Ezra 4

Opposition to the Building Efforts

1When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin learned that the former exiles
Heb “the sons of the exile.”
were building a temple for the Lord God of Israel,
2they came to Zerubbabel and the leaders
Heb “the heads of the fathers.” So also in v. 3.
and said to them, “Let us help you build,
Heb “Let us build with you.”
for like you we seek your God and we have been sacrificing to him
The translation reads with the Qere, a Qumran MS, the LXX, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Arabic version וְלוֹ (velo, “and him”) rather than the Kethib of the MT, וְלֹא (velo’, “and not”).
from the time
Heb “days.”
of King Esarhaddon
Esarhaddon was king of Assyria ca. 681–669 b.c.
of Assyria, who brought us here.”
The Assyrian policy had been to resettle Samaria with peoples from other areas (cf. 2 Kgs 17:24–34). These immigrants acknowledged Yahweh as well as other deities in some cases. The Jews who returned from the Exile regarded them with suspicion and were not hospitable to their offer of help in rebuilding the temple.
3But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the leaders of Israel said to them, “You have no right
Heb “not to you and to us.”
to help us build the temple of our God. We will build it by ourselves for the Lord God of Israel, just as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, has commanded us.”
4Then the local people
Heb “the people of the land.” Elsewhere this expression sometimes has a negative connotation, referring to a lay population that was less zealous for Judaism than it should have been. Here, however, it seems to refer to the resident population of the area without any negative connotation.
began to discourage
Heb “were making slack the hands of.”
the people of Judah and to dishearten them from building.
5They were hiring advisers to oppose them, so as to frustrate their plans, throughout the time
Heb “all the days of.”
of King Cyrus of Persia until the reign of King Darius
Darius ruled Persia ca. 522–486 B.C.
of Persia.
The purpose of the opening verses of this chapter is to summarize why the Jews returning from the exile were unable to complete the rebuilding of the temple more quickly than they did. The delay was due not to disinterest on their part but to the repeated obstacles that had been placed in their path by determined foes.

Official Complaints Are Lodged Against the Jews

The chronological problems of Ezra 4:6–24 are well known and have been the subject of extensive discussion since ancient times. Both v. 5 and v. 24 describe the reign of Darius I Hystaspes, who ruled Persia ca. 522–486 b.c. and in whose time the rebuilt temple was finished. The material in between is from later times (v. 16 describes the rebuilding of the walls, not the temple), and so appear to be a digression. Even recognizing this, there are still questions, such as why Cambyses (530–522 b.c.) is not mentioned at all, and why events from the time of Xerxes (486–465 b.c.) and Artaxerxes (464–423 b.c.) are included here if the author was discussing opposition to the building of the temple, which was finished in 516 b.c. Theories to explain these difficulties are too numerous to mention here, but have existed since ancient times: Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, rearranged the account to put Cambyses before Xerxes and replacing Artaxerxes with Xerxes (for further discussion of Josephus’ rearrangement see L. L. Grabbe, “Josephus and the Reconstruction of the Judean Restoration” JBL 106 [1987]: 231-46). In brief, it seems best to view the author’s primary concern here as thematic (the theme of opposition to the Jewish resettlement in Jerusalem, including the rebuilding of the temple and restoration of Jerusalem’s walls) rather than purely chronological. In the previous verses the author had shown how the Jews had rejected an offer of assistance from surrounding peoples and how these people in turn harassed them. The inserted account shows how, in light of the unremitting opposition the Jews experienced (even extending down to more recent times), this refusal of help had been fully justified. Some of the documents the author employed show how this opposition continued even after the temple was rebuilt. (The failure to mention Cambyses may simply mean the author had no documents available from that period.) For detailed discussion of the difficulties presented by the passage and the various theories advanced to explain them, see H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah (WBC), 56-60.
At the beginning of the reign of Ahasuerus
Ahasuerus, otherwise known as Xerxes I, ruled ca. 486–464 b.c.
they filed an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
7And during the reign
Heb “And in the days.”
of Artaxerxes, Bishlam,
The LXX understands this word as a prepositional phrase (“in peace”) rather than as a proper name (“Bishlam”). Taken this way it would suggest that Mithredath was “in agreement with” the contents of Tabeel’s letter. Some scholars regard the word in the MT to be a corruption of either “in Jerusalem” (i.e., “in the matter of Jerusalem”) or “in the name of Jerusalem.” The translation adopted above follows the traditional understanding of the word as a name.
Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their colleagues
The translation reads the plural with the Qere rather than the singular found in the MT Kethib.
wrote to King Artaxerxes
Artaxerxes I ruled in Persia from ca. 465–425 b.c.
of Persia. This letter
It is preferable to delete the MT’s וּכְתָב (ukhetav) here.
was first written in Aramaic but then translated.

The double reference in v. 7 to the Aramaic language is difficult. It would not make sense to say that the letter was written in Aramaic and then translated into Aramaic. Some interpreters understand the verse to mean that the letter was written in the Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language, but this does not seem to give sufficient attention to the participle “translated” at the end of the verse. The second reference to Aramaic in the verse is more probably a gloss that calls attention to the fact that the following verses retain the Aramaic language of the letter in its original linguistic form. A similar reference to Aramaic occurs in Dan 2:4b, where the language of that book shifts from Hebrew to Aramaic. Ezra 4:8–6:18 and 7:12–26 are written in Aramaic, whereas the rest of the book is written in Hebrew.

8 Rehum the commander
Aram “lord of the command.” So also in vv. 9, 17.
and Shimshai the scribe
Like Rehum, Shimshai was apparently a fairly high-ranking official charged with overseeing Persian interests in this part of the empire. His title was “scribe” or “secretary,” but in a more elevated political sense than that word sometimes has elsewhere. American governmental titles such as “Secretary of State” perhaps provide an analogy in that the word “secretary” can have a broad range of meaning.
wrote a letter concerning
Or perhaps “against.”
Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes as follows:
Aram “then.” What follows in v. 9 seems to be the preface of the letter, serving to identify the senders of the letter. The word “from” is not in the Aramaic text but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.
Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues – the judges, the rulers, the officials, the secretaries, the Erechites, the Babylonians, the people of Susa (that is,
For the qere of the MT (דֶּהָיֵא, dehaye’, a proper name) it seems better to retain the Kethib דִּהוּא (dihu’, “that is”). See F. Rosenthal, Grammar, 25, #35; E. Vogt, Lexicon linguae aramaicae, 36.
the Elamites),
10and the rest of nations whom the great and noble Ashurbanipal
Aram “Osnappar” (so ASV, NASB, NRSV), another name for Ashurbanipal.
Ashurbanipal succeeded his father Esarhaddon as king of Assyria in 669 B.C. Around 645 B.C. he sacked the city of Susa, capital of Elam, and apparently some of these people were exiled to Samaria and other places.
deported and settled in the cities
The translation reads with the ancient versions the plural בְּקֻרְיַהּ (bequryah, “in the cities”) rather than the singular (“in the city”) of the MT.
of Samaria and other places in Trans-Euphrates.
Aram “beyond the river.” In Ezra this term is a technical designation for the region west of the Euphrates river.
11(This is a copy of the letter they sent to him:)

“To King Artaxerxes,
The Masoretic accents indicate that the phrase “to Artaxerxes the king” goes with what precedes and that the letter begins with the words “from your servants.” But it seems better to understand the letter to begin by identifying the addressee.
from your servants in
Aram “men of.”
The MT takes this word with the latter part of v. 11, but in English style it fits better with v. 12.
let the king be aware that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and odious city.
Management of the provinces that were distantly removed from the capital was difficult, and insurrection in such places was a perennial problem. The language used in this report about Jerusalem (i.e., “rebellious,” “odious”) is intentionally inflammatory. It is calculated to draw immediate attention to the perceived problem.
They are completing its walls and repairing its foundations.
13Let the king also be aware that if this city is built and its walls are completed, no more tax, custom, or toll will be paid, and the royal treasury
Aram “the treasury of kings.” The plural “kings” is Hebrew, not Aramaic. If the plural is intended in a numerical sense the reference is not just to Artaxerxes but to his successors as well. Some scholars understand this to be the plural of majesty, referring to Artaxerxes. See F. C. Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah (NICOT), 74.
will suffer loss.
14In light of the fact that we are loyal to the king,
Aram “we eat the salt of the palace.”
and since it does not seem appropriate to us that the king should sustain damage,
Aram “the dishonor of the king is not fitting for us to see.”
we are sending the king this information
Aram “and we have made known.”
15so that he may initiate a search of the records
Aram “the book of the minutes.”
of his predecessors
Aram “of your fathers.”
and discover in those records
Aram “discover…and learn.” For stylistic reasons this has been translated as a single concept.
that this city is rebellious
Aram “is a rebellious city.”
and injurious to both kings and provinces, producing internal revolts
Aram “revolts they are making in its midst.”
from long ago.
Aram “from olden days.” So also in v. 19.
It is for this very reason that this city was destroyed.
16We therefore are informing the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, you will not retain control
Aram “will not be to you.”
of this portion of Trans-Euphrates.”

17 The king sent the following response:

“To Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and other parts of Trans-Euphrates: Greetings!
Aram “peace.”
18The letter you sent to us has been translated and read in my presence. 19So I gave orders,
Aram “from me was placed a decree.”
and it was determined
Aram “and they searched and found.”
that this city from long ago has been engaging in insurrection against kings. It has continually engaged in
Aram “are being done.”
rebellion and revolt.
20Powerful kings have been over Jerusalem who ruled throughout the entire Trans-Euphrates
The statement that prior Jewish kings ruled over the entire Trans-Euphrates is an overstatement. Not even in the days of David and Solomon did the kingdom of Israel extend its borders to such an extent.
and who were the beneficiaries of
Aram “were being given to them.”
tribute, custom, and toll.
21Now give orders that these men cease their work and that this city not be rebuilt until such time as I so instruct.
Aram “until a command is issued from me.”
22Exercise appropriate caution so that there is no negligence in this matter. Why should danger increase to the point that kings sustain damage?”

23 Then, as soon as the copy of the letter from King Artaxerxes was read in the presence of Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their colleagues, they proceeded promptly to the Jews in Jerusalem
Aram “to Jerusalem against the Jews.”
and stopped them with threat of armed force.
Aram “by force and power,” a hendiadys.

24 So the work on the temple of God in Jerusalem came to a halt. It remained halted until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia.
Darius I Hystaspes ruled Persia ca. 522–486 b.c.

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