Ezra 4

The work interrupted.

Up to this point the people had shown themselves to be faithful in their witness, and the Lord had helped them and encouraged them. But this did not suit the enemy; he cannot stand to see the work of God prosper in this world, and immediately seeks to spoil it. He has more than one means to attain this goal. Here God characterizes the instruments of Satan with this word: "the adversaries of Judah" (v. 1). They belonged to the nations which the kings of Assyria, according to their custom, had transported to other countries after subjecting them. Esar-haddon, the son of Sennacherib, following the politic of Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17: 3), had replaced the unsubdued tribes of Israel, who were lead into captivity, by people from widely different lands, whom he made to dwell in the cities of Samaria and in the land located west of the Euphrates (v. 10, see footnote for "river" JND]. The second book of Kings (2 Kings 17: 33) informs us about the religious condition of these nations. They kept their gods, at the same time they acknowledged the God of Israel and, according to the language of the Bible, "these nations feared Jehovah, and served their graven images" (2 Kings 17: 41).

This mixture, which could not be likened to pure idolatry, makes us think of the amalgam which is called Christendom, in whatever form it may present itself, from the time of Roman and Greek Mariolatry, to the much more subtle forms of Protestant Christendom, where the worship of the true God is associated with the moral darkness of the world, and where profession has no relationship to that which ought to characterize the people of God.

These people, descended from an idolatrous mixture, offer to build together with the people, but what materials could they bring to the house of God? Certainly, their work could not be accepted by the people, if they would remain faithful. They come near and say: "We would build with you; for we seek your God, as ye; and we have sacrificed to him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assyria, who brought us up hither" (v. 2). Doesn't this have some analogy with that which we see in our own day, and are the present-day children of God as faithful as this remnant of former days? Do they understand that the work of God cannot support, in those to whom it is entrusted, any mixture with the world? It is not the affair of any but those whose genealogy can be proved and who are part of the Israel of God to build something for the Lord in this world. Listen to the immediate response of the remnant: "Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house to our God, but we alone will build to Jehovah the God of Israel, as king Cyrus, the king of Persia, has commanded us" (v. 3). In speaking this way, they show no spiritual pride, for they acknowledge their subjection to the king of the Gentiles, as the consequence of their unfaithfulness, but they have understood that they alone are called to this work, for they cannot, in any way, associate with the religious character of the people who surround them. Although they live in the midst of them, honor their leaders and obey their king, nevertheless any association with these nations is prohibited; they are horrified at the religious corruption and repudiate it.

The enemy had presented himself as a friend; this called for special vigilance and caution. But these men, who were rejected, very soon show their true character quite openly: "And the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building; 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" (vv. 4, 5). The people had been firm and had resisted wiles and trickery, attributes of the ancient serpent; but they become frightened when the adversary appears as a roaring lion, forgetting that their enemy is a defeated enemy, and that he would have departed from anyone who would stand up to him.

But the hatred of their enemies does not stop there. They become the accusers of this poor, oppressed people. Their letter to Artaxerxes proves this: "Be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from thee unto us have come to Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and they complete the walls and join up the foundations. Be it known therefore unto the king, that, if this city be built and the walls be completed, they will they not pay tribute, tax, and toll, and in the end it will bring damage to the kings. Now, since we eat the salt of the palace, and it was not right for us to see the king's injury, therefore have we sent and informed the king, that search may be made in the book of the annals of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the annals and know that this city is a rebellious city, which has done damage to kings and provinces, and that they have raised sedition within the same of old time, for which cause this city was destroyed. We inform the king that if this city be built and its walls be completed, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side of the river" (vv. 12-16).

Notice that they do not accuse the people of rebuilding the temple and do not say even one word about it, but rather, they speak of the city. One may easily discover their object. They wished to prevent the remnant from gathering together, because such a gathering would deprive the enemy of any power over the people of God: "If this city be built and its walls be completed, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side of the river", whereas, scattered, they would easily become the prey of their adversaries. Likewise, Satan opposes the gathering of the children of God today; and if he doesn't succeed in corrupting the sheep, he causes them to fall out, ravishes them, and scatters them.

The adversaries of those days present the king with political reasons for preventing the reuniting of the people. Such motives had great weight with this crafty, usurping monarch and, in fact, were the only motives which might draw his concern. The king notes that in former days Jerusalem once had powerful kings and that they would overshadow him if their throne was to be re-established, and he also notes that the city had always shown itself to be rebellious toward any foreign yoke. This is enough to stir him to put a stop to the work. As soon as they received his authorization, the adversaries of Israel "went up in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews, and made them cease by force and power" (v. 23).

And so, these four hostile forces reunite here in order to ruin the work of God: ruse, intimidation, accusation, and violence. Only faith could have resisted them; but the people were totally lacking in faith, and the result was that the construction of the house suffered an interruption of fifteen years.