Ezra 6
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.
Chap. Ezra 6:1-12. Darius’s Decree

1. made a decree] cf. Ezra 4:19.

search was made] literally ‘they made a search’. Plural used impersonally.

in the house of the rolls] R.V. in the house of the archives: marg. Aram. books.

rolls] The word usually rendered ‘roll’ is Megillah, see Ezra 6:2; Jeremiah 36:2-6, &c.; Ezekiel 3:1-2; Zechariah 5:1. The word used here is ‘Sêpher’ = ‘book’. Sometimes the two occur together ‘the roll of a book’ in Jeremiah 36:2; Jeremiah 36:4; Ezekiel 2:9. ‘Sêpher’ is the ordinary word for a book or a writing. The town Kirjath-Sêpher (‘town of a book’), called also Debir, Joshua 15:15, may have been famous for its treasured documents.

‘The house of the Archives’ at Babylon must have contained a state library in which such a document as Cyrus’s decree would probably be found.

Such libraries containing documents consisting of burnt clay tablets have been found in Nineveh and in the vicinity of Babylon. The rolls and parchments and more perishable materials have not survived.

the treasures] cf. Ezra 5:17. It was evidently a place of great security.

And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written:
2. And there was found at Achmetha] R.V. margin, That is, Ecbatana. The precious document was not found at Babylon. It has been suggested that valuable records were hastily transferred from Babylon to Ecbatana during the short and disturbed reign of Pseudo-Smerdis, who would wish to destroy the edicts of his predecessors. But whatever the cause may have been, notice of its removal had been duly recorded, and the enquiry at Babylon led to search and identification at Ecbatana.

Achmetha] This is the Aramaic transliteration of the Median capital known to us as ‘Ecbatana’ (Gr. ἐκβάτανα and ἀγβάτανα) of which the Persian pronunciation was something like ‘Hangmatâna’. It was the summer residence of the Persian kings. According to Herodotus it was built by king Deioces (708–655 b.c.) and surrounded with seven walls. Alexander the Great resided there in the autumn of 324. After his death, the city fell into insignificance until under the Parthian monarchy it once more became a royal residence. Under the Mohammedans the name became altered to Hamadan. An unhistorical description of the place is given in Jdt 1:1 ff.

in the palace] The royal palace, which was probably also the citadel (bîrah, Greek βάρις) and the treasury. The Aramaic word is the same as the Hebrew rendered ‘palace’ (marg. or ‘castle’) in Nehemiah 1:1; Esther 1:2 &c.; Daniel 8:2 in reference to ‘Shushan’, and in 1 Chronicles 29:1; 1 Chronicles 29:19 in reference to ‘the Temple of Solomon’; ‘castle’, Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 7:2 in reference to fortifications of Temple.

in the province of the Medes] R.V. of Media. Literally ‘in the province of Madai’ (see Genesis 10:2). Media stretched north and south between the Caspian sea and the country of Elam, being bounded by Mt Zagros on the W. and by Parthia on the E. During the earlier period, of which we have an historical account in the Inscriptions, Media seems to have been a tributary province of the Assyrian Empire. She shook off the yoke probably in the reign of Assurbanipal (666–624); and the Median king Cyaxares joined with the Babylonian king Nabopolassar in the overthrow of Nineveh. Cyrus by his defeat of Astyages (550 b.c.) gained possession of Media, which he united with the Persian kingdom.

was a record thus written] R.V. was thus written for a record. More literally accurate: the roll was to serve as the official memorandum.

In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;
3. the same Cyrus the king] R.V. Cyrus the king. See Ezra 5:13.

made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let &c.] R.V. made a decree; concerning &c., let &c. The words ‘concerning the house of God at Jerusalem’ form a kind of heading to the memorandum, of which what follows is a transcript.

where they offered sacrifices] R.V. where they offer sacrifices.

and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid] The meaning of these words in the original is very uncertain They have been variously rendered, (1) ‘and let them set up its foundations’ (active), (2) ‘And let its foundations be set up’ (passive): but neither rendering gives any fresh idea to the preceding clause. (3) The rendering of the A.V. and R.V. ‘let the foundations thereof be strongly laid’ (whether passive, i.e. heavily weighted, or active, i.e. capable of bearing heavy weights), gives a fair sense, the emphasis resting upon the substantial character of the building. It may be doubted whether the text is correct. The transition from this clause to the description of the height and breadth of the building (the length being omitted) is abrupt and awkward.

The rendering of the versions shows the difficulty which the words occasioned and possibly the uncertainty of the text at a very early period. LXX. καὶ ἔθηκαν ἔπαρμα. Vulg. ‘ponant fundamenta supportantia’. 1Es 6:24 ‘With continual fire’ διὰ πυρὸς ἐνδελεχοῦς.

the height thereof, &c.] In view of the uncertainty of the text, it is doubtful whether we can rely upon these statements of dimensions, especially as the length is not specified. Solomon’s temple is described in 1 Kings 6:2 as 60 cubits long, 20 broad, and 30 high. Here the temple is to be 60 cubits high and 60 broad. Josephus who, speaking of Zerubbabel’s temple, describes its height as 60 cubits less than that of Solomon’s temple, is clearly comparing the passage in 2 Chronicles 3:4, where the porch of Solomon’s temple is said to be 120 cubits in height, with the statement of our verse. If the dimensions here given are correct, the second temple in breadth and height was much larger than the first. The comparison in respect of size could hardly account for the disparaging criticism of certain Jews alluded to in Zechariah 4:10; Haggai 2:3. The view that the present verse does not give the actual dimensions but only the extreme limits to which the plan might be followed is too obviously an attempt to escape the difficulty to be at all a probable explanation.

With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expences be given out of the king's house:
4. a row of new timber] R.V. marg. ‘According to the Sept. one row of timber.’ It has been much disputed what ‘the three rows of great stones and the row of timber’ can mean. (1) Some explain by three storeys of stones surmounted by one of wood, the elevation of the Temple. (2) Others by ‘three layers of stone followed by one of wood’, the material of the walls. (3) Others by ‘three courses of stone backed by a wainscote of wood’, the thickness of the walls. (4) But in all probability the verse should be explained by reference to 1 Kings 6:36, where ‘three rows of hewn stone and a row of cedar beams’ are the construction of the walls of the inner court.

expences] R.V. expenses.

out of the king’s house] i.e. from the royal revenue. To be defrayed probably from the purse of the ‘Abhar Nahara’ satrapy. This payment had obviously ceased, or its existence would have been known to Tattenai and the other officials. During the disturbances which took place at the close of Cyrus’s reign, the officers of the provincial treasury probably found it convenient to stop this annual contribution. The voluntary subscriptions mentioned in Ezra 2:68-69 would therefore have been rendered necessary. Some have suspected that this part of the decree was never really carried out.

And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.
5. and place them in the house of God] R.V. And thou Shalt put them in the house of God. The A.V. does not mark the abrupt transition to the 2nd pers. sing. The use of the 2nd pers. sing. and the occurrence of the same word ‘put’ as in the parallel context of Ezra 5:15 show that Sheshbazzar is here addressed. This name has not occurred before in this copy of Cyrus’s decree. We must suppose that the copyist gives a free paraphrase of its contents.

the house of God] The Divine name is here used absolutely for the God of Israel.

Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:
6. The decree of Darius; the prohibition, no interference.

Tatnai … Shethar-boznai, &c.] R.V. Tattenai … Shethar-bozenai. See Ezra 5:3. Observe the sudden change into the direct address to the governor. Darius’s decree is attached to the copy of Cyrus’s decree, without any prefatory words to mark the transition or to call attention to Darius’s action. The composition of the Compiler or of the document, which he cites, is rough and inartistic; but the meaning of the passage and its connexion with the context cannot be mistaken.

your companions] R.V. margin. Aram. their. This occurrence of the 3rd pers. pronoun in the original indicates perhaps that the writer transcribed the 3rd pers. pronoun, and omitted to alter it so as to suit his own version.

be ye far from thence] i.e. keep aloof from Jerusalem, and do not interfere with the work.

Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.
Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expences be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.
8. The injunction; official support, (a) money for the building.

I make a decree] cf. Ezra 6:11, Ezra 4:19, Ezra 7:13.

of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river] The king addressing the governor of the whole country W. of the Euphrates refers to that portion of the territorial tribute which the governor would remit to the king’s treasury, the greater portion being reserved for his own use and for satrapial administration.

goods] So the LXX. ‘possessions’ (ἀπὸ ὑπαρχόντων): Vulgate ‘treasury’ (arcâ). The Aramaic word occurs again in Ezra 7:26.

The royal contribution lays no burden upon the rest of the satrapy. It literally fulfilled the edict of Cyrus: it was ‘given out of the king’s house’ (Ezra 6:4) when it was paid out of the royal share in the tribute.

forthwith expences be given] R.V. expenses be given with all diligence, ‘with all diligence’ (A.V. ‘forthwith’), see note on chap. Ezra 5:8. LXX. ἐπιμελῶς.

that they be not hindered] According to this translation, the words depend upon the previous clause. So also Vulg. ‘ne impediatur opus’. The verb occurs in Ezra 4:21; Ezra 4:23. Here the hindrance apprehended seems rather to be to the execution of the royal command than to the activity of the Jews. It is probable that we should rather render ‘which is not to be neglected’, a short abrupt clause denoting the urgency of the royal rescript, an instance of the idiom found also in Daniel 6:15 ‘no decree … may be changed’ (lit. a decree … not to change). The first part of the injunction relating to the payment will then conclude with a peremptory command for the order to be carried out, just as the second part relating to material for the sacrifices concludes with a demand for unremitting regularity in their supply (Ezra 6:12).

And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
9. (b) Material for the maintenance of the worship.

young bullocks, &c.] Cf. Ezra 7:17.

for the burnt offerings of] R.V. for burnt offerings to. The king is speaking generally of burnt offerings as one chief class of offering, and not particularly of the Levitical system.

wheat, salt, wine, and oil] Cf. Exodus 29:40 (flour, oil, wine); Leviticus 2:1-16 (flour, oil, salt, &c., the meal offering). The king alludes to the other chief class of offering.

according to the appointment] R.V. according to the word, i.e. the priests at Jerusalem were to specify what their system most required.

day by day] See on chap. Ezra 3:4.

without fail] i.e. without intermission. Literally ‘which is to be no intermission’. The LXX. must have had another reading in which the negative was dropped, and a similarly sounding word ‘to ask’ substituted for that rendered ‘fail’. LXX. ‘whatsoever they shall ask’ (ὅ ἐὰν αἰτήσωσιν). The Vulg. ‘lest there be room for complaint in aught’ (ne sit in aliquo querimonia) and 1Es 6:30 ‘without further question’ seem also to have translated the more familiar root.

That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.
10. The king’s special desire, propitiatory sacrifice and intercessory prayer to be offered on behalf of his dynasty.

sacrifices of sweet savours] R.V. sacrifices of sweet savour. One word in the original; it occurs also in Daniel 2:46 ‘Then the king Nebuchadnezzar … worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odours unto him’. The expression recalls the ‘burnt offering … of a sweet savour unto the Lord’ (Exodus 29:18; Exodus 29:25; Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13; Leviticus 1:17; Leviticus 2:2-3; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 2:12) which should be compared with Genesis 8:21. This interpretation lays stress upon the acceptableness of the propitiatory offering. Others giving the word a more material sense consider it to mean especially the incense used in offerings (LXX. εὐωδίας; Vulg. oblationes).

pray for the life, &c.] Compare especially Jeremiah 29:7 ‘and seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.’

Allusions to sacrifice and prayer for Gentile rulers will be found also in Bar 1:10-12, where Ezra 6:11 especially should be compared with this passage ‘And pray for the life of Nebuchodonosor king of Babylon, and for the life of Balthasar his son, that their days may be upon earth as the days of heaven’. See also 1Ma 7:33; 1Ma 12:11; 2Ma 3:35; 2Ma 13:23.

and of his sons] i.e. for the prosperity of Darius’s dynasty. We hear of two wives of Darius, Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, and Tarsys, daughter of Smerdis.

Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
11. The penalty.

Also I have made a decree] The same words as in Ezra 6:8, Ezra 4:19.

whosoever shall alter] See especially Daniel 6:15. The word ‘alter’ here probably includes infringement of the decree as well as alteration of its terms.

let timber be pulled down] R.V. let a beam be pulled out, more correctly. The beams of the man’s own house should be the instruments of execution.

and being set up, let him be hanged thereon] R.V. let him be lifted up and fastened thereon. The subject of both words is the malefactor. The punishment here referred to is probably that of impalement, to which allusion is frequently made in Assyrian and Persian inscriptions. It may indeed be a form of crucifixion, such as is also implied in Genesis 40:19 and Esther 2:23. The passages in Numbers 25:4; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Joshua 8:29, where this frightful form of punishment is spoken of, seem to show that among the Israelites the victims were often first executed, and that the corpses were then hung upon a tree till nightfall. The Hebrew and Aramaic word for ‘lift up’ which is used in a perfectly general sense for elevation of any sort, e.g. Psalm 145:14; Psalm 146:8, and Targum of Psalm 93:3, Jeremiah 3:2, was applied technically to execution by impalement or crucifixion, as in the Targum of Esther 7:10. This double meaning of the word may illustrate the Saviour’s word ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth’ (John 12:32).

and let his house be made a dunghill for this] See 2 Kings 10:27; Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29. A repulsive metaphor for shameful overthrow, cf. 1 Kings 14:10; Job 20:7; Zephaniah 1:17.

And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
12. And the God that hath caused his name, &c.] A Hebrew phrase (see Deuteronomy 12:11; 1 Kings 8:29; Nehemiah 1:9; Jeremiah 7:12) introduced by the Jewish Compiler into his paraphrase of Darius’s decree.

destroy all kings and people] R.V. overthrow all kings and peoples. The word rendered ‘destroy’ here by the A.V. differs in the Aramaic from that rendered ‘destroy’ at the close of the verse. It is used in the Targum of 2 Kings 9:33 for the words ‘throw her down’, of Psalm 119:139 ‘my zeal hath consumed me’.

that shall put to their hand] R.V. put forth their hand.

to alter and to destroy this house] R.V. to alter the same, to destroy this house; i.e. alter the decree and to destroy the Temple. These words illustrate the latitude that should be given to the expression ‘alter’

with speed] R.V. with all diligence, cf. Ezra 6:8, and Ezra 5:8.

Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.
13–18. Darius’s decree executed: (a) The Temple completed, (14, 15), (b) duly consecrated and dedicated (16–18)

13. according to that which Darius the king had sent] R.V. because that. R.V. marg. ‘because of that which’. The A.V. fails to give the meaning of the original. The rendering of the R.V. margin seems preferable. The prompt action of the governor was the result not so much of the king’s sending (for in any case an answer to the governor’s question was expected) as of the emphatic command contained in the royal letter. In the face of this explicit order, steps were at once taken.

so they did speedily] R.V. did accordingly with all diligence. See Ezra 6:8; Ezra 6:12, Ezra 5:8. We have no reason to suppose that Tattenai himself was ill-disposed against the Jews. His letter to the king (Ezra 5:6, &c.) may have been due to Samaritan representations. But once acquainted with the facts and informed of the king’s wishes, he had no ill-will against an insignificant Jewish settlement at Jerusalem.

And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
14. the elders of the Jews] cf. Ezra 5:5.

and they prospered] R.V. and prospered. Cf. Ezra 5:8.

through the prophesying] i.e. the success of the work was due in great measure to the encouragement and support rendered by the two prophets. The LXX. and 1 Esd. render as if the meaning were ‘in the time of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah.’ The Vulgate gives ‘in accordance with the prophesying’ (juxta prophetiam).

Haggai … Zechariah] see on Ezra 5:1.

and according to the commandment of Cyrus, &c.] R.V. the decree of Cyrus, &c. The word in the original differs slightly from that in the previous clause. The R.V. preserves the distinction drawn between the Divine ‘commandment’ and the human ‘decree’.

Cyrus … Darius … Artaxerxes] The decrees of Cyrus and Darius have been given by the author (chap. Ezra 1:2-4, Ezra 6:3-12). The mention of a decree of Artaxerxes occasions a difficulty. (1) The decree of Artaxerxes quoted in Ezra 4:18-22 is hostile to the Jews and could not be intended in this verse. (2) How does Artaxerxes’ name occur in this passage, which is concerned with the reign of Darius? Certainly the context would lead us to expect the mention of only Cyrus and Darius. Some in consequence have supposed that the name of Artaxerxes has been inserted as a gloss, either in ignorance of the true chronology or for the sake of bringing together the names of the three great Persians, who were benefactors of the Jewish race. But the reading is attested by the LXX. version, and by 1Es 7:4. We must therefore suppose hat the Compiler has in this passage as well as in Ezra 4:6-23 disregarded the chronology of the context and anticipated later history.

And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
15. The date here given is the 3rd of Adar (the 12th month) in the 6th year of Darius (516–515). The month Adar is about equivalent to our March. The name seems to be derived from an Assyrian god ‘Adar’, which appears in such names as Adrammelech. Haggai (Haggai 1:15) mentions that the work had been recommenced on the 24th day of the 6th month (Elul = September) in the 2nd year of Darius. It had therefore been going on for nearly 4½ years. But the foundations had been laid twenty years previously, b.c. 536 (see Ezra 3:8).

Another date, the 23rd of Adar, is given in 1Es 7:5. To account for this variation, it has been suggested that the last 8 days of the year would to a scribe seem best suited for the celebration of such a festival as that of the dedication (compare the 8 days in 2 Chronicles 29:17). In order that the regular services of the Temple might seem to have been resumed with the new year, he represented this festival as commencing on the 23rd of the 12th month. This is almost too ingenious. Either the figure ‘twenty’ has accidentally been omitted in the text of our verse, or, as seems equally probable (since the LXX. supports the Hebrew text here), the composer of 1 Esdras has mistaken some letter for the symbol or contraction which represented the number.

And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy,
16. the children of Israel] Cf. the application of the term ‘Israel’ in Ezra 2:70, Ezra 3:1. In its special religious significance, its use here is appropriate to the sacredness of the event, in which the people were engaged, while it tends to clear the Jewish community from the charge of exclusiveness towards their own brethren. ‘The priests and Levites and the rest of the children of the Captivity’. Under these heads, the Israelites would be grouped at such a festival, cf. Ezra 6:20. Children of the Captivity’. See on Ezra 1:11, Ezra 2:1. Cf. Ezra 6:19.

dedication] Called in the Greek Encænia (ἐγκαίνια, LXX.), and in Hebrew ‘Khanukah’, the same word which gives its name to the Feast of the Dedication, founded to commemorate the purification of the Temple after the pollution of Antiochus Epiphanes (164), cf. John 10:22. That festival was kept for eight days (cf. 1Ma 4:60) and began on 25th of Chislev (the 9th month).

with joy] Some have suggested in connexion with this joyous occasion that the Psalms 145-148, called in the LXX. Psalm of Haggai and Zechariah, may have been composed at this period. But proof is wanting.

And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.
17. and offered] R.V. And they offered. A fresh sentence: Ezra 6:16 treated of the general festivities: this verse describes the special sacrificial offerings.

at the dedication of this house] These words evidently imply a comparison between the modest sacrifices offered at this dedication and the enormous number offered by Solomon at the dedication of the firs Temple (1 Kings 8:5; 1 Kings 8:63). Solomon offered then for ‘the sacrifice of peace-offerings … two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep’. The numbers also mentioned in connexion with the dedication-festivals of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:24) and Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:7) very largely exceed the offerings of Zerubbabel and his companions.

The decay of material wealth and splendour must have vividly impressed itself upon the mind of many a patriot Jew, who looked only for a renewal of worldly empire. To them it must have seemed ‘a day of small things’ (Zechariah 4:10) by the side of the recollections of the kingdom.

a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats &c.] Compare Numbers 7:87, ‘and the males of the goats for a sin-offering twelve’, at the dedication of the altar. It is noticeable that in the reign of Hezekiah, at the purification of the Temple, we are told ‘they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he-goats, for a sin offering for the kingdom and for the sanctuary and for Judah’ (2 Chronicles 29:21). The number ‘seven’ there denotes the consecration, the number ‘twelve’ here denotes the ideal unity, of the community. The sin offering ‘of twelve he-goats according to the number of the tribes of Israel’, was an incident full of deep religious pathos. The remnant who had returned make solemn confession of sin in the name of the whole scattered and dispersed race. They acknowledge the essential unity of Israel’s tribes alike in the consequences of sin, in the possibilities of restoration, and in the renewed consecration to God’s service.

The symbolical representation of a restored and ideal Israel is thus indicated by the verse (cf. Ezra 2:2; Ezra 2:70, Ezra 8:35). We need not necessarily assume (as some commentators) that each tribe was literally represented upon the occasion. Compare the prophet’s picture of a reunited Israel (Ezekiel 37:15-28) and Elijah’s offering on Mt. Carmel, 1 Kings 18:31.

And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.
18. the priests in their divisions, &c.] The verse refers to the organization of the priests and Levites described in 1 Chronicles 23-26. According to this arrangement, the service of the Temple was distributed by periods, of a week each, among the courses and divisions of priests and Levites (see 2 Kings 11:9; 2 Chronicles 23:4).

On the “divisions” of the priests, see Luke 1:5; Luke 1:8-9.

for the service of God] ‘Service’, the same word as that rendered ‘work’ in Ezra 4:24. But there ‘the work of the house of God’ refers to he building; here ‘the work or service of God’ refers to the worship. Compare the word ‘liturgy’ (λειτουργία) and the growth of its special application.

as it is written in the book of Moses] The reference seems to be to the Levitical arrangements generally upon which the Davidic and Solomonic organization was founded, as described in the books of Chronicles. Special mention of the ordering of the priests and Levites occurs in Numbers 3, 8.

This verse concludes the Aramaic section (Ezra 4:8 to Ezra 6:18).

And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.
19. The Hebrew is here resumed.

the children of the captivity] cf. Ezra 6:16, Ezra 8:35.

kept the passover] on the 14th of the 1st month (Nisan) as was commanded in Exodus 12:6. Very few celebrations of the Passover are recorded. Besides the original occasion of the Passover, we only read in the O.T. of its being kept (1) under Moses on the second year after the Exodus (Numbers 9:5), (2) under Joshua at Gilgal after the reconsecration of the people by the rite of circumcision (Joshua 5:10), (3) in the reign of Hezekiah, after the purification of the Temple (2 Chronicles 30:1-2, ff.), (4) in the reign of Josiah, after the religious reformation (2 Kings 23:21; 2 Chronicles 35), (5) under Zerubbabel and Jeshua.

On each of these occasions the celebration of the Passover marks a new or a restored order of worship, and the solemn rededication by the people of their Covenant relation with God.

For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.
20. The explanatory ‘for’ means that this celebration of the Passover could take place, because the priests and Levites had duly prepared themselves for it by ceremonial purification.

the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure] R.V. the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together (Heb. as one); all of them were pure. ‘Had purified themselves’: the reflexive is the accurate rendering of the original.

together] Lit. ‘as one’: see Ezra 2:64, Ezra 3:9.

The rendering of the R.V. represents the ceremonial purification to have been jointly performed by priests and Levites, who were therefore all ‘pure’ and capable of sacrificial acts. The only difficulty arises from the following clause. How can it be said that ‘the priests and Levites killed the passover … for their brethren the priests, and for themselves?’ The words ‘for their brethren the priests’ shew that the subject of the last clause must be the Levites alone; and that the mention of the priests belongs to the two first clauses. Compare 2 Chronicles 29:34, ‘their brethren the Levites did help them, till the work was ended, and until the priests had sanctified themselves: for the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests’ (cf. 2 Chronicles 30:3). The small number of Levites who had returned were, we must suppose, more rigid followers of the ceremonial law than their brethren the priests, numerically a far larger body.

for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves] The triple division of the community: see Ezra 6:16.

The Levites are here represented as slaying the Paschal lamb. Three stages of custom as to the slaughter of the lamb are recorded in Scripture, (a) Originally, the lamb was slain by the head of each household (see Exodus 12:6): (b) in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:17) the Levites ‘killed the passovers for every one that was not clean’: (c) in the days of Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:10-14) the Levites seem to have slain all the passover lambs, and roasted them both for the people, and for the priests, and for themselves.

The object of the alteration in the custom was twofold; (1) to secure the ceremonial purity of those entrusted with the duty of slaying the passover, (2) to relieve the priests, who at the season of the feast were busied in other offerings; see 2 Chronicles 35:14, “therefore the Levites prepared for themselves, and for the priests the sons of Aaron”.

The above is a useful illustration of the manner in which the absolute rule of the early law was modified in later times out of regard for considerations of a purely practical character (cf. Ezra 3:8, note on “twenty years old and upward”).

And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat,
21. Those who partook of the Passover are described as belonging to two classes; (1) those who had returned from captivity, (2) those who had ‘separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land’.

“The heathen of the land” (goyyê ha-ârec̣) is to be compared with “the peoples of the land” (’amme ha-ârec̣) in chap. Ezra 10:2; Ezra 10:11. “The land” is the land of Palestine: “the heathen” and “the peoples” are apparently the colonists and mixed population that had settled in the territory of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. ‘The filthiness’ (cf. Ezra 9:11) is the ceremonial pollution of idolatry practised by these heathen races.

Who then are those described here as having ‘separated themselves’?

(a) By very many they are considered to be proselytes from the heathen who had attached themselves to the Jewish religion since the return from the Captivity.

(b) But it appears most probable that they are Israelites.

(1) Israelites are described in Ezra 9:1 as not having “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands”. (2) Ezra exhorts the Jews to “separate themselves from the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 10:11). If those who had not ‘separated’ themselves were Israelites, it is probable that these who had separated themselves were also Israelites; and if so, they would be those Israelites who had not been carried into captivity, but had continued to dwell in Palestine or among the adjoining races.

The two classes mentioned therefore are both Israelite; the one, those who had returned from Babylon; the other, those who having remained behind and having mixed with “the heathen of the land” now separated themselves and attached themselves once more to their countrymen.

to seek the Lord God of Israel] R.V. to seek the Lord, the God of Israel. See on chap. Ezra 1:3. To seek, i.e. with a view to worship: cf. on Ezra 4:2.

And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
22. seven days] see Exodus 12:15.

had made them joyful] the same phrase in the original as that rendered in 2 Chronicles 20:27, “for the Lord had made them to rejoice” R.V. Nehemiah 12:43, “For God had made them rejoice”.

and turned the heart] R.V. had turned the heart. Vulg. “convertit cor”, cf. same expression as in 1 Kings 18:37. The verb is different from that used in the similar phrase in Malachi 4:6 (cf. Luke 1:17).

of the king of Assyria] This is a strange expression to be used of a Persian king. For by the context it naturally refers to Darius.

(1) It has been said that Darius is so called because the Persian kings were the successors to the great Assyrian empire.

(2) It has been suggested that all Western Asia might be termed Assyria.

(3) It has been supposed that Darius is not personally referred to, but that the power of Western Asia is symbolized by the name of Assyria, Israel’s traditional foe. (But to the Jew, after the Captivity, the symbolical hostile power is Babylon.)

Of these views the first is the most probable. See note on Ezra 5:13 (Cyrus king of Babylon). Perhaps however the phrase is a copyist’s error.

strengthen their hands] Cf. Nehemiah 2:18; Nehemiah 6:9; Jdg 7:11; Isaiah 35:3.

in the work of the house &c.] Cf. Ezra 3:8-9.

Part II. The Return under Ezra

Ezra 7:1-10. A brief summary: Ezra’s genealogy (1–5), arrival at Jerusalem (6–10).

Ezra 7:11-26. Ezra’s commission from the king Artaxerxes.

Ezra 7:27-28. Ezra’s Thanksgiving.

Ezra 8:1-20. The list of those that went up with Ezra to Jerusalem.

Ezra 8:21-36. The events of the journey: 21–30 preparations for the journey, (a) 21–23 rendezvous and fast at Ahava, (b) 24–30 the care of the treasure: (c) 31–36 the arrival at Jerusalem, transfer of the treasure, declaration of the mission.

Ezra 9:1-4. The people’s sin.

Ezra 9:5-15. Ezra’s confession.

Ezra 10:1-5. The acknowledgment of guilt and the people’s covenant.

Ezra 10:6-15. The assembly and the reform.

Ezra 10:16-17. The inquiry.

Ezra 10:18-44. The list of offenders.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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