“Ezra” series: (post #10)
Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:4-5, N.K.J.V.)
When Judah’s leaders rebuffed the offer that Judah’s surrounding enemies made about working together to build the new temple, that should have been the end of the story. The fact that those enemies responded by beginning a prolonged campaign to discourage and trouble the people of Judah proves that sinister intentions had been hidden within that offer. In truth, despite the seemingly cordial nature of their offer, those enemies had never had any intentions of laying aside their false gods and false worship sites to join the people of Judah in worship at the new temple. Instead, they had been trying to infiltrate the ranks of Judah’s workers in order to cause enough problems with the building project to keep it from ever becoming a reality.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what methods those enemies used to discourage Judah’s citizens and trouble them in the work. What it does tell us is that those enemies also hired counselors, “insiders” among the royal courts of Medo-Persia, to lobby against what was taking place in Jerusalem. In the end, the enemies achieved their goal, at least for a while. We know this because of Ezra 4:24, which says:
Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (N.K.J.V.)
As we study the entirety of this 4th chapter of Ezra, we find that there is a major gap in the chronological timeline. The story upon which we’ve been riding thus far breaks off after Ezra 4:5 and doesn’t pick back up again until after Ezra 4:24. As for the verses in between these two bookends, Ezra 4:6-23, they are most likely Ezra’s way of illustrating the severity and long-running duration of the efforts to keep Jerusalem from becoming a powerful, fortified city again. Not only did Judah’s enemies try to derail the building of Jerusalem’s new temple, later on they attempted the same thing regarding the building of a new wall around city.
Ezra mentions two official letters that were written by those enemies and sent to the royal courts of the Medo-Persian empire over the years. The first letter, spoken of in verse 6, was written during the reign of Ahasuerus. The second one, recorded in verses 7-23, was written during the reign of Artaxerxes.
Since both Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes ruled after Darius (in whose reign the temple was finally completed), the letters addressed to them must have been attempts to stop the building of Jerusalem’s walls rather than its temple. The fact that Ezra is quite clear about the time periods in which the letters were written shows that he isn’t trying to deceive the reader or manipulate the storyline. He’s simply presenting the letters as evidence that the enemy opposition that first began with the laying of the foundation for the new temple persisted long after the reign of Cyrus the Great, the Persian ruler who issued the original decree stating that the temple could be built.
While Ezra doesn’t record the contents of the letter written to Ahasuerus, he does provide us with the contents of the one written to Artaxerxes. In summation, the letter is Judah’s enemies trying to get Artaxerxes not to trust the people of Judah by describing them as rabble-rousers who had a long history of refusing to submit to any other nation. In the end, Artaxerxes was swayed by this description and brought the construction of Jerusalem’s wall to a screeching halt for an extended period of time after the temple itself had been completed.
Because I realize that it’s easy for us to get lost in all of these events, let me provide an approximate timeline — give or take a few years here and there — for the building of the new temple. I hope this will help you get your mind wrapped around the basics of what happened.
- From 536 B.C. to 530 B.C., Zerubbabel and the rest of his group plodded along at building the temple as their local enemies worked doggedly to keep them discouraged, troubled, and delayed in the work (Ezra 4:4). Cyrus the Great was the ruler of the Medo-Persian empire during these years.
- Cyrus the Great died in 530 B.C. His death, combined with the official opposition of Judah’s enemies in Medo-Persia’s royal courts, caused the work to be halted by royal decree in 530 B.C.
- It wasn’t until 520 B.C., in the second year of the reign of Darius (Ezra 4:24), that the work was resumed.
- The temple, the foundation for which had been laid in 536 B.C., was completed in 515 B.C. (Ezra 6:15).
The takeaway lesson from this timeline is that Judah’s local enemies, namely the neighboring Samaritans, were able to add many years of delay to the completion of the new temple. A project that should have taken a few years at most ended up taking more than twenty. That, of course, was merely the delay time in getting the temple built. The delay time those enemies caused in getting a new wall built around Jerusalem is a whole other topic.
If Satan can’t stop God’s will, he will do everything he can to delay it. This includes using ungodly people to use whatever means necessary to create the delay. By forcing God’s will to take longer than necessary to come to pass, Satan hopes that God’s people will become frustrated enough to get angry at God and lose faith in Him.
Perhaps you have been attempting to finish a certain task for a while now, a task that you honestly believed was God’s will when you began it. If that’s the case, let me encourage you to keep persevering until you finish the job. Don’t let Satan and those through whom he works rob you of a blessing that God wants you to have. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 7:8, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning.” You see, God doesn’t just want you to start jobs that are His will; He wants you to finish them. So, don’t let enemy opposition cause you to throw up your hands and quit. Just plow right on through any and all delays and keep working until you see God’s will completed.