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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Ezra 4

 

 

Verses 1-24

Chapter 4

The Adversaries

The first discordant note in connection with this gracious symphony is struck in the chapter we are now to be occupied with, not however, at first from within, but from without; then affection those within so that the song of joy is silenced and a brief season of apathy supervenes.

There were those who, all along, had watched with a jealous eye the work of restoration going on at Jerusalem. They were the Samaritans, the descendants of the mixed races settled in the land by heathen kings after the capture of the ten tribes, who had long ago been carried away to Assyria, and have since been lost so far as positive identification by man is concerned.

We learn something of these conscienceless people by turning back a few pages in our Bibles, to 2 Kings, chap. 17; from ver. 24 to the end we have the record of these men who were brought from the various parts of the Assyrian dominions and settled in the land. At first they made no pretence at being anything but idolaters; but upon becoming alarmed by wild beasts increasing among them, they concluded they needed to know “the manner of the God of the land.” Entreating the king of Assyria for help, he sent unto them some of the captive priests of Jeroboam’s order, who “taught them how they should fear the Lord.” But the unreality of it all is seen in verses 32 and 33: “So they feared the Lord, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them, priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods after the manner of the nations whence they had been carried away.” And their subsequent degraded state is depicted in the closing verse, in contrast to what God required of His people Israel.

These Samaritans were largely of the same character as thousands in this day of grace who make a profession of Christianity but have never even pretended to own Christ as Lord, and who know nothing of the saving value of His blood. They, too, fear the Lord, but serve their own gods; and it is a sad mistake for the believer to be linked up with such in Church fellowship. Such “Christians” as these will ever prove a snare and a hindrance, like “the mixed multitude” who came up with the children of Israel out of Egypt.

In the case before us, we learn that “when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel, then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto Him since the days of Esar-haddon, king of Assur, who brought us up hither” (vers. 1, 2). Their words sounded friendly, but their true character is given in the opening clause- they were adversaries. They sought the ruin of the little company to whom they made such fair protestations. These were indeed “the wiles of the devil.” Had they once gotten a foothold in the city of God they would have destroyed everything that bore the sign of His approval. To have received and encouraged them would have made the remnant company numerically stronger, but actually much weaker. It would have been admitting the enemy within the fortress. The safety of the people of God was in separation. They were set apart to Him whose name they bore. To mingle with the nations could but insure ruin and disaster.

Note the profession of these Samaritans. They declared that they too served the God of Israel,-but they could not go back far enough. They knew nothing of redemption by blood, nothing of Jehovah’s covenant-sign; they had not known God’s mighty works. What they knew was mere hearsay, and based on that was an empty acknowledgment of His power, while ignorant of His grace, and no subjection of heart to His will. How like the empty professions one so frequently hears. Men talk glibly of serving the Lord and having made a start for the kingdom, who know nothing of repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Till such are brought to self-judgment before God, and heart-confidence in Christ as Saviour, they are only a hindrance to any Christian company, and will be adversaries to everything that is really of the Holy Spirit.

Yet the flesh hates to be accounted unfit to take part in what is of God. Natural men, however little place they have for the truth in their souls, resent being given the place the truth puts them in. So here, when Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the ancient men of Judah refused the help of these unholy Samaritans, great indignation was aroused. The leaders in Israel said: “Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus, the king of Persia, hath commanded us” (ver. 3). The last words show how plainly they recognized their servitude, and felt the difference of present conditions from those of old. But withal there is a splendid boldness, an unequivocal declaration of adherence to the principle of separation, the neglect of which in the past had been responsible for all their troubles. It is the spirit of the 50th psalm-taking sides with God, who says to the wicked, “What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldst take My covenant in thy mouth?”

This is divine independence; and only as believers learn to take this attitude toward the Christless profession around them, will they be maintained in integrity and uprightness before God. As a testimony for Him in the world, amalgamation with the ungodly cannot help them, and will only hinder saints. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord; touch not the unclean, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18).

But this always provokes the ire of the wicked, who will ever be ready to make unsubstantiated charges of pride and pharisaism against those who would be faithful to God at whatever cost. So we read: “The people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, and hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose”-and this not for a brief season, but persistently, “all the days of Cyrus … even until the reign of Darius,” including the years of Ahasuerus (probably Xerxes). Thus their real nature is made manifest. If they cannot have a hand in the work, they will do their best (or, their worst) to ruin it. They cannot brook the refusal of their offer of fellowship; so, by spreading evil reports and misrepresenting the motives and actions of the separated company, they will hinder all they can. A letter is even drawn up and dispatched to the king, who is here called Artaxerxes, in which there is just enough truth to make it likely to accomplish its purpose, while the question at issue is not touched upon at all.

From chap. 4:6 to chap. 6:18 the language used is Chaldean, or Aramaic; so we have here undoubtedly transcripts of the actual letters that passed between the kings and their subjects.

It is significant that the first letter proceeds not exactly from the “nations” but from the societies settled in Canaan. (See vers. 9, 10.) The various names used are rather the names of clans, or guilds, than national designations. The little Jewish company’s exclusiveness drew out their hatred.

In their epistle they profess great concern for the king’s interests, and grave fears lest his revenues or honor be touched. They charge the Jews with rebuilding Jerusalem, with having set up its walls and joined the foundation (ver. 12). Now all this was flagrantly false, as Nehemiah’s record proves. No permission had yet been granted “to restore and build Jerusalem;” and this was not the work in which the remnant were engaged. They were rebuilding the house, or temple-not the city-of God; and their work is wilfully misrepresented.

The past history of Jerusalem is briefly reviewed, at least such part of it as would serve their purpose, and the charge is confidently made that the restoration of “the rebellious city” will mean the destruction of Persian power “on this side the river” (ver. 16).

The cunningly worded document accomplished its purpose, and a messenger soon returned with an imperial mandate declaring that search had been made, and all the evil accusations against Jerusalem as a centre of rebellion and sedition established. Then an order is given to “cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded until another commandment shall be given from me” (vers. 17-21).

With this official communication in their hands, Rehum and Shimshai and their companions made a hasty visit to Jerusalem and caused the work to cease by force and power. Yet, clearly they acted with no real authority whatever, inasmuch as the matter of carrying out the decree of Cyrus as to the building of the temple had not been touched at all. That edict remained unrepealed, and had there been the energy of faith the work of restoring the house of God would have gone on despite the wrath of Rehum and his allies.

But already, first love had begun to wane, and we are told, “Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (ver. 24).

During the interval a period of apathy came in, so that the first energy, for what was of God declined, and each one began to think rather of his own comfort and the comforts of his family. They turned to building their own ceiled houses, to storing up goods, and to attending carefully to their own interests. Of this the prophet Haggai accuses them. For, it should be noted, the ministry of both Haggai and Zechariah comes in here. The reader might with profit turn from the present account and read thoughtfully the two books bearing their names, ere going on with Ezra’s record.

There is no hint of any suffering inflicted by the adversaries of the Jews while they were attending to their own interests. It was what was of God these wicked workers hated. To behold those gathered to His name devoting their time and strength to building for themselves excited no enmity, and the enemies’ purpose to stop the building of the house of God succeeded.

So it ever is, the world and the world-church are quite content to see Christians prospering in temporal ways. The line of demarkation soon goes down when riches increase and self-interest prevails. It is the spiritual prosperity, the energy of faith that offends the world; for when the light shines brightly, it exposes the selfishness, the pride, the hypocrisy of those who have a name to live but are dead.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezra 4:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/ezra-4.html. 1914.

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