Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 8 2019 - Ezra 4:6-24 – Opposition under Artaxerxes

Yesterday we read that some of those living around Jerusalem, sought to hinder the rebuilding of the temple and terrorise those involved in its construction (4:4). They even bribed the officials appointed by Persia to govern this territory to get them also to frustrate the rebuilding plan. When this failed, they decided to go straight to the top and to write a letter to Artaxerxes, king of Persia.

The letter was written in the names of "Rehum the commanding officer and Shimshai the secretary" (v. 8), along with "the judges, officials and administrators over the people from Persia, Uruk and Babylon, the Elamites of Susa, and the other people whom the great and honourable Ashurbanipal deported and settled in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates" (vv. 9-10).

The Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, had swept the northern kingdom of Israel into exile and had moved people from many other nations into the area around Samaria. This mixture of peoples were the ancestors of the Samaritans whom we read of in the New Testament. When the southern kingdom of Judah was taken into captivity in Babylon, these peoples extended into the lands around Jerusalem. Now they are resentful of the returning Jews and are intent on stopping the rebuilding of the temple. From the perspective of Persia, these lands were their dependencies beyond the Euphrates and were under the oversight of their appointed governors.

The letter to the king of Persia was expressed in very respectful terms. But it describes Jerusalem as having been a "rebellious and wicked city" (v. 12). It warns that if the temple is rebuilt the city will regain its ancient power and will again prove rebellious with the result that no more taxes and tributes will be paid to Persia to the detriment of the Persian economy. They urge that a search be made in the royal archives to verify their claims. They close their letter with the alarming words, "if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates" (v. 16).

The king of Persia ordered a search of the archives and:

"… it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order." (vv. 18-21)

So the work of rebuilding the temple came to an end by imperial decree.

One cannot help but see a parallel, though tragic contrast, with the story of Jesus. Here it was the Jewish leaders who petitioned Roman power claiming that Jesus, the "King of the Jews", was a threat to the empire's control of Judea. Their claims gained a hearing and the Lord of Glory was put to death on a Roman cross. His death brought an end to the temple made of stone in Jerusalem, but his resurrection from the dead was the foundation of a far more glorious temple where God would dwell among his people and extend his gracious rule over them.

The empires of this world are always suspicious of the kingdom of God and the claims of the gospel – seeing them as a threat to their own power. But Paul urged Christians in Rome to submit to those whom God has placed in positions of authority in society and always to pay their taxes (Romans 13:1-7). In 1 Timothy 2:1-4 he urges that Christians pray for those in authority, "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." Good and stable government provides a context in which the gospel may be proclaimed and the kingdom of Christ extended. 

Father God, we pray for Christians who live under oppressive governments and who experience opposition and persecution. We pray for those in positions of human authority that you would open their eyes to see that your people are the very best of citizens. Help us always to live before others in such a way that they may see our good works and praise your name.

Peter Misselbrook