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EZRA 1

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
End of the Babylonian Captivity Cyrus' Decree Cyrus Commands the Jews to Return The Return of the Exiles
1:1-4
    (2-4)
1:1-4 1:1-4
    (2-4)
1:1-4
    (2-4)
Gifts for Refurnishing the Temple
1:5-11 1:5-11 1:5-6 1:5-6
1:7-10 1:7-11
1:11

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
 In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
  Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Hebrew GrammarTextual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: EZRA 1:1
 1Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,

1:1 "in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia" The close of 2 Chr. 36:22-23 is similar to the opening of Ezra. Some scholars assert that the lexical and syntactical style suggests one author. However, it may simply be a way of showing that Ezra-Nehemiah continues the history of Chronicles.

Special Topic: Kings of Persia

▣ "in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah" This refers to Jeremiah's prophecy of the seventy-year captivity (cf. Jer. 25:11, 12; 29:10; 50:18-19). It is hard to find an exact 70 year time-frame unless one adds

  1. from the time of King Jehoiakim
  2. from the destruction of Solomon's temple in 586 B.C. to the rebuilding of the second temple in 516 B.C.
  3. it is possible that the number 70 refers to a round number or the expected life span of an individual

Special Topic: Seventy Years

▣ "the stirred up the spirit of Cyrus" This VERB (BDB 734 I, KB 802, Hiphil PERFECT, cf. John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, vol. 3, p. 1, and Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs [ed], of William Gesenius' Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament) also occurs in Ezra 1:5, where the stirs up the exiles to return home. The major thrust of this recurrent theme is that God is in control of history—all history, by arousing humans to action (cf. Ezra 6:22; 1 Chr. 5:26; 2 Chr. 21:16; 36:22; Isa. 13:17; Jer. 51:1,11; Hag. 1:14)!

Cyrus seems to have had a unique concern for the Jews. Many commentators believe this was because Daniel, who lived into Cyrus' reign (cf. Dan. 10:1), showed him his name and the prophecies of Isaiah (cf. Isa. 41:2,25; 44:28-45:7,12-13; 46:11; 48:15), which relates to YHWH calling "one from the east" to do His bidding of allowing His people to return to Judah and rebuild His temple. Josephus, Antiq. 11.1, says that the Jews showed Cyrus the text, Isa. 44:28.

Cyrus' knowledge of Isaiah's prophecies may be the source of his words in Ezra 1:2. The same word, "stirred up" or "aroused" (BDB 734), is used in Isa. 41:2,25; 45:13. Daniel himself was concerned about the rebuilding of YHWH's temple (cf. Daniel 9).

Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible

▣ "and also put it into writing saying" Cyrus' decree (538 B.C.) that all of the exiled people groups could return to their native lands (Cyrus Cylinder, cf. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament by J. B. Pritchard, pp. 315-316) and re-establish their religious traditions was an attempt to assure political loyalty and to try to appease the national gods for his reign.

The term "writing" (BDB 508) is a technical term for written posters. It is possible that the Hebrew account of Cyrus' decree in chapter 1 was spoken (i.e., "he sent a proclamation," BDB 876) as well as posted notices (i.e., "put it in writing") throughout the Empire. The Aramaic in Ezra 6:3-5 was the official written document put in the archives.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: EZRA 1:2-4
 2"Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.'"

1:2 "The Lord" See Special Topic: Names for Deity, D.

▣ "Thus says Cyrus King of Persia" Cyrus II's famous decree is recorded

  1. in Hebrew (a loose translation) in Ezra 1:2-4
  2. in royal Aramaic in Ezra 6:3-5

R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the OT, p. 132, suggests that the decree of Cyrus was issued in an official form for the Persian archives and a translated form for each different people/language group.

▣ "The Lord, the God of Heaven" This title for the universal God of creation was first used by Abraham in Gen. 24:3,7 and later by Jonah (1:9). It was also a Persian title used of the Zoroastrian, good high-god, Ahura-Mazda (Ormuzd), but in this context it was obviously influenced by Jewish usages referring to YHWH. This proclamation is Jewish, but I believe that this can be explained by

  1. the prophesies of Isaiah shown to Cyrus by Daniel
  2. Jewish consultation in writing this edict concerning YHWH

▣ "has given me all of the kingdoms of the earth" The VERB (BDB 678, KB 733, is a Qal PERFECT, denoting a completed act). From the Cyrus Cylinder (ANET p. 315-16), it is known that Cyrus used religion as a political tool to instill loyalty of people groups. The thing he did for the Jews in the name of their God, he did for all the exiled peoples in the names of their gods. Cyrus' personal beliefs are not the issue.

Marduk is the high-god of the Babylonian pantheon, also called Bel (lord). He was the patron god of the city of Babylon. Cyrus consolidated his reign over the ancient Near East by appeasing each and every people group.

The reason Cyrus took the capital of Babylon without a fight was because the last neo-Babylonian king, Nabonidus, became infatuated with the moon god, Zin, who was worshiped in Ur and Haran. His mother was Zin's high priestess at Tema. Nabonidus was absent from Babylon for over ten years on military campaigns near Tema (i.e., Egypt). The priests of Marduk at Babylon saw Cyrus as a liberator and faithful follower of Marduk.

▣ "He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem" This VERB (BDB 823, KB 955, Qal PERFECT) is used regularly of God appointing someone to a divine task (cf. Num. 27:16; 2 Chr. 23:14).

Cyrus' understanding of a divine task may have come from his knowledge of Isaiah's prophecies (cf. Isa. 41:2,25; 44:28-45:7,12-13; 46:11; 48:15).

1:3 "whoever" Cyrus allowed any and all Jews to return. History tells us about 50,000 did. The question is how many were left in Babylon? Did the majority of Jews return? Ancient records show that large numbers of Jewish people remained in many cities of Babylon. The ones who returned were the most zealous for their ancestral faith!

▣ "may his God be with him" This is the first of three Qal JUSSIVES:

  1. "May his God be with him" (BDB 224, KB 243)
  2. "Let him go up to Jerusalem" (BDB 748, KB 828)
  3. "Rebuild the house of the Lord" (BDB 124, KB 139)

This phrase may give a hint as to (1) how difficult it was to leave a settled lifestyle and travel a long and dangerous route to Judah or (2) the character of Cyrus himself, to whom all ancient historians refer in gracious, positive ways.

▣ "the house of the Lord" This phrase refers to the temple of YHWH on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem.

▣ "He is the God who is in Jerusalem" The ancient Near Eastern people believed that every nation had a god and that god was limited to the national boundaries. This concept is seen in the story of Naaman, the Syrian general wanting soil from Israel on which to worship YHWH (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:17). The Jews were surprised that YHWH left the temple and traveled east to be with the Jewish exiles in Babylon (cf. Ezek. 10:18; 11:23-25).

Cyrus, in Ezra 1:2, proclaims YHWH as the God of all the earth, but his comment in Ezra 1:3 shows he still saw Him as Israel's deity only!

This phrase could be a parenthesis "(He is God!) which is in Jerusalem," cf. Rotherham's Emphasized Bible, p. 469). By dividing the phrase this way, it emphasizes monotheism!

1:4 "every survivor" In this context God chooses only some (those with a faithful zeal) of the remnant (survivors of the Exile) to return to Judah. As we have seen before in this chapter, themes from Israel's past recur (Ezra 1:6). God is reducing the numbers so that He can show His power, provision, and care (e.g., Gideon, Judges 6-7).

Special Topic: The Remnant (three senses)

▣ "at whatever place he may live" All the Jewish people were allowed by Cyrus' edict in 538 B.C. to return home, those who were exiled by Assyria (722 B.C.) and those who were exiled by Babylon (605, 596, 586, 582 B.C.) We know from history that many of the southern tribes of Judah returned (Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, and most of Levi), but only a few from the northern tribes of Israel, which had been exiled to Media.

▣ "let the men of that place support him" The support for the return trip was supplied by neighbors and kin. These same ones, along with the Persian treasury, helped rebuild the temple.

There is a parallel between the Egyptians of the Exodus giving gold and silver and treasure to the departing Jews to help them build their tabernacle (cf. Exod. 12:35-36). Isaiah depicts the return from exile as a new exodus (e.g., Isa. 41:17-18; 43:14-17; 48:20-21).

This fits the prediction of Haggai 2:7-8 that God will allow and motivate the nations to supply His temple's needs!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: EZRA 1:5-11
 5Then the heads of fathers' households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. 6All those about them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was given as a freewill offering. 7Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods; 8and Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and he counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. 9Now this was their number: 30 gold dishes, 1,000 silver dishes, 29 duplicates; 1030 gold bowls, 410 silver bowls of a second kind and 1,000 other articles. 11All the articles of gold and silver numbered 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all up with the exiles who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

1:5 "then the heads of the fathers of the households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites" This is a list of the three major groups (tribes) that made up the southern kingdom, Judah, after the political split in 922 B.C., which was caused by Solomon's son, Rehoboam's arrogance (cf. 1 Kings 12).

The only tribal group missing in this list is Simeon, which was incorporated into Judah very early. Most of the tribe of Levi (i.e., priests and Levites) stayed with the southern kingdom because of the temple in Jerusalem.

▣ "everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up" This is the same VERB (BDB 734 I, KB 802, Hiphil PERFECT) as in Ezra 1:1. God motivated Cyrus to do His will and He motivates His people to do His will. However, there is also a necessary covenantal response from each individual. We know from history that not all of these tribal groups returned. God opens hearts to respond to Him!

The Hebrew term ruach (spirit, BDB 924) has a very wide semantic field (BDB 924-926, KB 1197). In this context it refers to the human person, his thought, and volitional processes.

Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible

1:6 "encouraged them" This is a Semitic idiom, "strengthen their hands." Here it obviously refers to valuable gifts both for the temple in Jerusalem and to help those who are returning to make the trip.

▣ "a freewill offering" God's people had responded to give to the tabernacle in Exod. 35:29 from the spoils they were given by the Egyptians. Here neighbors and fellow Jews give to the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. This may fit Hag. 2:6-7.

1:7-11 See Special Topic: Kings of Persia

1:7 "King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put into the house of his gods" These articles would include cups, censers, and sacrificial paraphernalia (cf. Ezra 1:9-11). These articles are mentioned in Jer. 52:17-19; 2 Chr. 36:10. They were placed in the temple of Marduk in the city of Babylon. When one compares 2 Kgs. 24:13 with Dan. 5:2-4, there seems to be a contradiction. However, it seems that the large articles of metal were cut up to make them easier to transport, but the smaller ones such as cups, bowls, and spoons were kept intact.

1:8 "Mithredath" This was the name of the treasurer of the city of Babylon. His name (BDB 609) reflects the Persian sun god, Mithras. This was a common name ("given to Mithras" or "Mithras has given") and another person by the same name occurs in Ezra 4:7.

▣ "Sheshbazzar" His Babylonian name (BDB 1058) means "may ______ protect the father." The blank may refer to the moon god (Zin/Sin) or the sun good (Shashu/Shamash). There has been much discussion about this man's relationship to Zerubbabel, who is mentioned in Ezra 2:2 as bringing the exiles back to Jerusalem. Some see him as the first Persian-appointed governor and the uncle of Zerubbabel (cf. 1 Chr. 3:18, "Shenazzar" or "Shenabazar" is the fourth son of exiled king Jeconiah [Jehoiachin]; Zerubbabel's father is Shealtiel, the first son, cf. Ezra 3:2). In my opinion they are sequential governors (cf. I Esdras 6:18), but this is speculation. See IVP Bible Background Commentary (OT), p. 460).

▣ "prince of Judah" The term "prince" (BDB 672 I) means "one lifted up" or "chief." It does not necessarily imply that he is of the royal line (tribe of Judah, Gen. 49:10; line of Jesse, Isa. 11:1; and family of David, 2 Samuel 7). He is called "governor" in Ezra 5:14-16, while Zerubbabel is called "governor" in Hag. 1:1.

1:9
NASB, NJB   "30 gold dishes"
NKJV   "thirty gold platters"
NRSV, REB, JPSOA, Peshitta   "gold basins, thirty"
TEV   "gold bowls for offerings ‒ 30"
LXX   "gold wine coolers, thirty"

This term (BDB 173) refers to a basin or basket. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 1, p. 256, calls it a dish or pan. The Anchor Bible Commentary, vol. 14, calls it "a small dish or other container," p. 5. The term is used only in this verse in the Bible and is uncertain as all the various guesses from the ancient versions show.

NASB   "1,000 silver dishes"
NKJV   "one thousand silver platters"
NRSV, REB, JPSOA   "silver basins, one thousand"
TEV   "silver bowls for offerings ‒ 1,000"
NJB   "one thousand silver dishes"
LXX   "silver wine coolers, one thousand"

This term (BDB 173) is the same word as the above items except the ones above were made of gold; these were made of silver. In the tabernacle the different types of valuable metals were used to designate degrees of holiness. Gold was used in the Holy of Holies, but silver in the Holy Place and bronze in other parts of the tabernacle. If this remains true then these different metal vessels may have specialized usages. No bronze vessels are mentioned in the list.

NASB   "29 duplicates"
NKJV, JPSOA   "twenty-nine knives"
NRSV   "knives, twenty-nine"
TEV   "other bowls ‒ 29"
NJB   "twenty-nine vessels of various kinds"
LXX   "assorted items, twenty-nine"
Peshitta   "twenty-nine vestments"

This term (BDB 322) may denote a ritual cutting instrument because it may be related to the VERB "to cut through" (BDB 322). In I Esdras 2:13, which contains a list of vessels closer to the number mentioned in Ezra 1:11, these are called "censers." The Peshitta translated it as "vestments" (priestly garments).

The UBS Text Project, p. 494, mentions three options. It stated that the only difference is the vowel points.

  1. knives ‒ NKJV, JPSOA
  2. various kinds ‒ NEB, REB
  3. altered ‒ NJB, UBS gives this one a "C" rating (considerable doubt)

1:10 "bowls of a second kind" Some lexicons think the word comes from the root, "double" (i.e., "of a second kind") and refers to bowls that matched each other (cf. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 2, p. 1138).

1:11 "five thousand four hundred" If one adds all of these items listed in Ezra 1:9-11, they do not equal even half of this amount. This list was just a summary or there were many small unlisted items such as spoons. The non-canonical book of I Esdras 2:13-15 gives a list that has many more items listed.

Many of the larger items of gold in the temple were cut up in order to be transported to Babylon (cf. 2 Kgs. 24:13).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Did Cyrus know about Jewish prophecy?

2. Why does Cyrus' decree sound so Jewish?

3. Did God's Spirit stir all the Jews to return to Judah or just some?

4. How are Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel related?

5. Did Nebuchadnezzar keep only the articles from the Jewish temple or from all the temples that he conquered?

 

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