Summary: When we do God's work, we can expect opposition. We don't have to be discouraged. God will finish what He has started.
We started Ezra 1 with the move of God and the edict of King Cyrus, and the start of a long and difficult journey for the exiles returning back to Jerusalem.
• In Ezra 2 we have the list of the returning exiles, by families and towns, and the various roles they play.
• In Ezra 3 we saw the altar being built and the remnant’s first worship of God in their homeland after many years in exile.
They laid the foundation to the house of God and celebrated with music and songs.
• While some were shouting their praises to God with joy, others (the older ones) were weeping because what they saw was a far cry from the former.
• With the foundation laid, they started to work on the Temple itself.
And that’s when opposition arises. Let’s read Ezra 4:1-5 and 1:24.
The moment they started work on rebuilding of the Temple, they encountered resistance.
• It came from the locals, the descendants of those who were left behind since the Assyrian times, plus the other people the Assyrians resettled in this place.
• Israel fell to Assyrian King SARGON (722-705). After that we have SENNACHERIB (705-681) and ESARHADDON (681-669), during which time this group came.
• With some Jewish descent likely, but with intermarriages over the generations, these people are now a mixed lot called Samaritans. They worship various gods.
They came to the remnant saying, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” (4:2)
• This could not be true and the remnant recognised it: "You have no part with us in building a temple to OUR God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel…." (4:3)
• The author called them ENEMIES of Judah and Benjamin right from the start.
What they did next in vv.4-5 revealed their true intention. They wanted to infiltrate the ranks and sabotage the work. They began to harass them.
• This was the remnant’s first taste of opposition. And it did not end.
• 4:5 says the enemies bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their purpose, all the days of King Cyrus, even until the reign of Darius.
This is the timeline – from Cyrus (536-530) 7yrs, to his son Cambyses (529-522) 8yrs and to Darius (521-486). The resistance was relentless.
• To cut the long story short, the author concluded – 4:24 “Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”
• From Cyrus’ 1st year to Darius’ 2nd year, that’s 16 years. The work actually came to a standstill for 16 years under the pressure.
Such opposition continued for many years. Ezra added this next segment from 4:6-23 to show us how bad the opposition has been.
• It wasn’t just some isolated, one-off persecution. Read Ezra 4:6-23.
NIV version entitled this ‘Later Opposition under Xerxes (Ahasuerus) and Artaxerxes’. Most versions use Ahasuerus (Greek: Xerxes); son of Darius. After Xerxes comes Artaxerxes, his son.
Look again at the timeline: Cyrus (536-530), Cambyses (529-522), Darius I (521-486), Xerxes (485-465), and Artaxerxes I (464-424).
• 4:6 we jump forward 50 years to the reign of Xerxes and read of this accusation lodged against the remnant. No detail was given.
(A side note: We know of Xerxes from the book of Esther. We know the story, the Jewish girl Esther became the Queen of Persia and through her, the Jewish community in Susa, Persia was saved from being exterminated. We see God watching over His own, both in Persia and here in Jerusalem.)
And in 4:7 we jump another 20+ years to next King Artaxerxes and we were told of another accusation, against the rebuilding of the city.
• We’ll read of the events under his reign in Ezra chapters 7-10.
• Here we are told of this well-planned out accusation, with a list of names backing it, giving credence to the fact that “everyone” agrees that Jerusalem is a threat.
• The judges and officials from various parts of the Persian Empire, and even the deportees felt the same way (those deported by King Ashurbanipal 200 years ago).
And the reasons were:
• Verse 12 – they have a bad track record; they are a rebellious and wicked lot.
• Verse 13 – they are not going to pay taxes, tribute or duty.
• Verse 15 – they have no permission to rebuild their city; no proper authorisation.
• Verse 16 – they will break free, seize the land and claim independence.
That’s what you do when you accuses someone – paint him black and yourself white (good). “I am thinking of the welfare of our Persian Empire.”