Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;
Ver. 1. Now when the adversaries of Judah] Aroused by those loud acclamations and outcries, Ezra 3:12,13. These adversaries were those Samaritans, Ezra 4:3, the kind of mongrels who wore religion as a cloak, which they either put on or threw off at pleasure, and as occasion required. Satan, saith one, doth not always appear in one and the same fashion; but hath as many several shapes as Proteus among the poets. Here he pretends devotion to his mischievous designs, but was frustrated.
That the children of the captivity] Istos deportatos, by way of contempt, as Junius rendereth it; as if the Jews were, therefore, hated of God because they had been transported, captivated. Cicero passeth the same censure of them in his oration, pro L. Flacco: Ista gens quam chara diis immortalibus esset docuit, quod est victa, quod elocata, quod servata. It appears how dear to God they be by their frequent captivities.
Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye [do]; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.
Ver. 2. Let us build with you] Craftily and treacherously do they offer their cost and pains, ut illis intermixti personas committerent, atque ita opus interverterent, saith one well; that, mingling with them, they might set them together by the ears, and so put a stop to the work. Thus Julian, to spite the Christians, first set the Jews to work to rebuild their temple; and when that would not be, he called home the Arian bishops out of banishment, to breed new broils in the Church. The Jesuits have a practice at this day of running over to the Lutheran Church, pretending to be converts, and to build with them; but it is only to keep up that bitter contention that is between the Calvinists and the Lutherans. And what ill offices they do among us at this day to heighten our divisions, and hinder the Reformation (by their wiles, much ensnared and hindered), good men are very sensible of. The Lord detect and defeat them.
For we seek your God, as ye do] Nay, not as ye do. See 2 Kings 17:32,34, they feared the Lord, not filially, but for his lions; as the old Romans worshipped their Veiones, lest they should hurt them; and as the Caffrani (a people in India) worship devils in most terrible figure, that they may not punish them.
Since the days of Esarhaddon] Son and successor to Sennacherib, 2 Kings 19:37, grandson to Salmaneser; after whom, it seems, he brought a new colony into the land of Samaria, who proved deadly enemies to God's people.
But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.
Ver. 3. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua] Jeshua would be one to keep them out, though they slighted him in their application to Zerubbabel and the chief of the fathers, Ezra 4:2 .
Ye have nothing to do with us] You shall neither conquer us nor compound with us. This was right Roman resolution. They were wont to say of cowards in Rome, that there was nothing Roman in them. I can never sufficiently admire, saith one, the speech of blessed Luther, who, though he was very earnest to have the communion administered in both kinds, contrary to the doctrine and custom of Rome, yet he professes, if the pope, as pope, commanded him to receive in both kinds, he would receive but in one kind, lest he should seem to receive the mark of the beast. As for these reconcilers and moderators, saith another learned man, were they the wisest under heaven, and should live to the world's end, they would be brought to their wit's end before they could accomplish this work's end, to make a reconciliation between Rome and us. They have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God. From such stand off, saith the apostle, 1 Timothy 6:5. Say to them, when they offer their cost and service, as here, Pura Deus mens est: procul, o procul este profani. This was one of those ancient laws of the twelve tables among the Romans, Impius ne audeto placare donis iram deorum, Let no profane person presume to think to pacify the gods with their pains or presents.
But we ourselves together will build, &c.] This the adversaries call combination, conspiracy, faction, sedition, &c., see Ezra 4:13. But what saith Tertullian? Cum boni, cum probi coeunt non est factio dicenda, sed curia. Et e contra, illis nomen factionis accommodandum est, qui in odium piorum et proborum conspirant (Apol. advers, gent. Num 520). When good men get together, and hold together, it is not to be called a faction, but a court. As on the other side, they are to be counted factious, who conspire against the godly, as these malignants in the text did.
As king Cyrus, &c.] They had good authority for what they did, and they hold them to it.
Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building,
Ver. 4. Then the people of the land] Who the nearer they came unto a conjunction with the Jews in matters of religion the deeper hatred they bare them. Thus at this day, a Jew hates a Christian worse than he doth a Pagan; so doth a Turk hate a Persian worse than he doth a Christian; a Papist, a Protestant worse than he doth a Turk; a formalist, a Puritan worse than he doth a Papist, Odia Theologica sunt acerbissima. Religious hatred is most shep.
Weakened the hands of the people of Judah] Discouraged them all they could, endeavouring to transfuse, as it were, a dead palsy into their fingers, that they might surcease, or, at least, slack their pains. Well might Solomon say, Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous: but who can stand before envy? surely the venom of all vices is found in this sharp fanged malignity.
And troubled them in building] Heb. Kept ado about them, and terrified them. This was to do the work of their father, the devil, that troubler of God's Israel (ad iniuriam inferendam totus comparatus, ο πονηρος), set upon it to vex such as begin but to build the tower of godliness, and to hinder them to the utmost.
And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Ver. 5. And hired counsellors against them] But good counsellors would not have been hired, either to bolster out a bad cause, or to outface a good; to justify the wicked for a reward, or to take away the righteousness of the righteous from him. There is a notable instance of this in Papinian, a Pagan counsellor. Thou mayest (said he to Antoninus, the fratricide) command my neck to the block, but not my tongue to the bar. I prize not my life to the pleading of an ill cause. These sordida poscinummia in the text were none such. Some think they were courtiers and counsellors to the king; such as by whom the king was even bought and sold, as Aurelian, the good emperor was, who might know nothing but as his counsellors informed him. This made Alphonsus, king of Aragon, say, that kings were herein most miserable, that whereas they abounded with all things else, the truth of matters they could seldom come by.
All the days of Cyrus king of Persia] Who, warring abroad, committed the government of his kingdom to his son Cambyses, a light and lewd lowly, easily prevailed with to hinder so good a work.
Even until the reign of Darius] i.e. Of Darius Nothus, say some, the son of Artaxerxes Longimanus, named Ezr 4:7 the father of Artaxerxes Mnemon. But they do better, in my opinion, that understand the text of Darius Hystaspis, who succeeded Cambyses, and married his sister; seeking to ingratiate with the people by ratifying whatsoever Cyrus had decreed, and this of the temple among the rest, see Ezra 6:1 .
And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they [unto him] an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
Ver. 6. And in the reign of Ahasuerus] That is, of Cambyses, who is also called Artaxerxes in the next verse; for these two names were given to many kings of Persia; like as Pharaoh was to the kings of Egypt, as a title of honour. Ahasuerus signifieth a hereditary prince. Daniel calleth him the prince of the kingdom of Persia, Daniel 10:13, because he was viceroy in his father's absence. Infamous he is for many lewd pranks (as that he killed his brother, and then his own sister, after he had first married her, and made a law that any man might do the like), yet was he not so ungracious a son to Cyrus as our Henry II's eldest son was; whom he not only crowned king during his own life, but also, to do him honour at his coronation, renounced the name of a king for that day, and, as sewer, served at the table. For which he was thus requited, My father, said he, is not dishonoured by attending on me; for I am both a king's and a queen's son, and so is not he.
In the beginning of his reign] As loth to lose time (Esau began in the very womb to persecute Jacob), and as taking their fittest season for granting of suits.
Wrote they an accusation] Heb. a Satanical suggestion, a diabolical accusation, hatched in hell, and dictated by the devil. He it is that acteth and agitateth the saints' adversaries and accusers; sitting upon their tongues and pens, and setting an edge on them.
And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter [was] written in the Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.
Ver. 7. And in the days of Artaxerxes] This seems to be Cambyses' Persian name, as Ahasuerus was his Chaldee name. It is as much as Bellator egregius, an excellent warrior. So Scipio was called Fulmen belli, the lightening bolt of war; Bajazet, the Great Turk, Gilderun, or lightning; Albert, Marquis of Brandenburg, was called Achilles Teutonicus (Bucholc.). Our Black Prince was so named, not of his colour, but of his courage, and of his dreaded acts in battle; for he assailed no nation which he overcame not, he besieged no city which he took not (Speed). Cambyses had great success in his wars, and added Egypt, and other countries, to the Persian monarchy.
Wrote Bishlam, Mithredath] These were the king of Persia's toparchs or deputies, beyond the river Euphrates.
Written in the Syrian tongue] Called also the Chaldee, Babylonish, and Assyrian; commonly spoken by the Jews, who, in the seventy years' captivity, lost the purity of their own language; like as the Latins also did, when the Goths, Vandals, and other barbarous nations overran them, and mingled with them.
And interpreted in the Syrian tongue] i.e. With Syrian characters, Et Scriptura et lingua erat Syriaca, ut sine interprete in aula regis intelligeretur, saith Shindler. It was so written that it might be understood at court without an interpreter.
Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort:
Ver. 8. Rehum the chancellor] Or, president of the council. It is of the Chaldee termination; the whole history also following to Ezra 6:19, is Chaldee, transcribed, as some think, out of the rolls and registers of the Chaldees, and here inserted.
Then [wrote] Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, [and] the Elamites,
Ver. 9. The Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites] This was not unity, but conspiracy, of a rabble of rebels against God and his people. So Psalms 83:5,6, &c., "They have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee: the tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes," &c. A whole legion of devils could agree to enter into one poor man, to vex him; and to act as one in that possession.
And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest [that are] on this side the river, and at such a time.
Ver. 10. The great and noble Asnapper] Some great commander under the Assyrian monarch. There is, they say, a greatness belluine, and a greatness genuine. Asnapper, notwithstanding his big-swollen titles, might be rather great than good; and more notable than noble, Nobilitas sola est atque unica virtus (Juvenal).
On this side the river] That ancient river, the river Euphrates, which the more I see the more I admire, saith one.
This [is] the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, [even] unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time.
Ver. 11. Thy servants] Not thy subjects only, but thine officers.
Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls [thereof], and joined the foundations.
Ver. 12. The rebellious and the bad city] After so many years doth Jerusalem rue one perfidious act of Zedekiah; and, having once been treacherous, it still hears, "The rebellious and bad city," as if it had been a very πονηροπολις, a professed sanctuary of roguery (as the Jesuits say of Geneva), and as Florus saith of the temple at Jerusalem, that it was impiae gentis arcanum.
And have set up the walls thereof] This was no less false than scandalous. But malice careth not how true the accusation is, but how mischievous.
And joined the foundations] Chald. sewed together. Or, rather these false informers had sewed a lie together with great art, that it might seem a truth, Psalms 119:69. The proud have forged a lie against me, assuunt mendacium mendacio, they have taught their tongues to speak lies, Jeremiah 9:5, and are artists at it.
Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up [again, then] will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and [so] thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.
Ver. 13. Be it known now unto the king] q.d. This is no light business, but of greatest importance; and, therefore, fit to be noted and noticed.
Then will they not pay toll, tribute, &c.] This is an old device of the devil and his imps, to represent God's people to the world as anti-magistratical, and disturbers of the public peace. Thus they dealt by the primitive Christians, who were the emperors' best subjects, and yielded them greatest respect and profit. Thus Francis, king of France, pretended and professed to the princes of Germany, whose friendship he desired, that he pursued the Lutherans with fire and sword, for no other cause but for that they were levellers, and enemies to civil government. This drew from Calvin, who was then but twenty-five years of age, that golden book of his, Institutions of Christian Religion, to free the Reformed Churches of that slur and slander. The like was suggested by the Arminians in the Low Countries, and by the Episcopal party here. It was in Tacitus's time, unum crimen eorum qui crimine vacabant, the only fault of such as were indeed without fault.
And so thou shalt endamage the revenue] Diminish the annual revenues of the crown, which are well called the king's strength here, because if these fail little good can be done, either at home or abroad, Henry, king of Navarre (afterwards king of France), was wont to say, that he was a husband without a wife, a soldier without money, and a king without a kingdom. What would the king of Spain's greatness soon come to were it not for his yearly incomes, his mines of America?
Now because we have maintenance from [the king's] palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king;
Ver. 14. Now because we have maintenance from the king's palace] Chaldee, are salted with the salt of the palace, Salarium de regis palatio pereipimus, have our salary from the court, as Junius rendereth it. The great use of salt makes it here put for all kind of commodity; like as bread is called pants, as if it were το παν, the all and whole of our sustenance, Deuteronomy 8:3 .
And it was not meet for us to see the king's dishonour] Chaldee, nakedness, privities, which uncovered, cause contempt, as it befell Noah in his drunkenness; and the king of Spain, when by Queen Elizabeth proclaimed bankrupt.
Therefore have we sent and certified the king] As knowing that Beneficium postulat officium, Bounty commands duty. Ingratitude is a monster in nature, a solecism in good manners, &c. Lycurgus would make no law against it, because he held that none could be so unreasonable as to be guilty of it. Yet Alphonsus complained of his ungrateful courtiers; and so did Frederick III, emperor of Germany. Queen Elizabeth also said, that in trust she had oft found treason. That traitor Parry had vowed her death, although he had been condemned for burglary, and saved by her pardon (Speed).
That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city [is] a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed.
Ver. 15. In the book of the records] Chaldee, of the remembrances, that is, the chronicles usual in all kingdoms.
And know that this city is a rebellious city] See Trapp on " Ezr 4:1 " See Trapp on " Ezr 4:2 " Learn, that fidelity to governors is ever both safe and honourable. Zedekiah's falsifying his oath to the king of Babylon, was the overthrow of that commonwealth. See what God himself saith, not without great indignation, Ezekiel 17:18, "Seeing he" (Zedekiah) "despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand, and hath done all these things, he shall not escape."
We certify the king that, if this city be builded [again], and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.
Ver. 16. We certify the king] They doubt not of audience, while they sang a song of Utile, which therefore they thus set on with more confidence than charity.
Ezra 4:17 [Then] sent the king an answer unto Rehum the chancellor, and [to] Shimshai the scribe, and [to] the rest of their companions that dwell in Samaria, and [unto] the rest beyond the river, Peace, and at such a time.
Ver. 17. Peace, and at such a time] As the Latins saluting say, Ave, or Salve, the Greeks χαιρε, so the Hebrews and Syrians say, Shalom lach, that is, Peace be to thee (Hieron.). The Turks' salutation at this day also is, Salaam aleek, the reply, Aleek Salaum, peace is a complexive blessing (Blount).
The letter which ye sent unto us hath been plainly read before me.
Ver. 18. Hath been plainly read before us] This in the general was commendable; but he should have reserved (as Alexander used to do) ους αδιαβλητον, one ear free, and have heard both parties.
And I commanded, and search hath been made, and it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and [that] rebellion and sedition have been made therein.
Ver. 19. Hath made insurrection against kings] Chaldee, lift up itself against kings. Pride is painted with a triple crown on her head; upon the first whereof is written Transcendo; , I ascend; upon the second, Non obedio; , I disobey; upon the third, Perturbo., I throw into confusion; Wat Tyler the rebel dared to say, that all the laws of England should come out of his mouth.
There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all [countries] beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them.
Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until [another] commandment shall be given from me.
Ver. 21. Give you now commandment] Chaldee, Make a decree; which yet did but carry on God's decree; for while persecutors sit backward to his command, they row forwards to his decree.
Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?
Ver. 22. Take heed now that ye fail not] This was to spur a free horse; like as letters were sent from King Philip and Queen Mary to Bishop Bonner, complaining that heretics were not so reformed as they should be, and exhorting him to more diligence.
Why should damage grow] Take heed of that howsoever. Multi reges graviorem ducunt iacturam regionis, quam religionis, &c. (Bucholcer). Many kings consider it more serious to about to be thrown out of their kingdom than of their religion.
Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter [was] read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power.
Ver. 23. They went up in haste] Perurgente diabolo, the devil driving them, and their own malicious dispositions egging them thereunto (Bern.). So, when Queen Mary lay a dying, Harpsfeild, arch-deacon of Canterbury, being at London, made all post-haste home to dispatch those martyrs whom he had then in his cruel custody (Acts and Mon. 1562). So ambitious are wicked men of hell, they take long strides, and mend their pace, as if they feared lest it should be taken up before they come thither.
Then ceased the work of the house of God which [is] at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Ver. 24. Then ceased the work of the house of God] And now the adversaries have got the ball on the foot, thinking to carry the game before them; but "the triumphing of the wicked is short," Job 20:5, and that they prosper at all in their designs it is non ad exitium, sed ad exercitium Sanctorum, not for the ruin of the Church, but for the exercise of the faith and patience of God's people.