Working with Confidence in God

Explore the Bible Series

December 10, 2006

 

Background Passage: Ezra 4:1-6:22

Lesson Passage: Ezra 4:4-5; 5:5; 6:8, 13-16

 

Introduction: The 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 the Temple: 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 project.

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 indication.

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 Background Passage:

 

I.                    The Initial Efforts to Resist the Rebuilding of the Temple (4:1-24)

A.     The 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).

B.     Rejection 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).

C.     Letters 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). 

 

II.                 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.

A.     Haggai 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. 

B.     Tattenai 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.

C.     The response of Darius and the reconstruction the Temple (6:1-22)

1.      The 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.

2.      The 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.

3.      The 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 rebuilt Temple.