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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Chapter 4

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1Then the second, he who spoke of the strength of the king, began: 2‘Sirs, is not man the strongest, man who subdues land and sea and everything in them? 3But the strongest of men is the king; he is their lord and master, and they obey whatever command he gives them. 4If he bids them make war on one another, they do so; if he dispatches them against his enemies, they march off and make their way over mountains and walls and towers. 5They kill and are killed, but they never disobey the king's command. If they are victorious they bring everything, spoil and all else, to the king. 6Again, take those who do not serve as soldiers or go to war, but work the land: they sow and reap, and lay the harvest before the king. They compel each other to pay him their tribute. 7Though he is no more than one man, if he orders them to kill, they kill; if he orders them to release, they release. He orders them 8to smite and they beat, to demolish and they demolish, to build and they build, 9to cut down and they cut down, to plant and they plant. 10People and troops all obey him. Further, while he himself is at table, whether he eats, drinks, or goes to sleep, 11they stand in attendance round him and none can leave and see to his own affairs; in nothing whatever do they disobey. 12Sirs, surely the king must be the strongest, when he commands such obedience!’ With that he ended.

13The third, he who spoke about women and truth, was Zerubbabel; he began: 14‘Sirs, it is true that the king is great, that men are many, and that wine is strong, but who rules over them? Who is the master? Women, surely! 15The king and all his people, lords over land and sea, were born of women, 16and from them they came. Women brought up the men who planted the vineyards which yield the wine. 17They make the clothes men wear and they bring honour to men; without women men could not exist.

18‘If men have amassed gold and silver and all manner of beautiful things, and then see a woman with a lovely face and figure, 19they leave it all to gape and stare at her with open mouth, and every one of them will prefer her above gold and silver or any thing of beauty. 20A man will abandon his father who brought him up, abandon even his country, and become one with his wife. 21To the end of his days he stays with her, forgetful of father, mother, and country. 22Here is the proof that women are your masters: do you not toil and sweat and then bring all you earn and give it to your wives? 23A man will take his sword and sally forth to plunder and steal, to sail on sea and river; 24he confronts lions, he goes about in the dark; and when he has stolen and robbed and looted, he brings the spoil home to his beloved.

25‘A man loves his wife above father or mother. 26For women's sakes many men have been driven out of their minds, many have become slaves, 27many have perished or come to grief or taken to evil ways. 28Now do you believe me? Certainly the king wields great authority; no country dare lift a finger against him. 29Yet I watched him with Apame, his favourite concubine, daughter of the celebrated Bartacus. She was sitting on the king's right, 30and she took the diadem off his head and put it on her own. She was slapping his face with her left hand, 31and all the king did was gape at her open-mouthed. When she laughed at him he laughed; when she was cross with him he coaxed her to make it up with him. 32Sirs, if women do as well as this, how can their strength be denied?’ 33The king and the chief men looked at one another.

Zerubbabel then went on to speak about truth: 34‘Sirs, we have seen that women are strong. The earth is vast, the sky is lofty, yet the sun, swift in its course, moves through the circle of the sky and speeds home in a single day. 35How great is the sun which can do this! But truth too is great; it is stronger than all else. 36The whole earth calls on truth, and the sky praises her; all created things shake and tremble. With her there is no injustice. 37There is injustice in wine, and in kings, and in women, injustice in all men and in all their works, whatever they may be. There is no truth in them, and in their injustice they shall perish. 38But truth abides and remains strong for ever; she lives and is sovereign for ever and ever.

39‘There is no favouritism with her, no partiality; rather she exacts justice from everyone who is wicked or unjust. All approve what she does; 40in her judgements there is no injustice. Hers are strength and royalty, the authority and majesty of all ages. Praise be to the God of truth!’

41As Zerubbabel finished speaking, all the people shouted, ‘Great is truth: truth is strongest!’ 42Then the king said to him, ‘Ask what you will, even beyond what is laid down in the terms, and we shall grant it you. You have been proved to be the wisest, and you shall sit next to me and be called my Kinsman.’ 43Zerubbabel answered, ‘Remember, O king, the vow you made on the day when you came to the throne: you promised to rebuild Jerusalem 44and to send back all the vessels taken from there. Cyrus had set them aside, for when he vowed to destroy Babylon, at the same time he vowed to restore these vessels. 45You also made a vow to rebuild the temple, burnt by the Edomites when Judaea had been ravaged by the Chaldaeans. 46This is the favour I now beg of you, my lord king, this the magnanimous gesture I request: that you should perform the vow made by you to the King of heaven.’

47King Darius stood up, embraced him, and wrote letters on his behalf, instructing all the treasurers, governors, commanders, and satraps to give safe conduct to him and to all those going up with him to rebuild Jerusalem. 48He wrote also to all the governors in Coele-Syria and Phoenicia and to those in Lebanon ordering them to transport cedar-wood from Lebanon to Jerusalem and help Zerubbabel build the city. 49He gave all Jews going up from his kingdom to Judaea a written assurance of their liberties: no one in authority, whether satrap, governor, or treasurer, was to molest them in their homes. 50All land which they might acquire was to be exempt from taxation, and the Edomites were to surrender the villages they had seized from the Jews. 51Each year twenty talents were to be contributed to the building of the temple until it was completed, 52and a further ten talents annually for the seventeen whole-offerings to be sacrificed every day on the altar in accordance with their law. 5354All who were going from Babylonia to build the city were to enjoy freedom, they and their descendants after them. The king gave orders in writing that all the priests going there should also receive maintenance and the vestments in which they would officiate; 55that the Levites too should receive maintenance, until that day when the temple should be completed and Jerusalem rebuilt; 56and that all who guarded the city should be given land and pay. 57He sent back from Babylon the vessels which Cyrus had set aside. He reaffirmed all that Cyrus had commanded, and gave orders that everything should be restored to Jerusalem.

58When the young man, Zerubbabel, went out, he turned to face the direction of Jerusalem, and looking heavenwards praised the King of heaven, saying:

59‘From you come victory and wisdom; yours is the glory, and I am your servant. 60All praise to you, for you have given me wisdom; to you, Lord of our fathers, I ascribe praise.’

61He took the letters and set out for Babylon. There his fellow-Jews, on receiving his report, 62praised the God of their fathers who had given them leave and liberty 63to go up and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple which bore his name; and they feasted for seven days with music and rejoicing.

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