7 February, 2023

January 15 | It’s Not Easy

by | 9 January, 2023

Unit: Ezra
Theme: It’s a New Start 
Lesson text: Ezra 4:12–5:2  
Supplemental texts: Ezra 7:6-10, 27-28; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18; 2 Kings 6:15-17 
Aim: Though the enemies of God press in around us, see the hand of God at work. 

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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_January15_2023.

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By Mark Scott

Paul told the churches on his first missionary journey, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, English Standard Version). Being a Christ follower has never been without its challenges. Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), but that does not mean we will not have some. Face it—some people do not like believers. 

Ezra’s world was no different. God’s people had returned from their exile in Babylon, had rebuilt the altar in the temple, and were laying the foundation of the temple when they ran into a buzz saw. “Enemies” reared their ugly heads (Ezra 4:1). They feigned their loyalty at first, as if they would help the Jews rebuild the temple (Ezra 4:1-3), then these enemies verbally discouraged the Jews and even tried to bribe them (Ezra 4:4-5). Then they wrote a letter to the king back east with the goal of stopping the rebuilding project. Essentially, they became tattletales. While some content of the letter (written in Aramaic, as is the whole section of Ezra 4:8–6:18) was true in terms of the rebellious nature of the Jews, the letter was written with impure motives.  

The Accusation 
Ezra 4:12-16 

Sometimes there is truth even in unjustified criticism. Had Jerusalem been rebellious in its past? Yes! Were the exiles who had come home under Zerubbabel’s leadership restoring the walls and repairing the foundations? Yes. Did the people who had been sent into exile 70 years previously have a long history of sedition? Yes.  

Still, the accusation was unjustified. The letter to the king was clearly a smear campaign against the Jews. In fact, the accusers were committing a logical fallacy called “hypothesis contrary to fact.” The accusers said the people would not pay taxes, which would cause the royal revenues back east to suffer. The accusers kissed up to the king by feigning loyalty when, in reality, all they wanted was to kill the temple project. They were most pessimistic, seen in the phrase, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates

The Interruption 
Ezra 4:17-24 

The accusation got the king’s attention. Through his officials (Rehum, Shimshai, and others), the king sent a reply that started in typical ancient Near Eastern fashion: “Greetings.”  

The king acknowledged receiving the letter. In response, he issued an order and a search was made to determine Jerusalem’s track record with regard to rebellion. That history was not difficult to secure. Rebellion and sedition were parts of Jerusalem’s history. The king also admitted that government money had been used to help the Jews. Evidently that was as far as the king read. He immediately ordered a stop to the rebuilding project in Jerusalem. So, the work on the city was halted until the king inquired more or until he said it could go forward.  

The king had listened to the accusers and felt the Jerusalem project could become a detriment of the royal interest. Of course, Regum and Shimshai could hardly wait to tell the Jews in Jerusalem to stop. They probably were overjoyed. They compelled them by force to stop.  

The Vindication 
Ezra 5:1-2 

Amid the enemies’ accusation and the work interruption because of the king’s edict, God was at work to vindicate his people. Two post-exilic prophets were named leaders who would help God’s people to be vindicated and win the victory. Haggai and Zechariah were prophets of the Lord helping Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah to rebuild the nation of Israel. Later, they would be assisted by another post-exilic prophet, Malachi.  

These two prophets spoke God’s word to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem. But God himself was over them. God would be their vindication at the end of the day. The prophets functioned as inspired spokesmen as well as cheerleaders encouraging the people. This emboldened Zerubbabel and Joshua (son of Jozadak—not the son of Nun as in the book of Joshua) to restart the building project.  

Jesus promised his followers they would be hated by the world because the world hated him. Believers should not expect an easy go of it. The accuser would like nothing more than to stop the work of Jesus in the church. But the accuser ultimately will be destroyed, and Truth—Jesus—will prevail in the end. 


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