Home » Various Sermons » Erza 4: Opposition

Erza 4: Opposition

 “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel,  they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

4.1-2 While the foundation of the temple was laid and the plan readied in chapter three, the temple would not be finished until twenty years later, when Darius was ruling Persia.[1] Chapter four, gives the reason for why there was a delay.[2]

It begins with a request by the people, the opponents, to help rebuild the temple. Their request make it clear, that they wished to be seen as an independent group, that somehow shared the same religious purposes to serve Yahweh.[3] While the Samaritans offering the help seem friendly enough, by offering to help, there was something more going on in this picture.[4] It would be likely that their request was linked with their fear of losing their power over the territory, because of the Jews return presence.[5] Moreover, by helping with temple, likely they “could later influence the decisions of those in Judah.”[6]

4.3 Zerubabbel and Jeshua refuse their help. Their answer is that the people of the land “have nothing to do with us,” that is, simply put, the Jewish people and the people of the land had little in common.[7]

In part, the statements of the opponents are not fully true or correct, for example, correct worship, as in the temple, had  been not happening, their claim to be sacrificing was likely at a false altar, such as Bethel. The people of the land are also the descendents of those who Esarhaddon had brought into the land (through intermarriage with those original Israelites left).[8] Finally, the people while they made have some sense of worshipping Yahweh, had merely connected him with their other gods and so focused on worshipping him only in a synchronistic way.[9]

The Jews then point that the temple is to be built, by themselves according to God’s commands. Their commitment since coming to the land has not changed.[10] Finally, they say, that all this is beside the point because Cyrus had only given the Jews the right rebuild the temple, not the other people of the land.[11]

4.4 Not receiving the answer they had wished, the people of the land reveal their true intentions and so begin to oppose the Jewish people.[12] While many of the attacks of the peoples will be nothing but bluffs, a few of them will “indeed get bloody and bring physical harm and death upon God’s people.”[13] Ezra describes their actions as “disheartening” the people. The word disheartening, is literally “weakening the hands,” and it gives the sense that the people were discouraged from doing any more work.[14] What had disheartened the people and what had frightened them is not specifically said, only that the actions of the opponents were working.[15]

The opponents are also bribing counselors, likely referring to important Persian officials to help stop the work on the temple.[16] Verse five, encompasses the entire timeframe of the opposition to the Jewish people, from Darius to Artaxerxes and the time of Nehemiah.[17]

Comment: The Israelites are offered helped, but reject it due to a number of reasons, but all focused on the fact that they wished to serve God correctly. This angers the Samaritans and they begin to disrupt the plans of the people of God, disruptions which will only increase in time. We too have deal with many times people outside saying that they wish to help, or want to direct things and when the Church says wait a minute the response is not good. The world wished to be able to change the message of the Church to something more pleasing, and when it cannot it is not very pleased at all and will begin to make things unpleasant at times.

And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.  In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated.

It appears that at least three to four letters were written by the other peoples of the land to the Persian empire.[18] The first two letter reported in verses six and seven are rather cryptic with only a few details given.[19] We are told that the people of the land sent several letters to Ahasuerus, that is Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, both of who did not answer these two letters.[20]

According to Ezra, this first letter, was sent to Xerxes in the start of his rule, a time when he would have been more receptive and/or vulnerable to hear the contents of the letter.[21] The contents are summarized as being an accusation against the Jewish people, but it appears that Xerxes did not answer. It would appear that Xerxes did not answer the first letter because Xerxes was busy with a revolt in Egypt.[22]

The second letter is to Artaxerxes, a usurper to the throne, whose reign was less than a year.[23] Here, Ezra, details the list of the officials who wrote the letter, and the language it was written, that is Aramaic, the common tongue, and once again the subject appears to be the same, and the response is once again voided.[24] This second one was not answered because Artaxerxes too had deal with the Egyptian revolt.[25]

Comment: The opponents send letters off, letters directed toward making the people look bad. Luckily these first few letters are not answered, but… the opponents are not done. In our lives we wil have to deal with the annoyance of people saying stuff that is simply wrong. There are times where we, especially as Christians will come upon someone saying something false. It hurts, even when there is no response from the party intended. The mere fact that it happened still hurts. This is something that we have to realize that we sometimes have to ignore such things, to realize we can’t change other people, but we do have to try and move on.

In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated.  Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the governors, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River. (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.”

4.8-9 While the first two letters were evidently ignored, a third one was written, this time by Rehum (the one who spoke it) and Shimshai (the one who wrote it).[26] As Barber noted, “the content of the letter was a cunningly contrived, slanderous attack on those in Jerusalem.”[27] Verse nine give s a long list of the senders of the letter, likely they wished to make it seemed as if all the important officals were against the Jewish people.[28]

4.11-13 The writers of this letter, shifted Artaxerxes’ point of view in to their direction, making accusations that to be proven false would have required a journey and planting falsehoods, which could be given evidence easy enough.[29]  They begin by noting the return of the Jews, (referring the returns prior to Nehemiah and up to this time).[30]  These returning Jews would have arrived at a defenseless city and would have naturally have wanted to rebuild the walls for protection, despite not receiving permission.[31]

Now they begin to move into falsehoods. For example, they pointed to walls being rebuilt, and directed the attention away from the idea of walls as protection and moved it to walls so they could rebel.[32] (The walls, themselves would not really be repaired, however, until the time of Nehemiah, which would be about seventy-five years later).[33]

Calling Jerusalem a rebellious city is of the most important.[34]  Using the term rebellious so oft in the letter, it really pointed to what the Persians were afraid of and what they were constantly dealing with, so a lie they would take easily into mind.[35] Time and time again Persian would be “plagued with rebellions during the fifth century.”[36] If the walls were finished there would be consequences the people say, for instance, the Jews would not pay their taxes, and thus rebel, second a rebellion would bring shame to the king, .[37]

4.14 In contrast to these rebellious Jews, the writers, act as if they are the most honorable of people, and so in verse 14, show their great “steadfast loyalty” to the king.[38] As much as they wanted to get rid of the Jews, the Samaritans are still rather egotistical and want to remain being seen in a good light.[39]

4.15 Cyrus’ decree is not asked to be searched, only the actions of Jews in the past, but actions that would look bad.[40] They pointed to the Jews as a rebellious people and tell them to check documents would have been easy in Babylon and Susa to be gotten and which gave evidenced.[41]

4.16 The letter then finishes with one final exaggeration, the turmoil that would follow a rebellion would be to risk all the territory of the trans-Euphrates, it would not just be centered in Jerusalem.[42] And so they seal their case.

Comment –Ezra now details one of the written letters and it is filled with half truths and outright lies. Moreover, it was made difficult for the Jews to be able to defend and was dressed in a way to make the Persian ruler want to listen to it. Some lies work, no matter how crazy they sound and when they work it just bites. When it happens sometimes we don’t know what to do. We wonder why and find ourselves having a bad day. The truth is, sometimes, people are going to make wrongful comments, based simply on ones belief. It doesn’t matter how true or wrong it is, they have a imagined perception of what it means to be Christian and sometimes it can be quite harsh. It is an issue which has been part of the Church since its beginning and is not likely to end until the return of Christ.

The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid.  Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?” Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease.

17 at long last, the people have received an answer and one which they would have liked. Artaxerces has believed their report, most likely because of their exaggerations.[43]

18 It opens with t the king in essence saying that he had received the letter and had heard it read. In response the king had indeed looked into the matter, looking at the documents that he was pointed to. The findings was that in essence the people were indeed rebellious, (which the last three kings of Judah were).[44] Secondly, they there had been mighty kings of Israel, another worrying sign. [45] 21 Artaxerxes says to stop all work, and in essence gave the best answer that the opponents wanted.[46]

23 In response to Artaxerxes’ letter, the people of the land go to the Jews and forced the temple work to be done, and it was stopped until Darius was king of Persia.[47] In fact, both Josepheus and the writer to the 1 Esdras states that Samaria did so through the use of troops and even destroyed what had bee done thus far.[48] (see Josephus ant. 11:2-29)

[1] Fensham, 66.

[2] Fensham, 66.

[3] Fensham, 66.

[4] Barber, 29

[5] Barber, 29.

[6] Barber, 29.

[7] Butler, 27.

[8] Barber, 30.

[9] Barber, 30-31.

[10] Butler, 27.

[11] Fensham, 67.

[12] Barber, 32-33.

[13] Butler, 28.

[14] Fensham, 67.

[15] Fensham, 68.

[16] Fensham, 68.

[17] Barber, 33.

[18] Butler, 29.

[19] Fenshame, 70.

[20] Barber, 41.

[21] Butler, 29.

[22] Barber, 41.

[23] Butler, 29.

[24] Butler, 29-30.

[25] Barber, 41.

[26] Barber, 42.

[27] Barber, 42.

[28] Butler, 30.

[29] Barber, 43.

[30] Fensham, 73.

[31] Fensham, 73.

[32] Barber, 43.

[33] Butler, 31.

[34] Fensham, 73.

[35] Barber, 43.

[36] Fensham, 73.

[37] Fensham, 74.

[38] Butler, 31.

[39] Fensham, 74

[40] Butler, 31.

[41] Barber, 43.

[42] Fensham, 75.

[43] Fensham, 75.

[44] Butler, 32.

[45] Butler, 32.

[46] Butler, 33.

[47] Barber, 46

[48] Barber, 46.

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