4 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
3 But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. 5 They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
(Ezra 4:1-5 NIV)
The Jewish exiles have returned to Judah and Jerusalem and have re-established family life in their respective towns and villages. As we have seen, these returning exiles have not forgotten why they came here – to rebuild the Temple of God.
First, the leaders rebuilt the altar and re-established daily worship and sacrifices to the Lord. After that, they began rebuilding the foundation of the Temple. When the foundation was completed, all the Jewish people held a huge worship service, thanking God for all He had done and all that He stood for – for being God to them.
There are a couple more points we need to review to help understand today’s passage. First, do you remember that we said this celebration was a “keep the entire city awake” event? Second, do you remember how the Jewish leaders rebuilt the altar despite their fear of the locals (Ezra 3:3)?
Well, the Jewish leaders’ fears were not paranoia – their fears were well-founded. Also, the celebration of the rebuilding of the Temple foundation did not go unnoticed.
Today we see the opposition begin.
In verse 1, Ezra immediately notes the relationship between the locals and the Jewish people – “enemies”. There was no doubt about where they stood with each other.
And what was their first tactic? Assimilation:
- “Let us help you build…”
- “like you, we seek your God…”
- “[we] have been sacrificing to [your God] since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
When we look back to 2 Kings 17, we see that they are telling the truth. The problem is that they are not telling the whole truth.
Indeed, the people living there were transplants brought in to live there by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-6). And indeed, the king took one of the Jewish priests and told him to instruct the transplants in how to worship the God of Israel (2 Kings 17:24-28). And the transplants did worship the Lord, but not exclusively – they also brought all their foreign gods and worshiped them as well (2 Kings 17:29-41).
Joshua, Zerubbabel, and the other Jewish leaders knew this about the locals. And what was their response to the locals’ offer of help? Outright rejection:
- “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God.”
- “We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel”
- “King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us [to rebuild the Temple].”
This “in your face” response may have seemed a little harsh, but they needed to draw clear lines about where they stood – with the God of Israel alone.
So what was the reaction of the locals? Bullying, threats, intimidation, and lying to discourage them in what God had called them to do.
In our modern culture, what opposition do we face as followers of Christ? Do we also feel the pressure of assimilation, to blend in with the “locals” and their beliefs? Or do we stand up for our faith, and face the storm of opposition, knowing that the Lord is standing with us?
To Whom is our allegiance?
The Apostle Paul also sensed this same battle for our minds and hearts when he wrote:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
May we stand firm with the Lord, despite the storms of life.