As a preliminary note, the reader
should once again examine the timelines in the previous lesson. It can be
confusing with regard to kings and dates.
The Opposition Strikes
To avoid copyright restrictions, we will reference the
Scripture only in large sections. Please read Ezra 4.
Who Are These People?
The enemies of the Jews described in chapter 4 are not
particularly obvious on the face of the Scriptures. We must examine a little
2 Kings 17:24-33 NASB
The king of Assyria brought men from
Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sephar-vaim, and
settled them in the cities of Samaria in
place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its
cities. (25) At the beginning of their living
there, they did not fear the LORD; therefore the LORD sent lions among them
which killed some of them. (26) So they spoke
to the king of Assyria, saying, "The nations whom you have carried away
into exile in the cities of Samaria do not know the custom of the god of the
land; so he has sent lions among them, and behold, they kill them because they
do not know the custom of the god of the land." (27)
Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, "Take there one of the priests
whom you carried away into exile and let him go and live there; and let him
teach them the custom of the god of the land." (28)
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. (29) 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. (30)
The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of
Hamath made Ashima, (31) and the Avvites made
Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to
Adrammelech and Anammelech the gods of Sepharvaim. (32)
They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves priests of the
high places, who acted for them in the houses of the high places. (33) They feared the LORD and served their own gods
according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried
away into exile.
It’s not entirely obvious, but the people who were planted
in what used to be the northern kingdom of Israel are in fact those people
known in the New Testament as Samaritans. That’s right, as in Good Samaritan.
It’s not clear whether or not they were sincere in their offer of help to build
the temple. There are three possibilities:
It’s just possible they are sincere. While they do worship their
own gods, they have a worship of Jehovah also. The problem is that they’re not
Jewish — they’re not even close.
It’s also possible that what they want to do is to co-opt the
process of building the temple. Let us help you out, and will make some
excellent adjustments along the way. Some of those adjustments would include
worshiping other gods — but it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as
you’re sincere, right?
It’s also possible that they’re being destructive. They want to
take over the process of building so that they can stop it.
Zerubbabel turns them down flat. That might not have been
the most politically correct thing to do, but evidently the man thought it was
the right thing to do and didn’t mind saying so. He probably appeared to be a
pious idiot to the Samaritans.
It brings up a point in contemporary life: why is it that
Christians just can’t be reasonable? Let me give you some examples:
Why is it that you people are so rigidly stuck on your opposition
to abortion? Can’t we reach some reasonable compromise on this and move on?
You seem to have the same problem with regard to marriage as
well. What on earth is wrong with divorce?
Good heavens, Christians, if the government says it’s all right,
who are you to disagree?
The people of God often appear to be unreasonable to the
rest of the world. This causes problems. It is well to know the distinction
between being polite and agreeable on the one hand and agreeing politely on the
The Attack of Satan
The methods by which Satan attacks the people of God have
changed very little over the years — though the technology has improved quite a
bit. We see some examples here.
Discouragement is the first technique. We have an example
recently of parents in a local school district to object to Eastern mysticism
being taught in the form of yoga in the schools. They are unreasonable, of
course; everyone knows that yoga is nothing more than exercise. Nothing more,
unless you look at it carefully.
These folks hired counselors — we would call them lobbyists today
— to influence the government of the time. The forces of Satan usually have
quite a bit of money; greed is often their objective. If you don’t think so,
look into the finances of Planned Parenthood.
Then there are the accusations. Some of them are false (like
building the walls of Jerusalem, which doesn’t happen until quite a bit later).
Others are historical; the Jews did indeed revolt. Of course, we had to look in
the history books to find that out. The truth on the ground was something
different. But, as is often said, truth is the first casualty of war.
On this occasion, as on so many others, the attack was a
success. The Jews were told to stop building the temple.
The reaction of the Jews at this time is interesting to
modern Christians. We have been raised on civil disobedience, protest and other
forms of self-expression common in our current form of government and therefore
would not see the sense of their reaction. To a king of this time however such
actions would be viewed as rebellion and met with the sword. So what did they
First, they were obedient to the civil authorities which God had
placed over them. They recognized that the Persians ruled them because God
wanted it so — and therefore they were obedient. This is called submission, and
it is not a popular thing today. Perhaps we have something to learn.
They waited for a new king to take the throne.
That second one is interesting: it shows patience. So many
Christian leaders are convinced that if something can’t be done in their
lifetime, by their organization, then it cannot be done at all. We sometimes
forget that we are members of the church universal, militant and triumphant —
and not just our local congregation.
Please read Ezra 5.
Role of Prophecy
Haggai and Zechariah are in fact two prophets among the
minor prophets of the Old Testament; their works of prophecy correspond very
nicely to the history recorded here and in Nehemiah. The major concern of
their prophecy is with the advent of Christ. Zechariah, in particular, is a
favorite of students of prophecy. It is sufficient for our purposes here to
note that there is no contradiction between their prophecies and what is
recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah.
The first role of a prophet is forth-telling. The message in
this particular case is simple: why haven’t you built the temple yet? This
provokes an interesting set of reactions.
First, it gives the people a clear sense of God’s timing. We been
waiting for a new king; is this the one were looking for? Is he going to
approve progress on the temple? The prophets make it clear that God wants it
This is interesting because the previous version of the temple
was delayed — David was not allowed to build it; Solomon was. It seems that God
is not in a hurry, but he does have a timetable for these things. It is well to
remember whose universe this is.
There is a connection as well to the other side of prophecy. It
concerns the reliability of the prophets themselves. If they’re right about the
temple, then the rest of their prophecy should be right as well.
The other role prophecy is foretelling. Particularly in
Zechariah we have a strong indication of the coming of the Christ. It is beyond
the scope of these lessons to go into that. We should, however, note that
Zechariah’s words on the temple were fulfilled and thus give greater confidence
to the fulfillment of his prophecies concerning the coming of the Christ. As we
live in a time past the coming of the Christ, it’s a little easier for us to
see. The people of this time, however, wanted to make sure that Zechariah knew
what he was talking about.
Tattenai the Governor
It’s tempting to regard all of the officials in the
neighborhood as being enemies of the Jews. We should not make that
identification automatic, however. Tattenai is a good example of the contrary.
He is not their enemy; he is a competent bureaucrat. Look at the steps that he takes
and see if you can see that:
First, he checks with the boss. He does it in writing. He asks
the boss to have the secretary look into the files and see if there is any
truth to what these people are saying. I suspect that, in his little heart of
hearts, he knew the Jews were telling them the truth. But good bureaucrats
don’t take chances on things like that.
Next, he waits for a reply without stopping the work. They’re not
going to finish it all that rapidly anyway, and if the Jews are right then he
doesn’t want to be in the position of having stop something that the king wants
continued. It’s the position of minimum risk.
Notice please that he praises the caliber of the work. This work
is happening in his department, under his stewardship so he might as well get
whatever credit for it he can.
If the system is working correctly, even the bureaucrats do
what God intends. As long as it doesn’t get risky — ask Pontius Pilate.
It’s taken these people eighteen years so far to build this
temple; they’ve got another four years or so yet to go. By way of contrast,
Solomon’s Temple took a grand total of seven years. Herod built the main temple
(or perhaps we build this temple) in about eight years, though the construction
went on for quite a bit longer. That might seem like a long time to you, but if
your horizon is far enough out it’s not that bad. There are freeways in Los
Angeles that took forty years to go from design to concrete.
That’s an example for us. It took William Wilberforce and
John Newton over twenty years to get from the abolition of the slave trade to
the complete abolition of slavery in the British Empire. All along the way
practical people told him this was just not going to work. Newton was an old
man when he got the news. Sometimes it happens in your lifetime; sometimes it
doesn’t. The modern parallel to this is abortion; I leave it to the reader to
decide how long this will take. But right now, everybody knows that abortion is
here to stay permanently. It is not wise to reckon without the living God.
Please read Ezra 6.
In the Files
Ecbatana is actually the summer palace of the Persian kings.
In those days, without air-conditioning, if you are royalty you migrated in the
summer to somebody’s mountainside place with a view — and the lower
temperature. Remember that much of this region is extremely hot in the summer.
What’s interesting is that they found the document in the files there. That
implies two things:
First, they must’ve had one heck of a filing system to find it at
I suspect they looked in the winter palace first, which means
that they must’ve been persistent in their search. No doubt the delay was
vexing to the Jews, but the results turned out all right.
One incidental fact about this: it gives us an example of
the reliability of ancient records. Modern scholars tend to assume that
anything before the invention of the computer is not reliable as a historical
document. This shows us that the people of the ancient Persian Empire
understood their history and relied upon their records implicitly. One might
suggest that it is not too great a stretch of the imagination to think that
they had good reason to do so. This document, at the time, would’ve been less
ancient than the American Declaration of Independence. I leave it to the reader
to ponder the proper conclusions from these facts.
The first thing that we can understand about Darius from his
instructions is that he understood the politics of the local situation. He is ruling
over an Empire which had over 100 different tribal kingdoms contained within,
so I suspect that he understood quite well how nasty and mudslinging local
politics could be. That’s why he told Tattenai to leave the Jews alone.
Next, he went above and beyond what Cyrus had ordered by
telling Tattenai that the expenses for the construction of the temple and for
the offerings should be taken out of the royal treasury. This brings us to the
question why he would do a thing like that. I suspect that Darius had a clear
sense of just how much the fate of an empire depended upon what he would’ve
called “the will of the gods.” The ancient people had a much clearer sense of
how the things that determine empire often seem to be random incidents to us.
It would’ve been a first priority to him to placate the local God — in this
case Jehovah — and make sure that the local citizens made proper offerings for
the benefit of the king and his sons. Kings sought the favor of the gods in
what ever way those gods seem to want — for a very good reason. The psalmists
understood this as well:
Psalms 20:7 NASB
Some boast in chariots and some in
horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.
It is interesting that the Jews saw evidence of divine favor
in these actions. In particular, there are three things in which the Jews would
have seen God’s favor upon their building of the temple.
The first is the existence of prophecy. The fact that God chose
to send not one but two messengers with the same message tells the Jews that
God is watching over them, wants them to build the temple, and therefore they
will be successful in doing it.
The second is in the heart of the King. The fact that Darius was
so inclined to their success as to use tax dollars to support this was quite
unexpected, and therefore seen as a sign of divine favor. God must really want
this temple built if he gets the king to provide the money.
What might surprise you is the rejoicing over Passover. The feast
in question occurs at about the time of the completion of the temple, and it
reminds the Jews of the first Exodus. It reminds them of the mighty hand of God
that brought their ancestors out of Egypt. They took this as a sign of divine
favor for this second Exodus; sometimes, timing is everything.
Someone building a temple 2500 years ago may not seem
particularly important today. But for those of us who have seen the decline and
soon-to-be fall of America may need to know how God begins with a people once