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ch. 4:1-5     ch. 4:6-23

Opposition To The Rebuilding (ch. 4:1 - 5)


In verses 1 and  2 we see that Israel has some enemies.  This is reasonable.  Israel had been away from this part of the country for 70 years and now the have returned to rebuild their temple and eventually their city.  This would be an obvious threat to those who already live in the area.


So the enemies come up with an idea.  They don’t want the temple built, and they don’t want Israel to succeed in any kind of building projects.  They figure if they join forces, they’d eventually have sufficient influence to sway them in their thinking.  This is a reasonable approach for the enemies of Israel to take. The enemies of God do the same today, by spreading false teaching into the church.  Once the mixture between what is true and what is false is accepted, what is true is devalued and forsaken.  Truth does not mix with what is false, and if you do mix the two, you know longer have the truth.


These enemies claimed that they had actually worshipped the Jewish God for years, but in reality they didn’t.  They were polytheists.  They worshipped all sorts of gods, and this worship, they figured they might as well include the Jewish God.   


One thing to understand here is that there was a battle going on even though the battle wasn’t with external weapons.  Before we can win any battle we must first recognize that there is a battle, even though it may be unconventional in nature.  Once you know there is a battle you must determine the nature of the battle and on what grounds it’s being fought.  Many Christians today don’t know there’s a battle because much of what they do is in enemy territory.  Christians sometimes think more like the enemy than our Lord.  If this is the case, there doesn’t have to be a battle.  The enemy already has you.


In verse 3 we see Israel’s response to their enemies.  It was clear and decisive.  No one would help them build.  Their response should be our response today in building the spiritual temple of our time.  We do not use helpers who are not Christians, and we don’t use their methods.              


It is clear that Israel’s enemies couldn’t make the Jews join forces with them so they tried another way to stop them from building the temple.  Verse 4 specifically says that they went out to discourage the Jews.  Discouragement is one often used trick of the devil to this very day.  If he gets you discouraged, you’ll give up, and if you give up, the devil has won.


Verse 5 speaks of the Jewish enemies hiring counselors to frustrate the Jews.  You might view or compare this as a onslaught of worldly thinking and philosophy that Christians face today.  If enough of this worldly thinking infiltrates Christians circles as was the attempt in Ezra’s day, then the enemy has won the battle.  The battle is a battle of the mind as well as a battle of the heart.  How we think affects how we live.  The enemies of the Jews were constantly suggesting another way to live to these Jews.  They were counseling them with their own pagan ways in the hopes of getting the Jews to forsake their commitment to both their God and the purpose at hand,  which was the rebuilding of the temple.


Later Oppression Under Artaxerxes (ch. 4:6 - 23)


So far any attempt by the enemies of Israel to distract the Jews from building the temple failed.  They had to try something else that would actually work.  Xerxes is spoken of in verse 6. He was King of Persia from 486 BC to 464 B. C.   He took over as king from his father Darius.  His grandfather was Cyrus. During the first year of Xerxes rule, the enemies of the Jews brought an accusation against the Jews to Xerxes.  At this point these enemies stopped trying on their own the get Israel from stopping their building project, so they try to get the civil government against them.  But now, Cyrus, the king who was for the Jews was long gone.  The enemies could not have won the battle with the help of Cyrus, but Xerxes, well he was another story.


Now after Xerxes was gone, his son Artaxerxes took over.  He reigned over Persia from 456 BC to 424 BC.  It appears that the enemies of the Jews had little success with Xerxes so they tried again with his son.  This time they wrote an official letter to have it delivered to the king as seen in verse 7.


Verse 8 actually gives the names of the men who wrote this letter.  They are, Rehum, the commanding official, and his secretary named Shimshai. Verses 9 and 10 simply state who this letter represented.  It was written on behalf of many people in the area of Samaria, north of Jerusalem.


The letter that was sent to the king begins in verse 12.  The letter reminds the king how the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem.  When Cyrus let the Jews free and allowed them to rebuild the city and the temple, he viewed this as from God, and that these people were returning to their land.  The letter does not present the exact same picture here.  The letter states that Jerusalem is “that wicked and rebellious city”, not the city of God as Cyrus would have viewed it. 


Throughout the history of man, as long as there has been a Jerusalem, it has been a city of conflict and interest, as it sure is today. From a Biblical perspective, Jerusalem is the city of God and it will be again in the thousand year reign of Jesus and will be again as the New Jerusalem comes down from Heaven. But until then, satan has his hand in things to destroy this city as he did in this instance in Ezra.


Verse 13 suggests that if the Jews are allowed to rebuild the city, they will not pay taxes to the king and thus much needed revenue would be lost.  The implication is that the Jews would revolt and break away from the kingdom. So the appeal to the king at this point is over money.  That’s not new, and in this 21st century the same appeal will be leveled against the church.  The question is now being asked why churches do not pay property taxes.


Verse 14 is a bit ironic to me.  Those writing the letter sound like they’re very loyal citizens of the empire, but these same people were once battled against and lost.  They are subjects of the kingdom by force.  I doubt if these men really believe what they are saying, but it needs to be said to impress the king.  It’s pure flattery.  They are appealing to the king’s ego. 


In verse 16 the writers of the letter suggest to the king that look back into the archived records to see the history of Jerusalem and how rebellious it has been, and that it’s existence is full of trouble for the past kings.  In one since of the word these men are right.  Jerusalem has been a place of constant battles throughout history, and is to this very day.


Verse 16 is a warning to the king.  The letter writers say that if the king allows Jerusalem to be rebuilt, he’ll be left with nothing throughout the region.  The suggestion is that the Jews will rise up and take over.


Verse 16 gives reference to the “Trans-Euphrates”.  The  Euphrates River went through Babylon which was hundreds of miles to the east of Jerusalem.  The suggestion of the writers is that the Jews would rise up and take over much of the kingdom of Persia.


In verses 17 to 22 we see the king’s reply.  In verse 19 the king notes that he and his people have done their research.  The research proved the enemies of Israel’s point.  Jerusalem had been a city of revolt and constant conflict over the centuries.  So the enemies won on this point.


This is one way in which satan works against the people of God, whether in Old Testament times or in New Testament times.  When God’s people stand strong, they are in direct opposition and conflict with the world and governments and societies see this as opposition against them and thus the conflict occurs. 


Verse 20 gets to the money issue.  The research proves that Jerusalem has had powerful kings at times and taxes and other money have been paid to them.  This could not happen again in the eyes of the king.  Once again, the enemies of Israel won their point before the king.   Today, the enemies of God’s people are still winning victories in court over the conflict between Christians and the state and society.


Verse 21 tells us that the king had made his decision. He told those who wrote the letter to stop the Jews from their building project.


In verse 22 the king encourages the letter writers not to let this matter go.  They needed to intervene.  They had to stop the Jews from rebuilding their temple and their city.  This was all in the name of the “king’s interests”.  Thus the conflict goes on.  The battle between good and evil, between God and the devil. 


The conflict that is presently being escalated in the world today between Christians and the society in which they live is based on the same premise as we see here.  Christian culture must be put down in the name of the state. 


The Jews ended their building project for a matter of 18 years at this point. At this point great discouragement came into the hearts of the Jews.  They came back to the land of their forefathers understanding it was the will of God to rebuild the temple and the city, and now that ended. Many of them wanted to give up.   This says something about God’s calling on people.  Even though God may call you to something, it does not mean things will turn out great. You can look at Paul’s life and see how real this is.  You can look at many Christians over the centuries to know that success in God’s Kingdom may not look like success in the world.  What we should understand here is that there is a battle going on.  When God calls us to do anything, we enter a battle.     

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