|The Book of Ezra|
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Go to Bible: Ezra 1
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia.” Ezra 1:1-3a is almost identical to the last two verses of 2 Chronicles. From a chronological point of view, Ezra takes over where Chronicles stops.
This first year of Cyrus refers to his first year reigning over Babylon, which he conquered in 538 BC, not his first year reigning in Persia (559 BC). Babylon was captured in October, 539 BC (Dan. 5:30-31), but Cyrus did not get there and start to reign over Babylon until March of 538 BC. Quite a lot is known about Cyrus from the Persian records. Also, “Cyrus” is an actual name, not a title, whereas in other parts of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, the “names” Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, and Ahasuerus are actually titles, not proper names.
“by the mouth of Jeremiah.” Jeremiah had prophesied that the Babylonian Captivity would be 70 years (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10), so Yahweh worked behind the scenes to make sure that prophecy came to pass.(top)
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says.” This decree in Ezra 1:2-4 is written in Hebrew, so that the people returning from the Babylonian Captivity could read it, or read it to anyone who challenged what they were doing. In contrast, the copy of the decree that was kept at Ecbatana in the Persian records was written in Aramaic (Ezra 6:3-5). Ezra is one of the books that has a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, for example, Daniel does also. This kind of detail attests to the historical accuracy of the Bible. If someone wrote the whole book of Ezra at a much later date, as some Bible-detractors assert, it is highly unlikely that he would go to the trouble to write some parts of the book in Hebrew and some in Aramaic.
“house.” The Temple was called the “house” or “house of God.” This is hard to see in many English versions because translators use “temple” to make the verse easier for the average reader. But then inconsistency makes some verses in the Bible confusing. For example, The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) happened in the Temple, the “house,” but tradition says the upper room (Acts 2:2).(top)
“Among you of all his people.” This proclamation was sent out to all the people, so the meaning is, “among you [in Persia] of all his people [the Jews].” We can thus understand it as, “Whoever among the people in Persia is a Jew.”
“God.” Since this proclamation came from Cyrus the Persian who worshiped gods besides the God we know as the true God, a more accurate rendering of “God” in this verse would almost certainly be “god,” not God, especially in light of the last phrase, “he is the God [god] who is in Jerusalem.” It was common at that time to believe that there were different gods in different locations, and since many of the so-called “gods” were actually demons, that was true to a large extent. Of course that was not true of the true God, but Cyrus would likely not have thought that way, as this phrase indicates (see 1 Kings 20:28).(top)
“be assisted by the men of his place.” There are two groups of people in this verse. The people who survived the captivity who were going to make the journey back to Judea, and the people where he lived (“the men of his place”) who were to help out those who were going back to Judea by giving them money (silver and gold) and goods for the journey.
Although the Jews were allowed to return from the Babylonian Captivity to Judea, more of them stayed in Babylon (now conquered by Persia) than returned. After the Jews were carried away to Babylon there were always more Jews outside of Israel than in it, and that is still true today. The Jews in foreign countries are known as the “diaspora.” In 1 Peter 1:1, they are called the people “of the Dispersion.”(top)
“the heads of fathers’ houses.” The Hebrew text seems cut off only because everyone at the time would have known what “the heads of the fathers’” meant, which was the “heads,” or leaders, of the ancestral houses in Israel. The ancestral house was the most basic organizational unit in ancient Israel. We actually see this on a broader scale in the twelve tribes of Israel. Each tribe, for example, Judah, Benjamin, Dan, and Issachar, was descended from and named after one person, one patriarch, who himself was descended from “Israel,” that is, Jacob. As such, the “twelve tribes of Israel” are the twelve tribes descended from Jacob, and that family identity was so strong that people kept it for centuries. For example, Paul, who lived over 1,500 years after Benjamin, knew that his personal ancestor was Benjamin (Phil. 3:5).
By the time of the return from Babylon, however, over 1,000 years after Jacob lived, there were more than the original twelve ancestral houses (and besides, only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were carried en masse to Babylon; the other ten tribes had been conquered and scattered by Assyria; 2 Kings 17:5). Each “house” was more like a clan or tribe than what we today would think of as a “house” with an elder father figure with grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. The biblical “house” (household) was a very extended group, and the patriarchs of these “houses” played a very important role in the government of the people, as we see here in Ezra.(top)
“All those who were around them.” We learn from history that more of the Judeans who had been carried captive to Babylon stayed in Babylon than returned to Judah. The Judeans had lived for some two generations in Babylon, and many had made it their home. But they helped the Judeans who did return to Judah by giving them things they needed.(top)
|Ezr 1:7||- (top)|
“governor.” The Hebrew is nasi (#05387 נָשִׂיא), “one lifted up, chief, prince, captain, leader.” A more literal translation would be “Sheshbazzar, the one lifted up of Judah.” But in this context of the Persian empire, it refers to the position of governor.(top)
|Ezr 1:9||- (top)|
|Ezr 1:10||- (top)|
“All the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400.” This is more than the number of listed items; the list is just a partial list.
“Sheshbazzar.” Sheshbazzar was the first governor of Judah after the return from the Babylonian Captivity (Ezra 1:8). He was succeeded at some point by Zerubbabel (Haggai 1:1).(top)