Study Notes

Ezra 4:1-24


The Babylonian Captivity has ended, and about 50,000 people have returned to the land of Israel. They have built the altar of sacrifice, and laid the foundation of the temple. They have even held the first worship service at the temple, but with a mixed reception. Most people shouted for joy in praise to the Lord, but the older folks wept because of the lack of grandeur this new temple would have compared with the one that Solomon had built.

4:1-3 Judah And Benjamin

If you recall back in our study of 2Kings, the northern tribes of Israel were permanently carted off in the Assyrian captivity.

2Kgs. 17:18 So the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah.

The name Judah often describes the southern kingdom after civil war split the nation of Israel. The southern kingdom consisted of the house of Judah and Benjamin. Judah was a very large tribe, and Benjamin was very small.

There were Jews from the other tribes that had gone south when the northern kingdom went apostate (2Chr. 15:9, etc.), so the terms "Judah," "Judah and Benjamin," and "Israel" are all used to describe those who were exiled in the Babylonian Captivity, and those who returned.

Enemies As Partners

The enemies of Judah and Benjamin were the people who had been settled in the land by previous invaders. Remember that when the northern kingdom was taken away by the Assyrians, they were replaced by others.

2Kgs. 17:24 And the king of Assyria brought {men} from Babylon and from Koo-THAW and from Av-VAW and from Kham-AWTH and Sef-ar-VAH-yim, and settled {them} in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities.

These people had a struggle in their new land, because the Lord sent lions among them, and many of their people were being killed. They figured that this was happening because they didn't know the custom of the god of the land. So they brought back one of the priests to teach them God's ways.

2Kgs. 17:28-29 So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD. But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived.

Now, as these inhabitants approach Zer-oob-baw-BEL, they ask if they might help build the temple. They say, "We, like you, seek your God. We've been sacrificing to him since the days of Assyria's King Ay-SAR Chad-DOHN."

The Jews were being asked to partner together with people that claimed to know God, but did not approach God on His terms.

We are in the same boat today. As a church, we are always pressured with ecumenicalism, the idea that we should be united with any church who says they believe in Jesus. But the Mormons say they believe in Jesus, as do the Jehovah's Witnesses. One woman told me this week that someone is telling her she's not a Christian if she hasn't been baptized according to her church's doctrine. Another gal called us Tuesday night and said that a guy was telling her that if she hasn't spoken in tongues, she's not a Christian. Homosexual churches preach love and tolerance instead of holiness. Rastafarians smoke marijuana and preach that Jesus is one of many incarnations of God.

All of these churches and groups are saying that they, like us, seek our God. But in reality, we see that they are not seeking the same God.

To partner together with them would be to become, as the Bible calls it, "unequally yoked together with unbelievers." You might say, "How can you call them unbelievers? They're naming the name of Jesus." But I do because the Bible does. Paul called those who legalistically put more requirements on salvation than simple faith in Christ, "false brethren" in Galatians 2:4. And Jude said that those who claim to be Christians and yet practice sin in the name of grace "deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 1:4).

And so Zer-oob-baw-BEL and Yay-SHOO-ah told them pointedly, "you have nothing in common with us."

4:4-5 Discouragement, Fright, And Frustration

The enemy loves to attack us from the inside. And he can do it personally, or do it psychologically. He can try to infiltrate our ranks, to dress up a wolf in sheep's clothing, and attack from the inside, or he can stand on the outskirts and cause us to be our own worst enemy. Since they weren't able to get in personally, they attacked psychologically. They did this by focusing in on three areas: Discouragement, fear, and frustration.

They "discouraged the people of Judah." The word used there means, "to sink down, let drop, abandon, be disheartened." They attacked in such a way as to cause them to lose heart, to just give up. When you feel like bailing out, quitting, and giving up, you can rest assured that the enemy is attacking.

The second thing they did was to frighten them from building. This word means, "to disturb, alarm, terrify, hurry, make anxious or afraid." The people of the land effectively made the people afraid to build, terrified of what would happen to them if they continued. Again, when we are not doing the work of the ministry because of fear or anxiety, we need to recognize that this is an attack of the enemy, and trust the Lord.

Prov. 29:25 The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.

Thirdly, their enemy "frustrate their counsel." This term means "to break, split, or divide" their "counsel, advice, or purpose." In other words, they managed to bring division to the peoples' direction. This is such an effective method of the enemy - to divide and conquer. Half the church wants blue carpet, the other half wants red. The enemy whispers in their ear that their opinion is best, it's right, "It's God's will that we have blue carpet!" When the counsel is split, then victory for the enemy is assured unless we all turn to the God-appointed leader and say, "Zer-oob-baw-BEL, whatever color of carpet you decide, we're behind you 100%."

4:6-10 False Accusation

Ezra 4:6-10 Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bish-LAWM, Mith-red-AWTH, Taw-beh-ALE, and the rest of his colleagues, wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated {from} Aramaic. Rekh-OOM the commander and Shim-SHAH-ee the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes, as follows - then {wrote} Rekh-OOM the commander and Shim-SHAH-ee the scribe and the rest of their colleagues, the judges and the lesser governors, the officials, the secretaries, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations which the great and honorable Os-nap-PAR deported and settled in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the region beyond the River...

The enemy had attacked from the inside, and now they're working on attacking from the outside. Remember, they couldn't attack militarily, for the builders had a decree from King Cyrus of Persia. But they could work to get that decree reversed, so they wrote a letter to the current king of Persia, Artaxerxes.

4:11-16 Jerusalem As Rebellious And Evil

The letter said that the Jews were rebuilding Jerusalem, and described the city as rebellious and evil. Unfortunately, this was true. The city had rebelled under various oppressive regimes over the course of history. For example, they had rebelled against the king of Assyria (2Kings 18:7) and against Nebuchadnezzar (2Kings 24:1). These things would be easily found in the king's records and verified.

They Will Not Pay

The letter went on to say that if Jerusalem was rebuilt, they would not pay their taxes, ripping off the king and his empire. How could they know that? They couldn't. But because they had begun their letter with truth that could be established, then as the letter delved into speculation and false accusation, it would be taken as fact.

Saints, this is something we need to be aware of. When someone comes bearing some truth, our tendency is to believe their whole story. A proverb that I live by is this:

Prov. 18:17(NIV) The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.

It is so easy to believe the story you're being given. "They're my friend, why would they lie to me?" But remember, they don't have to be lying to present a lie. From their perspective, this is what happened, this is what will take place. They believe it with all of their heart. But that doesn't make it true. Don't take accusations at face value, especially when they assume to know the motives of another, or are speculating on the future actions of someone. It is only God who knows the hearts and minds of men, only the Lord who knows a person's motives and future actions (Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; 15:8; etc.). We must pray for discernment before making decisions about these things.

4:17-22 Giving Heed To False Accusation

Artaxerxes believed the accusations set forth in the letter, and ruled that the enemies of the work must be prevented from building.

4:23-24 The Work Ceased

Now the enemies of Judah and Benjamin had the law on their side. They stopped the work militarily, by force of arms. The work on the house of God ceased, and would not begin again for another year and a half.

Saints, the enemy is working full-time, trying to stop the work of God. He doesn't want the temple of God to be built in your life, and doesn't want the church to be built in our lives together. Recognize his attacks - he will try to infiltrate our ranks, try to discourage us, frighten us, and divide us. He will try to falsely accuse us. May we stand firm, refusing to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. May we be strong in the Lord to prevent discouragement, fright, and division. May we live lives that are so above reproach that we cannot possibly be open to accusation.

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