The history of this book is the accomplishment of Jeremiah's prophecy, concerning the return of the Jews out of Babylon, at the end of seventy years, and a type of the accomplishment of the prophecies in the Revelation, touching the deliverance of the Gospel Church from Spiritual Babylon. Ezra preserved the records of that great revolution, and transmitted them to the church in this book. It gives us an account of the Jews return from their captivity, chap. 1, 2. Of the building of the temple, notwithstanding the opposition it met with, chap. 3 - 6. Of Ezra's coming to Jerusalem, chap. 7, 8. Of his obliging those that had married strange wives to put them away, chap. 9, 10.
The proclamation of Cyrus, for the release of the Jews, and building of the temple, ver. 1 - 4. The return of many of them, ver. 5, 6. Orders given for restoring the vessels of the temple, ver. 7 - 11.
Fulfilled - Nebuchadnezzar carried many of the Jews into captivity in the first year of his reign (the fourth of Jehoiakim). He reigned forty - five years, his son Evil - merodach twenty - three, and his grandson Belshazzar, three years, which make up the seventy years foretold by Jeremiah. First year - Of his reign in Babylon: for he had been king of Persia for many years.
All, &c. - In those parts of the world; all that vast empire formerly under the Assyrians and Babylonians. The gift of which he ascribes to the great God; by that express prophecy of Isaiah concerning him, Isa 44:28 45:1,13, so long before he was born; which prophecy the Jews had doubtlessly shewed him, which also carried a great evidence with it, especially to him who was so highly encouraged by it: or by a special illumination which God vouchsafed to him, as he did to Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, and some other Heathen princes.
Then rose up, &c. - These being a new generation, went out like their father Abraham, from this land of the Chaldees, not knowing whither they went.
Strengthened their hands - God can, when he pleases, incline the hearts of strangers to be kind to his people; yea, make those strengthen their hands, who formerly weakened them.
Sheshbazzar - Zerubbabel; the Chaldeans called him Sheshbazzar, that is, Joy in tribulation, but among his own people he was called Zerubbabel, a stranger in Babylon. So he looked upon himself, tho' (Josephus says) he was captain of the life - guard.
The leaders that returned, ver. 1, 2. The people, ver. 3 - 35 The priests, Levites and retainers to the temple, ver. 36 - 63. The sum total and their substance, ver. 64 - 67. Their offerings, ver. 68 - 70.
The province - Of Judah, called a province, chap.5:8. And he calls it thus emphatically to mind himself and his brethren of that sad change which their sins had made among them, that from an illustrious, independent, and formidable kingdom, were fallen to be an obscure, servile, and contemptible province, first under the Chaldeans, and now under the Persians.
Who came, &c. - This catalogue, differs in some names and numbers from that Neh 7:6 - 64, which might be because several names were given to the same persons; and because of the many changes which might happen in the same families between the time of the first making of this catalogue by Ezra, and the making it anew so many years after.
The children - The posterity, as that word is constantly taken in this catalogue. Of Parosh - That descend either from Parosh, or from that family whereof Parosh was the chief. And so for the rest.
Seven hundred, &c. - In Neh 7:10, they were only six hundred and fifty two, it seems seven hundred and seventy five marched out of Babylon, but some of them died, others were hindered by sickness, or other casualties, and so there came only six hundred and fifty two to Jerusalem. And the like is to be said in the like differences: which it suffices to hint once for all.
Beth - lehem - And so these were the remainders of the inhabitants of that city. (And the like may be said of the two following names, Netophah and Anathoth, or others of the like nature.) So little was Beth - lehem among the thousands of Judah! Yet thence must the Messiah arise.
Harim - The head of one of the twenty four courses which David appointed, 1Chron 24:8, of all which courses, some observe here are not above four or five that returned. There is another Harim mentioned above, ver.32, but that was no priest, as this was ver.36.
Nethinims - Persons devoted to the inferior services of the priests and Levites. Commonly supposed to be the Gibeonites, given, (so their name signifies) by Joshua first, and again by David, when Saul had expelled them, to the priests and Levites, for those services.
Servants - Who had lived in Solomon's family, and after his death, called themselves and their families by that name, esteeming it a great honour that they had been servants to so great a prince.
Genealogy - The Jews were generally very exact in their genealogies from their own choice and interest, that they might preserve the distinctions of the several tribes and families, which was necessary both to make out their titles to offices or inheritances, and to govern themselves thereby in the matter of marriages, and from the special providence of God, that so it might be certainly known of what tribe and family the Messiah was born.
Tirshatha - The governor, Zerubbabel. With Urim, &c. - That this point which could not be found out by human skill, might be determined by Divine direction. Hereby it appears that the Urim and Thummim were lost in the destruction of the city and temple, tho' the Jews fed themselves with hopes of recovering them, but in vain. And by the want of that oracle, they were taught to expect the great oracle, the Messiah.
The whole, &c. - The particular sums here recited, come only to twenty and nine thousand eight hundred and eighteen. Unto whom are added in this total sum twelve thousand five hundred and forty two. Which, either were of the other tribes beside Judah and Benjamin: or were such as were supposed to be Israelites, but could not prove their pedigree by their genealogies.
Women - For women as well as men were employed in this exercise in the temple - service.
The house - That is, to the ruins of the house; or to the place were it stood.
Sixty one thousand drams - Sixty one thousand drams of gold amount to something more than so many pounds of our money. So bishop Cumberland, who likewise supposes five thousand pounds of silver, to be about thirty seven thousand pounds sterling.
And all Israel in their cities - And they dwelt in peace, in perfect harmony, a blessed presage of their settlement, as their discord in the latter times of that state, was of their ruin.
They set up the altar, offer sacrifices thereon, and keep the feasts, ver. 1 - 6. They contribute, and lay the foundation of the temple, ver. 7 - 13.
Seventh month - This was a sacred kind of month wherein there were divers festivals, for which the people had been preparing themselves, and now came to Jerusalem to the celebration of them.
Altar - Which was of more present necessity than the temple, both to make atonement to God for all their sins, and to obtain God's assistance for the building of the temple, and to strengthen their own hearts and hands in that great work.
For fear - So they made the more haste, lest they should be hindered. Apprehension of dangers should quicken us in our duty. Have we many enemies We have the more need to have God for our friend and to keep up our correspondence with him.
Tabernacles - This seems to be mentioned for all the solemnities of this month, whereof this was the most eminent, otherwise it is not probable, that they would neglect the day of atonement which was so severely enjoined, Lev 23:27 - 29, and was so exceeding suitable to their present condition.
Offering - The morning and evening, sacrifice. The law required much; but they offered more; for tho' thy had little wealth, they had much zeal. Happy they that bring with them out of the furnace of affliction, such a holy heat as this!
Burnt - offerings - And the other sacrifices which were to be offered with them upon that day, being the feast of trumpets. Burnt - offerings are often put for all sacrifices.
Joshua - Not the high - priest so called, but a Levite, of whom see chap.2:40. To set forward - To encourage them to a vigorous prosecution of the work.
Sung - That everlasting hymn, which will never be out of date, and to which our tongue should never be out of tune, the burden of Psalm 136:1 - 26. Whatever our condition is, let it be owned, that God is good, and whatever fails, that his mercy fails not.
Had seen - Which divers of them might well do; because it was destroyed not sixty years ago. Wept - Because of the poor preparations made for this, in comparison of what was made for the other temple: because this was destitute of those things which were the principal glory of the former temple, namely, the ark, and the Urim and Thummim; because these foundation - stones were far inferior to the former, both for quantity and price, 1Kings 7:9,10, and because these foundations were of a far narrower compass than the former: for although the foundations of this house of the Lord, strictly so called, were of equal largeness with those of the former, yet the foundations of the whole building belonging to the first temple, were far larger than these.
Could not discern - The mixture of sorrow and joy here, is a representation of this world. In heaven all are singing and none sighing; in hell all are wailing, and none rejoicing: but here on earth we can scarce discern the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping, let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Meantime let us ourselves rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and weep as though we wept not.
The adversaries, not being allowed to build with them, endeavour to hinder the work, ver. 1 - 5. They falsely accuse them to Artaxerxes, ver. 6 - 16. Who thereupon orders the work to be stopt, ver. 17 - 22. It is stopt, ver. 23, 24.
The adversaries - The Samaritans. The relicks of the ten tribes, and the foreigners who had joined with them.
With you - This they spake not sincerely, but that by this conjunction with them, they might pry into their counsels, and thereby find some matter of accusation against them. We seek - For so they did, though in a mongrel way, 2Kings 17:26, &c. Esarhaddon - Son of Sennacherib, and after him king of Assyria, who brought or sent these persons hither, either, in the day's of Salmanasar, who reigned in Assyria but eight years before Esarhaddon; and so Esarhaddon might be one of his commanders, and the man by whom that colony was sent. Or, in the reign of Esarhaddon, who sent this second colony to strengthen the first.
With us - As being of another nation and religion, and therefore not concerned in Cyrus's grant, which was confined to the Israelites. Take heed, whom you go partners with, and on whose hand you lean. While we trust God with an absolute confidence, we must trust men with a prudent caution.
Cyrus - For though Cyrus still favoured the Jews, yet he was then diverted by his wars, and his son Cambyses was left his vice - roy, who was a wicked prince, and an enemy to the Jews. Until - Heb. and until, &c. not only in the reign of Cyrus but also of Cambyses, and of the magician, after whom was Darius.
Ahasuerus - A common name to divers kings of Persia. Cambyses the son and successor of Cyrus, was known to be no friend to the Jewish nation.
Artaxerxes - Cambyses, called by his Chaldee name, Ahashuerus, ver.6, and here by his Persian name, Artaxerxes: by which he is here called in the inscription of this letter, because so he was called by himself, and others in the letters written either by him; or to him. Interpreted - It was written in the Chaldee or Syrian language, and in the Syrian character: for sometimes the Chaldee or Syrian words are written in the Hebrew character.
Asnapper - Either Esarhaddon, or some other person of eminency, who was captain of this colony, and conducted them hither. The river - Euphrates. Time - The date of the epistle was particularly expressed therein, but here it was sufficient to note it in general.
Be it known, &c. - This is a mere fiction, which being confidently affirmed, they thought would easily find belief with a king whose heart and ears they possessed by their hired counsellors.
To cease. &c. - As they abused the king by their misinformations, in the obtaining of this order, so they abused him in the execution of it; for the order was only to prevent the walling of the city. But having power in their hands, they, on this pretence, stopt the building of the temple. See what need we have to pray, not only for kings, but for all in authority under them: because the quietness of our lives depends much on the integrity and wisdom of inferior magistrates as well as the supreme.
Darius - Darius the son of Hystaspes, successor of Cambyses.
Zerubbabel encouraged by Haggai and Zechariah, sets the work forward again, ver. 1, 2. Their adversaries oppose them again, ver. 3 - 5. Write to Darius, ver. 6 - 17.
The son - His grand - child; for he was the son of Baraciah. Prophesied - Commanding them from God to return to building the temple, with a promise of his favour and assistance.
Helping - Encouraging the people to work by their presence, and assurance of success. It is supposed, the work had stopt about fifteen years. The first chapter of Haggai is the best comment on these two verses.
Shethar - boznai - Not Rehum and Shimshai, &c. who were either dead, or removed from their office by Darius.
We - Jews. Accordingly - According to what they asked. That made this building - That were the undertakers and encouragers of it.
Great God - And indeed, thus far the greater part of the Samaritans agreed with them.
Now therefore. &c. - If the case had been so fairly stated to Artaxerxes, he would hardly have hindered the work. The people of God could not be persecuted, if they were not belied.
Darius's answer, ver. 1 - 7. His decree, ver. 8 - 12. The temple is finished, ver. 13 - 15. The dedication of it, ver. 16 - 18. The passover kept, ver. 19 - 22.
A decree - To search the rolls in Babylon, where search was first made; but not finding the edict there, they searched in Achmetha, or Ecbatana, and found it.
Achmetha - The royal city of the Medes and Persians.
Cubits - Those proportions differ from those of Solomon's temple, which was but thirty cubits high, only the porch was a hundred and twenty cubits high, and but twenty cubits in breadth. Either therefore Solomon's cubits were sacred cubits, which were larger than the other, and these but common cubits. Or, the sixty cubits of height are meant only for the porch. And the word rendered breadth, may be rendered the extension or the length of it; it being improbable that the king should give orders about the breadth, and none about the length of it.
Destroy - Tho' this temple was at length most justly destroyed by the righteous hand of God, yet perhaps the Romans, who were the instruments of that destruction, felt the effects of this curse. For that empire sensibly declined ever after, 'till it was wholly destroyed.
Through the prophesying - This is a seasonable intimation that this great and unexpected success was not to be ascribed to chance, or to the kindness or good humour of Darius, but unto God only, who by his prophets had required and encouraged them to proceed in the work, and by his mighty power disposed Darius's heart to such kind and noble purposes.
Children of Israel - Probably some out of each of the twelve tribes.
Joyful - He had given them both cause to rejoice, and hearts to rejoice. God is the fountain whence all the streams of true joy flow. Of Assyria - Of the king of Persia, who was now king of Assyria also, here so called emphatically, to note the great power and goodness of God in turning the hearts of these great monarchs, whose predecessors had been the chief persecutors and oppressors of God's people.
An account of Ezra and his expedition to Jerusalem, ver. 1 - 10. The commission which Artaxerxes gave him, ver. 11 - 26. His thankfulness to God for it, ver. 27, 28.
Artaxerxes - The same of whom he speaks, chap.6:14. The son - His grand - son. Here are divers persons omitted for brevity sake, which may be supplied out of 1Chron 6:1 - 11:47. Ezra was not himself the high priest; but he was nearly related to him.
Went - With the king's consent and commission. Scribe - A learned and expert doctor. The Jews say, he collected and collated all the copies of the law, and published an accurate edition of it, with all the books that were given by Divine inspiration, and so made up the canon of the Old Testament. Moses in Egypt, and Ezra in Babylon, were wonderfully fitted for eminent service to the church. According, &c. - By the favour of God so disposing the heart of the king.
To teach - The order of things in this verse is very observable; first he endeavours to understand God's law and word, and that not for curiosity or ostentation, but in order to practice: next he consciously practises what he did understand, which made his doctrine much more effectual: and then he earnestly desires and labours to instruct others, that they also might know and do it.
Words - The phrase seems emphatical, noting that he explained both the words and the things: for the Jews in the land of their captivity had in a great measure lost both the language, and the knowledge of God's commands, and therefore Ezra and his companions instructed them in both.
According, &c. - To make inquiry into all abuses and deviations from your law, and to redress them. Which - Which is now and always in thine hand, being the matter of thy daily study.
Find - Procure, as that word is used, Gen 6:8 26:12 Psal 84:3. Whatsoever thou canst get of my subjects by way of free gift. The people - Of Israel.
The wisdom - Which God hath put into thy heart, and which appears in the works of thy hand. All that professed the Jewish religion, were to be under the jurisdiction of these judges.
Let judgment - What could David himself, as king, have done more, for the honour of God, and the furtherance of religion
Blessed, &c. - Ezra cannot proceed in his story, without inserting this thankful acknowledgment of God's goodness to him and the people.
As the hand, &c. - If God gives us his hand, we are bold and chearful: if he withdraws it, we are weak as water. Whatever service we are enabled to do for God and our generation, God must have all the glory of it.
The company that went up with Ezra, ver. 1 - 15. He sends for the Levites, ver. 16 - 20. Proclaims a fast, ver. 21 - 23. Delivers the treasure he brought to the priests and Levites, ver. 24 - 30. Goes on to Jerusalem, ver. 31, 32. The treasure delivered in there, ver. 33, 34. The people offer, ver. 35. The king's commissions delivered to his lieutenants, ver. 36.
Males - Though the males only be expressed yet doubtless they carried the women along with them, as they did the little ones.
Whose names are, &c. - It seems the rest came before; so that now all the sons of that family returned.
Of Levi - None who were simple Levites, and not the priests. And therefore the Levites mentioned, chap.7:7, by anticipation were not yet come to him.
By the good hand - If where ministers have been wanting, the vacancies are well supplied, let us ascribe it to the good hand of God, qualifying them for the service, inclining them to it, and opening a door for them.
A fast - For public mercies. Publick prayers must be made, that all who are to share in the comfort, may share in the requests for it. Afflict ourselves - For our sins; and so be qualified for the pardon of them. When we are entering on any new condition of life, our care should be to bring into it none of the guilt of the sins of our former condition. When we are in any imminent danger, let us make our peace with God, and then nothing can hurt us. Right way - A safe and prosperous journey; such a way and course as might be best for us.
Intreated - He gave us an assurance of his gracious answer to our request.
Sin offering - For it is the atonement that secures every mercy to us, which will not be truly comfortable, unless iniquity be taken away, and our peace made with God. They offer twelve bullocks, twelve he - goats, and ninety six rams, (eight times twelve) signifying the union of the two kingdoms. They did not any longer go two tribes one way, and ten tribes another; but all the twelve met by their representatives at the same altar.
Ezra is troubled at the marriages with strange women, ver. 1 - 4. His solemn confession to God, ver. 5 - 15.
I rent - Both mine inner and my upper garment.
Evening sacrifice - When the people used to assemble together. All good people ought to own those that appear and act for God against vice and profaneness. Every one that fears God, ought to stand by them, and do what he can to strengthen their hands.
Heaviness - From that mournful posture, and put myself into the posture of a petitioner. He did this at the time of the evening sacrifice, because then devout people used to come into the courts of the temple, that hearing his confession, they likewise might be made sensible of the sins of the people. And he had an eye to that great propitiation, of which that sacrifice was a peculiar type.
Our - He includes himself in the number of the transgressors, because he himself was guilty of many sins; and because the princes and priests, and so many of the people having done this, the guilt was now become national.
Have we been - We are not purged from the guilt of our fathers sins, but we are still feeling the sad effects of them; yea, and are repeating the same sins.
A little space - It is but a little while since God hath delivered us, and yet we are already returned to our sin. A remnant - The far greatest part of the Israelitish nation were yet in captivity. A nail - Some kind of settlement; whereas before we were tossed and removed from place to place as our masters pleased. It is a metaphor from tents, which are fastened by cords and nails, or pins. Holy place - In Jerusalem, called the holy city, Neh 11:1,18 Dan 9:24, which is peculiarly mentioned, because of the temple, which was the nail that fastened their tents and gave them some hopes of continuing in their land. To lighten - That he might revive and comfort our hearts. For as darkness is often put for a state of sorrow and affliction, so light is put for joy and comfort. In bondage - For we are not quite delivered, being even here in subjection to our former lords.
A wall - The favour of the kings of Persia whose edicts were their security against all those enemies wherewith they were encompassed: and the gracious providence of God, which had planted them in their own land, and watched over them from time to time.
It is unclean - This land is as corrupt as any of the rest of the heathen nations.
Strong - Although you may fancy making leagues and marriages with them, as the only way to establish you, yet I assure you, it will weaken and ruin you, and the contrary course will make you strong.
We are - We are here in thy presence, and so are all our sins; we are arraigning ourselves before thy tribunal, acknowledging thee to be just, if thou destroy us. Before thee - In judgment, as that word is often used, we must needs fall and perish at thy presence.
The people mourn, ver. 1. Shechaniah encourages Ezra to put away the strange wives, ver. 2 - 4. All Israel swear to do it, ver. 5. Ezra, mourning assembles the people, ver. 6 - 9 They all, on his exhortation, agree to the reformation, ver. 10 - 14. They perform it, ver. 15 - 17. The names of them that had married strange wives, ver. 18 - 44.
There assembled - The account of his grief, and publick expressions thereof in the court before the temple, being in an instant dispersed over all the city, brought a great company together. See what an happy influence the example of great ones may have upon their inferiors!
We - He saith, we, in the name of the people, and their several families, and his own amongst the rest. For this man's name is not in the following catalogue, but there we have his father, Jehiel, and his father's brethren, five other sons of his grandfather, Elam, ver.26. It was therefore an evidence of his great courage, and good conscience, that he durst so freely discharge his duty, whereby he shewed, that he honoured God more than his nearest and dearest relations. Hope - In case of our repentance, and reformation.
Such as are born - These children were only cast out of the common - wealth of Israel, but were not utterly forsaken; probably care was taken by authority, that they should have provision made for them.
Went - That with the princes and elders, he might consult about the execution of their resolution. Thither - 'Till he saw something done.
Of Judah - Not only of these two tribes, as appears from the following catalogue, where there are priests and Levites; but all the Israelites, ver.25, who are thus described, because the greatest part of them were of these tribes, though others were mixed with them: and because they all now dwelt in that land, which formerly was appropriated to those tribes. The street - In that street of the city, which was next the temple, and within the view of it, that so they might be as in God's presence, whereby they might be awed to a more faithful and vigorous prosecution of their work. And this place they might chuse rather than the court of the people, because they thought it might be polluted by the delinquents, who were all to come thither. Great rain - Which they took for a token of God's displeasure against them.
Our rulers - Let the great council, called the Sanhedrim, be settled, and meet to determine of all particular causes. Judges - Who are best able to inform the great council of the quality of the persons, and all matters of fact and circumstances. Until - Until the thing be done, and God's wrath thereby removed.
Employed - To take care that the business should be executed in the manner proposed, that the officers and delinquents of every city should come successively in convenient time and order, as these should appoint, to keep an exact account of the whole transaction, and of the names of the cities and persons whose causes were dispatched, to give notice to others to come in their turns, and to prepare the business for the hearing of the judges. These two were priests, as their helpers were Levites; that so they might inform the persons concerned, in any matter of doubt.
Separated - Sequestered themselves from all other business, and gave themselves wholly to this.
Of Israel - Of the people of Israel, distinguished from the priests and Levites hitherto named.
Had children - This implies that most of their wives were barren. Which came to pass by God's special providence, to manifest his displeasure against such matches, and that the putting them away might not be encumbered with too many difficulties. One would think this grievance altogether removed. Yet we meet with it again, Neh 13:22. Such corruptions are easily and insensibly brought in, tho' not easily purged out. The best reformers can but do their endeavour. It is only the Redeemer himself, who when he cometh to Sion, will effectually turn away ungodliness from Jacob.