God’s church has always had enemies. Cain killed his brother over issues of faith; the residents of Sodom tried to kill Lot’s angelic visitors; Pharaoh did his best to destroy the children of Israel; and on the list goes until we reach our text. The adversaries of Judah and Benjamin were displeased with the changes to the status quo. And those adversaries came from several directions in their assault on the church: local residents who were from a different culture, lobbyists, and corrupt officials.
The issues Zerubbabel and Jeshua had to overcome if the temple were to be rebuilt in Jerusalem are not that different from issues facing the church at other times in history including today.
Jude (Jude 1:4) speaks of those who secretly slipped into the church with an agenda to introduce erroneous doctrine. The same is happening in one denomination after another in modern evangelical circles.
The first thing Adam confessed to after his sin was fear (Gen. 3:10); the Lord cautioned Isaiah to not see a conspiracy behind every bad thing that happened, not to be overcome with fear (Isa. 8:12); the apostle Peter thought it necessary to repeat that caution in his first epistle to the church (1 Pet. 3:14).
Living at the crossroads of empires, Israel had to cope with the vagaries of politics, especially after 722 BC and the fall of the northern kingdom. The contest between church and state has swung like a pendulum between extremes for centuries and the battle is still being fought today in courts and trenches around the world.
The context of the first sin was spin (Gen. 3:4) and since that day Satan has not changed his nature or methods one bit. Spin and deception, emphasizing certain things to make a point while hiding other things is a method still in good form both inside and outside the church.
Yet, even for all the effort these adversaries of the church put forth, God wins. The end has never been in doubt; God graciously shows through his people that he WILL win over error, in the face of fear, against petty politics, and in spite of spin.
A. Over error v.2, 9-10
not new enemies (see 2 Kings 17:24-41)
resettled from Babylonia and Syria by king Osnapper (Ashurbanipal) of Assyria 100+ yrs earlier
new province created – Samaria
loyalty to Assyria, then Babylon
certainly ideological (if not military) enemies
idol-worshipers – see 2 Kings 17:29-31
polytheists – accustomed to worshiping multiple gods
added Israel’s god to their god-shelf
worshped Yahweh, but…
“we worship the same God”
wanted to be part of the building program
not to honor Yahweh but to derail or redirect the program
seeking legitimacy on basis of common worship
Yahweh was one of the gods on the shelf
he was not obeyed exclusively as he requires
that means they did not understand who Yahweh really is, his true nature and character
they were worshiping a god of their own definition named Yahweh
God gave his people
discernment to recognize the attempted ruse
courage to stand for the truth
even when the anticipated (and actual) result was the opposite of what was wanted
didn’t give in to pragmatic reasoning – if they help with the labor we’ll get done sooner
believed God would prevail regardless of opposition
B. In the face of fear v.4
Since infiltration didn’t work, time for plan B. They had a number of external options open – goal to cause fear, uncertainty, doubt – bring the work to a halt that way.
made at least the pretense of alliances – see vv.9-10
show of superior strength, numbers
of the builders
of their suppliers
from Tyre and Sidon
perhaps claiming Persian authority (verse 9), speaking for the king
baseless or not, FUD disrupts progress
distracts attention, diverts resources
have to keep refocusing and encouraging Chicken Little
raises prices – remember hurricanes and the Gulf of Mexico
unlike Plan A, the sacred text is less clear on the Jewish response to FUD. “tried to discourage” can also be legitimately translated “began to discourage”. Perhaps the enemies of God’s people began to have an effect on progress. They were certainly persistent in their efforts – a total of 16 years would elapse from “the days of Cyrus…. until the reign of Darius”.
C. Against petty politics v.5
lobbying and graft
Just in case intimidation failed to achieve their desired result, the enemies of the church used fair means and foul to persuade politicians to see it their way.
paid for influence
can be taken two ways
bribed court officials to put up roadblocks
require permits, fees
meet additional building code requirements
use authorized suppliers
those who would use their influence to hinder progress
working to persuade Cyrus to rescind his orders regarding the temple
D. In spite of spin v.11-16
would have used Jewish rejection of Samaritan help against them
king probably did not understand or care about doctrinal differences between Jew and Samaritan
would have viewed Jewish behavior as unwarranted and suspicious
not satisfied to stop work on the temple
opposition continued for 75 years, halting work on wall as well as temple
to make sure they prevailed, wrote directly to Artaxerxes – tactics they had used all along evident in the letter
claimed they had the king’s interests at heart
accused the Jews of plotting rebellion again
insinuated they would encourage others to rebel against the king
stated speculations as fact: if this continues, royal income from taxes will decrease v.13
E. God’s plan WILL succeed
See v.5, 24 – “until”; key word.
not apparent yet
how God will win
when victory will occur
but outcome is assured
God has the power, his church will be built; earthly kings, conniving politicians, lies, fear, error cannot withstand the advance of the King of kings and Lord of lords. God wins and if we’re on his side, we win with him. Someday we, too, will “join the everlasting song and crown him Lord of all.”