But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Ezra 4:3
Ezra 4 Temple Rebuilding Stopped by the Semi-pagan People
Persistent opposition (4:1-23). The author uses various documents to describe a series of attempts to foil the Jews’ rebuilding efforts. Verses 1-5 take place during the reign of Cyrus (559-529 B.C.). Verse 6 takes place in the time of Xerexes (485-465 B.C.). Verses 7-23 cover Artaxerxes I (464-424 B.C.). Then v. 24 returns us to the time of Darius I (522-486 B.C.)
Opposition begins: When the semipagan peoples around Judah claim that they worship the Lord, and should help building the temple, they are rejected. They are not descendants of Abraham, and thus are not part of the covenant people. Angered, these mixed peoples begin a campaign of rumor and threat which succeeds in 4:1-5. halting the building project.
Exclusiveness (4:3-4). The returnees had a strong sense of identity as God’s covenant people. To permit the half-pagan Samaritans to participate in rebuilding the temple would deny not only the identity but the uniqueness of what God intended to do through the Jewish people.
1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
… 4 Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, 5 and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The pattern of opposition explained: 4:6-23. Here the writer jumps ahead of his story, to give illustrations of opposition from later decades. The illustrations are carefully dated and refer to building the city and its walls rather than the temple. The author’s purpose is to show that God’s people experienced only antagonism and fierce resistance from these surrounding peoples, whose descendants are known in the NT as the Samaritans.
12 Let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem, and are building the rebellious and evil city, and are finishing its walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Let it now be known to the king that, if this city is built and the walls completed, they will not pay tax, tribute, or custom, and the king’s treasury will be diminished. 14 Now because we receive support from the palace, it was not proper for us to see the king’s dishonor; therefore we have sent and informed the king, 15 that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. And you will find in the book of the records and know that this city is a rebellious city, harmful to kings and provinces, and that they have incited sedition within the city in former times, for which cause this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls are completed, the result will be that you will have no dominion beyond the River.
Verse 24 brings us back to the early years of the return and tells us that under the pressure of opposition work on the stopped. It is some 15 years later, in 520 B.C., when new leaders (Zerubbabel and Joshua) resume construction. They are aided by the preaching of two dynamic prophets, Haggai and Zechariah.
23 Now when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem against the Jews, and by force of arms made them cease. 24 Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
–> Don’t expect it will be easy to lead a committed Christian life. We will face persistent opposition too. But we too will overcome if we remain faithful!
–> The claim of the modern believer that Christ alone saves, and our refusal to dilute that message also arouses hostility. But we too must be true to what God is doing through the Gospel and affirm the uniqueness of the Christian message in a world that still believes any road leads to God.