EZRA CHAPTER 4.
Opposition of the Enemies.
THE BUILDING OF THE TEMPLE HINDERED. — V. 1. Now, when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, the mixed population to the north of Judah, the Samaritans, who had mingled the Assyrian religion and customs with a remnant of the knowledge of Jehovah, besides continuing in their opposition to the members of the southern kingdom, heard that the children of the captivity, the returned exiles, builded the Temple unto the Lord God of Israel, v. 2. then they came to Zerubbabel, the governor of the province, 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 Esar-haddon, king of Assur, which brought us up hither. Cp. 2 Kings 17, 24. The territory of the northern kingdom had been colonized by people brought up from Babylon, Cutha, and other Eastern countries, and they had been given a priest of Israel. They knew of the true God, but many of them also worshiped idols and clung to various heathen superstitions, all of which neutralized any worship of Jehovah which they may have believed they were rendering Him. V. 3. But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God, the strange mixture of religions which the Samaritans held was not a worship of the true God, nor did they accept a large part of divine revelation, the writings of the prophets; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, hath commanded us. This was a proper reproof of unionistic practises, which might well be taken as a model in our days, when the spirit of unionism is in the air and coalitions and federations are effected without true unity of spirit. V. 4. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, they tried to put obstructions of every kind in their way, not only by molesting the workmen, but also by eventually obtaining an injunction against the continuation of the work, and troubled them in building, v. 5. and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, in order to set aside the edict which gave the Jews permission to build the Temple, all the days of Cyrus, king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius (Hystaspes), king of Persia. For some sixteen years, by the use of various legal tricks, they actually succeeded in delaying the construction of the Sanctuary. And even in later years, as the author here summarizes, after the Temple had been erected, they persisted in their efforts to prejudice the Persian rulers against the Jews. V. 6. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, known in secular history as Xerxes, the successor to Darius, who was favorably disposed to the Jews, as the next chapters show, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. V. 7. And in the days of Artaxerxes, commonly known as Artaxerxes Longimanus, who reigned from 465 to 424 B. C., wrote Bishlam, Xithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, evidently all of them Samaritans, unto Artaxerxes, king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue and Interpreted in the Syrian tongue, that is, both the writing and the language were Aramaic. Even at this late day they did not give up their hostility, but made another attempt to prevent the growth of Jerusalem and the building of its walls. V. 8. Rehum, the chancellor, and Shimshai, the scribe, apparently Persian officials in Samaria, wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort. V. 9. Then wrote Rehum, the chancellor, and Shimshai, the scribe, and the rest of their companions, the communities transplanted to Palestine from the Eastern countries, which are now named according to their original homes: the Dinaites, the Apharsathchltes, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites, v. 10. and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper, the official in charge of the colonizing of the northern territory, brought over and set it in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, south and west of the river Euphrates, and at such a time, literally, “and so forth,” an abbreviation including all other facts which were usually mentioned in the opening of a letter. That is the usual consequence when faithful Christians are opposed to unionism in every form - hostility on the part of the enemies and an attempt to hinder the spread of the Gospel.
THE LETTER TO ARTAXERXES. — V. 11. This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king, at least a summary of the contents, if not an exact copy. Thy servants, the men on this side the river, and at such a time, that is, “and so forth,” all the compliments of the introduction being omitted. V. 12. Be it known unto the king that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, they had been returning from Babylon for a matter of some seventy years then, and small companies were still coming in from the East, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, on which they were still building, and joined the foundations, they were still excavating and working to strengthen the foundations. V. 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, the individual poll-tax, tribute, property-tax, and custom, all import and export duties, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings, and so their action would finally prepare damage for the king. V. 14. Now, because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, literally, “because with the salt of the palace we are salted,” said of living on any one’s bounty, and it was not meet for to see the king’s dishonor, therefore have we sent and certified the king, making known to him the following facts, suggesting the following procedure, v. 15. that search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers, this duty being performed by the keeper of the royal archives; 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, whose inhabitants are addicted to uproar and rebellions, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time; for which cause was this city destroyed. V. 16. We certify the king that, if this city be builded again and the walls thereof set up, all its defenses finished as in the days of its greatest power, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river, the implication being that the Jews would cause the entire territory south and west of the Euphrates to declare and maintain its independence. V. 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 in Samaria, all the communities of colonists, and unto the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time, the usual complimentary remarks at the opening of a letter being omitted. V. 18. The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me. V. 19. And I commanded, by issuing a decree or edict, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection, rising up in haughty rebellion, against kings and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein. V. 20. There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river, this being true of David and Solomon; and toll, tribute, and custom was paid unto them, all the surrounding countries being tributary to their kingdom at that time. V. 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. V. 22. Take heed now that ye fail not to do this. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? They should make no mistake in averting this damage, since it might so easily grow to be a pest. V. 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 Jerusalem unto the Jews and made them to cease by force and power, evidently using even troops to enforce their demand. This excursus, showing to what extent the hostility of the Samaritans went and how long it lasted, was inserted for the sake of completeness in characterizing them. The author now returns to his history of the building of the Temple, the last verse of the chapter connecting with v. 5 above. V. 24. Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. The foundation had been laid and the altar of burnt offering erected in its former place, but no more work was done. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius, king of Persia, 520 B. C. The false church is ever the enemy of the true Church and is continually striving to deprive it of its rights and liberties, in order to hinder the spread of the Gospel.