Ezr 4:1-6. The Building Hindered.
1. the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin -- that is, strangers settled in the land of Israel.
2. we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon ... which brought us up hither -- A very interesting explanation of this passage has been recently obtained from the Assyrian sculptures. On a large cylinder, deposited in the British Museum, there is inscribed a long and perfect copy of the annals of Esar-haddon, in which the details are given of a large deportation of Israelites from Palestine, and a consequent settlement of Babylonian colonists in their place. It is a striking confirmation of the statement made in this passage. Those Assyrian settlers intermarried with the remnant of Israelite women, and their descendants, a mongrel race, went under the name of Samaritans. Though originally idolaters, they were instructed in the knowledge of God, so that they could say, |We seek your God|; but they served Him in a superstitious way of their own (see on 2Ki 17:26-34, 41).
3. But Zerubbabel and Jeshua ... said ... Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God -- This refusal to co-operate with the Samaritans, from whatever motives it sprang, was overruled by Providence for ultimate good; for, had the two peoples worked together, familiar acquaintanceship and intermarriage would have ensued, and the result might have been a relapse of the Jews into idolatry. Most certainly, confusion and obscurity in the genealogical evidence that proved the descent of the Messiah would have followed; whereas, in their hostile and separate condition, they were jealous observers of each other's proceedings, watching with mutual care over the preservation and integrity of the sacred books, guarding the purity and honor of the Mosaic worship, and thus contributing to the maintenance of religious knowledge and truth.
4, 5. Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, &c. -- Exasperated by this repulse, the Samaritans endeavored by every means to molest the workmen as well as obstruct the progress of the building; and, though they could not alter the decree which Cyrus had issued regarding it, yet by bribes and clandestine arts indefatigably plied at court, they labored to frustrate the effects of the edict. Their success in those underhand dealings was great; for Cyrus, being frequently absent and much absorbed in his warlike expeditions, left the government in the hands of his son Cambyses, a wicked prince, and extremely hostile to the Jews and their religion. The same arts were assiduously practised during the reign of his successor, Smerdis, down to the time of Darius Hystaspes. In consequence of the difficulties and obstacles thus interposed, for a period of twenty years, the progress of the work was very slow.
6. in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they ... an accusation -- Ahasuerus was a regal title, and the king referred to was successor of Darius, the famous Xerxes.
Ezr 4:7-24. Letter to Artaxerxes.
7. in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, &c. -- The three officers named are supposed to have been deputy governors appointed by the king of Persia over all the provinces subject to his empire west of the Euphrates.
the Syrian tongue -- or Aramæan language, called sometimes in our version, Chaldee. This was made use of by the Persians in their decrees and communications relative to the Jews (compare 2Ki 18:26; Isa 36:11). The object of their letter was to press upon the royal notice the inexpediency and danger of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. They labored hard to prejudice the king's mind against that measure.
9. the Dinaites -- The people named were the colonists sent by the Babylonian monarch to occupy the territory of the ten tribes. |The great and noble Asnappar| was Esar-haddon. Immediately after the murder of Sennacherib, the Babylonians, Medes, Armenians, and other tributary people seized the opportunity of throwing off the Assyrian yoke. But Esar-haddon having, in the thirtieth year of his reign, recovered Babylon and subdued the other rebellious dependents, transported numbers of them into the waste cities of Samaria, most probably as a punishment of their revolt [Hales].
12. the Jews which came up from thee to us -- The name |Jews| was generally used after the return from the captivity, because the returning exiles belonged chiefly to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Although the edict of Cyrus permitted all who chose to return, a permission of which some of the Israelites availed themselves, the great body who went to settle in Judea were the men of Judah.
13. toll, tribute, and custom -- The first was a poll tax; the second was a property tax; the third the excise dues on articles of trade and merchandise. Their letter, and the edict that followed, commanding an immediate cessation of the work at the city walls, form the exclusive subject of narrative at Ezr 4:7-23. And now from this digression [the historian] returns at Ezr 4:24 to resume the thread of his narrative concerning the building of the temple.
14. we have maintenance from the king's palace -- literally, |we are salted with the salt of the palace.| |Eating a prince's salt| is an Oriental phrase, equivalent to |receiving maintenance from him.|
24. Then ceased the work of the house of God -- It was this occurrence that first gave rise to the strong religious antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans, which was afterwards greatly aggravated by the erection of a rival temple on Mount Gerizim.