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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] In this chapter we have—(i.) The proposal of the Samaritans to unite with the Jews in building the Temple, and its rejection (Ezra 4:1-3). (ii.) The opposition of the Samaritans because of the rejection of their proposal (Ezra 4:4-5). (iii.) The letters of the Samaritans to King Artaxerxes against the Jews, one of which is here given (Ezra 4:6-16). (iv.) The reply of Artaxerxes to their letter (Ezra 4:17-22). (v.) The stoppage of the building of the Temple (Ezra 4:23-24).
Ezra 4:1. The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin] These “adversaries” speak of themselves in the second verse as having been brought up hither by Esarhaddon king of Assur. They are the peoples spoken of in 2 Kings 17:24 : “And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” They described themselvess in Ezra 4:9-10, as “the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations,” &c. They “were called Samaritans after the central point of their settlement.” They were a very mixed people, including some Israelites, but chiefly composed of heathens.
Ezra 4:2. For we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him] They did worship Jehovah, but not as the faithful Jews did. They worshipped Him not as the only living and true God, but as one amongst others, according to the statement in 2 Kings 17:29-33.
Ezra 4:3. Ye have nothing to do with us to build] &c. “The question was not,” as Keil observes, “whether they would permit Israelites who earnestly sought Jahve to participate in His worship at Jerusalem—a permission which they certainly would have refused to none who sincerely desired to turn to the Lord God—but whether they would acknowledge a mixed population of Gentiles and Israelites, whose worship was more heathen than Israelite, and who nevertheless claimed on its account to belong to the people of God. To such, the rulers of Judah could not, without unfaithfulness to the Lord their God, permit a participation in the building of the Lord’s house.” But we ourselves together] = “we as a compact unity, excluding others.”—Schultz.
Ezra 4:4. The people of the land] i.e. “the adversaries,” of Ezra 4:1. Weakened the hands] &c. Hindered them by diminishing their courage and strength for the work.
Ezra 4:5. And hired counsellors against them, to frustate their purpose] Whether by “hired counsellors” we are to understand ministers of state whom the Samaritans bribed, or legal agents whom they employed to bring about a stoppage of the work, is uncertain. All the days of Cyrus king of Persia] &c. “The machinations against the building, begun immediately after the laying of its foundations, in the second year of the return, had the effect, in the beginning of the third year of Cyrus (judging from Daniel 10:2), of putting a stop to the work till the reign of Darius,—in all, fourteen years, viz., five years of Cyrus, seven and a half of Cambyses, seven months of the Pseudo-Smerdis, and one year of Darius (till the second years of his reign).”—Keil.
Ezra 4:6-7. Ahasuerus.… Artaxerxes. Heb. Ahashverosh.… Artachshashta] Dr. Cotton, Bishop of Calcutta, says that Ahasuerus “must be Cambyses,” the successor of Cyrus, and Artaxerxes “must be the Pseudo-Smerdis” (Bibl. Dict.). So also Rawlinson, et al. But Keil, Schultz, et al., hold that by Ahasuerus we must understand Xerxes, and by Artaxerxes “really Artaxerxes” Longimanus. The question is argued by them at considerable length in their observations in loco. Bishop Hervey takes the same view, and states it thus: “Ezra 4:6-23 is a parenthetic addition by a much later hand, and, as the passage most clearly shows, made in the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus. The compiler who inserted chap. 2, a document drawn up in the reign of Artaxerxes, to illustrate the return of the captives under Zerubbabel, here inserts a notice of two historical facts—of which one occurred in the reign of Xerxes, and the other in the reign of Artaxerxes—to illustrate the opposition offered by the heathen to the rebuilding of the Temple in the reign of Cyrus and Cambyses. He tells us that in the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, i.e. before Esther was in favour, they had written to the king to prejudice him against the Jews—a circumstance, by the way, which may rather have inclined him to listen to Haman’s proposition; and he gives the text of letters sent to Artaxerxes, and of Artaxerxes’ answer, on the strength of which Rehum and Shimshai forcibly hindered the Jews from rebuilding the city. These letters doubtless came into Ezra’s hands at Babylon, and may have led to those endeavours on his part to make the king favourable to Jerusalem which issued in his own commission in the seventh year of his reign. At Ezra 4:24 Haggai’s narrative proceeds in connection with Ezra 4:5.” Fuerst also holds that Ahasuerus was Xerxes, but on Artaxerxes he says that the name was “borne by Pseudo-Smerdis and Artaxerxes Longimanus.” But if Ahasuerus was Xerxes, the Artaxerxes of the text must have been Artaxerxes Longimanus. Matthew Henry propounds another view, viz., that Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6) was also called Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7), and is identical with Cambyses. The view of Rawlinson is perhaps correct, that the theory that Ahasuerus is Cambyses and Artaxerxes the Pseudo-Smerdis “presents fewer difficulties than any other.” But, notwithstanding difficulties, the other theory seems to us to be the true one. It is beyond our province to enter further into the question.
Ezra 4:7. Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel] “These names certainly indicate Samaritans who, without being Persian officials, enjoyed, just as Sanballat subsequently, a certain degree of consequence.”—Schultz. And the rest of their companions] Margin: “Heb. societies.” Fuerst: “Associates, colleagues.” The writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue] It was written in Syriac or Aramaic characters. And interpreted in the Syrian tongue] It was in the Syriac or Aramaic language. Both the characters and the language were Aramaic. The Samaritans “spoke a language more nearly akin to Hebrew than to” Aramaic; and what they had thought in their own language they translated into Aramaic, and wrote in Aramaic characters.
Ezra 4:8. Rehum the chancellor] Heb. בְּעֵל־טְעֵם. Fuerst: “Properly, lord of the (royal) decree, i.e. either stadtholder, and so the parallel is פֶּחָה, (comp. Ezra 5:3; Ezra 6:6, or, according to Ezra Apocr. ii. 25; Jos. (Arch. xi. 2), and Kimchi, &c.) = סָפֵר מַזְכִּיר, chancellor; but the former is more probable.” It is probably the title of the Persian governor of the Samaritan province. Shimshai the scribe] Margin: “Or, secretary.” Fuerst: “Royal scribe.”
Ezra 4:9. The Dinaites] were probably, as suggested by Ewald, people from the Median city Deinaver. Rawlinson suggests that they were the people of Dayan, a country bordering on Cilicia. The Apharsathchites] were probably the same as the Apharsachites” (chap. Ezra 5:6), and were perhaps identical with the Parætacæ, or Parætaceni, a tribe of mountaineers living on the borders of Media and Persia. The Tarpelites]: “The territory Tarpel has been supposed to be found in (Τάπουροι) of Ptolemy, cast of Elam, with which it is mentioned; more correctly, perhaps, the territory Tarpel is at the Mæotic swamp, whose inhabitants Ταρπητες are mentioned in Strabo (i. p. 757). In no case can it be the Phœnician Tripolis.”—Fuerst. The Apharsites] are by some regarded as Persians, by others as the Parhasü, in eastern Media. The Archevites] were people from the city Erech, now Warka. The Susanchites], or Susanites, were from the city of Susa. The Dehavites] were the Dai or Dahi, mentioned by Herodotus (i. 125) among the nomadic tribes of Persia. The Elamites] were the original inhabitants of the country called Elam.
Ezra 4:10. The great and noble Asnapper] seems to have been a distinguished officer in the service of Esarhaddon (Ezra 4:2), and employed by him to conduct the colonists to Samaria and arrange their settlement there. And at such a time.] Chaldee וּכְעֶנֶת = “and so now, Ezra 4:10; Ezra 7:12, i.e. and so forth, et cetera.”—Fuerst.
Ezra 4:12. And have set up the walls] &c. Keil would translate: “And are setting up its walls and digging its foundations.” “Repairing” (Fuerst) “its foundations” would perhaps be better.
Ezra 4:13. Toll] Rather tax or tribute; the money payment required from every one. Tribute] “A tax on articles consumed, excise.—Fuerst. Custom] “A road tax, a toll.” Ibid. Thou shalt endamage the revenue] The meaning of the word rendered “revenue” in the text, and “strength” in the margin, is entirely uncertain. Keil, Rawlinson, and others say that אַפְּתֹם depends upon the Pehlevi word אודום, and signifies “at last.” “And so at last thou shalt endamage the kings.” Fuerst, however, says that this “gives no suitable sense.” But it seems to us, as Schultz observes, that “the meaning of ‘finally,’ ‘at last,’ is entirely appropriate.”
Ezra 4:14. We have maintenance from the king’s palace] Margin: “We are salted with the salt of the palace.” The Heb. is, “We salt the salt of the palace;” i.e. we eat the salt of the palace; a figurative expression, signifying to be in the king’s service and to obtain subsistence from him, and implying the obligation to look after his interests. The king’s dishonour] Keil: “The damage of the king” עַרְוָה, deprivation, emptying, here injury to the royal power or revenue.”
Ezra 4:15. The book of the records of thy fathers.] It is called in Esther 6:1, “the book of the records of the chronicles.” Thy fathers] are the predecessors of the king on the throne, and the term applies not only to the Medo Persian but also to the Chaldean sovereigns. Of old time] Heb.: “From the days of eternity,” i.e. from time immemorial. For which cause was this city destroyed]—by Nebuchadnezzar.
Ezra 4:16. No portion on this side the river] The statement amounts to this, that the returned Jews, if allowed to rebuild and fortify Jerusalem, would seize all the country west of the Euphrates, and so the king would lose that part of his dominions. A very absurd exaggeration.
Ezra 4:17. And at such a time] Rather, “And so forth.” (See on Ezra 4:10.)
Ezra 4:18. Read before me] Persian monarchs were not accustomed to read letters or records themselves, but to have them read to them by others (comp. Esther 6:1).
Ezra 4:20. There have been mighty kings] &c. This is most applicable to David and Solomon, and in a smaller degree to Uzziah, Jotham, and Josiah. Ruled over all beyond the river] i.e. over all the region west of the Euphrates.
Ezra 4:23. By force and power] Or, as in the margin, “By arm and power.” They compelled the Jews to desist from building.
Ezra 4:24. According to Keil, Schultz, et al., the historian in this verse takes up the thread of the narrative which he dropped at the close of Ezra 4:5, in order that, by inserting the episodical section (Ezra 4:6-23), he might give in this place “a short and comprehensive view of all the hostile acts against the Jewish community on the part of the Samaritans and surrounding nations.” In their view this verse refers to the opposition which was commenced in the reign of Cyrus, while Ezra 4:6-23 narrate subsequent hostilities. But according to the view of Bishop Cotton, that Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6) must be Cambyses and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7) the Pseudo-Smerdis, and that this chapter is one continuous narrative, the enforced suspension of the work lasted for about two years.
THE PROPOSAL OF THE SAMARITANS TO THE JEWS
I. The proposal made by the Samaritans. “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the Temple unto the Lord God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel,” &c. (Ezra 4:1-2). This proposal was—
1. Plausible in its form. They proposed—
(1) To render help in a great and good work. “They said, Let us build with you.” They do not ask for anything for themselves, except permission to co-operate in building “the Temple unto the Lord God of Israel;” but they offer something to the Jews, even their assistance in their great undertaking.
(2.) To render help in this work for an excellent reason. “For we seek your God as ye do, and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.” They urge that they were worshippers of Jehovah even as the Jews were; that they were interested in the promotion of His honour; and that it would therefore be appropriate for them to unite in building a temple unto Him. Moreover, the returned Jews being neither a strong nor a wealthy people, and having much to occupy their time and energies, would naturally be prepared to welcome any suitable offers of assistance. Temptation is always plausible in its presentation to the tempted. (a). But this proposal was—
2. Evil in itself. Fair and plausible in appearance, it was false and perilous in reality. The evil of their proposal will appear if we consider that—
(1.) They were not Israelites. They were brought into Samaria by Esarhaddon king of Assur. “And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim,” &c. (2 Kings 17:24). They were “Dinaites, Apharsathchites, Tarpelites, Apharsites, Archevites, Babylonians, Susanchites, Dehavites, and Elamites” (Ezra 4:9). If it be allowed that these peoples had become mixed by marriage with the remnant of the Israelites who remained in the land at the captivity, still the heathen elements and usages and influences were predominant amongst them. They were not Israelites either by descent or by sympathy.
(2.) They did not worship Jehovah as the true God. When they were first planted in Samaria they were ignorant of the worship of Jehovah; and after they had been instructed in it, they adopted it not as exclusive of the worship of other gods but in common with such worship. “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods,” &c. “These nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images,” &c. (2 Kings 18:24-37). To have received such a people into community and co-operation with the true people of God would have been an act of utter unfaithfulness and disloyalty to Him.
(3.) Their design in making this proposal was an unworthy one. “The occasion of this request of the Samaritans,” says Schultz, “was the correct recognition of the fact that those who should have the Temple at Jerusalem would be regarded as the leading nation, whilst those who should be excluded from this central point of the worship of the land would appear as less authorised, as intrusive; they likewise no doubt expected, if they were admitted to participation in the building of the Temple, as well as to consultation with reference to it, to gain thereby influence in shaping the affairs of the congregation in general. If in addition to this they had also a religious interest in the matter, it was only in order to secure for themselves the favour of the God of the land, whom they recognised as Jehovah, and then therewith also the same possessions and blessings in their new home as the Jews designed for themselves. We cannot regard them as actuated by any higher and purer motive; for their entire subsequent behaviour, which makes them appear as quite indifferent to religious affairs, and also that which we elsewhere learn of their religion (2 Kings 17:24-41), is opposed to that view.”
(4.) The acceptance of their proposal would have been perilous to the Jews. Proneness to associate with their heathen neighbours and to adopt their idolatrous customs had been painfully prevalent in the Israelites previous to their captivity, and had been the chief cause of their miseries. To have acceded to the proposal of the Samaritans would have been to have placed themselves in the utmost danger of falling again into their former sins with all their train of bitter consequences. They were not strong enough to overcome the heathen elements and influences which they must have encountered in association with the idolatrous Samaritans. In such association there was grave peril to their best interests. Separation from the Samaritans was essential to the spiritual safety of the Jews. (b).
II. The proposal rejected by the Jews. “But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them,” &c. (Ezra 4:3). In this rejection there are several noteworthy points—
1. An exclusive obligation in relation to the work is asserted. “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel.” In such an undertaking the Jews and the Samaritans had nothing in common. The obligation to build the Temple devolved upon the Jews, and they alone would fulfil that obligation.
2. The alleged similarity of worship is indirectly denied. The rulers of the Jews in their reply to the Samaritans speak of “our God” and of “the Lord God of Israel,” implying that He was not the God of the Samaritans. The returned exiles worshipped Jehovah as the only living and true God, while the Samaritans worshipped Him simply as a local deity, as one god amongst others. In this sense, then, He was “the Lord God of Israel,” but not of the Samaritans. (c).
3. The command of King Cyrus is adduced in support of this rejection. “As King Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.” The authority of Cyrus was binding upon both the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews had his commission to come to Jerusalem and build the Temple; but if it was a work which the Samaritans could appropriately undertake, he need not have encouraged or even allowed the Jews to leave Babylon to do it. Again, if it was a work which might be done by others than Jews, why, seeing that he was so much interested in it, did he not undertake it himself? The mentioning of the authority of King Cyrus by the Jewish leaders was certainly a prudent thing. “Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
4. The rejection of the proposal was unanimous. “Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel,” i.e., all the heads of the people, concurred in declining the co-operation of the Samaritans. This unanimity is further indicated in the expression, “We ourselves together will build,” which Schultz correctly explains, “we, as a compact unity, excluding others.” If the Church of Christ would stand against and conquer its enemies, it must present to them a compact opposition. (d).
5. The rejection of the proposal was prompt and decided. There is neither hesitation nor uncertainty in the reply of the heads of the Jewish people to the Samaritans. It is perilous to parley with evil proposals. They should be immediately and firmly repudiated. (e).
(a) It was but a shallow device, and showed a very inadequate conception of devilish art, to represent Satan a hideous and repulsive figure, with frightful marks to be recognised by, with a beastly foot to certify his track, and all concentrated malignities on his distorted features. Why, men would run from such ugliness by instinct; and if this were the type of evil, it could never come near enough to tempt us. Our virtue would be safe against a seducer that inspired nothing but disgust. In the real Satan we must look for a shrewder cunning, a more subtle diplomacy, a more politic disguise. Whatever he may have been to the superstitious fears of ruder ages, to try the temper of the nineteenth century he takes on the address of a courtier, the self-possession of a man of the world, the royal dignity of a prince, the beauty of a seraph, and the manners of a gentleman. If you meet him now—and meet him you certainly will to-morrow and to-day—he will be transformed into an angel of light.—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(b) Let not any so much presume upon their own strength as to imagine that they can retain their sincerity, though they keep wicked company, and rather convert them to good than be perverted by them to evil, seeing this is a matter of great difficulty. “To be good among the good,” says Bernard, “has in it health and safety; among the wicked to be so, is also commendable and praiseworthy: in that, happiness is joined with much security; in this, much virtue with difficulty.” For as he who is running down the hill can sooner pull with him one that is ascending, than he who is going up can cause him to ascend that is running down; so he who holds a headlong course in wickedness can more easily carry with him one that is ascending the hill of Virtue, being a motion contrary to natural disposition, than he can cause him to ascend with him. For in common experience we see that the worser state prevails more in altering the better to its condition, than the better to make the worse like itself. The infected are not so soon cured by the sound, as they are tainted with their contagion. Rotten apples lying with the sound are not restored to soundness, but the sound are corrupted with their rottenness. Dead carcasses united to living bodies are not thereby revived, unless it be by miracle, as we see in Elijah and Peter; but the living, if they continue any time united to the dead, partake with them in their mortality and corruption. And thus it is in our spiritual state, wherein the worse more prevails to corrupt the better, than the better to reform the worse.—Downame.
(c) Prone before, on every occasion, to adopt the idolatrous practices of the adjacent nations, the Jews now secluded themselves from the rest of the world in proud assurance of their own religious superiority. The law, which of old was perpetually violated, or almost forgotten, was now enforced, by general consent to its extreme point, or even beyond it. Adversity endeared that, of which in prosperity, they had not perceived the value. Prone, the mass of them, all but the wiser and more enlightened who worshipped Jehovah, to worship Him but as a national God, greater and mightier than the gods of other nations (a conception in itself polytheistic), they threw aside this lower kind of pride, to assume that of the sole people of the one true God. Their city, their native soil, their religion, became the objects of the most passionate attachment. Intermarriages with foreigners, neither forbidden by statute nor by former practice, were strictly inhibited. The observance of the Sabbath, and even of the sabbatical year, was enforced with rigour of which we have no precedent in the earlier annals, even to the neglect of defence in time of war. In short, from this period commences that unsocial spirit, that hatred towards mankind and want of humanity to all but their own kindred, with which, notwithstanding the extent to which they carried proselytism to their religion, the Jews are branded by all the Roman writers. The best of these writers could not but be unconsciously or involuntarily impressed by the majesty of this sublime monotheism, but their pride resented the assumption of religious superiority by this small people; and the stern self-isolation of the Jews from all religious communion with the rest of mankind was beheld only in its seemingly proud and lonely obstinacy—in its refusal to contaminate itself with what it openly declared to be the unholy and unrighteous and foolish usages of the world.—H. H. Milman, D.D.
(d) Union is power. The most attenuated thread, when sufficiently multiplied, will form the strongest cable. A single drop of water is a weak and powerless thing; but an infinite number of drops, united by the force of attraction, will form a stream; and many streams combined will form a river; till rivers pour their waters into the mighty ocean, whose proud waves, defying the power of man, none can stay but He who formed them. And thus forces which, acting singly, are utterly impotent, are, when acting in combination, resistless in their energies, mighty in power. And when this great union of the several powers of the Church shall be brought to bear unitedly on one point, its triumph will be the subjection of a world to Christ which now defies the solitary efforts of single forces.—H. G. Salter.
(e) Decision of character and promptitude of action, qualities so important on board ship in a storm, in the manœuvring of troops in battle, are indispensable to the Christian life, both to our getting through the “strait gate,” and our getting on in the “narrow way.” How often, for example, does it happen that to hesitate even for one moment between resisting and yielding to temptation is to fall! The battle is lost in that moment of vacillation. In such cases, our safety lies in coming to an immediate decision; in promptly resolving to dally with the tempter not an instant, to flee if we can, and if we cannot flee to fight—so resisting the devil that if we cannot flee from him, he shall flee from us, and leave us.—Thomas Guthrie, D.D.
THE PROPOSALS OF THE WICKED AND HOW TO TREAT THEM
“The children of the captivity” who had returned to their own land were true Israelites, both in their origin and in their sympathies; the Samaritans were heathens of various races, or at best only heathens mingled with Israelites. The Jews were decided monotheists; the Samaritans were confirmed polytheists, and are here correctly described as “the adversaries of” the Jews. For these reasons we may fairly regard the Jews as representing the true and good, and the Samaritans the false and evil. Viewed in this respect, the text suggests—
I. That the wicked often propose to enter into alliance with the good. “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the Temple unto the Lord God of Israel; then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you.” For selfish reasons these idolaters propose to co-operate with the Jews in building the Temple of the true and only God. In like manner worldly and wicked men often seek to form alliances with the religious and the godly. These alliances are of different kinds, e.g.—
1. Commercial. Partnerships in business, &c.
2. Social. Reception into their society, or personal friendship.
3. Matrimonial. From various selfish motives the non-religious man may seek a religious woman for his wife; or the worldly woman a godly man.
4. And even, as in this case, Religious. Persons who have no real godliness, actuated by unworthy motives, sometimes seek to co-operate in religious enterprises.
II. That the proposals of the wicked for alliance with the good are often supported by plausible reasons. “For we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him,” &c. How plausible! And men argue with equal plausibility for the formation of alliances between the worldly and the godly in our own day. Take the alliances mentioned above, and see how men argue for them.
1. Commercial. It is argued that religious principles have nothing to do with business transactions.
2. Social. That the advantage and enjoyment of social intercourse is independent of the question of personal piety.
3. Matrimonial. That the ungodly partner will soon be won over to the beliefs and practices of the godly one; or, at the very least, will derive much moral benefit.
4. Religious. That there is very little difference between the two parties; as, in the argument of the Samaritans. Such proposals must needs be plausibly supported, or they would not have even the remotest chance of acceptance. (a).
III. That the alliances proposed by the wicked are always perilous to the good. The Samaritans were “the adversaries of the” Jews, and their proposal was a dangerous one to the Jews. And the alliances we have spoken of place the best interests of the godly in jeopardy. In such business partnerships the good man’s high standard of morality and business principle is in sore danger of a sad reduction. In social and matrimonial relationships of this mixed moral character there is great danger that the delicate bloom of piety will be soon swept away, that zeal for truth and for God will grow cold, that habits of devotion will gradually fail, and thus the very life of the soul will be gravely imperilled. And if the wicked be admitted into religious alliances and enterprises, such enterprises will run imminent risk of being first degraded and then defeated. (b).
IV. That the proposals of the wicked for alliance with the good should always be firmly rejected. The leaders of the Jews are an example to us in this respect. “Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God,” &c. When the difference of character is essential and radical, there should be no hesitation as to the treatment of such proposals. Occasional association between the unmistakably good and the unmistakably wicked is sometimes justifiable and necessary; as in business transactions and in the efforts of the good to benefit the wicked. “I pray not,” said Christ, “that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (c). But the first suggestion of intimate association or close alliance between them, however plausibly presented and enforced, should be at once and decisively checked by the good. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” &c. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Resist temptation promptly and firmly. (d).
(a) Satan never plays a bold game. He wins by not showing his worst at first, by concealing his tricks, transformed into an angel of light. It takes a great deal of effort to put us thoroughly on our guard against his wiles; but when it is done, it is worth the pains. Tempting men imitate their great leader and prototype. They never go directly and openly to their object. If they would bend you from your integrity, they will flatter your self-respect by holding out to you a moral inducement. If they would corrupt your purity, they insinuate the poison through some appeal to your better affections. If they would weaken the holy restraints that gird in, with their blessed zone, the innocence of childhood, they will urge some sly argument to an honourable pride, or else to a friendly sympathy, or else to a praiseworthy love of independence; and the first battery that has been plied against many a boy’s virtue has been the cunning caution that bade him not be afraid of his elders. They may say, as Milton makes the Archfiend say, sitting like a cormorant on a tree that overlooked the sinless Eden and the yet innocent inmates, deceiving even his own black heart—
“Should I at your harmless innocence
Melt, as I do, yet public reason just,
Honour and empire, with revenge enlarged
By conquering this new world, compels me now
To do what else, though damned, I should abhor.”
Theologians can cover their sectarian misrepresentations with the plea of “zeal for the cause,” and controversialists baptize their bigotry with language of Holy Writ wrested from its meaning.
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose …
Oh what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
Says the Apostle Paul, “If Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light, it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.”—F. D. Huntington, D.D.
(b) Man, being a sociable creature, is mightily encouraged to do as others do, especially in an evil example; for we are more susceptible of evil than we are of good. Sickness is sooner communicated than health; we easily catch a disease of one another, but those that are sound do not communicate health to the diseased. Or rather, to take God’s own expression that sets it forth thus,—by touching the unclean the man became unclean under the law, but by touching the clean the man was not purified. The conversation of the wicked has more power to corrupt the good, than the conversation of the virtuous and holy to correct the lewd.—Manton.
(c) All company with unbelievers or misbelievers is not condemned. We find a Lot in Sodom, Israel with the Egyptians, Abraham and Isaac with their Abimelechs; roses among thorns, and pearls in mud; and Jesus Christ among publicans and sinners. So neither we be infected, nor the name of the Lord wronged, to converse with them that we may convert them is a holy course. But still we must be among them as strangers: to pass through an infected place is one thing, to dwell in it another. The earth is the Lord’s, and men are His; wheresoever God shall find the merchant, let him be sure to find God in every place.—Thomas Adams.
(d) Keep the devil at arm’s length, and fight him at a distance. Suffer him, in easy security, to draw near, and resistance is over; the citadel of your soul is won. Nine-tenths of the gross, degrading, damning sins into which people are betrayed, are committed without premeditation, nay, with a clear purpose against them; but a man or a woman has toyed with temptation—just thus far I can venture, and stop short of foul and fatal sin. And then, as the poor bird when he sees the bait in the trap, Satan knows he has you fast; he knows that those encroachments are never staid. The art of godly living in its earlier stages is an art of wise defences, a constant, earnest vigilance at the outworks of the spirit, that they may never be stormed or sapped by the foe. Gradually, as a man grows in grace and godliness, the outer defence may be abandoned. Paul, the aged, could look steadily in the face many a peril which Paul the neophyte would have wisely shunned. But let the young pilgrim of life beware, and if he feels himself in an atmosphere of temptation, let him raise bulwarks of habits and self-denials by which the pestilent foe may be kept as far as may be from the near neighbourhood of the soul.—J. B. Brown, B.A.
THE TRUE BUILDERS OF THE SPIRITUAL TEMPLE OF GOD
The chiefs of the Jewish community here affirm that the building of the Temple at Jerusalem was their work, that the Samaritans had no proper part in it; and that, therefore, they would do the work themselves, without the proffered aid of the Samaritans. This position, which they took up and maintained, suggests that the true spiritual Israelites are the only authorised and legitimate builders of the spiritual Temple of God, or that Christian work should be done only by Christians. This position may be supported by the following reasons:—
I. They alone will build on the time foundation. “Behold I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” He is the only foundation of a true character; the only corner-stone of a true church. Neither theological creeds or systems, nor ecclesiastical politics, nor even divinely instituted sacraments, nor schemes of social improvement, nor the unreliable excellences and fancied merits of individuals—none of these, nor all of them combined, can be the true foundation of the spiritual Temple of God. Christ is the only true and sure foundation. And the true Christian, who is both a stone in the edifice and also a builder of the edifice, is himself built upon Christ and builds others upon Him. He who is not himself a true Christian will suggest some other foundation, &c. (a).
II. They alone will build with the true materials. The spiritual temple is to be built of living and Christly souls. “Ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood.” The Christian Church should be composed of Christian persons, and only of them. The great spiritual dwelling-place of God must be constructed of spiritual persons. The carnally-minded, the worldly-minded, the ungodly, have no true place in it. The Christian builder will seek to build the edifice of true materials; he will “build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones.” Those who are not them selves true Christians would build of “wood, hay, stubble;” they would put into the edifice unsuitable materials, &c. (b).
III. They alone will build in accordance with the true plan. The design of the Church is Divine. They who labour in the erection of the spiritual temple are not to carry out their own ideas, but to fulfil the plan of God. The Lord Jesus is the great Master Builder: He also superintends the work. The business of the workmen is to carry out His directions. Here are some glimpses of the Divine design for this temple. “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” “A glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Only the members of the true spiritual Israel will keep the Divine plan in view, and faithfully build in accordance with it.
IV. They alone will build with the true aim. What is the great end of the spiritual temple which is being built amongst men? The glory of God. For this end the Jews rebuilt their Temple. This is the end of the great redemptive work of our Lord and Saviour, and of the Holy Spirit, and of all Christian agencies. “Ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” “Ye are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.” The final cause of this spiritual temple is that God shall be manifest in it everywhere, realised everywhere, obeyed everywhere, adored everywhere. Only the godly will faithfully labour for this end. The ungodly, like the Samaritans, will be moved by political or other inferior considerations, and will aim at some selfish end.
V. They alone will build in the true spirit. The true spirit for Christian work is that of—
1. Obedience, as opposed to self-will.
2. Humility, as opposed to haughtiness and self-conceit.
3. Patience in dealing with difficulties and disappointments, as opposed to petulance.
4. Trust in God, as opposed to self-confidence.
5. Self-consecration, as opposed to self-seeking. This is the true spirit for the builders of the spiritual Temple of our God; and this spirit belongs only to the true people of God. The first and chief condition of doing good to others is being good ourselves. To accomplish successful Christian work we must live sincere Christian lives. And so our subject brings us to the cross and to the Saviour, to the atonement and the example of the Lord Jesus. Fitness for holy work begins by trusting in Him, and is maintained by imitating Him. (c).
(a) Christ is often called the foundation; the stone; the corner-stone on which the Church is reared (Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 2 Timothy 2:19; 1 Peter 2:6). The meaning is, that no true church can be reared which does not embrace and hold the true doctrines respecting Him—those which pertain to His incarnation, His Divine nature, His instructions, His example, His atonement, His resurrection, and His ascension. The reason why no true church can be established without embracing the truth as it is in Christ, is, that it is by Him only that men can be saved; and where this doctrine is wanting, all is wanting that enters into the essential idea of a church. The fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion must be embraced, or a church cannot exist; and where those doctrines are denied, no association of men can be recognised as a Church of God. Nor can the foundation be modified or shaped so as to suit the wishes of men. It must be laid as it is in the Scriptures; and the superstructure must be reared on that alone.—Albert Barnes, D.D.
(b) By going to the lowest stratum of human nature, Christ gave a new idea of the value of man. He built a kingdom out of the refuse of society. To compare small things with great, it has been pointed out by Lord Macaulay that in an English cathedral there is an exquisite stained window which was made by an apprentice out of the pieces of glass which had been rejected by his master, and it was so far superior to every other in the church, that, according to tradition, the envious artist killed himself with vexation. All the builders of society had rejected the “sinners,” and made the painted window of the “righteous.” A new Builder came; His plan was original, startling, revolutionary; His eye was upon the contemned material; He made the first last, and the last first; and the stone which the builders rejected He made the head stone of the corner.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(c) The true philosophy or method of doing good is, first of all and principally, to be good—to have a character that will of itself communicate good. There must and will be active effort where there is goodness of principle; but the latter we should hold to be the principal thing, the root and life of all. Whether it is a mistake more sad or more ridiculous, to make mere stir synonymous with doing good, we need not inquire; enough, to be sure that one who has taken up such a notion of doing good is for that reason a nuisance to the church. The Christian is called a light, not lightning. In order to act with effect on others, he must walk in the Spirit, and thus become the image of goodness; he must be so akin to God, and so filled with His dispositions, that he shall seem to surround himself with a hallowed atmosphere. It is folly to endeavour to make ourselves shine before we are luminous. If the sun without his beams should talk to the planets, and argue with them till the final day, it would not make them shine; there must be light in the sun itself, and then they will shine, of course. And this, my brethren, is what God intends for you all. It is the great idea of His Gospel, and the work of His Spirit, to make you lights in the world. His greatest joy is to give you character, to beautify your example, to exalt your principles, and make you each the depositary of His own Almighty grace. But in order to this, something is necessary on your part—a full surrender of your mind to duty and to God, and a perpetual desire of His spiritual intimacy; having this, having a participation thus of the goodness of God, you will as naturally communicate good as the sun communicates his beams.—H. Bushnell, D.D.
THE HOSTILITY OF THE SAMARITANS TO THE JEWS
(Ezra 4:4-5; Ezra 4:24)
The advances of the Samaritans having been firmly declined by the Jews, they resorted to opposition, and endeavoured to thwart them in their great work. Notice:
I. The tactics of the wicked. Having failed to accomplish their selfish purposes by the proposal to co-operate in the work, “the people of the land” at once proceeded to hinder the work. If the Jews would not accept their proffered assistance, they were resolved that they should experience their hostility. The Jews had said that they would do the work alone, whereupon the Samaritans determined that they should not do it at all. They “weakened the hands of the people of Judah,” “i.e., they discouraged and intimidated them as regards their great work. The wicked are, alas! fertile in resources for the accomplishment of their evil designs. Their methods are often manifold and crafty. If they cannot bend the good to their wishes and aims by plausible pretences, they alter their tactics and betake themselves to unscrupulous opposition in various forms.
II. The venality of the wicked. The Samaritans “hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose.” M. Henry suggests that these counsellors, “pretending to advise them for the best, should dissuade them from proceeding, and so ‘frustrate their purpose,’ or dissuade the men of Tyre and Sidon from furnishing them with the timber they had bargained for (chap. Ezra 3:7); or whatever business they had at the Persian court, to solicit for any particular grants or favours, pursuant to the general edict for their liberty, there were those that were hired and lay ready to appear of counsel against them.” Or, as Schultz suggests, they were hired to get the edict of Cyrus cancelled by influencing “the ministers to whom chap. Ezra 7:28 and Ezra 8:25 refer, or other influential persons, to give advice to Cyrus unfavourable to the Jews. At court they naturally did not understand how it could be that those who were as much the inhabitants of the land as the returned exiles, and therefore seemed entitled to the God of the land, should be excluded. If Cyrus had seen in Jehovah his own supreme God, it must have been all the more annoying to him that those who apparently had the best intentions of worshipping Him should be rejected. It would seem as if the reason why the Jews opposed the union could only be a national and political one, and the suspicion was quite natural, that they already designed to form not merely a religious community, but also had national and political designs, that they thus gave an entirely false interpretation to the decree of Cyrus.” But, however these counsellors proceeded in their work, it is reasonable to infer that they were men of some skill and resource and power of persuasion, and they deliberately exercised their abilities in an evil cause for gain. In them the voice of conscience was overwhelmed by the cravings of cupidity. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Acts we have two illustrations of this venality. The learning and eloquence of Tertullus, a Roman barrister, were employed to promote the cause of tyranny, injustice, and falsehood, and to persecute a true and holy man. And Felix the governor refrains, for the space of two years, from doing what he is convinced is his duty in releasing St. Paul from his imprisonment, in the hope of receiving bribes to do so. It is inexpressibly mournful to see men prostituting their genius, or learning, or wisdom, or eloquence, or power for money. Yet how numerous are the forms and instances of it in our own day, e.g., men write fictions and songs which minister to men’s lower nature at the expense of their higher nature, &c. (a).
III. The temporary triumph of the wicked. The Samaritans succeeded in discouraging the Jews, harassing them in their work, and finally putting a stop to their work. They frustrated “their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.… Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of Darius king of Persia.” For the space of fourteen years the building of the Temple was arrested, viz., for five years of the reign of Cyrus, seven and a half of Cambyses, seven months of the Pseudo-Smerdis, and one year of Darius. The wicked have often succeeded in hindering the progress of the cause of God. St. Paul was hindered by Satan, once and again, from the execution of his purposes (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Persecution too has frequently obstructed sadly the work of God, and inflicted grievous trials and sufferings upon His people.
IV. The freedom allowed by God to the wicked. He allowed the Samaritans to resist His purposes, to persecute His people, to arrest the building of His Temple for fourteen years. And still He allows the atheist to deny His existence, the blasphemer to blaspheme His name, and the wicked to “do evil with both hands earnestly.” He will not invade the moral freedom with which He Himself has dowered us. And “sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed.” His forbearance, even with the most pernicious and provoking sinners, is very great. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.” But let no one presume upon the Divine patience. “Thinkest thou, O man, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering?” &c. Romans 2:4-11). (b). And in the end the Temple of God shall be built, and His purposes fully and splendidly accomplished. The triumph of the wicked is only temporary. God will frustrate their deepest designs, and overrule them for the fulfilment of His own. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” Let us learn, before leaving this section of the narrative, that the most dangerous enemies of the Church of God are hypocritical adherents to it. Half-hearted, inconsistent, ungodly professors of religion are, in their influence, the worst obstructions to the progress of the kingdom of God.
(a) Gold is the only power which receives universal homage. It is worshipped in all lands without a single temple, and by all classes without a single hypocrite; and often has it been able to boast of having armies for its priesthood, and hecatombs of human victims for its sacrifices. Where war has slain its thousands, gain has slaughtered its millions; for while the former operates only with the local and fitful terrors of an earthquake, the destructive influence of the latter is universal and unceasing. Indeed war itself—what has it often been but the art of gain practised on the largest scale? the covetousness of a nation resolved on gain, impatient of delay, and leading on its subjects to deeds of rapine and blood? Its history is the history of slavery and oppression in all ages. For centuries, Africa—one quarter of the globe—has been set apart to supply the monster with victims—thousands at a meal. And, at this moment, what a populous and gigantic empire can it boast! the mine, with its unnatural drudgery; the manufactory, with its swarms of squalid misery; the plantation, with its imbruted gangs; and the market and the exchange, with their furrowed and careworn countenances,—these are only specimens of its more menial offices and subjects. Titles and honours are among its rewards, and thrones are at its disposal. Among its counsellors are kings, and many of the great and mighty of the earth are enrolled among its subjects. Where are the waters not ploughed by its navies? What imperial element is not yoked to its car? Philosophy itself has become a mercenary in its pay; and science, a votary at its shrine, brings all its noblest discoveries, as offerings, to its feet. What part of the globe’s surface is not rapidly yielding up its last stores of hidden treasure to the spirit of gain? or retains more than a few miles of unexplored and unvanquished territory? Scorning the childish dream of the philosopher’s stone, it aspires to turn the globe itself into gold.—John Harris, D.D.
(b) The patience of God informs us of the reason why He lets the enemies of His Church oppress it, and defers His promise of the deliverance of it. If He did punish them presently, His holiness and justice would be glorified, but His power over Himself in His patience would be obscured. Well may the Church be content to have a perfection of God glorified, that is not like to receive any honour in another world by any exercise of itself. If it were not for His patience, He were incapable to be the Governor of a sinful world; He might, without it, be the Governor of an innocent world, but not of a criminal one; He would be the destroyer of the world, but not the orderer and disposer of the extravagancies and sinfulness of the world. The interest of His wisdom, in drawing good out of evil, would not be served if He were not clothed with this perfection as well as with others. If He did presently destroy the enemies of His Church upon the first oppression, His wisdom in contriving, and His power in accomplishing deliverance against the united powers of hell and earth, would not be visible, no, nor that power in preserving His people unconsumed in the furnace of affliction. He had not got so great a name in the rescue of His Israel from Pharaoh, had He thundered the tyrant into destruction upon His first edict against the innocent. If He were not patient to the most violent of men, He might seem to be cruel. But when He offers peace to them under their rebellions, waits that they may be members of His Church, rather than enemies to it, He frees Himself from any such imputation, even in the judgment of those that shall feel most of His wrath; it is this renders the equity of His justice unquestionable, and the deliverance of His people righteous in the judgment of those from whose fetters they are delivered. Christ reigns in the midst of His enemies, to show His power over Himself as well as over the heads of His enemies, to show His power over His rebels. And though He retards His promise, and suffers a great interval of time between the publication and performance, sometimes years, sometimes ages to pass away, and little appearance of any preparation to show Himself a God of truth; it is not that He hath forgotten His word, or repents that ever He passed it, or sleeps in a supine neglect of it: but that men might not perish, but bethink themselves, and come as friends into His bosom, rather than be crushed as enemies under His feet (2 Peter 3:9): “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Hereby He shows that He would be rather pleased with the conversion than the destruction of men.—S. Charnocke, B.D.
THE ANTAGONISM OF THE WORLD TO THE CHURCH
In these verses we have a further account of the hostility of the Samaritans to the Jews in their great work. Homiletically we may view it as an illustration of The antagonism of the world to the Church. This antagonism as it is here illustrated is—
I. Persistent. The opposition to the Jews was carried on during a considerable portion of the reign of Cyrus, the whole of the reigns of Cambyses and of the Pseudo-Smerdis; and it was continued by means of letters of accusation in the reigns of Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6) and of Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7). Terrible is the persistence of the world in its hostility to the Church of God. In different forms it is continued age after age; and at present we can discover no signs of its cessation. The spirit of worldliness is as hostile now to the spirit of decided piety as ever it was. “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.” “If the world hate you,” said our Lord, “ye know that it hated Me before it hated you,” &c. (John 15:18-21). (a).
II. Authoritative. This letter was written and sent to Artaxerxes by two high officers of the Persian monarch. It seems to have been devised by Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and their associates, and to have been written by Rehum the Persian governor in Samaria, and Shimshai the royal scribe in the same province. The letter of accusation had all the weight which the authority of these distinguished officers could impart to it. The spirit of secular governments has often been inimical to the spirit of true godliness, and their action hostile to the principles of truth and righteousness. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His” Church.
III. Combined. All the colonies of the Samaritans concurred in the statements and in the sending of this letter. “Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions: the Dinaites,” &c. (Ezra 4:9-10). “They followed the cry, though ignorant of the merits of the cause.” The popularity of a movement is no proof of its truth or righteousness. Numbers are not a reliable guarantee of the wisdom and worthiness of a cause. Majorities have very frequently been on the side of falsehood, injustice, and folly. Mark what a combination there was against the Lord and Saviour. “Against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together.” There is combination in hell.
“Devil with devil damned firm concord holds.”
IV. Unscrupulous. This is very manifest in the gross exaggerations of this letter. Notice two or three of them. “Jerusalem … the rebellious and the bad city.” A most unjust description of its character. “If this city be builded and the walls set up, they will not pay toll,” &c. (Ezra 4:13). An unwarranted and slanderous assertion, for these Jews had never given any cause why their loyalty to the Persian monarchs should be suspected. “If this city be builded, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.” An extremely absurd exaggeration. One would suppose that the authors of it must have known it to be a gross misrepresentation. The chief assertions of the letter were unscrupulous and base calumnies. The enemies of the Church of God have never been particular as to the weapons they should use against it. Falsehood and cruelty, fines and imprisonment, bonds and banishment, fire and sword, have all been employed against it.
V. Plausible. This letter to Artaxerxes reveals the craft and plausibility of the Samaritans—
1. In their profession of loyalty to the king. “Thy servants” (Ezra 4:11) … “Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour,” &c. (Ezra 4:14).
2. In their presentation of proof of their assertions. They suggest “that search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers,” &c. (Ezra 4:15). The remarks of M. Henry on this verse are admirable: “It cannot be denied but that there was some colour given for this suggestion by the attempts of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah to shake off the yoke of the King of Babylon, which, if they had kept close to their religion and the Temple they were now rebuilding, they would never have come under. But it must be remembered—
(1.) That they were themselves, and their ancestors, sovereign princes, and their efforts to recover their rights, if there had not been in them the violation of an oath, for aught I know, would have been justifiable, and successful too, had they taken the right method and made their peace with God first.
(2.) Though these Jews, and their princes, had been guilty of rebellion, yet it was unjust therefore to fasten this as an indelible brand upon this city, as if that must for ever after go under the name of ‘the rebellious and bad city.’ The Jews, their captivity, had given such specimens of good behaviour as were sufficient, with any reasonable men, to roll away that one reproach; for they were instructed (and we have reason to hope that they observed their instructions), to ‘seek the peace of the city where they were captives, and pray to the Lord for it’ (Jeremiah 29:7). It was, therefore, very unfair, though not uncommon, thus to impute the iniquity of the fathers to the children.” But it was craftily conceived and executed; and, for a time, it answered the purpose of its authors. The Church now has to contend against, not only the strength but also the subtlety of its foes; not only against the “roaring lion,” but also against the “old serpent.” “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” And the blandishments of the world are more perilous to the Church than its threats. Christians need to be “wise as serpents,” watchful as trusty sentinels, and prayerful as devoutest saints.
Yet greater is He that is in us and for us, than all our foes, with all their might, and malice, and cunning. “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” (b).
(a) From the fiery days of the stakes of Smithfield even until now, the world’s black heart has hated the Church; and the world’s cruel hand and laughing lip have been for ever against us. The host of the mighty are pursuing us, and are thirsty for our blood, and anxious to cut us off from the earth. Such is our position unto this hour, and such must it be, until we are landed on the other side of Jordan, and until our Maker comes to reign on the earth.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) As for the trouble thou puttest thyself to concerning the cause and Church of Christ, which thou mayest see at any time distressed by the enemy, though God takes thy goodwill to them (from which those thy fears arise) very kindly, yet there is no need of tormenting thyself with that which is sure never to come to pass. The ark may shake, but it cannot fall. The ship of the Church may be tossed, but it cannot sink, for Christ is in it, and will awake time enough to prevent its wreck. There is, therefore, no cause for us, when the storm beateth hardest upon it, to disturb Him, as once the disciples did, with the shrieks and outcries of our unbelief, as if all were lost. Our faith is more in danger of sinking at such a time than the cause and Church of Christ are. They are both by the promise set out of the reach of men and devils. The Gospel is an “everlasting Gospel.” “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one iota of this shall perish.” “The Word of the Lord endureth for ever,” and shall be alive to walk over all its enemies’ graves, yea to see the funeral of the whole world.—W. Gurnall.
GOOD CAUSE FOR GREAT ZEAL
The facts of the case were these.… Now let me take these words right out of those black mouths, and put them into my own and into yours. They will suit us well if we turn them to the great King of kings. We may truly say, “Now because we have maintenance from the King’s palace,” &c. The text will enable me to speak on three points.
I. We acknowledge a very gracious fact. “We have maintenance from the king’s palace.” Both the upper and the nether springs from which we drink are fed by the eternal bounty of the great King. Hitherto we have been supplied with food and raiment. Although we do not drink of the water from the rock, or find the manna lying at our tent door every morning, yet the providence of God produces for us quite the same results, and we have been fed and satisfied; and, at any rate, many of us, in looking back, can say, “My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life.” Hence, we have thus, even in things temporal, been made to feel that we have been maintained from the King’s palace. But it has been in spiritual things that our continual experience of the King’s bounty has been most notable. We have a new life, and therefore we have new wants, and new hunger, and a new thirst; and God has maintained us out of His own palace as to this new life of ours. We have had great hunger at times after heavenly things, but He has “satisfied our mouth with good things,” and our youth has been “renewed like the eagle’s.” Sometimes we have been drawn aside from our steadfastness, and we have wanted mighty grace to set us on our feet again, and to make us once more “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might;” and we have had it, have we not? In looking back upon all the way wherein the Lord our God has led us, we can sing of the beginning of it, we can sing of the middle of it, and we believe we shall sing of the end of it; for all through we have been maintained out of the King’s palace. This is matter of fact both as to things temporal and things spiritual. Beloved, it is a great mercy that you and I have been maintained out of the King’s palace as believers; because, where else could we have been maintained? As to spiritual things, to whom could we go but unto Him who has been so good to us? What empty wells ministers are if we look to them! If we look to their Master, then “the rain also filleth the pools,” and we find that there is supply in the preached word for our consolation. And the books you once read with so much comfort appear to have lost their flavour, their aroma, and their sweet savour, and, I may add, even the Word of God itself, though it is unchanged, appears to be changed sometimes to you. But God, your God, oh, how graciously has He still supplied you! “All my springs are in Thee,” my God; and had they been elsewhere they long ago had failed.
We may remember that our maintenance from the King’s palace has cost His Majesty dear. He has not fed us for nothing. It cost Him His own dear Son at the very first. We should not have begun to live if He had spared His Son and kept Him back from us; but the choicest treasure in heaven He was pleased to spend for our sakes that we might live; and ever since then we have been fed upon Jesus Christ Himself. Let us bless and magnify our bounteous God, whose infinite favour has thus supplied our wants. Think over the kind of maintenance you have had from the King’s palace. We have had a bountiful supply. As the sun throws out his wealth of heat and light, and does not measure it by the consumption of men, but throws it broadcast over all worlds, even so does God flood the world with the sunlight of His goodness, and His saints are made to receive it in abundance. Our receptive faculty may be small, but His giving disposition is abundant. We have had an unfailing portion. As there has been much of it, so it has always come to us in due season. Times of need have come, but the needed supply has come too. The supply has ennobled us. For, consider how great a thing it is to be supported from a king’s palace; but it is the greatest of all privileges to be living upon the bounty of the King of kings. “Such honour have all the saints.” Even those that are weakest and meanest have this high honour—to be supplied by Royalty itself with all that they need. And there is reason for good cheer in this, that we have such a soul-satisfying portion in God. A soul that gets what God gives him has quite as much as he can hold and as much as he can want. He has got a portion that might well excite envy.… Let us rejoice, &c.
II. Here is a duty recognised. “It was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour.” The reasoning comes home to us. If we are so favoured—we, who are believers—with such a choice portion, it is not meet for us to sit down and see our God dishonoured. By every sense of propriety we are bound not to see God dishonoured by ourselves. It is well to begin at home. Art thou doing anything that dishonours thy God, professor—anything at home, anything in thy daily avocation, anything in the way of conducting thy business? Is there anything in thy conversation, anything in thy actions, anything in thy reading, anything in thy writing, anything in thy speaking, that dishonours God? Seeing that thou art fed from the King’s table, I beseech thee let it not be said that the King got damage from thee. Perhaps that dishonour may come from those who dwell under our roof, and live in our own house. I charge you that are parents and masters to see to this. Do not tolerate anything in those over whom you have control that would bring dishonour to God. We cannot impart to our children new hearts, but we can see to it that there shall be nothing within our gates that is derogatory to the religion of Jesus Christ.
Let the same holy jealousy animate us among those with whom we have influence—as, for instance, amongst those who wish to be united with us in Church fellowship. It is the duty of every Church to try, as far as it can, to guard the honour and dignity of King Jesus against unworthy persons, who would intrude themselves into the congregation of the saints, of those who are called, and chosen, and faithful. To receive into our membership persons of unhallowed life, unchaste, unrighteous—of licentious life and lax doctrine, such as know not the truth as it is in Jesus—would be to betray the trust with which Christ has invested us.
Under what sacred obligations do we stand to maintain the statutes and testimonies of the Lord! And, oh, how the King is dishonoured by the mutilation and misrepresentation of His Word! Therefore we are always bound to bear our protest against false doctrine. Those who have their maintenance from the King’s palace ought not to allow the Lord to be dishonoured by a neglect of His ordinances. The Lord Jesus has given you only two symbolic ordinances. Take care that you use them well. Again, let us take care that He be not dishonoured by a general decline of His Church. When churches go to sleep—when the work of God is done deceitfully—for to do it formally is to do it deceitfully; when there is no life in the prayer-meeting, when there are no holy enterprises afloat for the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom, then the world says, “That is your Church! What a sleepy set these saints are!” Oh! let not the King be thus dishonoured. And, oh, how can we tolerate it that so many should dishonour Christ by rejecting His Gospel! We cannot prevent their doing so, but we can weep for them; we can pray for them, we can plead for them, we can make it uncomfortable for them to reflect that believers are loving them, and yet they are not loving the Saviour. Privileged as you are, you ought to love your Master, so that the slightest word against Him should provoke your spirit to holy jealousy.
III. A course of action pursued. “Therefore have we sent and certified the king.” How shall we do that? Doubtless we act as it well becomes us, when we go and tell the Lord all about it? “Certified the King!”—but does He not know? Are not all things open to Him from whom no secrets are hid? Ah, yes; but when Hezekiah received Rabshakeh’s blasphemous letter he took it and spread it before the Lord. It is a holy exercise of the saints to report to the Lord the sins and the sorrows they observe among the people—the griefs they feel, and the grievances they complain of—to spread before Him the blasphemies they have heard, and appeal to Him concerning the menaces with which they are threatened. After those people had certified the king, they took care to plead with him. Plead with God! That praying is poor shift that is not made up of pleading. And when you have done it, do not go away and make your prayers into a lie by contrary actions, or by refraining from any action at all. He that prays hard must work hard; for no man prays sincerely who is not prepared to use every effort to obtain that which he asks of God. We must put our shoulder to the wheel while we pray for strength to put it in motion. All success depends upon God; yet He uses instruments, and He will not use instruments that are useless and unfitted to the work. Therefore let us be up and be stirring, for if we are maintained from the King’s palace, it is not meet that we see the King’s dishonour, but it is due to Him that we should seek His glory. Alas! there are some here that have never eaten the King’s bread, and will be banished from the King’s presence if they die as they are. But, oh remember, the King is always ready to receive His rebel subjects, and He is a God ready to pardon. “Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little.” “Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.”—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE SUCCESS OF THE SUBTLE SCHEME OF THE SAMARITANS, OR THE TEMPORARY TRIUMPH OF THE WICKED
I. Examine the letter of the king. “Then sent the king an answer unto Rehum,” &c. (Ezra 4:17-22). This letter suggests—
1. That the subtlety of the wicked frequently obtains a temporary triumph over the good. We have already noticed that the letter of the Samaritans to the king was very plausible. And that it completely succeeded is clear from the reply of the king to it.
(1.) The search in the archives of the nation which they recommended (Ezra 4:15) was made. “I commanded, and search hath been made” (Ezra 4:19).
(2.) The result which they predicted (Ezra 4:15) followed the search. “And it is found that this city of old time hath made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made therein.” The Jews had formerly rebelled against foreign powers by whom they had been subjected. Hezekiah “rebelled against the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 18:7). Jehoiakim rebelled against the king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:1). Zedekiah also “rebelled against the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 24:20).
(3.) The warnings which they gave (Ezra 4:13; Ezra 4:16) were heeded. As a result of the examination of the records of the kingdom, the king discovered that “there had been mighty kings over Jerusalem, which had ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom had been paid unto them;” and so the warnings of the Samaritans seemed to him reasonable and timely, and he acted upon them, inquiring, “Why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?”
(4.) The end which they aimed at was attained. Their object was to obtain authority to put a stop to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. And the king writes, “Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment be given from me. Take heed now that ye fail not to do this.” The misrepresentations of the Samaritans had sufficient truth in them to completely mislead Artaxerxes the king and to accomplish their evil design. “Falsehood,” says Colton, “is never so successful as when she baits her hook with truth; and no opinions so fatally mislead us as those that are not wholly wrong, as no watches so effectually deceive the wearers as those that are sometimes right.”
“A lie which is half a truth
Is ever the worst of lies.”
2. That one generation frequently suffers through the sins of another and an earlier one. The Jews of this time were suspected of disloyalty, and were prevented from carrying on their great work because some of their ancestors had rebelled against the domination of foreign powers. They smarted for the sins of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. The children of the spendthrift, the drunkard, and the impure man generally have to bear the iniquities of their fathers. (Comp. Exodus 20:5.) This stern fact should prove a restraint from sin. (a).
2. That the cause of God is frequently reproached and hindered by the evil conduct of some of its adherents. The rebellions of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah were now made use of to asperse the Jews and to stop the work of God. “A few instances of this kind,” as Scott observes, “standing on record, whilst the blameless lives and patient sufferings of thousands are unnoticed and forgotten, serve through revolving ages as a pretext, by which malignant enmity misleads worldly policy. All who love the Gospel should therefore walk circumspectly, avoiding all appearance of evil, especially in this particular, lest the Church of God and posterity should suffer through their misconduct; for the whole body will be condemned without hearing, if a few individuals act improperly.” (b).
II. Notice the action of the Samaritans. “Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read,” &c. Their action was—
1. Prompt. They allowed no delay whatever, but eagerly carried out the royal mandate. “They went up in haste to Jerusalem,” &c.
2. Personal. They did not depute others to put a stop to the work of the Jews: their interest was too deep and zealous for that. They themselves “went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews.”
3. Powerful. They “made them to cease by force and power.” They compelled the Jews by a display of force, which they probably took with them, to desist from building the city. Thus the plotters prevailed; the enemies were triumphant, and the progress of the good work was arrested. The tact and energy and zeal of the Samaritans were worthy of a good cause, and they were rewarded with success.
1. That the temporary triumph of a cause or a party is not a proof of its righteousness. When Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried, the enemies of truth and light and God appeared to be completely victorious. (c).
2. That we are not competent to judge the relation of present events to the purposes and providence of the great God. These require time for their development, &c. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
(a) This is a truth evident by universal experience. It is seen every day, in every part of the world. If Mr. Paine indulge in intemperance, and leave children behind him, they may feel the consequences of his misconduct when he is in the grave. The sins of the fathers may thus be visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation. It would, however, be their affliction only, and not their punishment. Yet such visitations are wisely ordered as a motive to sobriety.—Andrew Fuller.
The child generally inherits the natural constitution, the mental peculiarities, and sometimes even the moral character of his parent. His secular condition, too, rich or poor, is frequently determined by his parents. Some inherit a princely fortune, and some a crushing penury, from their ancestors. And their social status, too, is often ruled by the position and conduct of those of whom they were born. Children participate in the shame or the glory connected with the memory of their parents. The brilliant reflection of an illustrious sire seems to lead his offspring to social honour, and to shed a radiance on his name. On the other hand, the infamy which parents by theft, treason, or murder, have gained for themselves, transmits its odious influence down to their children, depreciating their own personal worth, and degrading them in the estimation of their contemporaries.—David Thomas, D.D.
(b) Was there ever a club in all the world without disreputable persons in it! Was there ever any association of men that might not be condemned, if the fool’s rule was followed of condemning the wheat because of the chaff? When with all our might and power we purge ourselves of deceivers as soon as we detect them, what more can we do? If our rule and practice is to separate them wholly as soon as we unmask them, what more can virtue itself desire? I ask any man, however much he may hate Christianity, what more can the Church do than watch her members with all diligence, and excommunicate the wicked when discovered? It is a foul piece of meanness on the part of the world that they should allege the faults of a few false professors against the whole Church: it is a piece of miserable meanness of which the world ought to be ashamed. Nevertheless, so it is. “Ha! ha!” they say, “So would we have it! so would we have it!” The daughter of Philistia rejoices, and the uncircumcised triumphs when Jesus is betrayed by His friend, and sold by His traitorous disciple. O deceitful professor, will not the Lodr be avenged upon you for this? Is it nothing to make Jesus’ name the drunkard’s song? Nothing to make the enemy blaspheme? O hardened man, tremble, for this shall not go unpunished.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(c) If ever failure seemed to rest on a noble life, it was when the Son of Man, deserted by His friends, heard the cry which proclaimed that the Pharisees had successfully drawn the net round their Divine Victim. Yet from that very hour of defeat and death there went forth the world’s life—from that very moment of apparent failure there proceeded forth into the ages the spirit of the conquering Cross. Surely if the Cross says anything, it says that apparent defeat is real victory, and that there is a heaven for those who have nobly and truly failed on earth.—F. W. Robertson, M.A.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany