Ch. Ezr_3:1-3. The Building of the Altar
1. The first clause of this verse concludes the Register of the preceding section in Nehemiah (Neh_7:73).
the seventh month] Probably the 7th month in the first year of the Return, since the next recorded date (Ezr_3:8) is the 2nd month ‘in the second year of their coming unto the house of God’.
The 7th month—the month Tisri—was in some respects the most sacred in the Jewish Calendar. The 1st day was the Feast of Trumpets (Num_29:1): the 10th was the Great Day of Atonement (Num_29:7; Lev_16:29): the 15th was the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev_23:34-36; Lev_23:39-44; Num_29:12-38). It was therefore an appropriate season for the first religious act of the new community. ‘The holy convocation’ on the 1st day was to herald the new order of things.
Psalms 81. very possibly commemorates the festival of ‘the new moon’.
as one man] cf. Jdg_20:1; Neh_8:1.
Then stood up … to offer]
Jeshua the High-priest (cf. Ezr_2:2) mentioned here in connexion with sacrifice, before Zerubbabel; in Ezr_3:8 after Zerubbabel in connexion with the work of rebuilding the Temple.
Jeshua’s brethren are the priests: Zerubbabel’s brethren ‘the heads of fathers’ houses’ (cf. Ezr_2:2; Ezr_2:68).
Zerubbabel called here for the first time ‘son of Shealtiel’. See note on Ezr_2:2.
and builded] a ceremonious act performed by the heads of the people.
the altar of the God of Israel] cf. Ezr_1:3. We are reminded by this term of the unity of the divided and scattered people. The altar, the place of sacrifice, symbolized the approach of the whole people.
as it is written in the law of Moses] cf. Ezr_6:18; 2Ch_23:18; 2Ch_35:12; 2Ch_35:26. The offerings for the 1st day of Tisri, the Feast of Trumpets, are described in Num_29:1-6.
the man of God] For the phrase used of Moses, cf. 1Ch_23:14; 2Ch_30:16.
Jeshua the son of Jozadak. The position of Jeshua, both here and in Ezr_3:8, Ezr_3:9, sufficiently marks him as the high priest, though Ezra does not give him the title. Haggai, however (Ezr_1:1, 14; Ezr_2:2), and Zechariah (Ezr_3:1, Ezr_3:8; Ezr_6:11) distinctly assign him the office. His father, Jozadak, or Josedech, was the son of Seraiah, high priest at the destruction of Jerusalem (1Ch_6:14). The name Jeshua is a mere variant of Joshua, and so corresponds to Jesus, of whom Jeshua may be regarded as a type. His brethren the priests. As being all of them equally descended from Aaron, the priests were “brethren.” Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel. See note on Ezr_2:2, where Zerubbabel’s actual descent is given. And his brethren. Such other members of the royal house as had returned with him. As it is written in the law. See Le 17:2-6; Deu_12:5-11. It was an express command of God to the Israelites that sacrifice should be offered only at Jerusalem in the place which he should appoint. Moses the man of God. That is, “the Prophet;” but the phrase is emphatic, and characteristic of Ezra.
Jeshua, the high priest, was the son of Jozadak, who was carried into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar 1Ch_6:15.
Zerubbabel was really the son of Pedaiah, Shealtiel’s (or Salathiel’s) younger brother. But Shealtiel having no sons, and the royal line being continued in the person of his nephew, Zerubbabel, the latter was accounted Shealtiel’s son.
upon his bases] R.V. upon its base. Marg. ‘in its place’. (a) There is a difference of reading. The C’thib gives the singular, the K’ri the plural. The word occurs frequently in the plur. (e.g. 2Ki_16:17; 2Ki_25:13; Jer_27:19; Jer_52:17; Jer_52:20), it is probable that the singular has been altered into the more familiar plural usage. (b) The meaning of the word is much controverted. On the one hand it is supposed that having cleared away the rubbish and débris the leaders of the people came upon the old foundations or ‘base’ of the former altar and erected the new altar upon the spot. But the translation ‘upon its base’ scarcely admits of such latitude of interpretation; although the sentiment is most suitable.
On the other hand, if to ‘set upon its base’ merely means to erect, the term is unnecessarily ponderous.
The translation of the R.V. margin ‘in its place’ seems to be the best. It is very probable that the word in the verse is identical with that in Ezr_2:68. The altar was set up in the place which it was permanently to occupy.
for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries] R.V. the countries. The condensed language of this clause in the original has occasioned much perplexity. Literally it runs ‘for in fear upon them because of &c.’. (i) Another rendering has been proposed ‘for they (set up the altar) in fear, which came upon them because of the people of the countries’, but this leaves the word ‘for’ unexplained and supposes a very awkward construction.
(ii) The translation of the A.V. and R.V. cuts the grammatical knot contained in the words ‘in fear’ by translating them as the subject. Accepting this translation ‘for fear was upon them &c.’, a further question is raised by the motive of their action. The following answers have been given: (a) they set up the altar hoping to obtain thereby assistance from God, for they were in a state of fear: (b) they set up the altar in haste, for they feared the neighbouring peoples lest their interference at the court of Cyrus should check the work at its outset.
(iii) Quite a different turn to the verse is given by another rendering (? that of Ewald). ‘They set up the altar (and they were able to do so), for there was a fear felt toward them (the Jews) on the part of the people of the country’. This would be a fear such as we read of in Gen_35:5; Exo_15:16; Jos_2:11. It is to be noticed that in the last two passages the same rather unusual word for terror is used as we find in this verse.
(iv) Supposing that there has been a corruption of the text, it has been suggested that some important words have fallen out and that we should read ‘And the people of the countries gathered themselves together against them, and they (the Jews) set up the altar in its place, for in a moment of terror at them did they set it up’. (Ryssel.)
(v) The suggestion is here made that a very slight alteration—the omission of one letter (the preposition = ‘because of’)—will supply a good sense and remove the grammatical difficulty, i.e. ‘for the people of the countries were a terror to them’. The accidental repetition of this one letter has probably given rise to the whole difficulty. The meaning of the verse then will be ‘they set up the altar, for their neighbours were a source of terror to them,’ and the erection of the altar gave them religious confidence, it constituted a national rallying point; it was a beginning, and the success of the first movement might be decisive.
the people of those countries] R.V. the people of the countries. It is to be regretted that the R.V. has not here rendered this phrase (’ammê ha-arâçoth) by ‘the peoples of the lands’ as in Ezr_9:1-2; Ezr_9:11. It here apparently means the inhabitants of the border countries. See note on Ezr_6:21.
burnt offerings morning and evening] The daily sacrifice morning and evening as described in Exo_29:38; Num_28:3-8. Cf. Neh_10:38.
4–7. The Feast of Tabernacles
4. They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written] The manner of keeping the feast of tabernacles is described in Lev_23:34-42; Deu_16:13-15.
It was the autumn or vintage feast, the most joyous of all the great annual festivals. It commemorated the wanderings in the Desert. It would henceforth commemorate also the return from the Exile.
At this festival Solomon dedicated his Temple, 1Ki_8:65; and with this festival was connected the reading of the Law by Ezra under Nehemiah (Neh_8:14-16).
‘As it is written’, a shorter phrase for that which occurs in Ezr_3:2. Cf. 2Ch_30:5; 2Ch_30:18.
by number, according to the custom, R.V. ordinance] The words in the original are clearly a reference to the passage in Numbers 29. where the sacrifices for the feast of tabernacles are detailed, i.e. 13 young bullocks &c. on the first day, 12 &c. on the second, 11 &c. on the third, and so on. It is to be regretted that the same English words ‘according to their number, after the ordinance’, which occur as a kind of refrain in that chapter (Num_29:18; Num_29:21; Num_29:24; Num_29:27; Num_29:30; Num_29:33; Num_29:37), were not either exactly reproduced here by the R.V., or altered there to ‘by their number, according to ordinance’. The attention of the reader would then have been drawn to the echo given by this phrase to the phraseology of the Pentateuch.
(Yet another rendering of the same phrase appears 1Ch_23:31 ‘in number according to ordinance’.)
as the duty of every day required] because the number of the sacrifices altered every day during the Feast of Tabernacles. Literally, ‘the thing of the day in its day’: the same phrase is rendered ‘every day a portion’, 2Ki_25:30; Jer_52:34: ‘as every day’s work required’, 1Ch_16:37.
CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES (Ezr_3:4). Emboldened by their successful restoration of the altar of burnt sacrifice, Zerubbabel and Jeshua allowed the people to gather themselves together and celebrate the autumnal festival, though they can scarcely have made it on this occasion a “feast of ingathering.”
As it is written. According to the mode of celebration prescribed in the law; i.e. for seven consecutive days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of Tisri, with burnt offerings every day, and a holy convocation on the first day and the last, and a “dwelling in tents” during the whole period (see Le 23:31-42). The daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom. The offerings for each day of the festival are carefully laid down in Num_29:13-38. We must understand that all the particulars there enjoined were carefully observed.
and afterward offered] R.V. ‘and afterward’, the verb being supplied from the previous verse.
The clause implies that after the celebration of this Feast of Tabernacles the Jews resumed for the first time since the destruction of Jerusalem the regular sacrificial system.
the continual burnt offering] i.e. the daily morning and evening sacrifice, prescribed in Exo_29:38-42.
both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts &c.] R.V. ‘and the offerings of the new moons, and of all the set feasts’ &c. The A.V. gives the wrong impression that ‘the continual burnt offering’ belonged to ‘the new moons, set feasts,’ &c. The R.V. gives the right meaning.
The verse states that the Jews, now that the altar had been set up and the new order of things initiated by the solemn celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, resumed the customary burnt offerings, (1) daily, morning and evening, (2) at the new moon, (3) on all ‘set feasts’, (4) on the occasion of freewill offerings.
‘the new moons’. A popular day of religious observance among the Israelites (cf. 2Ki_4:23; Hos_2:11; Amo_8:5): not included among ‘the set feasts’ described in Leviticus 23, where the first day of the seventh month is the only new-moon day spoken of as a ‘holy convocation’ (Lev_23:24). Perhaps because the observance of ‘the new moons’ had been adopted from the general religious customs of the Semitic races, it received no special prominence in the Levitical code. The sacrifices for the ‘new moons’ are described in Num_28:11-15.
the set feasts]—see Lev_23:2-37, ‘The set feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations’ (R.V.),—i.e. (1) the Sabbath ( Lev_23:3), (2) the Passover ( Lev_23:5), (3) the Feast of Weeks ( Lev_23:15-21), (4) the Feast of Trumpets ( Lev_23:24), (5) the Day of Atonement ( Lev_23:27-32), (6) the Feast of Tabernacles ( Lev_23:34-36). In 2Ch_8:13, ‘the set feasts’ are the three great annual festivals, ‘unleavened bread’, ‘weeks’, ‘tabernacles’, and these are probably intended here.
The ‘new moons’ and the ‘set feasts’ are found along with ‘the Sabbaths’ in 1Ch_23:31; 2Ch_2:4; 2Ch_8:13; 2Ch_31:3; Neh_10:33.
a freewill offering] Freewill offerings were made (1) on the great feast-days, see Deu_16:10; Deu_16:16-17; and (2) whensoever any individual Israelite or Gentile desired (Num_29:39). They are called ‘oblations’ (Corbans) in Leviticus 1, 2, 3, where they are defined in detail.
From the first day of the seventh month &c.] This statement taken in conjunction with Ezr_3:5 (‘and afterward’ &c.) can only mean, that the Jews began to offer burnt offerings on their altar on ‘the first day of the month’, when the altar was set up, but that the regular offering of the daily sacrifice was not begun till after the Feast of Tabernacles (15th to 22nd).
But the foundation &c.] R.V. ‘but’ &c.: no full-stop. The explanatory clause is added. The burnt offerings were regularly made on the altar, although there was no Temple building, nor Temple worship. Such a thing would have been almost incredible to the Jew of later centuries.
7. First steps taken towards the Rebuilding of the Temple
the masons] The stone for the Temple was excavated from the hill on which Jerusalem stood.
It is possible that the word rendered ‘masons’ may include the rougher workmen for both stone and wood, i.e. quarrymen and wood cutters, while the word rendered ‘carpenters’ may mean the skilled artificers for working up the wood and stone.
meat] The old English expression for ‘something to eat’. Cf. Luk_24:41, ‘Have ye here any meat?’ (R.V. ‘anything to eat?’).
oil] One of the necessities of life for the inhabitants of a hot country, applied externally: classed here with meat and drink, and apparently also in Psa_23:5; Psa_104:15; Mic_6:15.
Solomon hired workmen from Tyre and Sidon and paid them in the same way, when the first Temple was erected. It is noteworthy that whereas 1Ki_5:11 states that Solomon gave Hiram’s household wheat and oil, we are told in 2Ch_2:10 that he promised to give Hiram’s servants ‘wheat and barley and wine and oil’. On this occasion similar payment in kind was given—a heavy tax upon the resources of the young community—to the Zidonians and Tyrians, engaged in felling trees on Lebanon and floating them to Joppa.
from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa] R.V. from Lebanon to the sea, unto Joppa. The mountain of Lebanon from which cedars were obtained and sent into every country far and near (e.g. 2Sa_5:11; 2Sa_7:2; 1Ki_5:6; 1Ch_14:1, &c.). Cf. Jer_22:23, ‘O inhabitant of Lebanon that makest thy nest in the cedars’.
The Tyrian workmen conveyed the trunks of cedar-trees from the hills to the nearest coast and then floated them in enormous rafts as far as Joppa, the nearest seaport to Jerusalem. Compare 2Ch_2:16, ‘And we will cut wood out of Lebanon, as much as thou shalt need: and we will bring it to thee in floats by sea to Joppa (marg. Heb. Japho); and thou shalt carry it to Jerusalem.’
‘To the sea of Joppa’, the A.V. rendering, preferred by some, is most unnatural.
Joppa—the modern Jaffa—was included in the tribe of Dan (Jos_19:46), but was never taken from the Philistines. Famous from the story of Jonah. In the Græco-Syrian period largely occupied by Jews, and included within Jewish territory by Jonathan and Simon, the brothers of Judas the Maccabee (see 1Ma_10:75). Peter at Joppa restored Tabitha (Act_9:36-43), and was summoned thence by Cornelius (Act_10:5). Now a small seaport, but of considerable importance. With certain improvements to the harbour it would become an important place. Distance 30 miles from Jerusalem.
according to the grant that they had &c.] The ‘grant’ or permit seems to be the probable rendering of the Hebrew word, which does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament.
of Cyrus king of Persia] What is the grant referred to? It appears from Herodotus (iii. 34; see Rawlinson’s note on Herod. iii. 19) that Cyrus was not master of Phœnicia, and was not therefore in a position to give a grant to the Jews to obtain cedar from Lebanon. Nor is it probable that the ‘grant’ means royal permission to enter into treaty with the Tyrians and Zidonians.
We must understand the word quite generally. The action of the Jews in procuring wood and stone and hiring workmen was in accordance with the wish of Cyrus, under whose favour they had undertaken the task of rebuilding the Temple.
8–13. The Foundation of the Temple
8. The Second Year of the Return.
of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem] cf. Ezr_2:68. Where the old Temple had been and the new was to be.
began] The meaning of this verb standing by itself, without an object and without a verb depending upon it, is not at first sight obvious. There are two ways of explaining it. (1) = ‘they made a beginning and appointed’—referring to the work generally; the verb ‘began’ being used without an object expressed. (2) = ‘began to appoint’—the two words ‘began’ and ‘appointed’ being, by a common Hebrew usage, placed coordinately. Of these two the former is the preferable. ‘Began to appoint’ gives a feeble sense. ‘Began and appointed’, i.e. ‘began by appointing’ expresses the full meaning.
Zerubbabel &c., and the remnant &c.] R.V. … and the rest &c. We find mentioned here (a) the two leaders, Zerubbabel the head of the royal, Jeshua the head of the priestly house, (b) the priests and Levites, (c) the rest of the returned community.
Zerubbabel here has the place of honour (see Ezr_3:2) in connexion with the building of the Temple, the commission which he had received from Cyrus. The prominence of the Levites in comparison with the smallness of their numbers (cf. Ezr_2:40-42) deserves attention. ‘Their brethren the priests and Levites’. (Cf. Ezr_3:2, Jeshua—his brethren the priests.)
appointed the Levites] The word ‘appointed’, lit. ‘to cause to stand’, is one very common in our author. Used of a building ‘to set up’, Ezr_2:68, Ezr_3:3, Ezr_9:9; Neh_3:1; Neh_3:3; Neh_3:6; Neh_3:13; Neh_6:1; Neh_7:1; of persons ‘to appoint’, ‘set over’, Ezr_3:9, Neh_4:13; Neh_6:7; 1Ch_6:31; 1Ch_15:17.
from twenty years old and upward] The limits of age for the Levite laid down in Num_8:24-25 excluded from service those younger than 25 and older than 50. The religious reorganization under David required the services of the Levite ‘from twenty years old and upward’; so 1Ch_23:24; 1Ch_23:27. The small number of Levites available made it all the more important to lower the standard of age. (For modification of original legislation see also on Ezr_6:20.)
to set forward the work] R.V. ‘to have the oversight of’, (Marg.) ‘set forward’. A rare word used in Ezra and 1Ch_23:4. Elsewhere it occurs only as a participle in titles to Psalms and in Hab_3:19 ‘for the Chief Musician.’
The Latin version ‘ut urgerent opus’ has suggested the rendering of the A.V. But the sense, suggested by the participial title ‘the Chief Musician, Conductor or Director’, is that of superintendence and direction. The R.V. construes ‘to have the oversight of’ here, and ‘to oversee’ in 1Ch_23:4, the word being in both places used of the Levites appointed to superintend the work to be done in the ‘House of the Lord’.
And when the builders &c.] By ‘the builders’ is clearly meant the workmen, not, as some commentators, Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
they set the priests &c.] So also R.V. text. (1) According to this reading, (a) the subject of the verb must be the leaders of the people (as described in Ezr_3:2); (b) the word ‘set’ in the Hebrew is the same as ‘appointed’ in Ezr_3:8 (see note); (c) and a parallelism may be noted between Ezr_3:8-11. Ezr_3:8; Ezr_3:10 describe the appointment (8) of the Levites, (10) of the priests; Ezr_3:9; Ezr_3:11 the work (9) of the Levites, (11) of the priests.
But the parallelism in other respects breaks down. In Ezr_3:8, the subject of the first clause (‘Zerubbabel &c. began’) is also the subject of the second (‘and they appointed’). In Ezr_3:10 the subject of the first clause cannot (except by the very unlikely interpretation which identifies ‘the builders’ with Zerubbabel and Jeshua) be taken as the subject of the second. Again in Ezr_3:8, after the word ‘appointed’ we find the sign of the accusative before ‘the Levites’ (so also in 1Ch_15:17-18). In Ezr_3:10 its absence is very noteworthy, when taken in conjunction with the evidence for the other reading.
(2) According to some MSS. and ancient versions the priests stood, R.V. margin. This reading is supported by thirteen Hebrew MSS. (according to Kennicott and de Rossi), by the LXX. (ἔστησαν), by the Vulgate (steterunt), and by the parallel version in 1Es_5:59 (‘and the priests stood’ &c.). It is more likely to have been the original reading, and to have been altered by the insertion of a single small letter (yτdh) so as to correspond with the form which appears in Ezr_3:8, ‘appointed’. Supposing the received text to be the original, we have to account for (α) the omission of this letter in the authorities quoted above, (β) the absence of the sign of the accusative, (γ) the statement that Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the priests appointed the priests.
Adopting the intransitive ‘stood’, (α) we are able to account for the common text by the supposition that it is a reproduction of the form used a few lines above; (β) the construction is perfectly simple, cf. 2Ch_29:26; 2Ch_35:10; (γ) though the parallelism of verses is lost, the order of the sentences is less artificial; with the introduction of the foundation of the Temple a fresh subject is started; (δ) in the ceremonies of the Temple the priests would be independent, ‘they stood’: the expression ‘they caused to stand or set’, though suitable as applied to ‘the Levites’, the subordinate order (Ezr_3:8), is less suitable as applied to ‘the priests’.
in their apparel] literally ‘arrayed’ or ‘vestured’, i.e. in their priestly garments, cf. Ezr_2:69. In the similar description given in 1Ch_5:12 the same word receives closer definition ‘arrayed in white linen’ or ‘byssus’.
with trumpets] as in 1Ch_15:24; 1Ch_16:6; 2Ch_5:12. The priests were specially commissioned to blow the sacred trumpets. Num_10:8.
with cymbals] David assigned the instrumental music to the Levites, the cymbals especially to the sons of Asaph. Compare 1Ch_25:1 with 1Ch_16:4-5; 1Ch_25:6.
after the ordinance of David king of Israel] R.V. after the order of &c. The same phrase occurs in 1Ch_25:2, ‘after the order of the king’, (R.V. marg. Heb. ‘by the hands of the king’).
And they sung together by course] R.V. And they sang one to another, literally ‘and they answered’, the same word as is rendered ‘answered’ in Ezr_10:12; Neh_8:6. The traditional interpretation of this expression has seen in it an allusion to antiphonal singing, whereby a Psalm such as Psalms 136 would be rendered by two choirs, one choir singing the clause ‘O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good’, the other replying ‘for His mercy endureth for ever’ &c. There can be no doubt that certain Psalms, such as Psa_24:7-10; Psalms 106, 107, 118, 136, lent themselves very readily to such musical rendering; and it is possible that Nehemiah’s division of the people into two companies on a great festal occasion may favour the view that antistrophic chanting was then in vogue (Neh_12:31 &c.). But, in our ignorance of early Jewish music, it is impossible to speak with certainty upon the subject, while it is very easy to import modern and Western notions into our conceptions of Oriental music. The present verb very probably means that the chant of praise was responded to with a great burst of chorus, vocal and instrumental, the substance of which was some well-known sacred refrain. Cf. Exo_15:20-21.
because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever] R.V. ‘saying, For he is good, for his mercy &c.’ The clause quotes the refrain. It has been natural perhaps to suppose that the allusion is made to Psalms 136. But reference to other passages, where the same refrain is quoted (1Ch_16:41; 2Ch_5:13; 2Ch_7:3; 2Ch_20:21; Jer_33:11) shows that the words are not a quotation from a Psalm, but rather a liturgical response in frequent use at sacred festivals, upon which the well-known Psalm was founded. The present verse constitutes an interesting fulfilment to the prediction of Jeremiah (Jer_33:10-11).
because the foundation … was laid] The word here used occurs in 2Ch_3:3, where the student will find the rendering of the R.V. (not of the A.V.) illustrated by this verse.
The Hebrew is here resumed.
the children of the captivity] cf. Ezr_6:16, Ezr_8:35.
kept the passover] on the 14th of the 1st month (Nisan) as was commanded in Exo_12:6. Very few celebrations of the Passover are recorded. Besides the original occasion of the Passover, we only read in the O.T. of its being kept (1) under Moses on the second year after the Exodus (Num_9:5), (2) under Joshua at Gilgal after the reconsecration of the people by the rite of circumcision (Jos_5:10), (3) in the reign of Hezekiah, after the purification of the Temple (2Ch_30:1-2, ff.), (4) in the reign of Josiah, after the religious reformation (2Ki_23:21; 2 Chronicles 35), (5) under Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
On each of these occasions the celebration of the Passover marks a new or a restored order of worship, and the solemn rededication by the people of their Covenant relation with God.
The explanatory ‘for’ means that this celebration of the Passover could take place, because the priests and Levites had duly prepared themselves for it by ceremonial purification.
the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure] R.V. the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together (Heb. as one); all of them were pure. ‘Had purified themselves’: the reflexive is the accurate rendering of the original.
together] Lit. ‘as one’: see Ezr_2:64, Ezr_3:9.
The rendering of the R.V. represents the ceremonial purification to have been jointly performed by priests and Levites, who were therefore all ‘pure’ and capable of sacrificial acts. The only difficulty arises from the following clause. How can it be said that ‘the priests and Levites killed the passover … for their brethren the priests, and for themselves?’ The words ‘for their brethren the priests’ shew that the subject of the last clause must be the Levites alone; and that the mention of the priests belongs to the two first clauses. Compare 2Ch_29:34, ‘their brethren the Levites did help them, till the work was ended, and until the priests had sanctified themselves: for the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests’ (cf. 2Ch_30:3). The small number of Levites who had returned were, we must suppose, more rigid followers of the ceremonial law than their brethren the priests, numerically a far larger body.
for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves] The triple division of the community: see Ezr_6:16.
The Levites are here represented as slaying the Paschal lamb. Three stages of custom as to the slaughter of the lamb are recorded in Scripture, (a) Originally, the lamb was slain by the head of each household (see Exo_12:6): (b) in the days of Hezekiah (2Ch_30:17) the Levites ‘killed the passovers for every one that was not clean’: (c) in the days of Josiah (2Ch_35:10-14) the Levites seem to have slain all the passover lambs, and roasted them both for the people, and for the priests, and for themselves.
The object of the alteration in the custom was twofold; (1) to secure the ceremonial purity of those entrusted with the duty of slaying the passover, (2) to relieve the priests, who at the season of the feast were busied in other offerings; see 2Ch_35:14, “therefore the Levites prepared for themselves, and for the priests the sons of Aaron”.
The above is a useful illustration of the manner in which the absolute rule of the early law was modified in later times out of regard for considerations of a purely practical character (cf. Ezr_3:8, note on “twenty years old and upward”).
Those who partook of the Passover are described as belonging to two classes; (1) those who had returned from captivity, (2) those who had ‘separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land’.
“The heathen of the land” (goyyê ha-ârec̣) is to be compared with “the peoples of the land” (’amme ha-ârec̣) in chap. Ezr_10:2; Ezr_10:11. “The land” is the land of Palestine: “the heathen” and “the peoples” are apparently the colonists and mixed population that had settled in the territory of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. ‘The filthiness’ (cf. Ezr_9:11) is the ceremonial pollution of idolatry practised by these heathen races.
Who then are those described here as having ‘separated themselves’?
(a) By very many they are considered to be proselytes from the heathen who had attached themselves to the Jewish religion since the return from the Captivity.
(b) But it appears most probable that they are Israelites.
(1) Israelites are described in Ezr_9:1 as not having “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands”. (2) Ezra exhorts the Jews to “separate themselves from the peoples of the lands” (Ezr_10:11). If those who had not ‘separated’ themselves were Israelites, it is probable that these who had separated themselves were also Israelites; and if so, they would be those Israelites who had not been carried into captivity, but had continued to dwell in Palestine or among the adjoining races.
The two classes mentioned therefore are both Israelite; the one, those who had returned from Babylon; the other, those who having remained behind and having mixed with “the heathen of the land” now separated themselves and attached themselves once more to their countrymen.
to seek the Lord God of Israel] R.V. to seek the Lord, the God of Israel. See on chap. Ezr_1:3. To seek, i.e. with a view to worship: cf. on Ezr_4:2.
seven days] see Exo_12:15.
had made them joyful] the same phrase in the original as that rendered in 2Ch_20:27, “for the Lord had made them to rejoice” R.V. Neh_12:43, “For God had made them rejoice”.
and turned the heart] R.V. had turned the heart. Vulg. “convertit cor”, cf. same expression as in 1Ki_18:37. The verb is different from that used in the similar phrase in Mal_4:6 (cf. Luk_1:17).
of the king of Assyria] This is a strange expression to be used of a Persian king. For by the context it naturally refers to Darius.
(1) It has been said that Darius is so called because the Persian kings were the successors to the great Assyrian empire.
(2) It has been suggested that all Western Asia might be termed Assyria.
(3) It has been supposed that Darius is not personally referred to, but that the power of Western Asia is symbolized by the name of Assyria, Israel’s traditional foe. (But to the Jew, after the Captivity, the symbolical hostile power is Babylon.)
Of these views the first is the most probable. See note on Ezr_5:13 (Cyrus king of Babylon). Perhaps however the phrase is a copyist’s error.
strengthen their hands] Cf. Neh_2:18; Neh_6:9; Jdg_7:11; Isa_35:3.
in the work of the house &c.] Cf. Ezr_3:8-9.