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Ezra 4

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Resistance to Rebuilding the Temple Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple Opposition to the Rebuilding of the Temple Opposition from the Samaritans: Their Tactics Under Cyrus
4:1-5 4:1-3 4:1-2 4:1-5
    4:3  
  4:4-5 4:4-5  
Rebuilding of Jerusalem Opposed   Opposition to the Rebuilding of Jerusalem Samaritan Tactics under Xerxes and Artaxerxes
4:6-16 4:6 4:6 4:6
  Opposition to the Rebuilding of the City    
  4:7-16 4:7 4:7
    4:8-16 4:8-10
      4:11-16
4:17-22 4:17-22 4:17-22 4:17
      4:18-22
4:23 4:23 4:23 4:23
4:24 The Rebuilding Continued
(4:24-6:22)
Work on the Temple Begins Again
(4:24-5:17)
The Rebuilding of the Temple
(4:24-5:5 [520-515 b.c.])

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:1-3
 1Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel, 2they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers' households, and said to them, "Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here." 3But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers' households of Israel said to them, "You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us."

4:1 "the enemies" There was a delay from the starting of the temple in 536 b.c. to the completion in 516 b.c. Ezra explains that the delay was because of Judah's enemies (the surrounding people groups), while the prophet Haggai explains that it was because of Jewish apathy. The presence of opposition is foreshadowed in 3:3.

▣ "Judah and Benjamin" There were thirteen tribes. When they split in 922 b.c., ten tribes went with the northern group and three (really four if one counts the Levites) stayed with the southern group. Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, and most of Levi made up Judah.

This phrase was used often in the historical books of Kings and Chronicles to refer to the southern kingdom. In this context it implies that most of the Jews who returned were from the Babylonian exiles (i.e., 605, 597, 586, 582 b.c.). The northern tribes, exiled by Assyria in 722 b.c., were deported to Media and the vast majority of them never returned to Palestine.

"the people of the exile" This is the descriptive title for the returning Jews. It implies that some of the opposition came not only from the half-Jewish descendants of the remaining Jews who had intermarried with pagan immigrants, but also possibly from Jews who were never exiled and had not intermarried. The returning Jews had a fervor for YHWH which came across as an elitism. They wanted no hint of paganism or idolatry, which had cost them their land, their freedom, and their worship! They also wanted no part of the indigenous Jewish leadership.

4:2 "approached Zerubbabel" The VERB (BDB 620, KB 670) is a Qal IMPERFECT. It is surprising with the significance of Jeshua so prominent in chapter 3 (cf. vv. 2,9) that Zerubbabel would be approached here in this chapter. Probably it was because he represented the legal authority of the Persian government. I Esdras 5:68 has "and Jeshua" here (cf. R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 1, p. 40).

▣ "Let us build with you" This VERB (BDB 124, KB 139) is a Qal IMPERFECT, used in a COHORTATIVE sense.

▣ "and the heads of fathers' households" The aspect of clanism is prominent in the list of people in chapter 2. Leadership was a shared experience among the returnees. This matches the "elders" of Moses' wilderness wandering period (cf. Exod. 18:13-27).

Notice that all three leadership spheres are mentioned in v. 3:

1. Zerubbabel - political

2. Jeshua - religious

3. heads of father's households - traditional tribal (clan)

 

▣ "for we have been sacrificing to Him" The VERB (BDB 256, KB 261) is a Qal PARTICIPLE. The Jews of the Exile had ceased to sacrifice because of the Mosaic restrictions (Deuteronomy) about sacrifice away from the central sanctuary. The very fact that these people continued to sacrifice showed they were not in conformity to the Pentateuchinal guidelines.

▣ "since the days of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria" This is a statement from the Samaritan leaders. They had been exiled by the Assyrian Empire in 722 b.c. This particular Assyrian king's military exploits are not known to us, but he reigned from 681 to 669 b.c. It is obvious that these Samaritans were claiming to be YHWHists (cf. II Kgs. 17:24-41), but the Aramaic documents from the Elephantine Papyri show us their syncretic tendencies.

4:3

NASB"You have nothing in common with us"
NKJV"You may do nothing with us"
NRSV"You shall have no part with us"
TEV"We don't need your help"
NJB"It is out of the question that you should join us"

Young's Literal Translation of the Bible has "not for you, and for us." This terse reply was a forceful way to reject the request (cf. Jdgs. 11:12; II Sam. 16:10; 19:22; I Kgs. 17:18; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28; John 2:4).

NASB"we ourselves will together build"
NKJV, NRSV"we alone will build"
TEV"we will build it ourselves"
NJB"we shall build. . .on our own"

The key word is yhd (BDB 403), which denotes unity (cf. 3:1). The building itself had a community aspect. It was a task that in and of itself brought and established a sense of identity.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:4-5
 4Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, 5and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

4:4 "the people of the land" Before the Exile this term referred to the landed nobility (JB notes, p. 573, says it refers to "those with landed property," cf. II Kgs. 23:30,35). After the Exile it referred to the poorest people of the land (cf. II Kgs. 25:12; Jer. 39:10; 40:7; 52:16). Here, in this context, it seems to refer to the people of the Persian province known as "the land Beyond the River" (i.e., Palestine and Lebanon). In Ezra it refers to the descendants of Jews and pagans (who were imported by Assyria) who had a partial knowledge of YHWH (cf. Ezra 10:2,11; Neh. 10:31). From vv. 4-5 one would surmise that this term refers to the Persian governmental leadership of the province located in Samaria.

▣ "discouraged the people of Judah" This is literally "letting drop the hands" (BDB 951, KB 1276, Peel PARTICIPLE, cf. Jer. 38:4). It is an idiom for losing heart or energy (cf. II Chr. 15:7; Jer. 38:4).

▣ "frightened them" This is another Peel PARTICIPLE, which is used only here in the OT (BDB 117, KB 132). Apparently they mocked their ability, resources, and authority (cf. v. 5).

4:5 "hired counselors against them" This would have involved a period from 536 b.c. to sometime in Darius I's reign (522-486 b.c.). It was a consistent, sustained, political strategy!

Again the time element is problematic. Does this imply that the actions of Zerubbabel and Jeshua started in Cyrus' day? If so, it seems that Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel must be the same person who began the temple in 536 b.c. (cf. 5:16) because if they are separate governors then a date of 520 b.c. (Haggai prophecies) fits Zerubbabel's day better. Does this imply that there was legal opposition which started in Sheshbazzar's day, but was continued and reinforced until Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the heads of families' response in v. 3?

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:6
 6Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

4:6 "now in the reign of Ahasuerus" This chapter is very confusing unless one sees the Jewish mentality behind its structure. It is not in chronological order. Verses 6-23 are a parenthesis which deals with a period of Samaritan opposition over many years covering not only the rebuilding of the second temple but the finishing of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah.

▣ "Ahasuerus" Historians assert that this is the Hebrew name for Esther's husband, who is known by his Greek name as Xerxes I, who was the son of Darius I. He reigned from 486 b.c. to 464 b.c. Notice that from Zerubbabel's time (about 520 b.c., cf. v. 24) we have moved into the future (as we had moved into the past in v. 5) to show consistent opposition to the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem by the inhabitants of the Province Beyond the River.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Brief Outline of Historical Allusions to Persian Kings

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:7-11a
 7And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his colleagues wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic. 8Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes, as follows—9then wrote Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their colleagues, the judges and the lesser governors, the officials, the secretaries, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10and the rest of the nations which the great and honorable Osnappar deported and settled in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the region beyond the River. Now 11this is the copy of the letter which they sent to him:

4:7 "Artaxerxes, king of Persia" Artaxerxes was the successor of Xerxes I and reigned from 464 to 423 b.c. It was during his reign that Ezra (Ezra 7-10) and Nehemiah (the book of Nehemiah) lived and worked.

▣ "Bishlam" Most English translations consider this a proper name (BDB 133), but the NJB, NAB, and REV do not. The Septuagint understands the word as literally "in peace," meaning "in agreement with" or "with the approval of." The Anchor Bible, vol. 14, p. 32, says it means "concerning Jerusalem" or "on the Jerusalem affair."

▣ "Midhredath" See note at 1:8. This is a different person than the man by the same name in Babylon.

"written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic" It must be remembered that the Persians spoke Persian, but used Aramaic as the official language of the empire because of the wide variety of languages in the ancient Near East. Aramaic is a Semitic language which was used by the Assyrians.

4:8 "Rehum the commander" This would have been the highest ranking Persian official in this list who dictated the letter.

▣ "Shimshai the scribe" We learn from Herodotus (Hist. 3.128) that each Persian satrap had a special scribe appointed by the Persian king to keep tabs on them.

▣ "wrote" This begins the Aramaic section (cf. 4:8 through 6:18). Much of Ezra is made up of official documents translated into the text. I believe that there are three different letters referred to in this section. There is one in verses 6, 7, and 8.

4:9 "their colleagues, the judges and the lesser governors, the officials, the secretaries" These terms are all uncertain, but possibly relate to levels of governmental officials in Samaria or the Province Beyond the River.

It is possible that these are the personal names of people from the exiled people groups (from Erech, Babylon; from Susha, Elamites, cf. the Qere of the MT, also see Oxford Study Bible and Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pp. 632-33 footnote #9).

The implication of the list is that everyone agreed with the accusations and complaints against the newly returned Jews.

▣ "the men of Erech" Erech was a major city of the Sumerians (cf. Gen. 10:10). The people of Samaria are describing themselves according to the geographical location from which they originally came. This is the first of a series of geographical groups which made up the returnees (cf. v. 10) to the Province Beyond the River (cf. v. 11b).

4:10 "Osnappar" This probably refers to Ashurbanipal, who was the son of Esarhaddon (681-609 b.c., cf. v. 2). He reigned from 669 to 627 b.c. This last great king of Assyria completed the deportations begun by his father. This may refer to the deportation of Shusha (Susa) in 645 b.c. to the area of Samaria.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:11b-16
 11b"To King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the men in the region beyond the River, and now 12let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13"Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings. 14Now because we are in the service of the palace, and it is not fitting for us to see the king's dishonor, therefore we have sent and informed the king, 15so that a search may be made in the record books of your fathers. And you will discover in the record books and learn that that city is a rebellious city and damaging to kings and provinces, and that they have incited revolt within it in past days; therefore that city was laid waste. 16We inform the king that if that city is rebuilt and the walls finished, as a result you will have no possession in the province beyond the River."

4:11b The message to Artaxerxes (Artaxerxes I Longimanus, 465-424 b.c.), the Persian king (cf. v. 7), begins here and runs through v. 16.

4:12 "let it be known to the king" The two VERBS in this verse and vv. 13,22, and 5:8 are the same.

1. "known" (BDB 1095), Qal PASSIVE PARTICIPLE

2. "be" (BDB 1089) Peal IMPERFECTS used in a JUSSIVE sense

 

▣ "finishing the walls" It is obvious that we have jumped from the finishing of the temple (cf. Ezra 1-5) to the finishing of the walls (cf vv. 16,21; Ezra 7-10, and Nehemiah).

4:13-16 The Samaritans' accusation was based on three things: (1) they will not pay taxes; (2) they have rebelled in the past; and (3) they will rebel again and take away the Province Beyond the River.

4:13 "will damage the revenue of the kings" This Aramaic VERB (BDB 1102, Haphel IMPERFECT) is used several times in the OT, here in reference to a Persian king (cf. 4:15,22; Dan. 6:2), as is the related Hebrew VERB (BDB 634, cf. Esth. 7:4).

There seem to be three consequences in the letter allowing the Jews to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

1. loss of tax revenue

2. loss of face (reputation)

3. loss of land (the Jews once controlled Palestine and they would try to do it again)

 

▣ "of the kings" This PLURAL refers to future kings of the Persian Empire or is an example of the Hebrew grammatical feature called the PLURAL OF MAJESTY.

4:13 "we are in the service of the place" This is literally "we eat the salt of the palace," which was a Near Eastern metaphor for friendship and association (BDB 1100). Possibly this is a reference to a vow symbolized by eating salt.

▣ "the king's dishonor" The term "dishonor" (BDB 1100) is literally "nakedness," which became a metaphor for shame or dishonor.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:17-22
 17Then the king sent an answer to Rehum the commander, to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and in the rest of the provinces beyond the River: "Peace. And now 18the document which you sent to us has been translated and read before me. 19A decree has been issued by me, and a search has been made and it has been discovered that that city has risen up against the kings in past days, that rebellion and revolt have been perpetrated in it, 20that mighty kings have ruled over Jerusalem, governing all the provinces beyond the River, and that tribute, custom and toll were paid to them. 21So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me. 22Beware of being negligent in carrying out this matter; why should damage increase to the detriment of the kings?"

4:20 This is a purposeful overstatement which continues the provocative flavor of this letter. Neither David nor Solomon ruled over the entire area west of the Euphrates River (but Solomon was close to doing so).

4:21 It is surprising that Artaxerxes responded positively to these letters (i.e., v. 7 & vv. 8-16), since he is the very one who allowed Ezra to return and bring others with him and also responded so positively to Nehemiah's request to go and rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:23
 23Then as soon as the copy of King Artaxerxes' document was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their colleagues, they went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by force of arms.

4:23 "stopped them by force of arms" From Nehemiah 1:3 it seems that the Samaritans not only stopped them, but destroyed the work they had done (cf. The Jewish Study Bible, p. 1677). However, this possibly refers to the rubble remaining from the destruction of Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 b.c.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:24
 24Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased, and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

4:24 This relates to verse 5. The temple commissioned by Cyrus was completed under Darius I. It must be remembered that vv. 6-23 is a historical parenthesis describing the continual opposition of the Samaritans throughout the rebuilding period of the temple (Ezra 1-5) and the city (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah).

▣ "Darius I" This is not the Darius of the book of Daniel (cf. 5:31; 6:1-27). This is Darius I Hastrapes, the Persian ruler from 522 to 486 b.c.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is the chronology of this chapter so confusing?

2. Why were the returning Jews unhappy with the locals claiming to have been sacrificing to YHWH?

3. List the kings and their nationality mentioned in chapter 4.