Ezra 4-6

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

March 5, 2003

Introduction

The people have returned to the land after being in captivity in Babylon for seventy years.  They set up an altar and began to make sacrifices.  They have laid the foundation of the Temple.

Ezra 4

:1-5 Trouble starts

:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard …

adversariestsar – narrow, tight; straits, distress; adversary, foe, enemy, oppressor; hard pebble, flint

Lesson

You will have enemies

Satan, the world, our flesh
We will also face people who will oppose us.
We may expect it from non-believers, but we’re surprised when we find Christians who will decide to be an enemy for some reason.
What do we do about enemies?
(Mat 5:43-48 KJV)  Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. {44} But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; {45} That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? {47} And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? {48} Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

:2  Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.

We are now around the year 535 BC.

Back in 722 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrian Empire.  At that time, the Assyrians took away the people of the northern kingdom and scattered them to various parts of the world.  At the same time, the Assyrians took people from other captive nations and planted them in the area of the northern kingdom.

(2 Ki 17:24-41 KJV)  And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. {25} And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them. {26} Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. {27} Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land. {28} Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD. {29} Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. {30} And the men of Babylon made Succothbenoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, {31} And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. {32} So they feared the LORD, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. {33} They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. {34} Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the LORD, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law and commandment which the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel; {35} With whom the LORD had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, Ye shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them: {36} But the LORD, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched out arm, him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice. {37} And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore; and ye shall not fear other gods. {38} And the covenant that I have made with you ye shall not forget; neither shall ye fear other gods. {39} But the LORD your God ye shall fear; and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies. {40} Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner. {41} So these nations feared the LORD, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.

It was out of superstition that these people tried to worship Yahweh, in order that they might not have trouble with the wild lions.  But they didn’t serve Yahweh only, they also served all their other gods.
These people eventually intermarried with some of the Jews, and they became known as the Samaritans.
It is these people who settled in the northern kingdom that now approach Zerubbabel and Joshua in asking to help be a part of the rebuilding of the Temple.

:3 Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God

Lesson

Avoiding compromise

You might look at this and think that it was an innocent type of request that the Samaritans were making.
Yet these people had twisted ideas about who God was and how He was to be worshipped.
If Zerubbabel and Jeshua had allowed them to help, then they would also have input into the character of Judaism from that point on.
Zerubbabel and Jeshua want to keep the worship pure.
It’s good to be drawing unsaved people into the church.  It’s what we’re supposed to do.  But at the same time, we need to be careful that the core or foundation of what this place is all about is Jesus and we don’t compromise with worldly ideas.

:4 the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them

weakenedraphah – to sink, relax, sink down, let drop, be disheartened

troubledbahal – to disturb, alarm, terrify, hurry, be disturbed, be anxious, be afraid, be hurried, be nervous; (Piel) to make haste, act hastily, be hurried, be hastened; to dismay, terrify

:5 And hired counsellors against them, to frustrate their purpose

counsellors – something like hiring professional lobbyists to deal with the kings.

Here in this verse, Ezra is talking about the opposition that would be given to the rebuilding of the Temple.

The Temple will be finished by the sixth year of the reign of Darius (6:15).

But from this point on, Ezra is going to kind of confuse us a bit and give a general overview of the kinds of opposition that the Jews faced not just in the rebuilding of the Temple, but the rebuilding of the entire city of Jerusalem.  The story of the Temple being rebuilt will pick up again in Ezra 4:24.

:6-16 Flash Forward: A letter stops the work

 

Persian Kings

Kings

Chapters in Ezra

Other OT Books

Cyrus (559-530)

Cambyses (530-522)

Smerdis (522)

Darius (521-486)

Chapters 1-6

Haggai (520)

Zechariah (520-518)

Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) (486-465)

4:6

Esther (465)

Artaxerxes I (464-424)

4:7-23; chs. 7-10

Malachi (450-400)

Darius II (423-404)

 

Nehemiah (445-425)

:6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

This is going to go a little out of order chronologically – Ezra 4:6-23 actually take place after the construction of the Temple.  Ezra’s point is to give you an overall picture of the opposition that the Jews faced.

Why does Ezra do this?  It fits logically to show the kinds of things the Jews had to face in rebuilding.  Someone familiar with the history of these times wouldn’t be bothered by it, they would understand the time jumps.

Ahasuerus – he is also known as Xerxes I (486-465 BC).  This is the king that married Esther.

I wonder if they wrote to him after Esther became the queen.

This particular letter of accusation is written somewhere around 486 BC.

:7 …unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; …written in the Syrian tongue

Artaxerxes – Artaxerxes I (464-424 BC)

This is the guy who was king during the time of Nehemiah.  The opposition letters would have been written prior to Nehemiah, who began taking action to finish the walls in the 20th years of Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:1).

Syrian tongue – Aramaic

The text from 4:8 to 6:18 is in Aramaic.

:10 whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over

Asnapper – also known as Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria (668-626), who completed the transplanting of the people begun by Esarhaddon.

:12 building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations.

This is a progress report on the rebuilding of the entire city, not just the Temple (because the Temple has already been finished in 515 BC)

:13 so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings.

The idea is that if the walls are set up, then the people would start thinking that they might be able declare independence as well as be able to withstand any onslaught.

These people are sending the message that the king’s tax income will go down.

:14 Now because we have maintenance from the king's palace

we have maintenance[email protected] (Aramaic) – (P’al) to eat salt

(Ezra 4:14 NLT)  "Since we are loyal to you as your subjects and we do not want to see you dishonored in this way, we have sent you this information.

:15 know that this city is a rebellious city

This is true.  The Jews had been a very independent people. They had rebelled against the Assyrians in 701 BC and against the Babylonians in 600 BC and 589 BC.

:16 thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.

the river – the Euphrates River.  They are saying that the king will lose control of everything west of the Euphrates if he lets Jerusalem be built.

:20 There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all countries beyond the river; and toll, tribute, and custom, was paid unto them.

mighty kings – such as David and Solomon

Lesson

You can twist anything

They’ve searched the historical records and yes, Jerusalem has had some pretty stubborn, rebellious people living in it.
Later, they’ll search the records again and find that Cyrus had indeed made a decree to rebuilt the Temple.
I think we need to be careful about how we form our opinions on things.
Illustration
Today, I watched a little bit of the news on CNN and then watched a little bit of the news on FOX.  While I watched CNN, all the news items had to do with all the people of the world who are opposing President Bush’s push towards a war in Iraq.  When I watched FOX, all the news items had to do with how dangerous Iraq was and why the President is right to pursue war.
Which is correct?  I have a feeling that each news network is slanting things their way and perhaps neither is giving a totally balanced, objective view.
When you hear a story about a person, be careful about the views you begin to develop.  You may be only getting one side of things.

:23 Now when the copy …

This is the end of the section that is inserted by Ezra out of chronological order.

:24 Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

This verse picks up from back in verse 5, when the opposition to the building of the Temple was mentioned.

The work had begun in 535 BC and was stopped until 520 BC, a period of fifteen years.

Lesson

Stopping the work

The enemy wants you to stop building.
He will try and confuse you through compromise (4:2).
He will try and stop through outright attack.

Ezra 5

:1-2 The prophets work

:1 Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied

HaggaiChaggay – “festive”; he is the first prophet to prophecy after the captivity. Haggai prophesied from August to December 520 b.c

Zechariah[email protected] – “Yahweh remembers”. Zechariah prophesied for two years beginning in October-November 520.

He is a priest, son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo, who, along with Haggai, directed the rebuilding of the temple in the days of Zerubbabel

This is a very popular name in the Old Testament – there are 29 Zechariahs.

Zechariah 2-4

In Zechariah 2 – God gives encouragement about the opposition that they were facing.  God reassures the people that He is on their side:

(Zec 2:5 KJV)  For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.
(Zec 2:8 KJV)  For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.

In Zechariah 3 – apparently there was some sort of concern about Joshua the high priest being qualified for his job.  God spoke to Zechariah:

(Zec 3:1-4 KJV)  And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. {2} And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? {3} Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. {4} And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.

In Zechariah 4 – the issue is the rebuilding of the Temple.

(Zec 4 KJV)  And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep, {2} And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof:
This is a vision of the menorah.
{3} And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
These two olive trees are providing a constant supply of oil straight into the menorah.
{4} So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? {5} Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. {6} Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.
This picture was to show Zerubbabel that God would accomplish the building of the Temple through the power of His Spirit, not through Zerubbabel’s efforts.
{7} Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.
With God’s help, the mountain of problems would be leveled.  Zerubbabel had started the project and he would finish it by putting the last piece in place, the headstone.  When it was all over, everyone would see that it was a work of God’s grace.
{8} Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, {9} The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto you. {10} For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
The “seven” are the seven lamps on the menorah.  They are called the “eyes of the Lord”.
Don’t despise the days of small things – God may be at work!!
{11} Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? {12} And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? {13} And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. {14} Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
Some think these “anointed ones” are Zerubbabel and Joshua. Others think they refer to the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11:

(Rev 11:3-4 KJV)  And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. {4} These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

We think these two are Moses and Elijah, come back in the last days.

:2 …began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem

Lesson

Prophecy builds up

(1 Cor 14:3 KJV)  But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
Here we see a literal picture of being “built up”. 

:3-5 Tatnai causes trouble

:3 Tatnai, governor on this side the river

Tatnai[email protected] – “gift”.  He is the Persian governor in charge of the lands west of the Euphrates.

:4 What are the names of the men that make this building?

Don’t you love how the enemy intimidates you?

:6-17 Tatnai writes a letter

:8 …which is builded with great stones

great[email protected] (Aramaic) – rolling

So, these “great stones” were “Rolling Stones”!  Actually, they were so large that they had to be moved on rollers.

:11 We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth

Not servants of the Persian empire.

:17 let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon

Another search is made through the royal records.  They think they ought to look in the libraries at Babylon, but that’s not where the record of this decree was kept.

Why are they bothering to search?

Because the laws of the Medes and Persians were considered unchangeable (Dan. 6:12).

Ezra 6

:1-12 Darius makes things right

:1 search was made in the house of the rolls

Search was made – they had to do it the old fashioned way, they couldn’t “Google” it.

house of the rolls – was this a bakery?  J

:2 And there was found at Achmetha

Achmetha – Also called Ecbatana, the ancient capital of Media.  It is a city at 6,000 foot elevation on the road from Baghdad to Teheran.  It had a climate perfect for the preservation of scrolls.  The efficient Persian government kept its records on scrolls of papyrus or leather.

The scroll was in Ecbatana, because that is where Cyrus had spent the summer of 538, when he issued the decree.

a roll[email protected] (Aramaic) – scroll, roll, book

:3 …the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;

This is the specific decree of Cyrus that even gave the size of the Temple. These details weren’t given in the general decree (Ezr. 1:2-4).

:5 …place them in the house of God.

This ends Cyrus’ decree.

:6 be ye far from thence:

(Ezra 6:6 NLT)  So King Darius sent this message: "To Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River, to Shethar-bozenai, and to your colleagues and other officials west of the Euphrates: "Stay away from there!

Apparently, this was a common Aramaic legal statement.

:8 …forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.

Lesson

Things are turned to good

It wasn’t anything that Zerubbabel or Joshua did.  God did it.
Just like Zechariah had prophesied.
What was meant for evil gets turned around and now these people who had brought the complaints are even going to be charged with paying for the construction of the Temple.
It reminds me of what happens in the book of Esther – where Haman tries to destroy the Jews, but instead ends up being destroyed himself.
Part of the tax revenue was to be spent on the building of the Temple along with the continual sacrifices.  I wonder what Tatnai thought of that.

:10 …pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.

Darius wants them praying for him.

:11 Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.

hanged[email protected]’ (Aramaic) – to strike, smite, kill

(Ezra 6:11 ICB)  Also, I give this order: If anyone changes this order, a wood beam is to be pulled from his house. Drive one end of the beam through his body. And because he did this crime, make his house a pile of ruins.

Execution by impaling was practiced in the Assyrian and Persian Empires.[1]

There’s some teeth to this decree.

:12 And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.

Some think that this is a kind of “curse” that God actually honored.

Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrated it in 167 b.c. , died insane three years later.

Herod the Great (37-4 b.c. ), who added extensively to the temple to glorify himself, had domestic trouble and died of disease

The Romans, who destroyed the temple in a.d. 70, and later had their empire destroyed.

:13-18 The Temple is finished and dedicated

:13 so they did speedily.

Tatnai doesn’t want to get into any more hot water.

:14 …according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

Artaxerxes is mentioned, but he doesn’t come into the picture until after the Temple is built. He will be responsible for the building of the walls of the city.

:15 And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.

The Temple was completed on March 12, 515 B.C. 

The temple was completed in Adar (February-March) of 515—21 years after the work started in 536, and 4 1/2 years after Haggai began his prophesying. This was 70 1/2 years after the temple had been destroyed on August 12,586. [2]

Next Wednesday will be an anniversary of sorts!

It took twenty years to complete the Temple, of which most of that time things had simply stopped.

:17 And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.

The 12 goats for the sin offering show that the postexilic community still envisioned a unified Israel consisting of all 12 tribes.[3]

Contrast this dedication to Solomon’s:

(1 Ki 8:63 KJV)  And Solomon offered a sacrifice of peace offerings, which he offered unto the LORD, two and twenty thousand oxen, and an hundred and twenty thousand sheep. So the king and all the children of Israel dedicated the house of the LORD.

The nation is not in the same place as it was under Solomon.

Lesson

Sinning does you no good

The nation had gone through a time of chastisement because of their sin.  Now they’re back in the land, but not like it was before.
Sometimes we can fall into a trap of thinking that we can just go ahead and give in to a temptation because we can just confess our sin, receive God’s forgiveness, and be back at the same place we were before giving in.
In reality, we’ve gone backwards.  Every time you resist temptation, you go forward.

:18 And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses

divisions – David had set up 24 divisions of priests (1Chr. 24:4)

:19-22 The Passover is kept

The text from 4:8 to 6:18 is in Aramaic.  The text now goes back to Hebrew.

:19 the fourteenth day of the first month.

April, 515 BC.

:21 And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat,

Two types of people participated in the Passover.  Those who had come from Babylon.  Those who had actually remained in the land, but had not gotten mixed up with the heathen like the Samaritans.



[1]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ezr 6:6). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ezr 6:13). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (Ezr 6:16). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.