Read Ezra 4
Opposition to the Rebuilding
When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “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.”
3 But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “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, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. 5 They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes
6 At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
7 And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.
8 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows:
9 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates—the judges, officials and administrators over the people from Persia, Uruk and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa, 10 and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates.
11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)
To King Artaxerxes,
From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:
12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.
13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer. 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.
17 The king sent this reply:
To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:
18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?
23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.
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.
We all know what it’s like to face distractions that pull us off task. Sometimes, the distractions come from things like social media, phone calls, and text messages. We can’t seem to focus on the task in front of us because of the constant barrage of thoughts in our heads. Other times, they come from people who seem to interrupt us at the most inopportune times (all parents immediately think of their children!).
We also know what it’s like to face opposition. There are days when it seems like the universe is conspiring against us as we seek to get through the list of demands we have on any given day. Even the writing of this Bible Reading Plan devotional was delayed multiple times by random distractions and points of opposition!
We’re no different than God’s people. In Ezra 4, we see they have returned home from exile and are on task to rebuild the wall (Nehemiah) and temple (largely Ezra). As promised, God allowed His people to return from captivity to the Promised Land. Now that they’re back home, the people hope to resume the normal day-to-day activities of life in their homeland.
As they begin rebuilding the temple, God’s people face distraction and opposition from both internal and external sources. In Ezra 4:1-5, we see God’s enemies initiate a fake friendship with the exiles. They pretend to want to help rebuild the temple. Israel’s leaders wisely told their enemies they didn’t want or need their help. During their rebuilding efforts, internal opposition seeks to pull them off course. These enemies of God showed their true colors by discouraging the people of Judah, raising fears, and bribing officials to work against them. God’s people also faced opposition from the outside. Letters were written that led to what was probably a 16-18 year delay in the rebuilding of the temple.
Any good and worthy deed faces distractions and oppositions. What can you do today to deal with any distractions and opposition in front of you so that you can do the good works God has prepared in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2:10)?
- Why do you think God’s people wanted to rebuild the temple?
- What are some distractions you face today that are working to pull you off task?
- What can you learn from God’s people on how to deal with your distractions and opposition?
God, today we know we will face many barriers and challenges. We take comfort in the fact that You are not surprised by anything we will face. Help us to say no to the wrong things and yes to the right ones so that we can do the work you have prepared in advance for us to do. Give us discerning hearts to judge between right and wrong. We confess that on our own, we are hopeless and can do nothing (John 15:5), so help us to rightly work through any distractions and obstacles that will come our way today. Amen.
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