NOT OF THE WORLD
Lord, help us defeat the malignant designs of our enemies.
Read EZRA 4
Opposition to the Rebuilding
4 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 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.”
3 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.”
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.[a] 5 They bribed officials 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.
Later Opposition Under Xerxes and Artaxerxes
6 At the beginning of the reign of Xerxes,[b] they lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
7 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.[c][d]
8 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows:
9 Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary, together with the rest of their associates—the judges, officials and administrators over the people from Persia, Uruk and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa, 10 and the other people whom the great and honorable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates.
11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)
To King Artaxerxes,
From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:
12 The king should know that the people 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.
13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.[e] 14 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, 15 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 with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.
17 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:
18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 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. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?
23 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.
24 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.
a Ezra 4:4 Or and troubled them as they built
b Ezra 4:6 Hebrew Ahasuerus
c Ezra 4:7 Or written in Aramaic and translated
d Ezra 4:7 The text of 4:8–6:18 is in Aramaic.
e Ezra 4:13 The meaning of the Aramaic for this clause is uncertain.
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica
What does it mean for you as a Christian to be “not of the world” yet “sent… into the world” (John 17:16,18)?
When the temple foundation is laid, the rejoicing of those eager to rebuild mingles with the weeping of those nostalgic for the temple of the former years, producing a strange cacophony that “was heard far away” (Ezra 3:13). Among the hearers are the indigenous people of mixed heritage—people born as the result of intermarriage between foreigners planted in the land after the Assyrian conquest of Israel and Israelites left behind by the invaders. In fact, they are the ancestors of the New Testament Samaritans and practice a syncretistic system of religion which intermingles both Israelite and pagan practices.
The refusal of the returned exiles to let these people of mixed origin join them in rebuilding the temple seems rather narrow-minded and exclusionary in our modern pluralistic world. However, the successful scheming of the indigenous people (24) to halt the reconstruction project demonstrates that they have no genuine desire to worship the God of Israel in the way he has prescribed. Clearly, their plan is to undermine the re-establishment of Israelite religion in its purest, God-ordained form. We could describe their attitude by reversing a well-known idiom—“if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em!”
In the free world at least, the standard is that all are equal and should strive for tolerance of others. Inclusivity and political correctness are twin buzzwords. Positive benefits do accrue from an insistence upon these things, but the benefits challenge Christians with a dilemma when the authority of the Bible is called into question. In desiring to reach out to our non-Christian contemporaries, we as Christ’s followers do not want to appear outlandishly different, but, like the Jews in Zerubbabel’s day, let us be careful that we do not become compromised by worldliness and syncretism! Our faith and worship stand on Scripture alone!
What a challenge it is to be culturally sensitive while remaining faithful to Scripture! Lord, please help us to rise to this challenge!
Lord, grant to us a clear understanding of what it means to be separate from the world and yet not disdainful of those still stuck in its system.