When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. - Ezra 4:1-4
I don’t like the way this passage starts! The Israelites have just come through a great time of celebration. They returned to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas and got settle. Then, as soon as they were settled, they came to Jerusalem to worship and begin building the temple. They had done exactly what God had told them to do and they seemed to have the favor of the leaders, particularly King Cyrus. That is the kind of story I like because I want it to be my story. However, the beginning of chapter 4 reminds us that there were enemies of the people of God.
Let us help you…
This does not sound like the suggestion of enemies. I’m a pastor and I have begun teaching the leaders in our ministry the phrase “we need all the help we can get.” One of the greatest leadership mistakes I’ve seen is that we are so worried about people not doing the job well that we do too much ourselves and don’t let willing people help. The consequence of this is that ministry becomes very lonely and we don’t raise up the leaders we need. We’ve often created for ourselves the problem that we complain about most. In Matthew 9:37, Jesus told us that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, we ought to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers. Too often, Christian leaders send away the help that God has sent to answer our prayers! However, in this passage, the people of God had good reason to tell these people that they had no part in the work that God had called them to do.
Who are these people?
At the risk of sounding like Jerry Seinfeld, I think it is important that we understand who these people were in order to understand why the Israelites did not allow them to help with the building of the temple. 2 Kings 17:24-41 tells us that there were people in the area who had been resettled there by previous kings. In order to seek protection from God, they requested that the king send them someone to teach them to worship “the god of the land.” However, they only worshiped God for protection and the scripture tells us that “they worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.” Therefore, while these people claimed to be on their side and to worship the same God, they were not really who they said they were. In the church today, we still have people to claim to be with us, but their priorities are really not the same because they continue to worship other Gods. This should not be surprising since the scriptures tell us that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Paul instructed the church about how to deal with those who call themselves brothers but allow idolatry to remain in their lives in the form of fulfilling sinful desires when he said “with such a man, do not even eat” (1 Corinthians 5).
In this world you will have trouble
When the Israelites drew a line in the sand, the people who had offered their assistance immediately understood that they were enemies of the Israelites. The same is true of us if we draw firm lines regarding the Truth of God and His commands. Those who had once tried to find commonality with us, now see us as something that needs to be destroyed. Our very presence convicts them of their sin. With enemies comes opposition! We should not be surprised by this. Jesus reminded us:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ (John 15:18-20).
Then later he told us that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Don’t forget that, though you are nearly guaranteed to face opposition, God has promised ultimate victory! The good news for the Israelites and for us is that this is not the end of the story. In the next couple of chapters, God comes through for His people in a might victory of favor! Remember that, when you are experiencing opposition, victory is in your future!