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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Ezra 4

 

 

Verses 1-24

IN THE OPENING verses of chapter 4, another striking feature comes into view. As is always the case when a work of God takes place, there were adversaries, and their first move had in it a strong element of flattery, and was therefore a very seductive one. They came with the profession of seeking and serving the true God, and so they offered to assist in the building of the house, as being partners in the work. This brought to light a fifth feature marking this revival — a feature of great importance: Zerubbabel and Jeshua and other chief men refused the alliance they proposed, and maintained a position of separation from the surrounding world. Had they acquiesced, the work would have been ruined from the outset.

If we read the last chapter of the book of Nehemiah, we discover there was failure on this very point, to the marring of the work, and similarly revivals in the history of Christendom have too often been spoiled in the same way. Take the Reformation for instance: it fell very short of what it might have been as the result of many of its leaders getting into alliance with secular and worldly persons and powers, so that even religious wars were fought. That having come to pass, the power and spirituality of the revival rapidly evaporated.

Under Zerubbabel and Jeshua, however, the line of demarcation between the returned remnant of Israel and the mixed multitude that dwelt around them, was faithfully maintained, and the result of this is at once manifested. Points of dispute, which might easily lead to strife and warfare, are frequently solved, at least for a time, by a spirit of compromise. Each side yields a few points and peace is patched up; but it was not so here.

Instead of the watchword being compromise it was separation, and the result was strenuous opposition; not only weakening their hands in various ways, but also hiring counsellors against them at headquarters in a most persistent way. Here is a sixth feature that we must note. If true saints maintain separation from the world, they will have to face opposition from the world. This is as true today as at any other time in history. If we compromise we may avoid it in large measure and lose our power. If we maintain separation, we must face it in some way, for as the Scripture itself says, 'all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution' (2 Timothy 3:12). It may not take the form of outward violence, as it did in the case of the Apostle Paul, but be exerted in more indirect and subtle ways. The absence of it would not commend us but the reverse. It would mean that the great adversary knows that as regards his designs we are innocuous, and so he wastes no energy over us.

Here it was far otherwise, and the adversary pitted his strength against those who without compromise were bent on rebuilding the house of God, as had been prophesied. The opposition was most persistent, for no less than four kings are mentioned in verses Ezra 4:5-7. It began at once in the days of Cyrus, and continued until the time of Darius, as stated in verse Ezra 4:5, who is identified as the one surnamed Hystaspes in secular history. In between these kings came Ahasuerus, not the one mentioned in the book of Esther, but the one known as Cambyses. During his reign the opponents were very active, writing up an accusation against the Jews in Jerusalem, but apparently without any definite effect.

Then came the Artaxerxes of verse Ezra 4:7, who is identified with the usurper, known as Smerdis in profane history, who only held dominion for a very short time. Being a usurper, he was of course disposed to upset and annul decrees of his predecessors, in order to establish, if possible, his own position. The opponents saw that this man furnished them with an excellent chance of succeeding in their petition, so once more they sent up a letter.

The opposition had not diminished by the lapse of time or by the earlier lack of success. It had rather increased, as is clear if we read verses Ezra 4:7-9. The letter went up in the names of certain men who were eminent amongst the inhabitants of the land, backed by no less than nine of the tribes or citizens or peoples, who then had their dwelling in the surrounding country of Palestine. It was evidently a very imposing document.

A copy of this letter is given to us in verses Ezra 4:11-16, that we may see how skillfully the adversary can mix lies with facts, and thus garble and misrepresent the case in question.

The first thing that strikes us is that there is no mention of the thing the Jews had come to do under the decree of Cyrus — the rebuilding of the house of God. They have much to say about the building of the city and its walls. It is possible of course that some little work of this sort had been done, which furnished them with a pretext, but we know that nothing serious of this sort was accomplished until Nehemiah's day. Their assertion of this to the king was simply a lie.

Then, assuming that the city was being rebuilt, they denounced it as a bad and rebellious place. It was true that the last few kings, and especially Zedekiah, had been bad men and unreliable, breaking their word in a rebellious spirit, and this gave some support to their accusation. The city, however, had originally been chosen of God and for a brief time held dominion from Him. They gained their opportunity to besmirch the whole history of Jerusalem by the bad behaviour of the last kings that reigned there: a striking example of how the whole of God's work may be dishonoured by unfaithful servants, and give the opportunity the adversary desires.

A third thing that strikes us is the way they presented the matter; as if their whole concern was for the king's advantage and reputation, and they had themselves but little interest in it. This Artaxerxes being, we understand, a usurper, he would specially fear anything that might challenge his authority. The great spiritual adversary, who lay behind these human adversaries, is not lacking in skill!

The closing verses of our chapter show that their letter had the desired effect. In those early days careful records were kept, and search being made, the unfaithful doings of Zedekiah and others were revealed, as well as records of the great dominion once exerted by such as David and Solomon. Armed with the official edict that was issued, the adversaries, 'by force and power', made the work on the house of God to cease. It seemed as if what God had purposed in this matter was effectually frustrated.

Thus it has been again and again in the sad history of the world. It appeared at the outset that God's purpose in creating Adam was defeated by the introduction of sin. It appeared as if God's call of Abram to go forth to the land of promise was defeated by his descendants going down into Egypt. It now appeared as if the establishment of God's house on earth through David and Solomon had been defeated. And so it has been in the history of Christendom, when God has intervened in reviving mercy. Always the adversary has been at work and has found human instruments available to his hand. This has been the case in our own day. We have only to consider the history of the past one hundred years — and more particularly perhaps the history of the English-speaking world — to see it all too plainly.

But does the adversary finally prevail? In the history before us the answer is found in chapters 5 and 6. When God intervenes everything is reversed. And ultimately God always does intervene. Let us take comfort and encouragement from that.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Ezra 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/ezra-4.html. 1947.

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