget who it was that was charged with sedition, and so far from being
surprised that “the disciple is not above his master” (Luke 6:40); we shall
rejoice that we are counted worthy to “partake of the sufferings of Christ.”
(I Peter 4:13) No truly great work has ever been wrought which has not been
covered at times with black clouds of misrepresentation.
ASSOCIATED TOGETHER. The king listened to those who seemed so
desirous of serving him; he was inclined to believe those that were anxious
his “revenue should not be endamaged” (v. 13), who did not wish to “see
the king’s dishonour” (v. 14), and who took measures that he should not
lose his “portion on one side the river” (v. 16). And search being made, it
was easy to find some incidents which might be construed in the sense of
these complainants: the city “of old time had made insurrection,” etc. (v.
19); there had been “mighty kings” to whom “toll, tribute, and custom” had
been paid, etc. — there might be some possible danger too in the future; let
the work cease for the present (v. 21), for “why should damage grow to
the hurt of the kings?” (v. 22). Rather send bitter disappointment to the
holiest hopes of a province than endanger the prosperity of kings. Thus
does self-interest pervert justice. To save themselves from slight, remote,
and contingent harm, men will cause much present and certain injury to
their fellows. Selfishness is unfair and often cruel. To be true and just one
must be disinterested.
The Work Stopped (vs. 17-24)
The ostensible object of the letter to Artaxerxes (vs. 11-16) was to stop
the building of the walls of
the building of God’s house. In this for a time it succeeded, as our present
passage records. Two things are to be especially noticed in the story of this
grievous success. The weapon obtained was most efficient; the use made of
it was most effectual.
provided for them in the reply of King Artaxerxes. Besides the bare fact of
having a reply at all, which was satisfactory so far as showing that their
accusation had reached headquarters (as they had planned), the reply itself,
when examined, turned out all they could wish. For example, its language
showed that their representations had met
Ø with most favourable attention. The number and character of those
making them (as noted in our last) had been duly observed (v. 17). Their
friendly object in doing so was acknowledged by the usual friendly
salutation (“Peace,” etc. ) in return. Also, the contents of the letter had
been submitted carefully to the notice of the king (v. 18; compare
Esther 6:1). As a beginning, therefore, what could be better? Next, we
find that the recommendations of the letter had met:
Ø with most ready compliance. The suggested “search” had been
formally ordered (observe word “decree” in margin), and properly
instituted and carried out. Further, the result of that search had proved
such as to give their words of warning:
Ø most ample support. All that they had said was found true.
“seditious,” and that “of old” (v. 19). Also their fears as to the loss
of revenue, and even of the province, had been fully justified by the
all “beyond the river;” and might do so again, of course, if rebuilt (v. 20).
Not only so, but it may perhaps be noticed that, so far as the search went,
nothing of an adverse nature had been found; or, at any rate, if found, had
not been referred to. Esther 6:2, 4 are at least sufficient to show how
different a complexion the results of this search might have had, if
thorough and earnest. Also, that, had it been so, the designs of the
Samaritans would probably not have met, as we find them doing,
with such signal
success. For example, the builders at
to be made to “cease,” the very upshot wished for. Not only so, they
were not to begin again, except by express permission for it from the
king himself. This “commandment” was to continue binding until
there should be “another commandment” in its place. Added to which,
the Samaritans themselves were not only at liberty, as though by a kind
of “permissive legislation,” to see to the execution of this decree of the
king, but they were strongly urged, and almost entreated in fact, to
prevent its infraction. One can see, in that concluding remonstrance,
how well their misrepresentations had told; and how fully they had
succeeded in alarming and arousing the jealous covetousness of the king.
“Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to
the hurt of the king?” Must they not have read this language with a smile
of triumph as well as joy? Here was the king, in urging his own desires,
forwarding theirs even more. Here was that which could be used against
the Jewish elders at their only. strong point — as it seemed. The one thing,
as noted before, which appeared to give any strength to the builders of the
temple, was the edict of Cyrus. Here was a similar edict, still more urgent
and quite as explicit, on the exactly opposite side. Surely the means of
success, if not success itself, was now placed in their power.
EMPLOYED. Were the Samaritans able to use the aid thus placed in their
hands? Were they satisfied with merely obtaining so welcome a decree?
Unless a weapon is effectually wielded, it might as well remain hanging up
in the armory. Unless a decree is made known and enforced, it differs
nothing from one not yet passed — so far, at any rate, as its results are
concerned? The Samaritan leaders and council, to whom came, in the first
instance, the above-described decree of the king, seem to have been fully
alive to these truths. They appear to have met together (v. 23) in order to
hear its contents. It was doubtless “read before” them with all proper state.
After this, there was:
Ø no delay. They proceeded to take action on it “in haste.” They
determined to strike, as we say, while the iron was hot. Also, they did
this, we find,
Ø in person; not deputing action, it seems, on so pressing a matter, to any
kind of subordinates. “They” themselves, who had thus received the
letter, and heard it read, at once proceeded to act. May we not notice,
too, in what way they did so? Namely, on the one hand,
as to place. They went to
which the king’s letter and their wishes had both so plainly in view.
Also, on the other hand,
as to persons. They went “to
we take it, to the Jewish rulers and elders (so the expression “the Jews” is
constantly used by John in his Gospel); in other words, to those men at
erection of the temple, and so were those really responsible, in fact, for
the whole of that work. Nor is this quite all we are told. We are told,
further, of these Samaritan authorities — and the point being expressly
mentioned seems worthy of a special note, at least, in passing — that
they “made” the Jewish authorities “to cease” from their work; and that
they did so, also, “by force and power” — that is to say, no doubt, with
a very considerable exhibition of ill-usage and threat. In a word, it is as
though, with this decree from Shushan in their hands, they had rushed
the way from
and that with so much force and such a degree of skill as to deprive them
of all power to go on. Nothing, in fact, could be better aimed, nothing
more effectual, than this their stroke. It utterly destroyed the thing
struck; at any rate for so long a time, and so completely, that there was
nothing more to be said. “Then ceased the work of the house of God
till a new king and even a new dynasty have appeared on the scene,
shall we hear of it again! See, therefore, in this matter:
o The mystery of God’s ways. The omnipotent God Himself
allowed His own work to be stopped! Not merely His own
workmen. That is another thing, and often the case (see
Matthew 14:3; Mark 9:18; Acts 16:6-7; Revelation 11:7-10).
Even such a stoppage, however, is, not uncommonly, a
sufficiently mysterious thing in our eyes. The Baptist,
apparently, felt this himself (Matthew 11:2-6). Who, again,
without marvel, can see the glorious sunrise of Stephen’s
ministry (Acts 6:8-13) so suddenly set before men (Jeremiah
15:9; Acts 7:59). But this phenomenon of the cessation of
the work itself is more marvelous still, because it appears at
first hardly consistent with God’s own attributes and
nature. Does it mean that He has changed His purposes
(I Samuel 15:29; Romans 11:29; James 1:17)? Or that He
cannot carry them out (Matthew 19:26; Mark 14:36)? Especially
may we ask thus where the work in question is one for which
He has done so much and so triumphantly, as in this instance
(see chps, 1.-3., almost throughout). And still more where the
cessation of the work is brought about by the enemies
of Himself and His people, and that with such a spring-tide
of success as our eyes have just seen. The greatest things and
the smallest (so our attention to some of the very minutiae of
this case has served to show us), the “stars in their courses”
and the dust of the desert have seemed in league here with
God’s foes And the end has been — what? The open failure,
in the eyes of His enemies, and in the eyes of His friends as
well, of the undertaking on which He had set His heart.
That is what that deserted temple enclosure,
with its manifestly interrupted labors, and its sorry wealth
of unused materials, seemed to say for so long. It was like
the flag of the enemies of Jehovah waving triumphantly over
the very citadel of His strength (Psalm 74:7)!
o The mercy of God’s ways. After all, the case was not desperate.
There was just a gleam of light in the darkness; a gleam, it is
possible, that would never have been noticed unless the
surrounding darkness had been so extreme; a gleam, however,
all the more worthy of notice on that very account. Why that
singular suggestion of a possible second “commandment” in
the (otherwise) unfaltering royal decree of this chapter?
Does Scripture tell us of anything like it in any other document
of this nature (compare ch. 1:2-4; 6:6-12; 7:11-26; Daniel 3:29;
6:25-27)? Considering, indeed, the almost excessive value
attached by the ancient Persian government to the idea of
“finality” in its legislation (Daniel 6. throughout), is not this
curious hint in the exactly opposite direction a
feature of most singular note? And may we not believe,
therefore, with all reverence, that we see in it the special
handiwork and the special mercy of God Himself? Often
does He give such dim but priceless glimmerings of
hope to those on the very verge of despair (see Judges 13:22-23;
II Samuel 24:12-14; Jeremiah 4:27; 5:9-10, 18; Luke 8:49-50;
24:17, 32; Acts 20:9-10). This is equally true of His Church
(Psalm 12:1), and of souls (Psalm 27:13). So often may it be
said of both of them, as in II Corinthians 4:8-9.
Man Hindering the Work of God (vs. 17-24)
GOD. “Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that
this city be not builded” (v. 21).
Ø Presumptuous. “Then ceased the work of the house of God.” How
could presumption be greater than to stop the work of God; let men
the stars from the heavens, but let them not injure the
Ø Perplexing. Is it not a mystery that the Eternal will allow frail and
sinful men to impede the work of His people?
Prejudicial. The walls of
must be built and the old worship restored. This hindrance is injurious
to the Jewish commonwealth. How do men prejudice great interests by
staying the beneficent ministries of the Church.
Ø Permitted. These hindrances were allowed for a time, that new energy
might be stimulated, that the mercy of God might be seen in the aid
given to the dejected workers, and His glory in the final defeat of all
Ø Preparatory. To greater success; the pent-up stream will soon flow on
Ø Patient. The work of the Church is patient; it will outlive all enmity.
THE WORK OF GOD. The letter to the king caused the work to cease.
The impediments to Church work are:
Ø External. The political may hinder the moral; unjust law, civil
persecution, and the force of circumstances may sometimes cause
the work of God to cease
o Force (v. 23).
Ø Internal. The work of God is more often hindered by a low spiritual
condition, by a quarrelsome temper, by a critical spirit, by the
thoughtless word; it is indeed sad to cause moral work to cease from
within. See the responsibility of conduct, when a word may, like this
letter to the king, stay the work of God.
OF GOD IS HINDERED.
Ø Disappointment. After the generous edict of Cyrus how disappointing
this order to cease work. How often is the Church disappointed in her
Ø Complaint. No doubt many Israelites would indulge a complaining spirit.
The Church should not grumble when its work is hindered, but pray.
Ø Sorrow. That the good work should be unfinished.
Ø Hope. That God will yet undertake their cause.
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