Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
I. The Return of the Jews from Babylon under Cyrus. Restoration of the Temple and of the Worship of God at Jerusalem - Ezr 1:1
When the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity had elapsed, King Cyrus, by an edict published in the first year of his rule over Babylon, gave permission to all the Jews in his whole realm to return to their native land, and called upon them to rebuild the temple of God at Jerusalem. The execution of this royal and gracious decree by the Jews forms the subject of the first part of this book - Ezr 1:1-11 and 2 treating of the return of a considerable number of families of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, under the conduct of Zerubbabel the prince and Joshua the high priest, to Jerusalem and Judaea; the remaining chapters, Ezra 3-6, of the restoration of the worship of God, and of the rebuilding of the temple.
In the first year of his rule over Babylon, Cyrus king of Persia proclaimed throughout his whole kingdom, both by voice and writing, that the God of heaven had commanded him to build His temple at Jerusalem, and called upon the Jews living in exile to return to Jerusalem, and to build there the house of the God of Israel. At the same time, he exhorted all his subjects to facilitate by gifts the journey of the Jews dwelling in their midst, and to assist by free-will offerings the building of the temple (Ezr 1:1-4). In consequence of this royal decree, those Jews whose spirit God had raised up prepared for their return, and received from their neighbours gifts and free-will offerings (Ezr 1:5 and Ezr 1:6). Cyrus, moreover, delivered to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, the vessels of the temple which Nebuchadnezzar had brought from Jerusalem to Babylon.
The edict of Cyrus. - Ezr 1:1 The opening word, "and in the first year," etc., is to be explained by the circumstance that what is here recorded forms also, in Ch2 36:22 and Ch2 36:23, the conclusion of the history of the kingdom of Judah at its destruction by the Chaldeans, and is transferred thence to the beginning of the history of the restoration of the Jews by Cyrus. כּורשׁ is the Hebraized form of the ancient Persian Kurus, as Κῦρος, Cyrus, is called upon the monuments, and is perhaps connected with the Indian title Kuru; see Delitzsch on Isa 44:28. The first year of Cyrus is the first year of his rule over Babylon and the Babylonian empire.
(Note: Duplex fuit initium, Cyri Persarum regis; prius Persicum, idque antiquius, posterius Babylonicum. de quo Hesdras; quia dum Cyrus in Perside tantum regnaret, regnum ejus ad Judaeos, qui in Babylonia erant, nihil adtinuit. - Cleric. ad Esr. 1:1.)
פּרס - in the better editions, such as that of Norzi and J. H. Mich., with Pathach under ר, and only pointed פּרס with a graver pause, as with Silluk, 4:3, in the cuneiform inscriptions Praa - signifies in biblical phraseology the Persian empire; comp. Dan 5:28; Dan 6:9, etc. לכלות, that the word of Jahve might come to an end. כּלה, to be completed, Ch2 29:34. The word of the Lord is completed when its fulfilment takes place; hence in the Vulg. ut compleretur, i.e., למלּאות, Ch2 36:21. Here, however, כּלות is more appropriate, because the notion of the lapse or termination of the seventy years predominates. The statement of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 25:11, etc., Jer 29:10; comp. Ch2 36:21) concerning the desolation and servitude of Judah is here intended. These seventy years commenced with the first taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, when Daniel and other youths of the seed-royal were carried to Babylon (Dan 1:1-2) in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim; see the explanation of Dan 1:1. This year was the year 606 b.c.; hence the seventy years terminate in 536 b.c., the first year of the sole rule of Cyrus over the Babylonian empire. Then "Jahve stirred up the spirit of Coresh," i.e., moved him, made him willing; comp. with this expression, Ch1 5:26 and Hag 1:14. ויּעבר־קול, "he caused a voice to go forth," i.e., he proclaimed by heralds; comp. Exo 36:6; Ch2 30:5, etc. With this is zeugmatically combined the subsequent בּמכתּב וגם, so that the general notion of proclaiming has to be taken from יעבר קול, and supplied before these words. The sense is: he proclaimed throughout his whole realm by heralds, and also by written edicts.
The proclamation - "Jahve the God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah" - corresponds with the edicts of the great kings of Persia preserved in the cuneiform inscriptions, inasmuch as these, too, usually begin with the acknowledgment that they owe their power to the god Ahuramazd (Ormuzd), the creator of heaven and earth.
(Note: Comp. e.g., the inscription of Elvend in three languages, explained in Joach. Mnant, Expos des lments de la grammaire assyrienne, Paris 1868, p. 302, whose Aryan text begins thus: Deus magnus Auramazd, qui maximus deorum, qui hanc terram creavit, qui hoc coelum creavit, qui homines creavit, qui potentiam (?) dedit hominibus, qui Xerxem regem fecit, etc. An inscription of Xerxes begins in a similar manner, according to Lassen, in Die altperisischen Keilinschriften, Bonn 1836, p. 172.)
In this edict, however, Cyrus expressly calls the God of heaven by His Israelitish name Jahve, and speaks of a commission from this God to build Him a temple at Jerusalem. Hence it is manifest that Cyrus consciously entered into the purposes of Jahve, and sought, as far as he was concerned, to fulfil them. Bertheau thinks, on the contrary, that it is impossible to dismiss the conjecture that our historian, guided by an uncertain tradition, and induced by his own historical prepossessions, remodelled the edict of Cyrus. There is, however, no sufficient foundation for such a conjecture. If the first part of the book of Ezra is founded upon contemporary records of the events, this forbids an priori assertion that the matter of the proclamation of Cyrus rests upon an uncertain tradition, and, on the contrary, presupposes that the historian had accurate knowledge of its contents. Hence, even if the thoroughly Israelitish stamp presented by these verses can afford no support to the view that they faithfully report the contents of the royal edict, it certainly offers as little proof for the opinion that the Israelite historian remodelled the edict of Cyrus after an uncertain tradition, and from historical prepossessions. Even Bertheau finds the fact that Cyrus should have publicly made known by a written edict the permission given to the Jews to depart, probable in itself, and corroborated by the reference to such an edict in Ezr 5:17 and Ezr 6:3. This edict of Cyrus, which was deposited in the house of the rolls in the fortress of Achmetha, and still existed there in the reign of Darius Hystaspis, contained, however, not merely the permission for the return of the Jews to their native land, but, according to Ezr 6:3, the command of Cyrus to build the house of God at Jerusalem; and Bertheau himself remarks on Ezr 6:3, etc.: "There is no reason to doubt the correctness of the statement that Cyrus, at the time he gave permission for the re-settlement of the community, also commanded the expenses of rebuilding the temple to be defrayed from the public treasury." To say this, however, is to admit the historical accuracy of the actual contents of the edict, since it is hence manifest that Cyrus, of his own free will, not only granted to the Jews permission to return to the land of their fathers, but also commanded the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. Although, then, this edict was composed, not in Hebrew, but in the current language of the realm, and is reproduced in this book only in a Hebrew translation, and although the occurrence of the name Jahve therein is not corroborated by Ezr 6:3, yet these two circumstances by no means justify Bertheau's conclusion, that "if Cyrus in this edict called the universal dominion of which he boasted a gift of the god whom he worshipped as the creator of heaven and earth, the Israelite translator, who could not designate this god by his Persian name, and who was persuaded that the God of Israel had given the kingdom to Cyrus, must have bestowed upon the supreme God, whom Cyrus mocked, the name of Jahve, the God of heaven. When, then, it might further have been said in the document, that Cyrus had resolved, not without the consent of the supreme God, to provide for the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, - and such a reference to the supreme God might well occur in the announcement of a royal resolution in a decree of Cyrus, - the Israelite translator could not again but conclude that Cyrus referred to Jahve, and that Jahve had commanded him to provide for the building of the temple." For if Cyrus found himself impelled to the resolution of building a temple to the God of heaven in Jerusalem, i.e., of causing the temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar to be rebuilt, he must have been acquainted with this God, have conceived a high respect for Him, and have honoured Him as the God of heaven. It was not possible that he should arrive at such a resolution by faith in Ahuramazd, but only by means of facts which had inspired him with reverence for the God of Israel. It is this consideration which bestows upon the statement of Josephus, Antt. xi. 1. 1, - that Cyrus was, by means of the predictions of Isaiah, Isa 41:25., Isa 44:28; Isa 45:1., who had prophesied of him by name 200 years before, brought to the conviction that the God of the Jews was the Most High God, and was on this account impelled to this resolution, - so high a degree of probability that we cannot but esteem its essence as historical.
For when we consider the position held by Daniel at the court of Darius the Mede, the father-in-law of Cyrus, - that he was there elevated to the rank of one of the three presidents set over the 120 satraps of the realm, placed in the closest relation with the king, and highly esteemed by him (Dan 6), - we are perfectly justified in adopting the opinion that Cyrus had been made acquainted with the God of the Jews, and with the prophecies of Isaiah concerning Coresh, by Daniel.
(Note: Hence not only ancient expositors, but also in very recent times Pressel (Herzog's Realencycl. iii. p. 232), and A. Koehler, Haggai, p. 9, etc., defend the statement of Josephus, l.c., ταῖτ ̓ (viz., the previously quoted prophecy, Isa 44:28) οὖν ἀναγνόντα καὶ θαυμάσαντα τὸ θεῖον ὁρμή τις ἔλαβε καὶ φιλοτιμία ποιῆσαι τὰ γεγραμμένα, as historically authentic. Pressel remarks, "that Holy Scripture shows what it was that made so favourable an impression upon Cyrus, by relating the rle played by Daniel at the overthrow of the Babylonian monarchy, Dan 5:28, Dan 5:30. What wonder was it that the fulfiller of this prediction should have felt himself attracted towards the prophet who uttered it, and should willingly restore the vessels which Belshazzar had that night committed the sin of polluting?" etc. The remark of Bertheau, on the contrary, "that history knows of no Cyrus who consciously and voluntarily honours Jahve the God of Israel, and consciously and voluntarily receives and executes the commands of this God," is one of the arbitrary dicta of neological criticism.)
Granting, then, that the edict of Cyrus may have been composed in the current language of the realm, and not rendered word for word in Hebrew by the biblical author of the present narrative, its essential contents are nevertheless faithfully reproduced; and there are not sufficient grounds even for the view that the God who had inspired Cyrus with this resolution was in the royal edict designated only as the God of heaven, and not expressly called Jahve. Why may not Cyrus have designated the God of heaven, to whom as the God of the Jews he had resolved to build a temple in Jerusalem, also by His name Jahve? According to polytheistic notions, the worship of this God might be combined with the worship of Ahuramazd as the supreme God of the Persians. - On וגו עלי פּקד, J. H. Mich. well remarks: Mandavit mihi, nimirum dudum ante per Jesajam Isa 44:24-28, Isa 45:1-13, forte etiam per Danielem, qui annum hunc Cyri primum vivendo attigit (Dan 1:21; Dan 7:1) et Susis in Perside vixit Dan 8:2 (in saying which, he only infers too much from the last passage; see on Dan 8:2).
In conformity with the command of God, Cyrus not only invites the Jews to return to Jerusalem, and to rebuild the temple, but also requires all his subjects to assist the returning Jews, and to give free-will offerings for the temple. מי בכם, who among you of all his people, refers to all those subjects of his realm to whom the decree was to be made known; and all the people of Jahve is the whole nation of Israel, and not Judah only, although, according to Ezr 1:5, it was mainly those only who belonged to Judah that availed themselves of this royal permission. עמּו אלהיו יהי, his God be with him, is a wish for a blessing: comp. Jos 1:17; 1 Esdras 2:5, ἔστω; while in Ch2 36:23 we find, on the other hand, יהוה for יהי. This wish is followed by the summons to go up to Jerusalem and to build the temple, the reason for which is then expressed by the sentence, "He is the God which is in Jerusalem."
וגו וכל־הנּשׁאר are all belonging to the people of God in the provinces of Babylon, all the captives still living: comp. Neh 1:2.; Hagg. Ezr 2:3. These words stand first in an absolute sense, and וגו מכּל־מּקמות belongs to what follows: In all places where he (i.e., each man) sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with gold, etc. The men of his place are the non-Israelite inhabitants of the place. נשּׂא, to assist, like Kg1 9:1. רכוּשׁ specified, besides gold, silver, and cattle, means moveable, various kinds. עם־הנּדבה, with, besides the free-will offering, i.e., as well as the same, and is therefore supplied in Ezr 1:6 by על לבד. Free-will offerings for the temple might also be gold, silver, and vessels: comp. Ezr 8:28; Exo 35:21.
In consequence of this royal summons, the heads of the houses of Judah and Benjamin, of the priests and Levites, - in short, all whose spirit God stirred up, - rose to go up to build the house of God. The ל in לכל serves to comprise the remaining persons, and may therefore be rendered by, in short, or namely; comp. Ewald, 310, a. The relative sentence then depends upon כּל without אשׁר. The thought is: All the Jews were called upon to return, but those only obeyed the call whom God made willing to build the temple at Jerusalem, i.e., whom the religious craving of their hearts impelled thereto. For, as Josephus says, Antt. xi. 1: πολλοὶ κατέμειναν ἐν τῇ Βαβυλῶνι τὰ κτήματα καταλιπεῖν οὐ θέλοντες.
All their surrounders assisted them with gifts. The surrounders are the people of the places where Jews were making preparations for returning; chiefly, therefore, their heathen neighbours (Ezr 1:4), but also those Jews who remained in Babylon. חזּקוּ בידיהם is not identical in meaning with יד חזּק, to strengthen, e.g., Jer 23:14; Neh 2:18; but with החזיק בּיד, the Piel here standing instead of the elsewhere usual Hiphil: to grasp by the hand, i.e., to assist; comp. Lev 25:34. על לבד, separated to, besides; elsewhere joined with מן, Exo 12:37, etc. התנדּב connected with כּל without אשׁר, as the verbum fin. in Ezr 1:5, Ch1 29:3, and elsewhere. האלהים לבית must, according to Ezr 1:4, be supplied mentally; comp. Ezr 2:68; Ezr 3:5; Ch1 29:9, Ch1 29:17.
King Cyrus, moreover, caused those sacred vessels of the temple which had been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar to be brought forth, and delivered them by the hand of his treasurer to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, for the use of the house of God which was about to be built. הוציא, to fetch out from the royal treasury. The "vessels of the house of Jahve" are the gold and silver vessels of the temple which Nebuchadnezzar, at the first taking of Jerusalem in the reign of Jehoiakim, carried away to Babylon, and lodged in the treasure-house of his god (Ch2 36:7 and Dan 1:2). For those which he took at its second conquest were broken up (Kg2 24:13); and the other gold and silver goods which, as well as the large brazen implements, were taken at the third conquest, and the destruction of the temple (Kg2 25:14.; Jer 52:18.), would hardly have been preserved by the Chaldeans, but rather made use of as valuable booty.
Cyrus delivered these vessels יד על, into the hand of the treasurer, to whose care they were entrusted; i.e., placed them under his inspection, that they might be faithfully restored. ממרדת is Mithridates. נּזבּר, answering to the Zend gazabara, means treasurer (see comm. on Dan. p. 514, note 4). This officer counted them out to the prince of Judah Sheshbazzar, undoubtedly the Chaldee name of Zerubbabel. For, according to Ezr 5:14, Ezr 5:16, שׁשׁבּצּר was the governor (פּחה) placed by Cyrus over the new community in Judah and Jerusalem, and who, according to Ezr 1:11 of the present chapter, returned to Jerusalem at the head of those who departed from Babylon; while we are informed (Ezr 2:2; Ezr 3:1, Ezr 3:8, and Ezr 4:3; Ezr 5:2) that Zerubbabel was not only at the head of the returning Jews, but also presided as secular ruler over the settlement of the community in Judah and Jerusalem. The identity of Sheshbazzar with Zerubbabel, which has been objected to by Schrader and Nldeke, is placed beyond a doubt by a comparison of Ezr 5:16 with Ezr 3:8, etc., Ezr 5:2 : for in Ezr 5:16 Sheshbazzar is named as he who laid the foundation of the new temple in Jerusalem; and this, according to Ezr 5:2 and Ezr 3:8, was done by Zerubbabel. The view, too, that Zerubbabel, besides this his Hebrew name, had, as the official of the Persian king, also a Chaldee name, is in complete analogy with the case of Daniel and his three companions, who, on being taken into the service of the Babylonian king, received Chaldee names (Dan 1:7). Zerubbabel, moreover, seems, even before his appointment of פּחה to the Jewish community in Judah, to have held some office in either the Babylonian or Persian Court or State; for Cyrus would hardly have entrusted this office to any private individual among the Jews. The meaning of the word שׁשׁבּצּר is not yet ascertained: in the lxx it is written Σασαβασάρ, Σαβαχασάρ, and Σαναβάσσαρος; 1 Esdras has Σαμανασσάρ, or, according to better MSS, Σαναβασσάρ; and Josephus, l.c., Ἀβασσάρ.
The enumeration of the vessels: 1. אגרטלים of gold 30, and of silver 1000. The word occurs only here, and is translated in the Septuagint ψυκτῆρες; in 1 Esdr. 2:11, σπονδεῖα. The Talmudic explanation of Aben Ezra, "vessels for collecting the blood of the sacrificed lambs," is derived from אגר, to collect, and טלה, a lamb, but is certainly untenable. עגרטל is probably connected with Arab. qarṭallah, the rabbinical קרטיל, the Syriac karṭālā', the Greek κάρταλλος or κάρταλος, a basket (according to Suidas), κάρταλος having no etymology in Greek; but can hardly be derived, as by Meier, hebr. Wurzelwrterbuch, p. 683, from the Syriac ‛rṭl, nudavit, to make bare, the Arabic ‛arṭala, to make empty, to hollow, with the sense of hollow basins. 2. מחלפים 29. This word also occurs only here. The Sept. has παρηλλαγμένα (interpreting etymologically after חלף), 1 Esdr. θυΐ́σκαι, the Vulg. cultri, sacrificial knives, according to the rabbinical interpretation, which is based upon חלף, in the sense of to pierce, to cut through (Jdg 5:26; Job 20:24). This meaning is, however, certainly incorrect, being based linguistically upon a mere conjecture, and not even offering an appropriate sense, since we do not expect to find knives between vessels and dishes. Ewald (Gesch. iv. p. 88), from the analogy of מחלפות (Jdg 16:13, Jdg 16:19), plaits, supposes vessels ornamented with plaited or net work; and Bertheau, vessels bored after the manner of a grating for censing, closed fire-pans with holes and slits. All is, however, uncertain. 3. כּפורים, goblets (goblets with covers; comp. Ch1 15:18) of gold, 30; and of silver, 410. The word משׁנים is obscure; connected with כּסף כּפורי כּס it can only mean goblets of a second order (comp. Ch1 15:18). Such an addition appears, however, superfluous; the notion of a second order or class being already involved in their being of silver, when compared with the golden goblets. Hence Bertheau supposes משׁנים to be a numeral corrupted by a false reading; and the more so, because the sum-total given in Ezr 1:11 seems to require a larger number than 410. These reasons, however, are not insuperable. The notion of a second order of vessels need not lie in their being composed of a less valuable metal, but may also be used to define the sort of implement; and the difference between the separate numbers and the sum-total is not perfectly reconciled by altering משׁנים into אלפים, 2000. 4. 1000 other vessels or implements.
"All the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand and four hundred." But only 30 + 1000 אנרטלים, 29 מחלפים, 30 + 410 covered goblets, and 1000 other vessels are enumerated, making together 2499. The same numbers are found in the lxx. Ancient interpreters reconciled the difference by the supposition that in the separate statements only the larger and more valuable vessels are specified, while in the sum-total the greater and lesser are reckoned together. This reconciliation of the discrepancy is, however, evidently arbitrary, and cannot be justified by a reference to Ch2 36:18, where the taking away of the greater and lesser vessels of the temple at the destruction of Jerusalem is spoken of. In Ezr 1:11 it is indisputably intended to give the sum-total according to the enumeration of the separate numbers. The difference between the two statements has certainly arisen from errors in the numbers, for the correction of which the means are indeed wanting. The error may be supposed to exist in the sum-total, where, instead of 5400, perhaps 2500 should be read, which sum may have been named in round numbers instead of 2499.
(Note: Ewald (Gesch. iv. p. 88) and Bertheau think they find in 1 Esdr. 2:12, 13, a basis for ascertaining the correct number. In this passage 1000 golden and 1000 silver σπονδεῖα, 29 silver θυΐ́σκαι, 30 golden and 2410 silver φιάλαι, and 1000 other vessels, are enumerated (1000 + 10000 + 29 + 30 + 2410 + 1000 = 5469); while the total is said to be 5469. But 1000 golden σπονδεῖα bear no proportion to 1000 silver, still less do 30 golden φιάλαι to 2410 silver. Hence Bertheau is of opinion that the more definite statement 30, of the Hebrew text, is to be regarded as original, instead of the first 1000; that, on the other hand, instead of the 30 golden כּפורים, 1000 originally stood in the text, making the total 5469. Ewald thinks that we must read 1030 instead of 1000 golden אגרטלים (σπονδεῖα), and make the total 5499. In opposition to these conjectures, we prefer abiding by the Hebrew text; for the numbers of 1 Esdras are evidently the result of an artificial, yet unskilful reconciliation of the discrepancy. It cannot be inferred, from the fact that Ezra subsequently, at his return to Jerusalem, brought with him 20 golden כּפורים, that the number of 30 such כּפורים given in this passage is too small.)
הגּולה העלות עם, at the bringing up of the carried away, i.e., when they were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem. The infinitive Niphal העלות, with a passive signification, occurs also Jer 37:11.