Continuing with the book of Ezra … last week we looked at the first three chapters and got to the part where the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid but there was a setback: opposition. In chapter 4 the enemies of Judah and Benjamin step in. Read 4: 1-5:
1 When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, 2 they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.”
3 But Zerubbabel, Joshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. 5 They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
These evil men went on a letter writing campaign and you can read the letter they sent to King Artaxerxes in chapter 4. They claim the Jews are rebellious and wicked and they assert that the Jews won’t be paying taxes and tributes if they’re allowed to build their city. They end their letter by asking the King to check the archives for verification that the Jews have been rebellious and troublesome. The King writes back that he checked, he agrees and he issues a “stop work” order. The work stoppage lasted 16 years.
If you take a look at the beginning of chapter 5 you find out that the prophet Haggai makes some prophecies at this time. Consider that Haggai, 22 books beyond this one could be inserted right here. You may want to jump ahead and read about the prophecies now before continuing with Ezra.
When they start up work again in chapter 5 the governor of Trans-Euphrates and his associates butt in and say “who authorized this?”. We get to read the letter which includes the Jews’ explanation that King Cyrus had issued a decree to rebuild the house of God and the governor’s request of King Darius to find out if indeed there was such a decree.
Chapter 6 contains King Darius’s response wherein he affirms that they have the right to rebuild and furthermore, he commands the governor to pay the expenses out of the royal treasury so the work doesn’t stop again. Interesting how God uses nonbelievers to get His work done and even more interesting that this chapter records the Decree of Support for the rebuilding of the Temple. (This is the 15th book and corresponds to the 15th Hebrew letter which means support and is written by Ezra whose name also means support. Find out more letter to book relationships in Crossing the Scriptures.) The temple is completed and a dedication takes place. It is not as lavish as the original dedication we read about in 2nd Chronicles, though.
Now the book jumps ahead 60 years and Ezra is on the scene. He was a man devoted to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel (7:10). He receives a letter from King Artaxerxes decreeing that any Israelites who wish to go with Ezra back to Jerusalem may go. Chapter 8 lists all of the Family Heads who returned with Ezra. The journey probably took about 4 months. They arrived safe and sound with all of the silver, gold and sacred articles accounted for. However, there’s a big problem. Read chapter 9: 1-2 and 10:10,11:
1 After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”
10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now honor the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”
Chapter 10 lists over a hundred men who had married foreign women. This is a small number compared to the thousands of Jews in all, but God is purifying them nonetheless. The last verse, 44, packs a punch as to how devastating this must have been.
44 All these had married foreign women, and some of them had children by these wives.
Since the wives were probably sent back to their homelands, the children would have gone with them. How devastating for these families, yet they were obedient unto the Lord.