There are two great elements to the task of rebuilding. The first is the nature of the task itself, an overwhelming task. The second is that the task must be undertaken with a handicap—constant opposition. It is not only that you have to drain the swamp, which would be difficult enough, but that you have to do it while people are shooting at you. But consider that this pattern (like all patterns) was ordained by God.
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, 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 . . . (Ezra 4:1-24).
When the bad guys want to derail a project, one of the first things they do is try to join up to “help“ (vv. 1-5). They said, “let us build with you,“ and when the answer was no, they undertook a campaign of opposition. They wrote one complaint that came to nothing apparently (v. 6), and then another in the days of Artaxerxes (v. 7-10). This complaint was much more effective. The content of the letter had a number of charges, self-congratulations, and evil predictions (vv. 11-16). In response the king wrote back and granted a stay (vv. 17-22), requiring that the building come to a halt. When the bad guys got the letter back from the king, they hastened to Jerusalem, and made them cease construction on the Temple (vv. 23-24).
An Offer of Friendship:
The adversaries came first with an offer of help. Who were these people? They say that they had served God since “Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither” (v. 2). This points to the story found in 2 Kings 17:24ff. At that time foreign communities were forcibily settled there by the king of Assyria, but then an Israelite priest was sent to them to teach them the law of the god of that land. But the end result was this: “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. They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the LORD” (2 Kings 17:32-34a).
In short, the people who wanted to join up with the returned exiles were doing so in the name of a thoroughly syncretistic faith. This was multi-culturalism, polytheism. When the offer was refused, as it should have been, their response was three-fold.They weakened the hands of the Israelites, they troubled them (v. 4), and they hired attorneys (v. 5). In the section that follows, we learn the names on the sign of this pretigious law firm (vv. 6-10).
Carefully Crafted Lies:
There are two kinds of slander. The first kind is comparatively easy to identify, taking place in saloon brawls, and in which one of the participants might call into question the pedigree, ancestry, morals, and intelligence of the other participant’s mother. This is street slander, trash talk. But for for professional slander, we have to turn to the professionals. These suits and haircuts are polished, educated, disciplined, careful, and thoroughly iniquitous. As with all 14 carat lying, a great deal of truth is mixed in with it. Consider the letter that was sent, with commentary interspersed.
This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time (v. 11).
Greetings, salutations, oh great king, blah blah
Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls thereof, and joined the foundations (v. 12).
The Jews that came here from you have a political agenda. They are building a rebellious and bad city. They have started on the walls already, and also the foundation.
Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings (v. 13).
You know, oh king, that this is northern Idaho, and there are lots of tax protestors here. If they are allowed to finish what they have started, the end result will be a full-scale tax-revolt. And that means less money for you.
Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king (v. 14);
We, however, are loyal servants, and on your payroll. It would not be right for us to take your money, see this happening, and sit by, saying nothing.
That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed (v. 15).
If you look in the records, oh king, you will find in the official accounts records of the Crusades, the Grand Inquisitor, the Salem witch trials, the wars of religion, and the persecution of Galileo, along with native peoples everywhere.
We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side the river (v. 16).
And if you allow them to finish this project, they will secede from the Union, proving that everything we said about their neo-Confederate ties was true.
So the King Buys It:
The hired counselors knew all the right buttons to push. They knew the kind of thing that makes kings nervous, and they emphasized certain features (or made them up) accordingly. The king checks on the part of their accusation that was true enough (vv. 17-22), finds out that it was true, and calls a halt to the building. To be fair to him, he is not making a final decision (v. 21). But he is concerned enough that he wants the work to stop until he gives a further order.
In response to this letter, the intoleristas obtained a temporary victory, and a time during which they could certainly gloat. They got the letter back from the king, and when they did, “they went up in haste to Jerusalem” and made them cease “by force and power.” Now what would armed resistance at this point have done for the Jews? They were capable of it, and were certainly prepared to resort to it later — as we will see in Nehemiah. But what would it have done at this juncture? It would simply have confirmed all the slanders, all the lies that had previously been slanders.
The first part of this “battle” in Jerusalem was a battle of wits. But as a battle of wits, it still required faith in God, a refusal to compromise, and an ability to see what the enemy was trying to get you to do.