Working with Confidence in God
Explore the Bible Series
December 10, 2006
Background Passage: Ezra
Lesson Passage: Ezra
4:4-5; 5:5; 6:8, 13-16
message of this lesson centers on the opposition the people of God experienced
as they sought to rebuild Jerusalem.
Mark it down, God’s work will not go unchallenged. This lesson recurs in the Scriptures and
throughout church history; yet, God’s people always need to refresh their
memories about the hardships that attend genuine labor for the Kingdom of God.
To this point, the returning Jews had carefully obeyed the Lord;
nevertheless, they encountered consistent, perilous opposition to their work.
Perhaps, at times, we may foolishly assume that pure motives and arduous labor
will guarantee us unmingled success in the Lord’s service. Make no mistake, faithfulness will have its
rewards, but hardships will attend every step of the way.
Satan always has his
allies at work. Sometimes they come in
the guise of “friends’ who pretend to support and assist the work. Like Zerubbabel, wise leaders must discern
the genuine from the counterfeit. The
adversaries of Judah, at
first, came to help the people of Judah. Nevertheless, the character of these
“helpers” was soon revealed. Many years
before the incidents recorded in Ezra, King David wrote about such men in Psalm
41:9, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has
lifted up his heel against me” (See also
Psalm 55:12-14). Once exposed, Judah’s
enemies used every means at their disposal to thwart the progress of rebuilding
lying, conspiracy, threats of violence, ungodly alliances, and false
accusations. In time, the Lord’s people
grew discouraged and discontinued the work.
Years went by, and the Temple
remained unfinished. Every generation faces these kinds of difficulties, and
the Lord’s people must immerse themselves in Scripture to find consolation and
guidance as they encounter the inevitable hardships of serving Jehovah.
This lesson contains a dizzying array of names, and even
seasoned Bible students may grow weary trying to keep up with the characters in
this real-life drama. Therefore, take a
moment to reexamine this brief review of some of these important historical
figures. For a brief review of the Persian rulers of this period, pleas see the
background materials in last week’s lesson materials.
Zerubbabel and Jeshua: These two men led the efforts
to rebuild the Temple. From his prominence in the text, we assume
that Zerubbabel played the central leadership role. These were godly men, but they must have
shouldered some of the blame for the sixteen year delay in the reconstruction
Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabel, Rehum, and Shimshai (Ezra
4:7-8): Scholars have debated the identity of these men, and some have
speculated that “Bishlam” is not a proper name.
Whatever the case, these individuals sent two letters to the king of Persia, and the context seems to indicate that
these missives criticized the Jews’ efforts to rebuild Jerusalem. The last two men in the list have
Semitic names, but all of these officials served as Persian governors of some
sort. Fensham points out that an ancient tradition depicts Tabel (or Tabeel) as
a sympathetic ally of the returning exiles, but the text of Ezra gives no such
Osnapper: This name refers to the Assyrian king
Assurbanipal (c. 669-626 B.C.). Many
years before the exiles returned to Jerusalem,
the Assyrian monarch resettled pagan people in the region of Samaria.
These settlers brought their idols with them, and they intermarried with
the remnant of Israel. The people who opposed the rebuilding of the
temple came from the stock of these Samaritans.
Haggai and Zechariah (5:1f): These Fifth-Century
prophets challenged the Jews to continue their work on the Temple.
Haggai’s prophecy is quite short, but his work carried a powerful
message. Zechariah, in contrast to
Haggai, recorded a large amount of prophetic material. Both men scolded the Jews for their
reluctance to obey God’s directive to reconstruct the Temple.
Tattenai and Shethar-Boznai (5:3f): These two men
probably held high government positions, perhaps even strapies
(regional governors). Initially, they
opposed the continuation of the reconstruction project; however, after
receiving approval from Darius, they gave their support to the Jews.
Outline of the
The Initial Efforts to Resist the Rebuilding of the Temple (4:1-24)
adversaries of Judah (vv.
1-2): This opposition predated the initial efforts to rebuild, the Temple (See 3:3), but, in
this instance, the Samaritans sought to create some kind of an alliance with
the Jews. The context seems to indicate that these overtures were not sincere;
rather, these enemies used flattery and subterfuge to undermine the work. The
Bible gives clear warnings about the dangers of flattery, and wise Christians
avoid listening to the deceptive words of such unscrupulous persons (See
Proverbs 26:28; 29:5; Romans 16:17-18).
of the offer for assistance (vv. 4-5): The Jewish leaders, perhaps anticipating
the subversive motives of the Samaritans, refused the offer for assistance in
rebuilding the Temple.
While the hostilities between Samaria and Jerusalem were not
anything new, the primary grounds for the Jews’ refusal may have focused on
legal issues. The royal decree of King
Cyrus had only authorized the Jews to rebuild the Temple. Of course, this rebuff caused the
Samaritans to openly frustrate the work.
Their efforts employed three tactics: general discouragement (v. 4:
literally they “weakened the hands”), troubling the builders (v. 4b: word based
on the Hebrew root “to frighten”), and hired counselors (v. 5: they bribed
Persian official to oppose the work).
of accusation sent to the kings of Persia (vv. 6-24): The text seems
to reveal that this opposition continued for a long period of time, and, in the
course of this resistance, these enemies mounted a letter-writing
campaign. In particular, a man named
Rehum wrote an accusatory letter to Artexerxes (See vv. 9-16). This letter accused the Jews of building a
rebellious city that would refuse to pay taxes and tribute to Persia. Ultimately,
the accusers predicted that a refurbished Jerusalem
would cost the Persians their hold on the Trans-Euphrates region. The king
commanded court scholars to examine the issue of Judah’s
historical relationship with the Babylonians, and, based on the historical
track record of Judah,
the king commanded that reconstruction stop (vv. 17-24).
The Ministries of Haggai and Zechariah (5:1-6:22): The
chronology of this chapter proves problematic.
The previous chapter recounts letters sent to Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes,
yet the reign of Darius followed these two monarchs. It appears that Chapters Five and Six are a
parenthesis in the Book Ezra, and serves the purpose of illustrating the kind
of opposition experienced by the Jews.
and Zechariah focused their prophetic visions on urging the Jews to revive
their efforts to reconstruct the Temple
(5:1-2). The word of the Lord came to
Haggai in the second year of the reign of Darius (c. 520). He scolded the Jews
for living in luxuriant houses while the House of the Lord remained in
disrepair (See Haggai 1:1:4). Zechariah’s
prophecy, much longer than the work of Haggai, utilized images similar to the
apocalyptic visions of Daniel and Ezekiel.
and Shethar-Boznai questioned the Jews about the continuance of the rebuilding
process (5:3-17): The local Persian officials, of course, readily noticed that
the Jews had renewed their resolve to complete their task, and, in response,
these officials sent a letter of inquiry to King Darius. In the letter, the
officials inquired about the story of the Exile, as they had heard the account
from Zerubbabel and his companions.
response of Darius and the reconstruction the Temple (6:1-22)
historical research and decree of Darius (6:1-12): The king’s scholars
discovered that Zerubbabel had told the truth about the decree of Cyrus; thus,
Darius commanded that the Jews work continue unhindered. Furthermore, he commanded that the Jews have
access to regional tax funds to complete their renovations.
completion of the Temple (6:12-18): after
receiving conformation fro King Darius, the Jews continued their work on the Temple. Some surmise that Zerubbabel may have died
before the Temple’s
completion. Whatever the case, his name
does not appear among the Jewish officials, in this passage, and he disappears,
at this point, from the narrative.
commemoration of the Passover (6:19-22): The observance of the feast of
Unleavened Bread and the Passover acted a final seal of authenticity for the