THE PURSUIT OF SPIRITUAL RESTORATION
“Opposition While in the Will of God” Ezra 4
In the will of God is the best place to be. But it is also the most dangerous place. Performing the will of God is not easy though it is necessary. We all agree that the will of God is essential. But then why do we waver? Why must we be reminded again and again to stay there? Why do we drift away from God’s will? An answer is that performing God’s will is often dangerous and threatening to us. It is costly and can require sacrifice. It demands our commitment and dedication. It often generates opposition motivated by fear from others and us. With all of the talk about performing the will of God, we become paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of that responsibility. Ezra describes the opposition the returnees had in performing the will of God too.
OPPOSITION TO GODS WILL INCREASES THE DIFFICULTY OF OUR PERFORMING IT
Apparently the great shouting heard far away in 3:13 sets the stage for the narrative in 4:1 for it was when the peoples of the lands ‘heard that the sons of the exile were rebuilding the temple’ that they arrived and offered their help to the Israelites.
1. First, we note that these peoples are labeled as ‘enemies’ in 4:1. So this direct characterization warns Ezra’s audience about the character of the approaching people. They are the ‘enemies’ of Judah and Benjamin. As enemies they devise a strategy to oppose the work being performed in the will of God. We are tipped off here about their motives. (1) They offered to help in the construction process with ulterior motives for sure. We see the motives revealed in verse 4. (2) Then they identify themselves as fellow exiles of the king of Assyria nearly 260 years ago. They appeal on the basis of being like the Jews—a displaced people. Since then, they say, they have been offering sacrifices to Israel’s God. 2 Kings 17 identifies these people, who considered themselves worshipers of the God of Israel, as idolaters who had merely added God to their pantheon. They had a syncretistic form of worship-God and other gods. Their statement is not fully accurate and designed to deceive. So we learn that these are enemies determined to intervene in the project and deter it with their involvement. This strikes at the very heart of the issue for Israel—namely the need to finish construction of the Temple.
2. Second, Israel responds with a resounding ‘stay out of our business’. Two obvious reasons are given at the outset. (1) This temple was only for ‘The Lord God of Israel’ and no other. There is no syncretistic worship for Israel. This is ‘our God’ and we will build for him. It seems the leaders saw through the smoke of deception. (2) They were commissioned by King Cyrus of Persia and had every right to carry out this project on their own. This highlights at least to concerns.
v Any cooperation with these enemies would endanger the pure monotheism God demanded of Israel. The holiness of the nation is at stake and pure worship is essential—which is why construction and completion of the Temple is so necessary for them. There can be no mixing with the surrounding people’s as Solomon had done and others who followed his example (Neh 13:26). It would only mean the eventual judgment and collapse of the returning exiles hopes. This cannot be jeopardized.
v A holy people cannot form partnerships with idolaters. On the one hand, the uniqueness of Israel’s God must be maintained in the hearts of the people. On the other hand, the people themselves must be maintained as this God’s people. No mixing, no compromise.
3. The Jewish Elders refusal then exposes their enemy’s malice and unleashed a strong opposition to their construction work in vs 4-5. They unleashed a policy of harassment from the reign of Cyrus in to the reign of King Darius for this first group of returnees. Actually, as we learn from verse 24, the entire project eventually ceased operation as the opposition continued during this period for nearly eighteen years. The opposition heated up interfering with and finally suspending the work. Notice the description of the constant harassment. 1. To discourage the people. 2. To frighten the people. 3. To bully the people. Eventually, under the reign of Darius, about twenty-three years after the first group of exiles returned, was the temple rebuilt—but under duress and constant harassment.
It seems that God wants us to understand that with hearts full of commitment and determination to perform the clear will of God we can expect that opposition will come in the form of people and circumstances. They and it will just show up. The nature of the opposition will be such that it will increase difficulty to perform God’s will. Frustration, fear, and discouragement may be a product of their opposition. For instance, your colleagues may pressure you to conform to dishonest company policy for business sake. God’s will does not go away. You must decide to pay the price to do it. Opposition to the will of God from people and in circumstances increases it’s difficult but should not stop our performing it.
GOD CAN TRANSFORM THE OPPOSITION ENCOURAGING US TO PERFORM HIS WILL
The rest of the chapter heightens the nature of those opposing and the nature of their opposition. Example after example is cited by the writer scattered over eighty years of post-exilic history in which the people’s of the lands harassed the work of God’s people vss 6-23.
These verses develop the theme of opposition and set the stage for the message of hope for the future in the narrative. These verse actually transport us into the next 80 years or so going beyond the temples completion into two successive reigns. The first is the reign of Ahasuerus in vs 6. Not much information is given but opposition continued in his reign enough to suspend further work on other building projects. The second reign is Artaxerxes in vs 7. Then beginning in vs 8-23 is recounted the most recent setback for the Returnees. It is the forced continuation of work of the walls of Jerusalem. The focus is on two letters written during this reign.
(1) The enemies write a letter to Artaxerxes pointing out and complaining that the Israelites only wanted to retake territory so they would not have to pay taxes to the king any longer. That is what the entire building project is about vss 13-14. They added that Jerusalem had rebelled in the past and the king would lose his holdings if he did not act against them.
(2) The kings response is in vss 17-22. After checking the archives and verifying the past history he issued a decree for the work to stop vs 21. He did leave open the possibility that their work might resume later by his permission. This did happen by the way under the leadership of Nehemiah in 2:1-9. This same king later changed this edict and allowed Nehemiah to return and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
(3) The minute the kings letter arrived and was translated, the enemies hastily approached the exiles and used force to stop the work of rebuilding under the authority of the king vs 23. The opposition is determined and probably at its height during this time. The compression of these incidents presents a concentrated picture of the long-standing malice of the peoples of the land against the work of God’s people. These are truly Israel’s enemies. They are threatening and determined opponents of God’s people and their performance of the will of God. The unfair characterization of the Jews was effective in stopping the building of the walls. They have a malevolent character and are intractable opponents. This projected sequence of events some eighty years into the future but contemporary with Ezra’s audience for the wall building project can be encouraged to continue as their circumstances are analogous with those faced by the first returnees. The point is that God has the ability to transform oppositions this second groups of returnees is facing to perform God’s will into support to do that will, just as he did for the first returnees. The work had stopped for them too, vs 24, but they did rebuild the temple and now these can rebuild the walls and reestablish their community.
Why the opposition to perform God’s will? Because it is God’s will. In this world God’s will is opposed because Satan opposes it. Opposition is built into the system. So expect it. In some instances opposition will intensify, increase, and even attempt to stop you form performing it—at least not without a cost. You may have to risk your reputation in someone else’s eyes to do it. You could be in physical danger. Sometimes we believe performing the will of God—though it is in God’s best interests for us—will also be the most enjoyable, comforting, safe, precious, heavenly experience.
God does not want you to shy away from performing his will because of opposition form loved ones, bad teaching, temptation or deception. Pray for God’s favor, his protection, his provision, as you continue to pursue performing his will in His Word. You never can know what or how God is working for you and against your opposition to encourage you to move ahead in compliance with His will. You can have hope that you are doing what is in your best interests and God will answer your prayers and guide you in the midst of opposition to please Him. You can count on it!