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Ezra 4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity were building a temple to Yahweh, the God of Israel- This opposition was real and actual; LXX "And they that afflicted Juda and Benjamin...". They were opposed to the newcomers and were against the idea of a temple being built. This opposition was not at all the scenario presented in the restoration prophets. I noted on the preceding Ezra 3:8-12 that the returnees had no intention of building the city or temple structure according to the dimensions commanded them in Ez. 40-48. And they had rejected the offer of a new covenant deal, instead attempting to still keep the old covenant, however imperfectly, even though they had broken it. And so God as it were reflected His opposition to them through these local adversaries. But as the vision of Zech. 3:1 makes clear, if they had faith then even this 'satan' or adversary would have been removed.

Ezra 4:2 then they drew near to Zerubbabel, and to the heads of fathers’ households and said to them, Let us build with you; for we seek your God, as you do; and we sacrifice to Him since the days of Esar Haddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here-
I will discuss on :3 as to whether or not this refusal of Gentile help was correct. These people were Gentiles who had been brought to Palestine after the Assyrian deportation of the ten tribes. But the desolated land meant lions running wild, and they assumed this was because they were not worshipping the "god of the land", Yahweh (2 Kings 17:26). And so they had been taught to worship Yahweh as the ten tribes had- which meant worshipping the local idols in the name of Yahweh worship. The Jews in Babylon were doing the same, as Ezekiel's criticisms of them make clear. And we note how later when Persia took over, both Esther and Mordecai had names reflective of idol worship. So indeed they did worship Yahweh "as you do". So the objection to working with them was not on religious grounds.

Ezra 4:3 But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel, said to them-
Zerubbabel was the ‘head’ of the house of David (Ezra 4:3; Hag. 2:23; Zech. 3:8; 6:12,13), as was his descendant Hattush (Ezra 8:1-3 cp. 1 Chron. 3:22). As the grandson of Jehoiachin, Judah's exiled king, Zerubbabel would've been the legitimate king of Judah. Potentially, Hos. 1:11 could have come true: “Judah and… Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head [Zerubbabel?]; and they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (RSV). And perhaps as head of the house of David, Zerubbabel was intended to be the “David my servant” who would be the one king and one shepherd who would lead Israel back to the land from exile (Ez. 37:22,24). Significantly, Neh. 7:7 describes Zerubbabel as being at the head of twelve leaders of the returning exiles, who are called “the people of Israel” (cp. Ezra 2:2). And yet he let the baton drop. The prophecies and potentials were therefore reapplied and rescheduled for fulfilment in the Lord Jesus.

You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves together will build to Yahweh, the God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us- See on :2. It could be that their refusal of Gentile help to build the temple, insisting that only Jews work in it (Ezra 4:3 cp. Neh. 2:20), was actually going too far; by being so exclusive, they were disallowing the fulfilment of the prophecies both in Zech. 6:15 and in Isaiah 60:10, that Gentiles would help in the final rebuilding of Zion. As with some of us, their refusal to allow “the adversaries of Judah” (Ezra 4:1) to fellowship with us in the work can lead us to an exclusive approach to fellowship, that actually disallows the essentially outgoing and inclusive spirit of the God we serve. The Jews returned from Babylonian having swung to the opposite extreme from their earlier worldliness; they returned proud and refusing contact with the Gentile world, considering themselves saved by their own strength. And this is perhaps reflected in the way they refused on principle to allow any Gentiles to help them in the building work. Is. 60:10,11 had foretold: “And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee [as in the decree of Cyrus]... Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night”; and them as Ez. 43 had also described, “I will glorify the house of my glory” (Is. 60:7).


Ezra 4:4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building-
Hands becoming feeble / weakened is the phrase used of Divine judgment (Is. 13:7; Jer. 6:24; 49:24; 50:43; Ez. 7:17). The restored Zion would not have such weakened hands (Zeph. 3:16). The builders were 'terrified' (Heb.). Clearly, the rebuilding was not even beginning with God's blessing but rather His displeasure. 

“The people of the land” were to have a part in the new system of things in the kingdom of God which could have been restored in Israel (Ez. 45:16,22; 46:3,9), and yet this very phrase is repeatedly used concerning the Samaritan people who lived in the land at the time of the restoration (Ezra 4:4; 10:2,11; Neh. 9:24; 10:30,31). God’s intention was that they should eventually be converted unto Him; it was His intention that Ezekiel’s temple be built at the time of the restoration under Ezra. And yet Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5  criticize the Jews who returned and built the temple for continuing to oppress the stranger / Gentile. Israel would not.

Ezra 4:5 And hired counsellors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia-
Yahweh “performs the counsel” or "purpose" of rebuilding Jerusalem (Is. 44:26). But the Samaritan opposition sought to frustrate Judah’s “purpose” / counsel (Ezra 4:5 s.w.), and succeeded. Yahweh allowed Himself to be limited within how His people performed His purpose. His ‘purpose’ is therefore conditional upon those whom He allows to fulfill it.

Ezra 4:6 In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem-
RVmg. "Xerxes". The well-known Xerxes, the son of Darius, who reigned 20 years (BC 485–465). He is generally identified with the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther.

Ezra 4:7 In the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his companions, to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the writing of the letter was written in Syrian, and set forth in the Syrian language-
This Artaxerxes could have been the son of Ahasuerus / Xerxes of :6; so this would refer to a second letter to that in :6. Or it could be the same king; for 'Arta' means 'great', 'the great Xerxes', of :6 (see note there). The reference to it being "set forth" suggests Ezra saw it and remembered it exactly as seen, as if traumatized by it.

Ezra 4:8 Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this way-
Rehum and Shimshai were the local Persian officials, who now took the side of the Samaritan opposition of :7, probably having been bribed or manipulated by them. It could be that they wrote separately, or were giving a stamp of approval to the letter of :7.

Ezra 4:9 then Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions, the Dinaites, and the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Shushanchites, the Dehaites, the Elamites-
This list of nine nations along with the local "people of the land" makes ten nations. This is not a literal number because there were other nations there too (:10), but we note a similar ten neighbouring nations against Israel in Ps. 83 and Ez. 38, and these are the historical basis for the ten toes of Dan. 2 and the ten horns of the beast.

Ezra 4:10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar brought over, and set in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the country beyond the River, and so forth, wrote-
Assur-bani-pal, the great Assyrian king, is probably the king in view; for it was he had conquered and deported the peoples of :9. "He was the only Assyrian king who captured Susa and could carry off ‘Susanchites’; no king so fully deserved the titles of ‘great and noble’; this name (‘Assur the father of the son’) by a strong contraction of the middle word, is not so far removed from the sound of ‘Osnappar’, especially if the final ‘l’ of ‘pal’ is changed to ‘r’ (cf. ‘Porus’ for ‘Pul’, or ‘Babiru’ for ‘Babilu’), and the ‘r’ of ‘Assur’ is weakened to ‘n’ (cf. Nebuchadrezzar and Nebuchadnezzar)".

Ezra 4:11 This is the copy of the letter that they sent to Artaxerxes the king: Your servants the men beyond the River, and so forth-
Zech. 9:8-10 is a prophecy of Zerubbabel or Joshua which had to have its real fulfilment deferred until the coming of Jesus: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass [Did Zerubbabel / Joshua like Nehemiah enter Jerusalem on a donkey?]. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem [the opposing Samaritans], and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth”. This latter phrase contrasts with the repeated reminder that the Persians had dominion “on this side the river” (Ezra 4:10,11,16; 5:3,6; 6:13; 8:36; Neh. 3:7). The coming King (and Joshua was prophesied as a king) was to free Judah from Persia’s dominion, and establish God’s Kingdom, with boys and girls playing in the streets of Jerusalem (Zech. 8:5).

Ezra 4:12 Be it known to the king, that the Jews who came up from you have come to us to Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and have finished the walls, and repaired the foundations-
There had been three or four revolts against Babylon (2 Kings 24:1,9,10,20; 25:1-30) and two against Assyria (2 Kings 18:7; 2 Chron. 33:11). The walls were not finished until Nehemiah's time, so the accusation was false and exaggerated. It was designed to provoke the Persian authorities, and to give the impression that the Jews were far exceeding the instructions of Cyrus’s decree, which limited them to the rebuilding of the Temple.

Ezra 4:13 Be it known now to the king that if this city is built, and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and in the end it will be hurtful to the kings-
"Tribute" = the contribution of provinces / districts to the central budget; "custom" = tax on goods or on agricultural produce; "toll" = travel tolls levied for maintenance of the infrastructure and roads.

Ezra 4:14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace, and it is not right for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and informed the king-
Throughout the Biblical record, the kings of Babylon and Persia are presented as naive despots whose pride makes them easy prey for vain flatterers. Those writing the letter had themselves been the enemies of the empire not so long ago, and their complaints surely ought to have led to an investigation which revealed the very recent decree of Cyrus.

Ezra 4:15 that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers: so you shall find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful to kings and provinces, and that they have made rebellion within the same city from old time; for which cause this city was laid waste-
"From old time" was only 70 years previously; any serious investigation would have sensed major exaggeration in the complaints, and sought to investigate deeper before making a rash decision. But again the rulers are presented as always acting too hastily and being prone to flattery. For the abiding lesson from them which the Bible presents is their pride.

Ezra 4:16 We inform the king that if this city be built and the walls finished, because of this you shall have no portion beyond the River-
We note the contradiction with their statement in :12 that the walls were already finished. Their exaggerations were such that they couldn't be hidden, as with all lies against God's people.

Ezra 4:17 Then the king sent an answer to Rehum the chancellor, and to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their companions who dwell in Samaria, and in the rest of the country beyond the River: Peace, and so forth-
We notice that the opposition was based in Samaria, in the former ten tribe area; and they opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem by the people of Judah. Not all the ten tribes were taken into captivity. Those who remained still may have retained this sectarian spirit, believing Samaria to be the preferred dwelling of God rather than Jerusalem. The Samaritan opposition may well have been fuelled by those local Israelites. This is all so far from the prophetic vision of a repentant Judah and Israel being united together with repentant Gentiles in a new multiethnic people of God in the reestablished Kingdom. Human pride, impenitence and sectarian thinking precluded so much that was possible then, just as it does today.

Ezra 4:18 The letter which you sent to us has been plainly read before me-
The Biblical record again seems to emphasize the relative simplicity of these powerful kings; for he was illiterate and needed to have the letter read before him (as in Esther 6:1).

Ezra 4:19 I decreed, and search has been made, and it is found that this city of old time has made insurrection against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it-
The Babylonian records would only have covered the rebellions of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:1,10,20). And these were only around 80 years previously. So the king is presented as making an exaggerated response just as the complaints had been exaggerated. And apparently they didn't search in the record house in Babylon mentioned in Ezra 5:17.

Ezra 4:20 There have been mighty kings also over Jerusalem, who have ruled over all the country beyond the River; and tribute, custom, and toll, was paid to them-
Again an exaggeration, as this was only really true in Solomon's time. But the king wishes to give a nod toward the apparent concern about loss of taxation.

Ezra 4:21 Make a decree now to cause these men to cease, and that this city not be built, until a decree shall be made by me-
The king is presented as hopelessly proud, speaking of how he made a decree to research the matter (:19) and now decreed the work should stop until he were to make another decree. The decree to rebuild Zion had of course been given by God, and in this we see the word of God and the word of man compared. The very decrees the king so prided himself in making were all subject to God's decrees, finally.

Ezra 4:22 Take heed that you not be slack herein: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings?-
The king surely realized that the authors of the letter had their own agenda as to why they wanted the rebuilding to cease. And so this urging of speedy response is clearly tongue in cheek. He knows this is what they are wanting to hear.

Ezra 4:23 Then when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their companions, they went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power-
LXX "with horses and force". The broken down state of the walls in Nehemiah's time may partly have been due to this use of force and power, which implies significant military strength. Zech. 4:6 is Yahweh's response to this: "Not by might (s.w. "force") nor by power, but by My Spirit". The Jews were not in step with God's Spirit; for His work cannot be hindered like this. The whole incident was to make the Jews consider their motives in this work and to perceive how they were largely doing it all for themselves and their own religious agendas rather than for God. Our work for the Lord is often likewise paused at times, so that we might consider the same question- as to whether we are doing it in the flesh or in His Spirit.

Ezra 4:24 Then ceased the work of God’s house which is at Jerusalem; and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia
- see on Zech. 3:1. The statement in Ezra 5:16 that they had been continuously building it would suggest that some faithful ones did continue building after they were told to stop, although the majority gave up. God will confirm us in the way we chose to take. Ezra 4 says that the reason the temple was not further rebuilt was because of the decree of Artaxerxes suspending the building program; then Haggai came and told Israel that the temple wasn’t built because they had preferred to build their ceiled houses (Ezra 5:1). So God had confirmed the people in the way they chose. They preferred to build their houses rather than His, so He stopped them from building His house altogether until they wholeheartedly recommitted themselves to Him. Throughout this period of their history, Israel knew what they ought to do, and they knew very well their weaknesses. They should all have returned from Babylon; but many remained, although they gave those who returned material support.