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Ezra - Chapter 4
Troublemakers, Verses 1-5
The adversaries who now appear on the scene at Jerusalem are evidently those whom the Jews feared, as may be recalled from chapter 3. A part of the urgency for erecting the altar was that the Jews might implore the aid of God against these adversaries. When antagonism fails to disrupt God’s people Satan will pretend friendship and willingness to co-operate in the endeavors of God’s people. The Scriptures warn and admonish caution in this respect (1 Peter 5:8). They could not scare the Jews out of building the temple, so they would compromise the project by imposing their assistance on them.
Zerubbabel and Jeshua were sufficiently alert and aware of the Lord’s will to resist this move by the mixed people of the land of Judah. It appears that these people anticipated they would not be welcome, but had an answer which they felt would force the Jews to allow them to join in the affair. They purported themselves to be worshippers of the same God whom the Jews worshipped. They claimed to have made sacrifices to God ever since the time their ancestors were brought into the land by Esar-haddon, the king of Assyria. This was the time when the northern kingdom of Israel had been overrun, its inhabitants removed to far-away lands to the north, and a new people brought in from other far-away lands to repopulate the lands from which the Israelites had been taken. The account is in 2 Kings Chapter 17. Because of the sparse habitation of the land the lions became a menace, and the new, pagan inhabitants feared it was because they did not understand the ways of the god of the land. Therefore they were sent priests of Israel, who had officiated at the worship of the golden calves, which had been set up by Jeroboam I, and which he pronounced worship of the Lord. This false system was further adapted to the pagan rituals of the new people. In time these mixed people became known as Samaritans, and are the ones now addressing Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
The Jewish leaders quickly denied any intent to include these false worshippers of the Lord a place in their building. The grounds for this refusal were, 1) they had no part in true worship of the Lord; 2) the Jews were determined to build solely by themselves; 3) this was in keeping with the command’and permission given them by Cyrus king of Persia. Upon this the tormenters began doing things to discourage the people of the Jews and to make them afraid to continue their building. They hired men to connive ways to frustrate the building, and kept it up until the death of Cyrus and until the reign of Darius the Great (not the Darius of Daniel - Chapter 6), a considerable time after the first arrival of the Jews in Judah.
Accusations, Verses 6-16
The context clearly implies that the Jews’ antagonists began their attempts at frustration of the building while Cyrus was still living, but it does not appear they succeeded in their intents. The Ahasuerus of verse 6 is likely the son and successor of Cyrus, who is known in history as Cambyses. Ahasuerus is the Hebrew form of the emperor’s title. Cambyses was beset with troubles during his reign of about nine years, including a campaign against Egypt. He died under mysterious circumstances, probably either murdered or a suicide. While it is not stated in the Scriptures what he did relative to the accusations against the Jews, they do show that the work was stopped (see Haggai 1:1-6) on the temple. It must have been by his command.
Artaxerxes, in verse 7, is to be regarded as the successor of Cambyses. He was a usurper, named Smerdis, one of the Magian priests, who killed the legitimate heir to the throne. He was, himself, murdered after about eight months, but not before the Jews were commanded to cease the building. The informers against the Jews, to Artaxerxes, were Bishlam, Mithredath, and Tabeel, Persian officers. The Persian chancellor (probably the ruler of the area south of the Euphrates, here called the river), Rehum, and his secretary, Shimshai, also composed a letter warning the king against the work of the Jews. The various tribes named in verse 9 are those who were originally settled in the land by the Assyrian king following the fall of Samaria, some hundred and fifty years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. "The great and noble Asnapper" appears to be Asshur-banipal, the son and successor of Esar-haddon, previously mentioned.
The letter which Rehum sent to the Persian king contained a number of charges and accusations against the Jews, some true and others evidently false. The first charge that the Jews were building the city again, having set up walls and joined the foundation, is not corroborated elsewhere by the Scriptures. If they did raise the walls again they must have been destroyed in some unknown way, for they were in desolation later when Nehemiah returned with permission from the king to restore them. It would seem this was merely an exaggeration to influence the king to interfere with further restoration of the temple.
The second charge, that Jerusalem was, or had been, a rebellious and bad city, was substantial. Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed it because they stubbornly refused to submit to him and repeatedly rebelled against him. Still further the history of Jerusalem would show that there had been a period when the kings of Israel had controlled all the lands south of the river (Euphrates) and had collected the tolls and tribute for themselves. This would have great weight against the Jews who returned to Jerusalem if it could be shown that they were refortifying and strengthening Jerusalem. The antagonists of the Jews suggested that the king search the archives, and he would find that their claim relative to the Jews’ former history were true. They made no reference to the Jews’ claim to be acting under the command and authority of the late emperor, Cyrus. Their purpose, they claimed, was to inform against the Jews out of loyalty to the king and a desire for the welfare of the empire.
Work Stopped, Verses 17-24
Rehum eventually got the answer the Samaritans wanted from the king. The king had complied with their suggestions in examining the archives concerning Jerusalem. He had found what they claimed to be true, about former kings. The findings of more recent history had shown how that the wicked sons of Josiah had repeatedly rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar until he was compelled to raze the city and carry the inhabitants into captivity. The Jews then in Jerusalem, and purportedly rebuilding it, were less than a century removed from that event, and this doubtless served as a reason for precautionary measures by the emperor.
As the new king of Persia extended his search to earlier times he discovered, as his informers suggested, that the land beyond the Euphrates had once been dominated by mighty kings ruling from Jerusalem, and that the people then living in those lands had to pay tribute and toll to them. These kings, of course, were David and Solomon, whose regal majesty was unsurpassed. If such could occur in past times there might be possibility that it may again be done. Of course, to truly think such an event possible exhibited shortsightedness and ignorance on the part of the king, for most of the Jews were still in Persia, and only a few thousand in Jerusalem. Neither did the king realize that Israel’s past glory was accomplished through the power of God. It must be that the chief reason for stopping the building was a hatred for the Jews and extreme bias against them from the king down.
The commandment was that the building should cease entirely,
until further instruction from the Persian king that possible damage and hurt to him might be avoided. Rehum and his cohorts were to go in haste to Jerusalem and force the Jews to stop building. The command for haste was hardly necessary for these eager henchmen of the Devil. They did not delay in carrying out the king’s command, and the work on the temple was stopped not to be commenced for a period of years, when Darius had consolidated himself on Persia’s throne. It is the constant purpose of Satan to bring the work of God’s people to a halt (2 Timothy 4:14-15).
These important lessons should be emphasized: 1) Triumph over Satan in one matter will not keep him from attacking elsewhere; 2) false religionists can make their intent look good and innocent to the unwary, but Christians need to be prepared to unveil their real purpose by a knowledge of God’s will; 3) the Devil always has prominent persons ready and anxious to do his bidding against the Lord’s people; 4) past mistakes will hinder the testimony of God’s servants in the future; 5) it is easy to convince the ungodly to act against the faithful servants of the Lord.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Ezra 4". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany