Ezra Bible Study

Ezra: Lesson 5


Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4

The layout of Ezra 4 is a bit tricky due to a writing technique Ezra used. The first part of chapter 4 (verses 1-5) is a continuation of chapter 3. Chapter 3 closes with the people celebrating the laying of the foundation of the temple (during Cyrus’ reign, under Zerubbabel- this was the first wave of returning exiles {538 B.C.}). Chapter 4:1-5 describes the opposition immediately following the laying of the temple’s foundation.

In order to emphasize the ongoing nature of the opposition God’s people faced from their hostile neighbors over the ensuing decades, Ezra then inserts (verses 6-23) descriptions of opposition which took place much later, during the reign of Ahasuerus (486-464 B.C.) in verse 6, and again during the reign of Artaxerxes (464-423 B.C.). It was during Artaxerxes’ reign that Ezra returned with the second wave of exiles (458 B.C.) and Nehemiah returned with the third and final wave of exiles (445 B.C.).

Ezra then returns to the “present time” (opposition to the laying of the foundation under Zerubbabel) in verse 24.

You may wish to go back over the introductory material to Ezra and these notes to get more clarity.

Ezra 4

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “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, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”

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.

In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated. Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the governors, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River. 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.”

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 now18 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?”

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.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Questions to Consider:

1. How would you state the theme of this chapter in 1-2 sentences? How does Ezra’s insertion of later material reinforce this theme?

2. Why wouldn’t the leaders of Israel let the adversaries help them build the temple? (1-3) Wouldn’t it have been faster and easier to have their help? Did the adversaries really “worship your God as you do“? (2) Think back over Old Testament history. What tended to happen to Israel when they intermarried or partnered with idol worshippers? How might these adversaries have influenced Israel toward idolatry? What was the adversaries’ real motive for offering help? (4-5)

3. Why is it just as important for the church today to reject ecumenism with apostate or idolatrous “churches” or “Christians”? Can you think of any events or situations today in which Christians are partnering with “adversaries” who claim to “worship your God as you do” in order to “rebuild the temple”? How does 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 show that God still doesn’t want His people to partner with pagans and idolators?

4. In verses 4-5, 24, the adversaries are fighting against the rebuilding of which structure? Why would they not want the temple rebuilt? In verses 6-23, later adversaries are opposing the rebuilding of which structures? (12-13) Why would the adversaries not want the city and walls rebuilt? Why would the king not want the city and walls rebuilt? (13,15-16, 19-20)

5. Why do God’s people – in the Old Testament, New Testament, and today – face opposition and persecution? Examine these Scriptures and compare them with the opposition and persecution faced by God’s people in Ezra 4.

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