Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 4

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-3

Ezra 4:1-3

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard.

The proposal of the Samaritans to the Jews

The proposal made by the Samaritans

1. Plausible in its form.

2. But evil in itself.

(1) They were not Israelites.

(2) They did not worship Jehovah as the true God. To have received such a people into community and co-operation with the true people of God would have been an set of utter unfaithfulness and disloyalty to Him.

(3) Their design in making this proposal was an unworthy one.

(4) The acceptance of their proposal would have been perilous to the Jews.

The proposal rejected by the jews.

1. An exclusive obligation in relation to the work is asserted.

2. The alleged similarity of worship is indirectly denied.

3. The command of Cyrus is adduced in support of this rejection. This was prudent. “Be ye wise as serpents,” etc.

4. The rejection of the proposal was unanimous.

5. The rejection of the proposal was prompt and decided. (William Jones.)

The proposals of the wicked and how to treat them

That the wicked often propose to enter into alliance with the good. These alliances are of different kinds.

1. Commercial.

2. Social

3. Matrimonial.

4. Religious.

That the proposals of the wicked for alliance with the good are often supported by plausible reasons.

That the alliances proposed by the wicked are always perilous to the good.

That the proposals of the wicked for alliance with the good should always be firmly rejected. (William Jones.)

The uses of an enemy

1. The having one is proof that you are somebody. Wishy-washy, empty, worthless people, never have enemies. Men who never move, never run against anything; and when a man is thoroughly dead and utterly buried, nothing ever runs against him. To be run against, is proof of existence and position; to run against something, is proof of motion.

2. An enemy is, to say the least, not partial to you. He will not flatter. He will not exaggerate your virtues. It is very probable that he will slightly magnify your faults. The benefit of that is twofold. It permits you to know that you have faults; it makes them visible and so manageable. Your enemy does for you this valuable work.

3. In addition, your enemy keeps you wide awake. He does not let you sleep at your post. There are two that always keep wash--namely, the lover and the hater. Your lover watches, that you may sleep. He keeps off noises, excludes light, adjusts surroundings, that nothing may disturb you. Your hater watches that you may not sleep. He stirs you up when you are napping. He keeps your faculties on the alert.

4. He is a detective among your friends. You need to know who your friends are, and who are not, and who are your enemies. The last of these three will discriminate the other two. When your enemy goes to one who is neither friend nor enemy, and assails you, me indifferent one will have nothing to say or chime in, not because he is your enemy, but because it is so much easier to assent than to oppose, and especially than to refute. But your friend will take up cudgels for you on the instant. He will deny everything and insist on proof, and proving is very hard work. Follow your enemy and you will find your friends, for he will have developed them so that they cannot be mistaken. The next best thing to having a hundred real friends, is to have one open enemy. (C. F. Deems, D. D.)

The adversary an abiding quantity in life

The adversary is a man who seeks to discover flaws, disadvantages, mistakes; a man who magnifies all that is unworthy until he makes a great sore and wound of it, so as to offend as many as possible; he knows how the work could have been better done; he sees where every mistake has been committed; and under his breath, or above it, as circumstances may suggest, he curses the builders and their building, and thinks that such an edifice built by such men is but an incubus which the earth is doomed to bear. Regard the criticism of adversaries as inevitable. If we think of it only as incidental, occasional, characteristic of a moment’s experience, we shall treat it too lightly; the adversary is an abiding quantity in life. (J. Parker, D. D)

Let us build with you. Beware of your associates

Beware of your associates. With some men we ought not to build even God’s house. We may spoil the sacred edifice by taking money made by the ruin of men. The Samaritans who thus spoke to Zerubbabel and to the chief of the fathers were not telling an absolute lie. No absolute lie can ever do much in the world; its very nakedness would cause it to be driven out of society; it must wear some rag of truth. The Samaritans in the ancient time did worship God after their fashion, but they did not give up a single idolatrous practice; they wanted to have two religions--to serve in some sort all the gods there were, and then when one failed they could flee to another; so they would build any wall, any altar, any city, any sanctuary; they wanted to be at peace with all the gods, then they would know what to do in the day of adversity. We have spoken of the Samaritans of the ancient time: why not speak of the Samaritans of the present day who wish to do this very thing--men who can bow their heads in prayer, and drink toasts to the devil? “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.” (J. Parker, D. D)

Simulated unselfishness

How oftentimes are people overcome by manner, by persuasiveness of tone, by assumed gentleness of spirit! The young creature is often so overcome; she says she knows he who has spoken to her is not a bad man; whatever he be he has a guileless tongue; his words are well chosen; he speaks them as a man might speak them who knows the gentleness of pity, all the sympathy of love; it is impossible that he can be simulating such tenderness; it is impossible that he can for selfish reasons be putting himself to such inconvenience and sacrifice. It is to-morrow that she finds out that beneath the velvet there lay the claw of the tiger. Nothing stands but character--real, simple, transparent, solid character. That will bear a thousand blasts of opposition and hostility, and at the end will seem the richer, the chester, for the rude discipline through which it has passed. (J. Parker, D. D)

The true builders of the spiritual temple of God

That Christian work should be done only by Christians may be supported by the following reasons.

They alone will build on the true foundation.

They alone will build with the true materials.

They alone will build in accordance with the true plan.

They alone will build with the true aim. This is the glory of God.

They alone will build in the true spirit. That of--

1. Obedience.

2. Humility.

3. Patience.

4. Trust in God.

5. Self-consecration. (William Jones.)

Compromising help refused

How strangely history repeats itself. In this early struggle between the Jews and the Samaritans we have a foreshadow of many a struggle in the Christian Church. When Paul and the other apostles went forth preaching the Gospel, the Greeks and the Romans would willingly enough have tolerated Christianity if Christianity would but tolerate their idolatrous systems. They would even have patronised the new religion, and would have offered no opposition to the erection of an image of Jesus amongst the images of other gods. But, when they saw that Christianity demanded the renouncing of idolatry and the exclusive worship of the one living and true God, at once priests, rulers, and people rose in arms against the preachers. Every obstacle was placed in the way of the spread of Christianity. But in spite of all persecution the Church prospered. Idolatry fought for its life and gradually lost every battle, until, in the fourth and fifth centuries, the Gospel had conquered the Roman Empire, and Christianity became the nominal religion of all her people. This is the battle, too, that the Church has to fight to-day. We can and we ought to be liberal in many things, but the followers of Jesus dare not be so liberal as to allow men of the world and men of sin to engage hand in hand with them in the Master’s work. The Church ought, and she does, invite into her fellowship all classes. However fallen and bad men may be they are welcome to enter the Church. But they must leave the world and their sins behind them. There cannot be two masters. Christ must have the whole heart, the whole strength, and the entire devotion. (J. Menzies.)

Questionable money help should be refused

The Church will take money from anybody; the whole Christian Church in all her ramifications and communions cheats herself into the persuasion that she can take the money of bad men and turn it to good uses. Grander would be the Church, more virgin in her beauty and loveliness, more snow-like in her incorruptibleness, if she could say to every bad man who offers her assistance, Ye have nothing to do with us in building the house of our God: the windows shall remain unglazed, and the roof-beams unslated, before we will touch money made by the sale of poison or by practices that are marked by the utmost corruption and evil. (J. Parker, D. D)

Doubtful men a source of weakness to a church

Thus we can learn from the Old Testament a good deal that would bear immediate modern application. This is the right answer to all doubtful Christians as well as to all unbelievers. We should say to them, So long as you are doubtful you are not helpful: your character is gone on one side, and therefore it is ineffective on the other. But would not this class of discipline and scope of criticism shear down the congregations? Certainly. Would God they were shorn down! Every doubtful man amongst us is a loss, a source of weakness, a point of perplexity and vexation. We are only unanimous when we axe one in moral faith and consent. The critic will do us no good; the clever man who sees our metaphysical error will keep us back: only the soul that has given itself to Christ, out-and-out, in an unbargaining surrender, can really stand fire in the great war, end build through all weathers, and hope even in the midst of darkness. We may have too many people round about us; we may be overburdened and obstructed by numbers. The Church owes not a little of its strength to the purity of its discipline. (J. Parker, D. D)

Mental penetration in leaders

Leaders must be critical. The man who has little responsibility can soon achieve a reputation for energy. Leaders must halt, hesitate, balance, and compare things, and come to conclusions supported by the largest inferences., There are men who would take a short and ready method in accomplishing their purpose: there are men of rude strength, of undisciplined and unsanctified force. But Zerubbabel and Jeshua must look at all the offers of assistance, and ask what their real value is; they must go into the sanctuary of motive, into the arcana of purpose end under-meanings. Zerubbabel and Jeshua--men who could undertake to build a city--were men who had mental penetration; they could see into other men. They saw into the Samaritan adversaries, and said, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God.” (J. Parker, D. D)


Verses 4-24

Ezra 4:4-24

Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah.

The hostility of the Samaritans to the Jews

The tactics of the wicked. 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.

The venality of the wicked. The Samaritans “hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purposes.” It is reasonable to infer that these counsellors were men of some skill and resource and power of persuasion who deliberately exercised their abilities in an evil cause for gain.

The temporary triumph of the wicked.

The freedom allowed by God to the wicked. (William Jones.)

The antagonism of the world to the Church

This antagonism as here illustrated is--






1. In their profession of loyalty to the king.

2. In their presentation of proof of their assertions. (J. Parker, D. D)


Verse 14

Ezra 4:14

Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace.

Good cause for great zeal

We acknowledge a very gracious fact.

1. We have been maintained from the King’s palace--

(1) In things temporal.

(2) In things spiritual.

2. Our maintenance from the King’s palace has cost His Majesty dear. He spared not His own Son.

3. We have had a bountiful supply.

4. We have had an unfailing portion.

5. The supply has ennobled us.

6. How cheering it is to have such a soul-satisfying portion in God.

Here is a duty recognised. By every sense of propriety we are bound not to see God dishonoured--

1. By ourselves.

2. By those who dwell under our roof.

3. By those with whom we have influence; particularly those who desire to unite with us in Church fellowship. We must not receive into our membership persons of unhallowed life--those who know not the truth as it is in Jesus.

4. By the mutilation and misrepresentation of His Word.

5. By a neglect of His ordinances.

6. By a general decline of His Church.

7. By so many rejecting His gospel. We cannot prevent their doing so, but we can weep for them, pray for them, etc.

A course of action pursued. “Certified the king.” It is a holy exercise of the saints to report to the Lord the sins and the sorrows they observe among the people and to plead for their removal. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 15

Ezra 4:15

That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers.

Church registers

in a general view, all human records are interesting, if they are scarcely more than registers of names. Those names are always appended to some act or event, however concisely stated, and thus these mere catalogues serve to show us how they who have gone before us have been occupied, and are the founts and rills which flow into the great stream of human history; or, rather perhaps, to change the metaphor, are among the foundation-stones on which the fabric of human history is reared; they are low and concealed from observation, but are nevertheless essential to the building. Nothing can be apparently more devoid of interest than the pages of a church register; and yet, let us look at it nearly and intently, and with a reference to the principle just intimated, and interest will be found in every column, in every name. Consider--

The register of baptisms.

The register of marriages.

The register of deaths. (F. W. P. Greenwood.)

Verses 17-24

Ezra 4:17-24

Them sent the king an answer.

The temporary triumph of the wicked

Examine the letter of the king. This letter suggests--

1. That the subtlety of the wicked frequently obtains a temporary triumph over the good.

2. That one generation frequently suffers through the sins of another and earlier one. The Jews smarted for their sins of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah.

3. 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. All who love the gospel should therefore walk circumspectly.

The action of the Samaritans. “Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read,” etc. Their action was--

1. Prompt.

2. Personal.

3. Powerful.


1. That the temporary triumph of a cause or a party is not a proof of its righteousness. The death and burial of Christ.

2. That we are not competent to judge the relation of the present events to the purpose and providence of the great God. (William Jones.)

Unto the rest beyond the river, Peace.

Peace beyond the river

The advent message of the church to sinners is, “Beyond the river, Peace!”, She tells of a promised land and arouses the slaves of sin.

Christ is come and with Him peace, but we must go to meet Him.

The road thither is hard--We must cross the river of self-denial. A legend says that once a wanderer went to a city, and the first man he met said to him, “Of course you come to see our famous statue?” and each one he met in that town told him of the famous statue; and, moreover, each one prided himself in having something to do with it: this one to guard it; that one to keep it clean, and so forth. As the traveller stood before it he asked, “Who is this?” “Oh! we’ve forgotten his name,” was the reply, “but that’s no matter, it is a splendid statue, and the glory of our town.” Sadly the wanderer turned away, and do you know, dear people, as he went out of the gate some little children cried, “Why, that is the man our famous statue was put up to!” Is it not still possible for men and women to be church-goers and church-workers, to be proud of their Church, and yet the Living Christ passes by unknown? (The Literacy Churchman.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezra 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/ezra-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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