In our study of Ezra chapter four, we look at the opposition that God's people faced when they obeyed God and started to rebuild His temple. We will see how this opposition took three different forms (infiltration, intimidation and legislation) and the same pattern occurs in God's work today.
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.'
The "enemies" that this passage refers to is speaking about the Samaritans who had mixed with the northern tribes of Israel. These people heard about what God was doing and wanted to join in on the party. They even tried to identify themselves as brothers with the remnant that was in Jerusalem doing the building by saying that they offered sacrifices to God. This same pattern is in effect today with God's people and His work. When God's work gets to really going, the devil tries to get his people involved (infiltration). Satan tries to stop the work from within the group of workers.
But Zerubbabel, Jeshua 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.'
God's Spirit was at work and the leaders of the remnant rejected this offer of cooperation. They recognized the fact that these people were not, in fact, serving God because it was not proper for them to be offering sacrifices outside of Jerusalem. The same method can be used by God's people today in determining who we should work with in the ministry. We are to test the spirit to see if it is from God (see 1 John 4). If the spirit is of God, it will agree with the words of God.
Then the people around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
When God's people would not let them take part in the work, then, they set about trying to stop the work. They tried intimidation by using people and popular opinion to stop them. The same type of thing happens, today, when we listen to God and do His will.
At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem. And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.
Now, we see the last method of opposition which is legislation. When God's people would not be intimidated, then, their enemies turned to the government for help in stopping the work of God. They sent a letter to the king and the letter was even written in the language of Israel and not the language of the king. This was an attempt to convince the king that he was losing control over this part of his kingdom.
Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates - the judges and officials over the men from Tripolis, Persia, Erech and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa, and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates.
They begin their letter with flattery as they speak of the greatness of the kingdom and its king. That is a common tool of the devil and is quite effective with common men.
(This is a copy of the letter they sent him.) To King Artaxerxes, From your servants, the men of Trans-Euphrates: The king should know that the Jews who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.
The devil usually uses half-truths and that is what is contained in this letter. It tells the king that the people are rebuilding Jerusalem and that is true but it fails to mention that they were told to by Cyrus king of Persia (the government). As we know, governments come and go and this new government did not agree with the old. This is why our trust must be in the Lord and not what any government will promise to do for us.
Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and the royal revenues will suffer. Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records, you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed. We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.
They keep sharing the lies by bringing up the past rebellion of the city. They tell part of the truth in that the city was destroyed because of rebellion but fail to mention that is was rebellion against God and not man. Ultimately, money is used to get the government (king) to do what they want. It is true even today that government legislation is often written based on financial concerns of men and not what is right and true.
The king sent this reply: To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates: Greetings. The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?
Upon receiving the letter, the king had the history books searched and he learned that, in the past, Jerusalem had been blessed by God. He saw that they had kings that had ruled over the same area that he now was in charge of and he became afraid. We also see that this was just a partial search in that they did not dig deep enough to find the original decree that had authorized the building. The king ordered that the work be stopped. This type of thing happens in many countries today as they try to pass legislation to restrain the work of God and His people.
As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop. Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The enemy won a temporary victory as they stopped the work on the temple by force. We can look around us even today and see things that governments do that seem to halt the spread of the gospel (building of the kingdom). We see laws being established that go directly against the word of God but we must remember that these, too, are only temporary. God is in control!