God Working Among His People: Ezra 4:1-24 – Operation Counter-Attack

  It is an often a repeated truism that where God is at work then Satan will be at work as well.  Whenever God initiates a spiritual work there is bound to be resistance.  This is exactly what happened in our passage today.  The euphoria of the foundation stone laying ceremony had hardly died down before their enemies launched an attack.  When God begins to move in power, the devil begins to move in resistance.  That is why I have titled our study today in chapter four “Operation Counter-Attack.”  Those who you who are familiar with church history will realize that this is exactly what happened after the 16th century Protestant Reformation.  The Roman Catholic Church responded to the action of the reformers with what was known as “The Counter Reformation.”  Four critical events took place that were instruments Rome used against the Reformation . . . 

1)   The Jesuits were founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534.  The Jesuits were permitted “to do evil that good may come,” holding that “the end justifies the means.”  In the Church of the Jesuits in Rome there is a plaster cast depicting Loyola with his foot triumphantly placed on the neck of Protestantism.  

2)   The Roman Catholic Church began to tighten up on things and initiated a number of moves to get try and regain ground that had been lost.  In 1545 Pope Paul the Third called for the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which was the most authoritative of all Roman Councils.  It was at this Council that the position of the Roman Catholic Church was reaffirmed.  Papal authority, the place of tradition, and all the other teachings of Rome were underscored.  It was this council that declared that both the Bible and tradition contained the Word of God, that the two are of equal authority, and that it is the duty of every Christian to accord them equal respect.

3)   The Inquisition, which according to Baker was “for investigation and punishment of those who hold erroneous doctrines.”  The total number of victims of the Inquisition has been calculated to have been between 50 and 68 million.

In one way or another the Roman Catholic Church won back some of the territory that had been lost during the Reformation.  This was not an ecclesiological batter but a spiritual battle.  While God is a builder, Satan is a destroyer.  God’s purpose is to build up and edify, Satan’s purpose is to tear down and destroy.  Every time God begins to build, you can be sure that the Devil will begin to battle. Opportunity and opposition usually go together, and the greater the opportunity, the greater the opposition.   The Apostle Paul spoke about this in 1 Corinthians 16:9, “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me and there are many adversaries.”  Opportunity and opposition always go together, and that is exactly what we find in our study of chapter four today.

As we begin our study, we notice . . .

1) The Antipathy To God’s People.

Verse 4 states, “Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel.”  The “the adversaries,” that suggests, “antipathy, hostility, opposition.”  

This verse tells who they were . . .

a) Their Identification.

We get a clue about this in verse 2 where the writer talks about “Esar-haddon king of Assur.”  In the British Museum is a large cylinder and inscribed on it are the annals of  Esar-haddon, an Assyrian king who deported a large population of Israelites from Palestine.  These were the ten tribes who went into exile into Assyria in 722 BC.  Then the King of Assyria sent some of his own people to colonize the depopulated areas.  These Assyrians intermarried with the Jews who were left in Israel creating a mixed population, who became known as Samaritans.  The result was a mixture of true and false religion.  The Bible says in 2 Kings 17:33, “They feared the Lord and served their own gods.”  It was a kind of syncretism that could have diluted the identity of God’s people.  The Bible says in Exodus 20:3-4, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  There is but one true and living God and true Biblical Christianity is exclusive.  It excludes every false religion.  This note of clarity not needed today.  With the influx of different nationalities there comes different religions, different cultures, and different standards.  We need to be clear and firm as to the true Gospel.  We are living in an atmosphere where people are saying, “All religions are good and what we need to do is to have a cafeteria approach, and pick a little from this one, and a little bit from that one and just mix them all together.”  The word for it is syncretism, mixing all religions together.  My word for it is rubbish. There is only one true God, one true Savior, and one true Authority – the Bible.

This verse tells what they wanted . . .

b) Their proposition.

Verse 2 tells us the opposition says, “Let us build with you for we seek your God as ye do.”  This was an offer of help, of cooperation in this great work of building the house of God. It so subtle and dangerous.  If these outsiders had begun to mingle with the Jewish remnant, it would not have been long before the two groups to started socializing and intermarrying, and that was contrary to the law of Moses

(Exodus 34:10-17; Deuteronomy 7:1-11 12:1-3).  Israel was a nation set apart from the other nations (Numbers 23:9) because God had given them a special task to perform in the world (Genesis 12:1-3) and if they were corrupted, the success of their God given ministry would have been jeopardized.  They would have led the Jews back into idolatry again.  The proposition was a temptation to overlook their differences.  They may differ on their commitment to Who God was and what the Bible taught, but they could still compromise for the sake of the common good.”  

This proposal was on . . .

(1) A Leadership Level.

God’s people were faced with a group who wanted to join in with the work of building the temple at Jerusalem, but at the expense of compromising biblical truth.  According to verse two, these were people who were worshipping God, who were friendly and courteous, and who wanted to share in the building of God’s temple.  This appeared to make them acceptable as fellow believers and workers.  What was wrong with doing that?  Just this – They worshipped other gods.  On a church level today, we are told to “disregard our differences, join together on a common platform, and forget about clear and critical biblical doctrine.”  This is subtle and yet dangerous.

This proposal was also on . . .

(2) A Personal Level.

Do you ever hear the voice of the Devil whispering in your ear, “Do not be so strict and rigid in your faith.  You could win more friends and influence more people if you would relax your convictions and be more accepting?”  Sometimes he uses the voices of those in our families who are unsaved.  I wonder have you heard those voices recently, “Can you not tone down your convictions?  Can you not give a little in your Christian faith?  Can you not be more tolerant of other faiths?  Why are you so narrow-minded and dogmatic?  Why are you so exclusive?  Who do you think you are anyhow?”  Do you see something interesting here?  These “adversaries,” were amicable until the people of God answered with a differing opinion.

Notice . . .

c) Their Opposition.

Do you see what happened when God’s people stood there ground and said “No?”  Verse 4 tells us . . . This opposition was . . .

1. Purposeful.

Before leaving Babylon the hands of the remnant had been strengthened (Ezra 1:6) by all those whose spirit God had stirred, but now back in Jerusalem, the people of the land were working against them as Satan worked up a spirit of opposition.  The word “discourage,” in the Hebrew contains the meaning of “to weaken the hands.”  

They were determined to undermine the work.

What did they do?  

They demoralized the workers.

The word “troubled,” in verse 4 suggests that they actually terrorized them.  They employed tactics that struck fear into the hearts of the builders, and they did this to such a degree that the entire enterprise was brought to a standstill.

 I wonder, because of God’s work in you and because of God’s work through you, are you feeling the heat of opposition?  The Lord Jesus warned us did He not when He said in John 15:19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”  Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”  Sometimes Satan comes . . .

As the serpent to deceive (4:2)

And when that fails,

he comes as the

Lion to devour (4:4).

He will use friends and family, times of joy and sadness, times when things are going well with us, and times when circumstances are against us. 

Always his aim is the same,

to undermine the work of God

and to crush the people of God.

Notice further, their opposition was . . .

2. Professional.

Verse 5 tells us that, “they hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose …”  They employed professional help.  These were corrupt Persian officials who were offered monetary inducement to thwart the plans of God.  The devil will do anything in his power to stop the work of God.  Make no mistake about, Satan is out to get you.

d) Their Accusation.

From verses 6 through 23 we have a parenthesis.  This a passage inserted into this chapter that needs to be marked off.  

Ezra 4:1-5 and 4:24-5:2 deal with

Rebuilding the temple under Zerubbabel,

While Ezra 4:6-23 recounts the history of

Opposition in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.  

In movies there is often a “flashback,” to some incident in the past.  In these verses we have a “flash forward,” to events which take place several years later.  Why does Ezra, bring in these events at this time, since it breaks the continuity of the story of building the temple?  For one simple reason . . .

To show us the constant hatred

Of those who oppose God’s work.

Ezra shows us in these verses what the nature of opposition was at this time?  The Bible identifies it for us in verse 6, “… they wrote an accusations against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.”  That letter contained four charges against the Jews . . .

1. Jerusalem is a rebellious city: 4:12.

2. They will stop paying taxes: 4:13.

3. The king will not be given the proper respect: 4:14.

4. The king will lose control of territory: 4:16.

These people were doing the devil’s work.  If you make a serious study of the Word of God on how Satan is described, you will get the picture . . . 

  • In Mark 14:56 and 64, he is accused the Lord Jesus of blasphemy.
  • In Job 1:11, Satan accused Job of serving God out of self-interest.
  • In Revelation 12:10, he is described as “the accuser of our brethren.”
  • In Acts 6:13, Satan accused Stephen of blasphemy.

It is important for us to realize that if the devil cannot get us outwardly, he will seek to get us inwardly.  Do you know how he does it?  He will accuse you through your conscience.  He will attack your motives, he will remind you of your weakness, he will tell you that you are a hypocrite or a failure, he will suggest that God’s grace in your life is not real.  He never gives up.  

2) The Answer Of God’s People.

How encouraging it is to see their bold, courageous, and uncompromising stand.  I love how the Bible puts it in Philippians 1:27b-28, “… that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries …”  We, as God’s people today, need Holy Spirit boldness and courage to take our stand against any person, church, or social group that would encourage compromise of biblical beliefs in order to cooperate in any work.  We need to do it courageously, graciously, and firmly.

Notice that . . .

a) They responded negatively.

Verse 3 shows us they said, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel …”  Those of a liberal and ecumenical persuasion would think that Zerubbabel and the leadership were terribly intolerant to refuse this offer of help from the Samaritans who after all were not godless people, and genuinely wanted to help in building God’s house.  But their stand was uncompromising, for they realized that . . .

Such cooperation would

Undermine the work of God.

The question is . . .

Can we maintain

A Biblical Gospel

And stand together

With those who do not?

The answer is no.  Like the Samaritans, people today may outwardly appear to be Christians, they may be friendly and courteous, they may want to help in the building of God’s spiritual house; but like the Samaritans, there are other ingredients in their faith that we must take into account . . .

  • They deny the total inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
  • They dislike any preaching on hell and judgment.
  • They decry the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus.
  • They denounce the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead.
  • They declare that there are other ways to God beside Jesus alone.

Charles Spurgeon used to describe this kind of believing and preaching as . . .

Using bits of the Bible

As coat hangers on

Which to hang a

Few moral platitudes.

The Bible is very clear on this . . .

  • In Galatians 1:8 the Bible says, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
  • In Jude 3 the Bible says we should, “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

I believe this should be every Bible-believing, Bible preaching church’s official position to the ecumenical movement . . .

We stand outside it,

We stand against it,

We stand opposed to it.

For the Bible says in Amos 3:3, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed.”  That does not only go for church matters, but for personal matters, for matrimonial matters, and for social matters.  Many a believer has weakened his testimony through an unequal yoke, a secret society, or an unrighteous business partnership.  There is no question about where they stood.

b) They Responded Positively.

In verse 3, Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses said, “But we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel …”  Zerubbabel could have said, “Seeing as you will be only be mixing mortar, digging the foundation, hauling rubble away, and working with carpentry and masonry I suppose we could use you.”  But he did not do that.  Why?  Because . . .

This great enterprise that

They were engaged in,

Every facet of it is God’s work,

And the Lord’s work does not

Need the help of the world.

The same is true today . . .

  • We do not need the world’s money.
  • We do not need the world’s machinery.
  • We do not need the world’s mentality.
  • We do not need the world’s methods.

The Samaritans proposition was rejected because they did not belong unto the Lord.  Only believers are qualified to serve the Lord. Incidentally, that is another thing we believe in.  We believe in a saved membership.  How tragic for churches to permit into its membership, unconverted people, whose unspiritual thinking will contaminate the whole fellowship.  

God’s work is

To be done

In God’s way

By God’s people

For God’s glory.

The biblical guidelines for being involved in God’s kingdom work is laid out very clearly . . .

  • We must be saved.

Jesus said in John 3:3, “You must be born again.”  The Bible tells us what that means: In John 10:9-10, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” … “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly;”  in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me;” Acts 2:36-38, 40b, Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.  Now when they hear this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for (because of) the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” … “and with many other words he testified and exhorted the, saying, ‘Be saved from this crooked generation.” and in Romans 10:13, “For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

  • We are to be surrendered.

The Bible tells us in Acts 2:41-42, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized” … “and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  As they accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, they sought to join themselves with other believers because desired to grow by the learning and living of God’s Word (2 Peter 2:2).  Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:20, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.  Amen.”  An identifying mark of a genuine believer in Jesus Christ is their desire to obey the Lord and seek to grow in their understanding and love of Him.

What part are you playing?  Are you saved?  As a believer have you submitted yourself to the Lord and the truth of His Word?  It amazes me how many believers there are who are out there on the peripheral, and have never submitted themselves to the Lord and to learn and live by the teaching of His Word.  That is the responsibility of every local church.  That was the pattern in the early church as taught in passage in Acts 2:41-42 that we just talked about: They “received his word,” that is faith (accepting what God says about Himself, about Jesus, and about our sinful condition and asking Jesus to be our Savior and Lord), they “were baptized,” that is submission (following Matthew 19:20), they were “added,” that is local church membership, and they “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrinte and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” that’s growth.  

Sadly, the chapter ends on a down beat note, for we note,

3) The Apathy In God’s People.

Verse 24 says, “Now when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem against the Jews, and by force of arms made them cease.  Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued till the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.”  This verse takes us back to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, back with the main context that has to do with the temple.  Verse 24 follows chronologically after verse 5 and shows us that apathy had crept in amongst the Lord’s people. The result?  The work stopped for and for 15 years not another brick was added to the building.

Two factors contributed to this apathy . . .

a) Harassment From Without.

The constant opposition had taken its toll.  The work of building the house of God ceased.  Perhaps you are thinking, “I thought God was in this, and if God was in a situation it could not be stopped.”  Wait a minute . . . Do not jump to conclusions.  I want to point out to you that delays are necessarily denials. The Bible says in Isaiah 30:18, “Therefore will the Lord wait that He may be gracious unto you.”  God has a purpose.  Indeed through Isaiah He says, “My counsel shall stand and I do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).  

Satan may temporarily delay God’s work,

But he cannot permanently defeat God’s work.

The Bible tells us about the work of God through the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:18, “We would have come unto, even I Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us.”   

In building the temple, the opposition of the enemy caused the work to halt.  For 15 years nothing was done.  But . . .

The enemies actions

Would not determine

The final outcome,

Only God Himself would.

The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Jesus is reminding us that what God begins He always finishes.

For all outward appearances it seemed that God’s purpose in His Son at Calvary was defeated and that the agents of hell had won the day.  Even those the two disciples in Luke 24:21 on the road to Emmaus thought it was the end of all their hopes, “We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel.”  Then came Resurrection Day!  Far from being the end of God’s purpose it was the beginning of a new era, the birth of a new church, the dynamic of a new power and continued.  Aren’t you glad that the last word is never with men but with God.

There was also . . .

b) Discouragement From Within.

Verses 23-24 tell us the work ceased.  The immediate cause was opposition from without, but the secondary cause was discouragement from within.  For Haggai, who was a contemporary of Ezra, tells us in his book that the people of God had lost heart and were thinking only of themselves and their own houses.  He said in Haggai 1:2 that the people came to say, “The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.”

1. They lost Heart: the battle was too much.

2. They lost Vision: they went back and put materialism before the things of God.

3. They lost sight of God: For 15 years they had an altar, but the freshness of their first love was gone.

Does this describe where you are today?  Are you on the brink of resigning from some Christian ministry through discouragement?  Are you ready to call it quits?  Some years ago, someone gave me a little verse that said, “It is always too soon to quit.”  Why would you quit?

You have the Word of God before you,

The Christ of God beside you,

The resources of God within you,

The people of God around you,

And the glory of God before you.

The Bible says in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not, ( if we do not lose heart.”

Have you lost heart?  Has the battle become to hard?  Have you lost vision?  Are you more caught up with the material than with the eternal?  Have you lost sight of God?   Are the outward trappings are there, but the inward reality of a daily walk with God gone?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth

Will grow strangely dim

In the light of

His glory and grace

This is God Word . . .

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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