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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–24
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Verses 17–24

Here we have,

I. The orders which the king of Persia gave, in answer to the information sent him by the Samaritans against the Jews. He suffered himself to be imposed upon by their fraud and falsehood, took no care to examine the allegations of their petition concerning that which the Jews were now doing, but took it for granted that the charge was true, and was very willing to gratify them with an order of council to stay proceedings. 1. He consulted the records concerning Jerusalem, and found that it had indeed rebelled against the king of Babylon, and therefore that it was, as they called it, a bad city (Ezra 4:19), and withal that in times past kings had reigned there, to whom all the countries on that side the river had been tributaries (Ezra 4:20), and that therefore there was danger that if ever they were able (which they were never likely to be) they would claim them again. Thus he says as they said, and pretends to give a reason for so doing. See the hard fate of princes, who must see and hear with other men’s eyes and ears, and give judgment upon things as they are represented to them, though often represented falsely. God’s judgment is always just because he sees things as they are, and it is according to truth. 2. He appointed these Samaritans to stop the building of the city immediately, till further orders should be given about it, Ezra 4:21, 22. Neither they, in their letter, nor he, in his order, make any mention of the temple, and the building of that, because both they and he knew that they had not only a permission, but a command, from Cyrus to rebuild that, which even these Samaritans had not the confidence to move for the repeal of. They spoke only of the city: “Let not that be built,” that is, as a city with walls and gates; “whatever you do, prevent that, lest damage grow to the hurt of the kings:” he would not that the crown should lose by his wearing it.

II. The use which the enemies of the Jews made of these orders, so fraudulently obtained; upon the receipt of them they went up in haste to Jerusalem, Ezra 4:23. Their feet ran to evil, Prov. 1:16. They were impatient till the builders were served with this prohibition, which they produced as their warrant to make them cease by force and power. As they abused the king in obtaining this order by their mis-informations, so they abused him in the execution of it; for the order was only to prevent the walling of the city, but, having force and power on their side, they construed it as relating to the temple, for it was that to which they had an ill will, and which they only wanted some colour to hinder the building of. There was indeed a general clause in the order, to cause these men to cease, which had reference to their complaint about building the walls; but they applied it to the building of the temple. See what need we have to pray, not only for kings, but for all in authority under them, and the governors sent by them, because the quietness and peaceableness of our lives, in all godliness and honesty, depend very much upon the integrity and wisdom of inferior magistrates, as well as the supreme. The consequence was that the work of the house of God ceased for a time, through the power and insolence of its enemies; and so, through the coldness and indifference of its friends, it stood still till the second year of Darius Hystaspes, for to me it seems clear by the thread of this sacred history that it was that Darius, Ezra 4:24. Though now a stop was put to it by the violence of the Samaritans, yet that they might soon after have gone on by connivance, if they had had a due affection to the work, appears by this, that before they had that express warrant from the king for doing it (Ezra 6:1-12) they were reproved by the prophets for not doing it, Ezra 5:1; Hag. 1:1; compared with Ezra 5:1; Hag. 1:1 If they had taken due care to inform Cambyses of the truth of this case, perhaps he 5ff would have recalled his order; but, for aught I know, some of the builders were almost as willing it should cease as the adversaries themselves were. At some periods the church has suffered more by the coldness of its friends than by the heat of its enemies; but both together commonly make church-work slow work.