PFOA : Ezra 4
Every service or work for God will meet with opposition. As the Jews began to build the temple, they encountered a series of incidents that threatened to delay and halt the work. The people of God have many enemies and adversaries. They have different habits and customs. Their diets were restrictive and did not include much of the local delicacies. They have a strict moral code, and their men performed an unusual rite of circumcision. Above all, they worship a God who could not be seen, who was not represented by images, but one whom the worshippers claim loves them and has chosen them as his people. Now they were building a temple to worship this God whom they claim has absolute sovereignty over all creation and every nation.
The surrounding peoples were first of all jealous that Cyrus had given the Jews the right to return and reoccupy Jerusalem and in the process evicting and repossessing their lands and property. They were also fearful that Israel would become a strong nation and threaten them. Throughout their captivity by Babylon, the Israelites had to deal with and suffered under their jealous and fearful neighbours. During the reign of Nebuchadnessar, Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the fiery furnace, and Daniel himself into the lion’s den for refusing to compromise on their faith. Later Queen Esther saved her people from the annihilation planned by Hamen who was enraged by Mordecai the Jew who refused to bow to him.
In Ezra 4, we see the adversaries of Israel used three ways to obstruct the construction. Firstly, they tried to infiltrate the builders, suggesting their desire to assist (v. 2). God has given clear instructions on how the temple is to be built (1 Kings 6). These spies and infiltrators would confuse the plans, bring in “pragmatic methods” and weaken the structure. Zerubbabel had the wisdom to recognise this “insider” threat and rejected the offer.
Failing this, overt methods were used to disrupt the construction. The people of the land openly opposed and threaten the builders (v. 4). They mounted a publicity campaign against the project, even bribing counsellors to give negative “expert opinions” (v. 5). Similar to the later situation faced by Nehemiah in rebuilding the city walls, probably intimidation and even physical attacks were used (Neh. 4). Despite these attempts to frustrate, the construction continued. Even a submission to King Ahasuerus did not halt the work.
Finally the adversaries resorted to legal and political power. Another letter was sent to the succeeding King Artaxerxes, making false accusations about the intent of the Jews. This together with a slipshod search of the official archives resulted in the king ordering the work to cease.
As the people of God today, we have an adversary, Satan. He is envious of everything that is done to render glory to God and will make every effort to thwart the work of his people. He has infiltrated the church, even our minds, tempting us to compromise, to take short cuts, or to adopt the ways of the world. Wisdom from above is needed to discern Satan’s insidious plans and options.
More openly, our adversary uses people and circumstances to discourage us and cast doubt on our efforts. There will be obstructions, frustrations and failures. Courage from above is needed to stand firm in face of opposition.
From time to time, and in many places in the world followers of Jesus Christ will face legal and other challenges from government and other authorities to conform or to cease. We may not have a place to worship; we may not be able to meet together for worship; or we may not be allowed to worship God at all, by being forced to bow before other gods or men. In other situations, proclamation of the Gospel is banned; or proselytization is not allowed; or the possession of the Bible is an offence. Jesus has said that “the world will hate us”. We will need the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit to know when we can comply, perhaps for a season; when we go “underground”; and when we have to stand firm in protest and opposition.
Pray for our missionaries:
• Esther Yap who will join a team working with a people group. She will be involved with language learning.
• Ping and Heidi Leong, with Benaja and Esra are on home assignment in Switzerland and will be considering plans for their next assignment as well as the schooling needs of the children.
• Lily Pang has returned to East Asia after a short visit to Singapore. Pray for her as she considers her future ministry and retirement plans.