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Ezra 4-6: Trust God and His Word through Opposition Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 March 2016

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God uses opposition to accomplish His purposes. We can usually identify our opposition. Whether it is the rival to our favorite sports team (Iím looking at you Chicago Cubs) or something more serious like another partyís presidential candidate or a group like ISIS. We normally know how to recognize those that we consider to be our opposition. But what about the people of God? Who is our opposition? According to Paul, we know it is not flesh and blood, it is not people, but we fight against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). Normally these forces will use people and governments and leaders to oppose Godís people. So what is our hope when that happens (or maybe as that continues to happen)? Our hope is that God uses such opposition to accomplish His purposes.

We see this on display throughout the Bible and we see it clearly in Ezra 4-6. God has brought His people back from exile in Babylon. They have been charged to rebuild the temple so that they can resume worshipping the Lord. As we saw last week, they are committed to obeying the Word as they seek to complete this task. Yet, opposition arises. The peoples who are surrounding the city of Jerusalem begin to oppose the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of the city. So what will happen? I want to break our passage into two sections this morning: the opposition to the work and Godís response to that opposition.

Opposition to the work of God (ch. 4)

Ezra 4 is a bit confusing because the author is writing more thematically than he is chronologically. It seems that Ezra, who did not come to Jerusalem until after the temple was finished, is wanting to use this story to encourage Godís people in his day who are tasked with rebuilding the walls (as we see in Nehemiah). Thus, as he is telling the story of the rebuilding of the temple and the opposition those folks faced, he breaks in and speaks of the opposition that he is facing in his day. So what type of opposition do we see in this passage?

The people use a temptation to compromise to oppose Godís work. Look at 4:1-2. This seems like a good offer, right? These folks, who we would recognize as the Samaritans, were not only worshipping Yahweh, but they were known for worshipping all the gods of the nations (see 2 Kings 17). They were combining the worship of God with the worship of the nations. We call this today Ďsyncretismí, and it is still a temptation for Godís people.

So how did the leaders respond? Look at verse 3. It might have been nice to get help from the Samaritans. Surely they could have got them back on the straight and narrow. Surely such compromise is loving. Not according to the Word. The leaders knew that they could not accept those who worship other gods. In fact, it was just such a compromise that had led them into exile in the first place. So they refuse the help, which results in opposition. Look at verses 4-5. The Samaritans use fear and bribery to get the work on the temple to stop. And it worked. Look at 4:24. Through discouragement and deceit and fear from the Israelites, the work on the temple ceased for sixteen years.

As we noted, Ezra wants to show how the opposition to the rebuilding of the temple was similar to the opposition that he faced in rebuilding the walls. So he talks about that in 4:6-23. Look at verse 6. Here is the shift to Ezraís day and he speaks of how the surrounding peoples opposed the work by writing a letter. He records that letter in verses 11-16. Look at those with me. Just as they did during the rebuilding of the temple, the Samaritans and surrounding peoples are doing all they can to oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem (notice that the walls are mentioned in verse 12). They describe Jerusalem as a wicked city with a history of rebellion. They claim that once the city is rebuilt, the people will no longer pay their taxes. They even say that if the city is rebuilt then the king will lose all of the land that he has in that area.

These are what we could call exaggerations built on half-truths. They are lies meant to convince the king to stop the work of rebuilding the walls. And just like in the days of rebuilding the temple, they work. The kingís reply is recorded in 4:17-22 and he decrees that the work be stopped, at least for a time (more on that when we get to Nehemiah). Thus, Ezra shows that the opposition in the days of the temple rebuild is the same as that in their own day. It is characterized by lies and manipulation. And unfortunately it works, at least for a season. But God has a plan.

God overcomes the opposition (ch. 5-6)

So how will God overcome such opposition? As we noted, Ezra picks the story of the rebuilding of the temple back up in 4:24. He continues that until the temple is finished at the end of chapter 6. So, how does God do it? How does He overcome the opposition?

God uses His prophets to overcome the opposition. Look at 5:1. God raises up Haggai and Zechariah to encourage the people to begin building again. The opposition had ceased the work for sixteen years, but the Lord had a plan. He raised up His prophets to call the people to obey. We can read their messages in the books they wrote and we see them rebuking Israel for giving up and calling them to obey. Haggai tells them: ĎThus says the Lord of hosts: ĎConsider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lordí (Haggai 1:7-8). Yet, how will the people respond? Will they step out in faith and listen to the prophets or not?

God uses the obedience of His people to overcome the opposition. Look at 5:2. The people hear the message of the prophets and they obey. They begin the work. But the opposition will not go away without a fight. Look at 5:3-4. Once again they face trouble and threats. They even have to turn in their names. But the Lord is with them. Look at 5:5. God looks on them with favor and they continue to obey and rebuild. The opposition goes ahead and writes their letter to King Darius to get him to stop the building, which is recorded in 5:6-17. What is interesting about this letter is that the author records Israelís reason for continuing to build. Look at 5:11-13. They answer with the truth. They are rebuilding the temple in obedience to God and by decree of Cyrus, the former king of Persia. Notice also their humility. They confess their former disobedience and acknowledge Godís justice in leading them into exile. God uses the obedience of His people to overcome the opposition.

And finally, as we already seen in this book, God uses the acts of pagan kings and leaders to overcome the opposition. When king Darius gets the letter from the governor, he wants to know if Cyrus really did decree that the temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt. They do the research and find out that the people of Israel are telling the truth. After finding that out, the king responds to the governorís letter in 6:6-12. And you know what he says? Look at 6:7. Not only that, but just like Cyrus he goes on and provides resources for the building of the temple. He even gives a stern warning for any who seek to oppose it. Look at 6:11-12. God is using a pagan king to put down the opposition to His plan. Just like He used Cyrus, not He is using Darius to fulfill His purposes.

And you know what, the temple gets rebuilt. Look at 6:13-15. The temple is finally complete. It had lay in ruins for seventy years (586-516). And after twenty one years of trying to get it rebuilt, it is finally done. And it is dedicated with great joy. Look at 6:16. They rejoice that they can now worship the Lord in His temple. He has brought them back from exile, overcome the opposition that they faced, so that they can obey His Word and offer Him sacrifices of praise.

Ezra records this story of God overcoming the opposition in the days of rebuilding the temple in order to encourage the people in his day to keep building the walls. Why? Because he knows and believes that God will overcome the opposition that they are facing, which is exactly what we see happening in the book of Nehemiah.

Of course, you may be thinking: what in the world does any of this have to do with Easter? Well, Iím glad you asked. Look at what happens after they dedicate the temple in 6:19-22. Once the temple is finished, the people of Israel keep the Passover. They eat the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread. They sacrifice a lamb and remember Godís salvation of them out of Egypt.

It is this same celebration that is taking place in Jerusalem the week that Jesus is crucified. People were coming to the same temple and offering the same sacrifices. It would take over 400 years, but the true Lamb of God would visit this temple. And He would face opposition. He would face priests and religious leaders who wanted Him executed. He would face foreign governors and pagan kings. And ultimately He would face our sin and death itself. And on Good Friday, He would be laid low in the grave. And it would seem, at least for three days, at least for a season, that the opposition had won.

But on the first day of the week, when all hope seemed lost, the angel would announce: He is not here, but has risen (Luke 24:6). And with these words, we know that God has overcome all of the opposition to our redemption. There was no enemy that was too great. He defeated our sin. He bound the strong man. And He laid death in His grave. In Christ, we have complete victory. So turn from your sins and trust in Him today. Love Him as the Passover Lamb who sacrificed Himself for your salvation. And devote your life to following the One who overcomes all opposition for the good of His people and the glory of His great Name. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 07 April 2016 )

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