Ezra 4

Title: In this life you will have trouble.

Text: Ezra 4

CIT: Ezra moves through time, covering a period of about 100 years showing the persecution of the Jews who’ve come out of the Exile.

CIS: To identify the long struggle of the Jewish people in the post-exilic period and understand that God accomplished his work through His strength demonstrated in a weak people. That way, he recieves all the glory!

Introduction: Our goal this morning is to understand the passage of Ezra chapter 4 in 2 settings:

  1. Historical
  2. Literary

Let me begin with the literary setting:

Ezra and Nehemiah are about the rebuilding of the Temple and the Rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem – respectively. Ezra, the book we’re in now, is two divided into two parts – two accounts, if you will, of the rebuilding of the Temple: 1-6 and 7-10. We’re currently in chapters 1-6 – more specifically, chapter 4. Chapter four deals with the persecution of Jews in their return from Exile over a period of 80-100 years. Chapters 5 and 6 return to the time period of Chapters 1-3. It is almost like chapter 4 is out of place. But not really, not when you understand what Ezra is trying to do. Let me repeat that for those of you who were sleeping already!

So, as we look at chapter 4 today, we can’t look at it in a chronological setting. You’ll get lost if you do.

Next, let us now move from the literary setting to the historical setting with a clear delineation of the events marked out in history for us in the following passage:

  1. There are 4 Persian kings mentioned in verses 5, 6 and 7 (See Diagram). You see them there: Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and Artaxerxes. All 4 kings reigned over the Persian Empire in different years (see the chart). Let me give you the grand picture of this historically.
    1. Assyrians conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel – the 10 tribes are dispersed and disappear through remarriage. These are the people we’ll look at who are persecuting the Jews in this passage.
    2. The Babylonians conquer the Assyrians and then the Southern Kingdom of Judah and send them into exile for the next 50 years. 586 – 538 BC
    3. The Persians conquer the Babylonians in 539 and release the Jews from captivity and allow them to return to their land and rebuild their Temple. If they want to. Many do.
      1. Cyrus, is the King who releases them and we read about him in Chapter 1.
      2. The list of the Exiles who chose to return is in Chapter 2.
  2. In Chapter 3 we observed the rebuilding of the altar and the restoration of certain religious celebrations by the Jews.
  3. In Chapter 4 we will read about the persecution of the Jews by the people in the land.
  4. The last verse (4.24) brings us back to King Darius rd v 24 – And, chapters 5-6 deal with this issue of the Temple and it’s being rebuilt.
  5. So, let verses (4.4-5) give you the thesis statement of the chapter. And, mark as bookends to this passage. rd v 4-5
  6. This leads us to a very important question: why in the world did Ezra leave the time period of chapters 1-3 and 5-6 and give us v. 6-23 of chapter 4.

Here is the answer and the sum of my message today: in this life you will have trouble – but take heart, Jesus says, I have overcome the world!

I think that is why Ezra leaves the time period of chapter 3 and expounds on the historical struggles the Exiles endured. The weak exiles couldn’t power their way to defeating the people of the land – the Samaritans. BTW: this is the same battle going on in Israel today: the people of the land don’t want them there and are doing everything they can to kill them off.

So, with this information in hand, let’s look at these verses a little closer.

I’ve outlined chapter 4 like this:

  1. The Request of the People in the Land (1-2)
  2. The Rejection of the People in the Land (3)
  3. The Response by the people in the Land. (4-5)
  4. An Historical Look at their continued Response (6-23)
    1. The Letter Writing Begins
    2. The King’s Answer
    3. The Work Stops!

I.     Their Request: Let us Build with You! (1-2)

exp.: rd v 1-2; Reasons:

  1. We worship your God as you do. Sounds nice, right? Let me pause here and give you an simple application to this verse. Not everyone who calls Jesus by name is a Christian. There are many religions and faiths (as we call them) of whom Jesus says – you call me Lord, Lord, but I don’t know you.
  2. We have been Sacrificing to him since 722 BC – for 200 years!

Transition: A simple request with intentions that seem to be reasonable. But are they? Well, No. Here’s part 2…

II.    Their Rejection: No (3)

exp.: their reasons: rd v 3;

  1. “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    1. Our God: isn’t your God. We’re not sure what you’re doing – what religion you’re practicing, but it ain’t the same as ours. We see this in the NT. I’ll refer you to John 4. (You worship here on this mountain what you do not know). I think this is the same for us today. There are many preachers/religions that tag the name of Jesus to it, but – they don’t believe the Bible. They don’t practice his commands. Don’t confuse them with us.
  2. as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” We would have to go back to chapter 1 to see this, but King Cyrus has been moved of God to accomplish this. He’s not given the people of the land this task, but rather these men and these people – the Jews!

ill.: I had a similar experience with the ‘ministerial association’ here in Smith County. We were invited to build houses for habitat for humanity along side Muslims and Jews. That’s a nice gesture. I don’t really see any problem with building a home for the poor. Here is where I had a problem: I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone how they could be saved. Now listen, I’m not for slamming my gospel down the throat of people who aren’t interested.

But this is the gospel and it’s offensive. You and I are sinners. Period. God is perfect in holiness. We’re stained. The Bible teaches us that our sin condemns us. We cannot stand in the presence of His holiness if there is any sin present – because no sin can be in the presence of God. So what do we do? God says that our sin has to be dealt with. The penalty for our sin is death. Period. Now here’s the catch. God has provided a way for our sin to be dealt with and that is through allowing someone else to die and pay that penalty for us. Jesus is the one who did that. He died on a cross and paid the penalty of death by shedding his blood for our sin. All of our sin, through faith in him, was atoned for in the death. Moreover, through faith, all of his perfection, his sinlessness is place on us at the same moment – allowing us to be in God’s presence. By faith, we’re pronounced clean. The question is: do you trust God to do what he says he will do? If the answer is yes, you can be saved. It takes faith.

Now, what you do with that, is no longer live life your way – which leads to death, but rather, turn your life over to him and make him Lord of your life.

Transition: People don’t want to hear that. They didn’t like the message of these men either. So what do they do?

III.   Their Response: whaaa (4-6)

exp.: rd 4-6;

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.

Let’s outline their response:

  1. Discouragement
  2. Fear
  3. Bribery
  4. Frustration
  5. False Accusations

Listen, when you stand up for what God has outline, it’s offensive. People don’t want to hear that they are sinners. They don’t want to hear that the punishment of sin is death. They want to take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and create a syncretistic form of religion. They create some form of amalgamation of religions and cultures and forms of thought that makes everyone happy!

But God says: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. You don’t need anything more and you can’t have anything less.

Transition: Here’s the point: if someone doesn’t believe God’s Word to be just what it says, then their following their own made up form of religion. And like these Jews, we have to say no to their joining us in our work.

IV.   A Historical Look at the Continued Response

     1.  The Letter Writing Begins (6-16)

exp.: rd v 6; And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. The Diagram…

  1. Letter #1: The Accusation Letter (We don’t have this letter);
    1. To: Ahasuerus
    2. From the adversaries in v 1; they in v 2; the people of the land in v 4
  2. Letter #2: The Aramaic Letter (We don’t have this letter either); rd v 7
    1. To: Artaxerxes
    2. From: Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates
  3. Letter #3: The Against Jerusalem Letter – rd v 8
    1. To: Artaxerxes
    2. From: Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe; rd v9-10; here is the letter; rd 11-16

11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now 12 be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. 14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, 15 in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. 16 We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.”

Letters: Writers: Kings: Dates: Result:
Cyrus 539-522 Persecution
Darius 522-486 BC Persecution
#1 The people of v1 – adversaries, they, the people of the land Ahasuerus or Xerxes 486-465 BC Work Delay
#2

#3

Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel

Rehum the commander & Shimshai the scribe

Artaxerxes 465-424 BC Work Delay
#4 Artexerxes Artaxerxes 465-424 BC Work Delay

This is what the Enemies of God do. When they don’t get their way, they rebel and try to thwart his servants efforts:

  1. Lies or Half Truths:
  2. rebellious and wicked city
  3. they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll
  4. the royal revenue will be impaired.
  5. the king’s dishonor,
  6. a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces,
  7. seditious that is, they incite rebellion among the people
  8. you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River King, you’re going to lose this place if you don’t stop these people.

Transition: Can I say, this is how people act in church when they don’t get their way? It can be painful, can’t it? Some of you have lived through this in churches from your past. The best way to stop this is to ensure that you as a church bring in believers like yourselves. Likeminded; mission-minded; evangelistic; discipleship oriented, family focused, Scripture believing.

   2. The King’s Answer (Artaxerxes) (17-22)

exp.: rd v 17-22;

17 The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now 18 the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. 19 And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. 20 And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. 21 Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. 22 And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?”

There is some Truth to your Statements; This is letter #4 on the Diagram

Transition: So what happens…

   3.  The Work Stops! (23-24)

exp.: 23 Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. 24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

In these two verses, Ezra goes back to Darius to demonstrate that this problem was persistent for the Jews for decades after their return to the Holy Land. See Diagram

What we will see in the next chapter is that a letter was written to Darius, too. And the result was the persecution of the Jews.

Transition: But there is more being demonstrated here. They, in their weakness, were able to rise above those who worked against them and accomplish what God had planned. You’ve covered this with me in a period of 30-40 minutes. They endured this for decades. And yet, they remained strong in their faith – that this is what God was calling them to do.

It’s funny how God doesn’t do things that glorify us. Maybe I should say ironic, not funny. God uses the weak things of the world, to show himself strong. He uses the simple to profound the wise.

So, what does this mean for us?

Observations & Implications:

  1. Time is not a factor when it comes to God doing what He has purposed.
  2. Size are not factors when it comes to God doing what he has purposed.
  3. Strength are not factors when it comes to God doing what he has purposed.
    1. I love to see the response of people when they hear we have our own missionaries overseas.
    2. I love their response when I say a church 120 educates hundreds of children and teenagers and adults in these facilities every week.
    3. I love to tell how we’ve been a part of planting three congregations. (more if you consider our missionaries overseas)
    4. I love it when someone looks at me and says, I don’t get it. What is so special about you that allows you to pastor so many ministries, activities, such discipleship. I say: yeah! There is nothing special. God uses the simple things! – the weak things!
  4. Do not be dismayed when others stand against you! I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Don’t be dismayed, but stand firm in your God and what He has called you to do!
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