Ezra 4: Lessons from the Opposition to the Temple Rebuilding Regarding Satan’s Tactics Against Jesus’ Servants

Introduction: This chapter provides a broad overview of problems that the Jews faced in rebuilding the Temple during the reigns of three different Persian kings. From this point until the end of the book of Nehemiah, the Jews experienced ongoing conflict both from external and internal sources as they sought to rebuild first the Temple and then the walls of Jerusalem. When you labor for Jesus, Satan will also oppose your efforts. Here, Jesus reveals seven common tactics that Satan will use to stop you when you work for Him. These include: (1) deception, (2) discouragement, (3) accusation, (4) conspiracy, (5) lies, (6) worldly leaders, and (7) oppression.

First, the Samaritans used deceit in an attempt to corrupt the Temple to reflect their hybrid religious beliefs. Thus, the Jewish leaders wisely rejected their help in rebuilding the Temple. Satan also uses deception to try to stop your work for Jesus. Second, when deceit failed, the Samaritans resorted to discouragement, fear, and bribes to delay the Temple rebuilding. Satan will also use discouragement and fear to try to stop you from serving Jesus. Third, when Ahasuerus became King of Persia, the Samaritans employed false accusations against the Jews to thwart the Temple rebuilding process. Satan is the accuser of the brethren, and he will also use accusations to stop your work for Jesus. Fourth, during Artaxerxes I’s reign, the Samaritans united with powerful pagan leaders to turn the Persian king against the Jews. As the ruler of this world, Satan will also form conspiracies to turn the public against you as you work for Jesus. Fifth, as part of their conspiracy against the Jews, the Temple opponents used lies to convince King Artaxerxes I to stop the Temple rebuilding. Satan will also use lies to try to stop your work for Jesus. Sixth, King Artaxerxes I believed the lies leveled against the Jews and responded by issuing a decree to stop all Temple work. Satan is the ruler of this world. He will also use worldly leaders to try to stop your work for Jesus. Finally, the Temple opponents then took King Artaxerxes I’s decree and used force to stop all building work on the Temple. When other subtle tactics fail, Satan can also use oppression and force to try to stop your work for Jesus.

1. Deception: Satan Uses Deception to Try to Stop Your Work For Jesus. Ezra 4:1-3.

  • Temple adversaries use deceit in an attempt to corrupt the future Temple. The opposition to the Temple began with deceitful local Samaritans, who sought to ensure that the future Temple included both pagan and Jewish worship: “1 Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the Lord God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households, and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.’ But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of fathers’ households of Israel said to them, ‘You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.”’ (Ezra 4:1-3). The deceitful Samaritans revealed their true agenda when they alleged that they had been sacrificing to Yahweh since the “since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria (circa 681 to 669 B.C.), who brought us up here.” By this statement, they revealed themselves to be captured servants from other nations whom the Assyrians brought to Northern Israel after King Sargon II deported most of the ten northern tribes (2 Kgs. 17:34-41). These foreign exiles intermarried with the Jews who remained in Northern Israel. Together, they formed a hybrid religion that worshiped both Yahweh and idols. If Zerubbabel and Jeshua had accepted their help, these Samarians would have demanded the right to include pagan worship in the Temple along with Yahweh worship. In modern terms, they would be celebrated for advocating diversity of worship. The Samaritans would have viewed the returning Jewish pilgrims as extremists who threatened their inclusive religious practices. They used deception to advance their agenda. Satan will also use deception to damage the Church from within. It is the job of church leaders to recognize such deception and ensure purity over unity.

Zerubbabel rejected the Samaritans’ deceitful offer to help build the Temple1

  • The Samaritans created a fake religion that opposed pure Judaism. God judged Northern Israel for trying to worship Him through a fake and idolatrous religion. Yet, the people who settled in Samaria created a fake hybrid religion that was equally abhorrent in God’s eyes: “34 To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the Lord commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel; 35 with whom the Lord made a covenant and commanded them, saying, ‘You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down yourselves to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, and to Him you shall bow yourselves down, and to Him you shall sacrifice. 37 The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall observe to do forever; and you shall not fear other gods. 38 The covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods. 39 But the Lord your God you shall fear; and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.’ 40 However, they did not listen, but they did according to their earlier custom. 41 So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.” (2 Kgs. 17:34-41). Isaiah prophesied that the people of Northern Israel would lose their spiritual identity within 65 years of their exile: “For the head of Aram is Damascus and the head of Damascus is Rezin (now within another 65 years Ephraim will be shattered, so that it is no longer a people),” (Is. 7:8). His prophecy proved to be true, and the hybrid religion continued until New Testament times. While the new inhabitants initially feared God, they made no effort to read God’s Word or follow it. Thus, their fear of God faded, and they did what felt right in their own eyes. This was the same problem that existed during the time period of the Judges (Jdgs. 17:6).

  • God’s truth is more important than the unity of God’s people. Zerubbabel and Jeshua would have felt pressure to accept any help they could find to rebuild the Temple. They had limited economic resources. With help of the Samaritans, they might have quickly rebuilt the Temple. Believers are called upon to act with one accord as the Spirit leads the body (Ro. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12; 12:20-21; Eph. 4:4). But unity must be based upon the love of God: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:14). Believers are frequently pulled off their walk when they are unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14). Zerubbabel and Jeshua correctly kept the Jews separate from the Samaritans. Even though this delayed the Temple rebuilding, it was worth it.

  • Satan’s servants will disguise themselves as alleged servants of righteousness. Like the Samaritans who sought to corrupt Temple worship, Satan will also use his servants to corrupt what the Bible teaches. Under feel-good doctrines like “tolerance” and “diversity”, they will preach the need to update the teachings of the Bible to meet modern values. On the surface, Satan’s techniques will often be appealing: “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). But God warns believers not to pick and choose what they believe based upon what feels right: “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes;” (Dt. 12:8). You should instead follow God’s Word and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

  • To avoid God’s judgement, leaders must guard against those who corrupt His Word. Before their exile, the Jews also struggled with mixing together God’s Word with worldly beliefs. But Joshua warned the Jews that they had to decide who they would serve (Josh. 24:15). The prophet Samuel also warned the Jews to “serve Him [God] alone;” (1 Sam. 7:3). This meant that they could not hold onto any divided allegiance in their hearts. In the Book of Kings, the divided kingdom symbolized people’s divided allegiances. People thought it was acceptable to mix their religious views about Yahweh with the Canaanite religious practices. But Elijah also warned the people to choose between Yahweh and Baal: “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word.” (1 Kgs. 18:21). The people could not have divided allegiances between the things of the world and God. When the people would not listen, the righteous prophets warned of the demise of Israel and Judah. This lesson equally applied to the people of Samaria. And this lesson applies to believers today as well. Jesus told His believers that they needed to also choose who they would serve because they could not have two masters: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). Jesus rejects those who claim to worship Him through worldly beliefs: “Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”’’ (Lk. 4:8). ‘“But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”’ (Matt. 15:9; Mk. 7:7; Col. 2:22; Is. 29:13). Today, many demand that worldly views be deemed equal to or superior to God’s Word. It may be politically unacceptable to view God’s Word as the final arbitrator of truth. But even if it makes you unpopular, that is what God expects of you. Will you defend and explain God’s Word to skeptics who question it? (1 Pet. 3:15).

  • Be faithful to God’s Word as it is written, not as you want it to be written. Moses warned that true worship requires that you worship as instructed in the Bible. Believers are not free to add or take away from God’s Word: “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” (Dt. 12:32). This was not the first time that God gave this warning: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Dt. 4:2). Nor was this the last time that God gave this warning. God will not tolerate anyone who changes, adds to, or takes away from His Word (Dt. 4:12:32; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 3:15). In case any believer feels freed from this law, John repeats this commandment in the book of Revelation “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19). Jesus also warned that those who annul the Ten Commandments or teach others not to follow them will be called “least” in heaven: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19). Are you faithfully following God’s Word as it is written?

  • God will also judge those who add to His Word to create false religions. The people of Samaria felt right in their own eyes when they added to God’s Word. Many religions have sprung out of Christianity by adding to God’s Word. But adding to God’s Word can lead to legalism and oppressive and needless rules that only “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). Or, it leads to false doctrines, cults, or false religions (2 Pet. 2:1-3). You should turn down anyone who claims that their prophet received an “extra” gospel. You should also test any revelation that is not in the Word (1 Thess. 5:21).

  • Test all claims to guard against Satan’s schemes of deceit. As the “father of lies” (Jo. 8:44), Satan frequently uses deceit to mislead God’s people. Throughout history, there have been many false leaders who have led God’s people into rebellion against Him (Jer. 14:14). Thus, Jesus warns believers to “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15). “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” (Matt. 24:11, 24). Thus, it is important to test every person who claims to speak on God’s behalf: “20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” (Dt. 18:20-22). God allows false prophets to exist to test your heart (Dt. 13:3). His warnings to test all things is repeated in the New Testament. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jo. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:21). Deceiving spirits may also come across as “angels of light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). When someone offers you a “new” spiritual path, rigorously test their claims.

2. Discouragement: Satan Uses Discouragement and Fear to Try To Stop You. Ezra 4:4-5.

  • Temple adversaries use discouragement and fear to stall the Temple rebuilding. Because the Samaritans viewed the return of pure Judaism as an existential threat, they sought to stop the Temple rebuilding process through discouragement, fear, and bribes: “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:4-5). The bribes would have been to keep Persian officials from approving the transport of needed building materials. Even though King Cyrus I authorized the rebuilding process (Ezra 1:1-4), the Samaritans successfully delayed the Temple rebuilding process for 16 years (circa. 536 – 520 B.C.), following pilgrims returned to Jerusalem in 539 B.C. until the reign of King Darius I from Persia (circa 521 – 486 B.C.). The Samaritans caused the Jews to become discouraged. They also feared the power of the Samaritans and other pagan nations.

Local opponents tried to discourage the Jews to prevent them from building the Temple2

  • Encourage one another daily. Zerubbabel and Jeshua should have responded to the Jews’ discouragement and fear by encouraging them to have faith. As a believer, you are commanded to encourage others. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” (Heb. 13:22). “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13). “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Ps. 31:24). “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6). Are you encouraging others to have faith in the face of fear?

  • God’s Word – the antidote to fear and lacking faith. Zerubbabel and Jeshua should have encouraged the Jews by reading God’s promises and recounting His faithfulness to keep His Word. If your faith is lacking, God calls upon you to build it up reading the Word: “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17). The next time you fear, recite His promises: “Do not fear for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand . . . Do not fear, I will help you.” (Is. 41:10, 13). “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11). “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7). Faith is like a muscle. It can atrophy if you don’t read the Word. Are you reading the Word and praying to build up your faith?

  • Be encouraged and strengthened by the Spirit. God also knows when your faith is weak. When you let His Spirit lead you, He will encourage and strengthen you: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Eph. 6:10). “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” (Ps. 138:3). “He said, ‘O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!’ Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, ‘May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”’ (Dan. 10:19). “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Ro. 8:14). If you are feeling weak or depressed, are you praying in faith for Him to strengthen and encourage you?

  • When you have faith, you never need to fear evil people. You are not to fear people who seek to discourage you. Believers will do foolish things when they let their fear of other people control their actions: “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). “I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.” (Lk. 12:4). The only person that you are to fear is God (Prov. 1:7). And the fear of the Lord is hating evil (Prov. 8:12). “The fear of man brings a snare. But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7). The initial fear is not the sin. Letting it control you is the sin.

3. Accusation: Satan Uses Accusation to Try to Stop Your Work for Jesus. Ezra 4:6.

  • Temple adversaries make accusations against the Jews to stop the Temple rebuilding. When Ahasuerus became King of Persia, the Samaritans sought to reverse King Cyrus I’s edict with false accusations against the Jews: “Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 4:6). King Ahasuerus, aka Xerxes I (circa 486 – 464 B.C.), married Esther (e.g., Esther 8:7). The Samaritans likely learned of Haman’s plot against the Jews and sought to convince King Ahasuerus that the Jews who returned to Jerusalem were a threat who needed to be killed as well: “ . . . therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.” (Ester 3:6). In Hebrew, the word “accusation” can also be translated as Satan, our accuser (1 Chr. 21:1; Job 1:6; Zech. 3:1). Satan used both the Samaritans and Haman to make accusations against the Jews. Satan will use these tactics against you as well.

  • Satan will make accusations against you as well. Satan will also incite accusations against you when you step out in faith to serve Jesus. He makes accusations against believers “day and night.” But you can have faith that your accuser will eventually be thrown down into the lake of fire: “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.”’ (Rev. 12:10; Job 1:6; Zech. 3:1). If you are under Satan’s attack for your past sins, he knows that you are being effective. You can plead guilty to all the charges against you knowing that Jesus has paid the penalty for your sins. If you feel tempted to make accusations against your brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t let Satan use you to discourage another fellow sinner from stepping out to serve Jesus.

  • Show self-restraint when you are attacked. It would have been tempting for the Jews to lash out at the Samaritans for making accusations against them. When you are attacked, Jesus urges you to show restraint: “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matt. 5:39; Lk. 6:29). “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Pet. 3:9). “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” (Ro. 12:14, 17). When others hurt you or make accusations against you, do you restrain your urge to strike back?

  • Let Jesus defend you when you are attacked. Part of being restrained includes waiting for God’s timing if you are to respond at all: “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and He will save you.” (Prov. 20:22). When you have faith in Jesus, you have an advocate who responds on your behalf to rebut Satan’s accusations: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 Jo. 2:1). Jesus has also appointed the Holy Spirit to help you in your trials: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;” (Jo. 14:16). When you face accusations against you, do you pray for Jesus and the Spirit to intercede on your behalf?

4. Conspiracy: Satan Will Form Conspiracies to Turn Others Against You. Ezra 4:7-10.

  • The Temple opponents conspire to halt the Temple rebuilding. During the reign of Artaxerxes I, the Samaritans united with powerful pagan leaders to turn the Persian king against the Jews: “And in the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his colleagues wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic. Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes, as follows— then wrote Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their colleagues, the judges and the lesser governors, the officials, the secretaries, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations which the great and honorable Osnappar deported and settled in the city of Samaria, and in the rest of the region beyond the River.” (Ezra 4:7-10). Artaxerxes I was King of Persia during the time from Ezra chapter seven until the end of Nehemiah, from 464-423 B.C. The Samaritans built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. They wanted to stop the Jews from creating an alternative worship center. Thus, they turned to Rehum (Ezra 4:8), a military commander of a Persian province who hated the Jews. The Samaritans and Rehum then conspired with other Persian and pagan leaders from colonies in Chaldea, Media, and Persia to turn Artaxerxes I against the Jews who sought to rebuild the Temple (Ezra 4:17-23). The Persian leaders feared that the Temple would inspire the Jews to seek independence. They also knew the Jews’ great power under David and Solomon.

  • Satan is the ruler of the world and will make your work for Jesus unpopular. Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Thus, Jesus warns you that Satan will cause you to face persecution and hatred when you serve Him: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (Jo. 15:19). In fact, if you seek to be popular or loved by the world, you frequently make yourself an enemy against what God seeks to accomplish through you: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jam. 4:4). If you feel public opinion turning against you for serving Jesus, that means you are effective and a threat to Satan.

  • When others unite against you, find protection within the Body of Christ. When your enemies conspire against you, God offers you protection when you are connected to fellow believers: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25). Satan acts like a roaring lion. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8). Believers are also called “sheep,” animals without natural defenses. (e.g., Jo. 21:16, 27). Lions usually attack animals that stray from the protections of the herd. Believers cannot claim to be accountable if they float in and out of a mega church or watch sermons online. Believers must also be accountable to a small group of believers. Are you in any type of small church group? Or, are you a lone ranger for Christ?

  • Where God guides, He provides. When the Jews had the faith to let God guide them, He always provided for their needs (Dt. 29:5-6; 8:3-4; Ex. 16:31; Lk. 4:4; 1 Cor. 10:3). If you seek to do Jesus’ will, He will also provide for your needs: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33). If you are lacking in anything or if you feel attacked, are you seeking after His kingdom?

5. Lies: Satan Uses Lies to Try to Stall Your Work for Jesus. Ezra 4:11-16.

  • The opponents’ letter to Artaxerxes. As part of their conspiracy against the Jews, the Temple opponents used lies to convince King Artaxerxes to stop the Temple rebuilding: “Now 11 this is the copy of the letter which they sent to him: ‘To King Artaxerxes: Your servants, the men in the region beyond the River, and now 12 let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings. 14 Now because we are in the service of the palace, and it is not fitting for us to see the king’s dishonor, therefore we have sent and informed the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the record books of your fathers. And you will discover in the record books and learn that that city is a rebellious city and damaging to kings and provinces, and that they have incited revolt within it in past days; therefore that city was laid waste. 16 We inform the king that if that city is rebuilt and the walls finished, as a result you will have no possession in the province beyond the River.”’ (Ezra 4:11-16). The opponents of the Temple called the Jewish-controlled Jerusalem a “rebellious and evil city” (Ezra 4:12). Because Persia was weakened through ongoing rebellions, this charge was effective in turning the king against them. Jewish leaders like Jehoiakim (2 Kgs. 24:1, 20) and Zedekiah (2 Chr. 36:13) had rebelled against Babylonian rule. Thus, King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (Ezra 4:15). Northern Israel also rebelled against the Assyrians in 701 B.C. (2 Kgs. 18:7). Yet, there was no evidence of the Jews ever rebelling against the Persian empire because the Persian tolerated the Jews’ worship of Yahweh. The Temple opponents also alleged that the Jews would “not pay tribute, custom or toll” (Ezra 4:13) if the Jews finished their rebuilding plans. But there was again no evidence to support this false charge.

The opponents petitioned King Artaxerxes I with lies to halt the Temple work3

  • Satan is the father of lies and will use lies to try to stall your work for Jesus. Lies are Satan’s tool to turn people away from God (Dt. 11:16; 30:17). “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. . . Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jo. 8:44). Unless you know God’s Word, Satan will try to use lies and half-truths to stall your work for Jesus. When Satan employs lies against you, you must pray and put your faith in Jesus.

  • Respond to the devils lies with the truth of God’s Word. Jesus is “‘the way, and the truth, and the life”’ (Jo. 14:6). He is also the Word that became flesh (Jo. 1:1, 14). His Word is sharper than a two-edged sword in the face of Satan’s lies: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). When you pray and use God’s Word out of love, Jesus will thwart Satan’s lies against you. You must also never use lies or half-truths, Satan’s tools, in your walk with God. When you do, you allow Satan to use you.

6. Worldly Leaders: Satan Uses Worldly Leaders to Try to Stop You. Ezra 4:17-22.

  • Artaxerxes agrees to halt the Temple rebuilding process. King Artaxerxes I believed the lies leveled against the Jews and responded by issuing a decree to stop all Temple work: “17 Then the king sent an answer to Rehum the commander, to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and in the rest of the provinces beyond the River: ‘Peace. And now 18 the document which you sent to us has been translated and read before me. 19 A decree has been issued by me, and a search has been made and it has been discovered that that city has risen up against the kings in past days, that rebellion and revolt have been perpetrated in it, 20 that mighty kings have ruled over Jerusalem, governing all the provinces beyond the River, and that tribute, custom and toll were paid to them. 21 So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me. 22 Beware of being negligent in carrying out this matter; why should damage increase to the detriment of the kings?’” (Ezra 4:17-22). After many costly battles with the Greeks and other revolts, Artaxerxes I feared a Jewish revolt and withheld tribute. As one commentator observes, the Jews’ enemies succeeded in their conspiracy by playing off of the king’s fears stemming from other revolts in Egypt and Samaria: “Artaxerxes, who became king by murdering his older brother, ruled from 464 to 424 B.C.; this included the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. A major concern of the first half of his reign was the Egyptian revolt that began in 460 and was supported by the Greeks, who continued to fight the Persians until the Peace of Callias in 488 . . . This was a major challenge to Persian control in the eastern Mediterranean and would have caused Artaxerxes to listen seriously to such charges of sedition as he was receiving from Samaria.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 101).

King Artaxerxes I agreed to stop the Temple rebuilding after hearing the opponents’ lies4

  • Satan is the ruler of this world, and will use worldly leaders to stop you. Satan has been given temporary control over the Earth. Thus, he can influence evil or worldly leaders to stop or delay your work for Jesus: “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 Jo. 5:19). “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (Jo. 12:31). “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me;” (Jo. 14:30).

  • Satan’s power is limited and cannot stop God’s ultimate control over nations. King Artaxerxes I stopped all work “until a decree is issued by me.” (Ezra 4:21). This foreshadowed a later time when God caused King Artaxerxes I to reverse himself and allow Nehemiah to lead the Jews in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2). Artaxerxes was the most powerful man in the world. His power would have seemed scary to many. Like Artaxerxes, Satan seeks to rule over all (Is. 14:12-17). His power can seem scary at first. Yet, like Artaxerxes, God has judged him for his pride and rebellion (Rev. 20:10). Thus, you also don’t need to fear Satan. “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 Jo. 4:4). “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). ‘“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Is. 41:10). Thus, when you serve Jesus, never fear any evil ruler or leader.

7. Oppression: Satan Uses Oppression to Try to Stop Your Work for Jesus. Ezra 4:23-24.

  • The Temple opponents use force to stop the Temple rebuilding process. With King Artaxerxes I’s decree, the Temple opponents used Persian soldiers to stop all rebuilding at the Temple: “23 Then as soon as the copy of King Artaxerxes’ document was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their colleagues, they went in haste to Jerusalem to the Jews and stopped them by force of arms. 24 Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased, and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:23-24). From at least 536 B.C. until 520 B.C., all work on the Temple ceased. In 520 B.C., work on the Temple resumed when Darius the Great became King of Persia (circa 521 – 484 B.C.) (Hag. 1:1; Zech. 1:1). In 515 B.C., the Temple was finally rebuilt (Ezra 6:15). Satan can sometimes cause delays in the work for Jesus’ Kingdom. But he lacks the power to permanently stop Jesus’ work.

Ezra receives Artaxerxes I’s decree to stop the rebuilding of the Temple5

  • Rejoice in God, even in times of affliction. Even in the face of trials, Paul encourages that your faith should include “rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,” (Ro. 12:12). You can rejoice because God is in control and will protect you. Even when things feel hopeless, are you praising God for His faithfulness?

  • Trust in God when all appears lost but don’t assume that opposition is from Him. To many, things would have seemed hopeless. Yet, God wants you to place your trust in Him, even when it might appear foolish to do so. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:14). He is ultimately in control of all history. Daniel explained: “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” (Da. 2:21). “He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.” (Job 12:23). “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.” (Is. 40:15). “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Is. 40:17). “The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land.” (Ps. 10:16). “You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; . . .” (Is. 9:3(a)). “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan. 4:35). But trusting in God does not mean that you should assume that it is His will to do nothing and wait. That was a mistake that the Jews made. As will be covered in the next chapter, God had to raise up prophets to urge the Jews to act in faith.

  • The effective fervent prayer of the righteous can accomplish great things. The best answer to oppression is to pray fervently for God’s protection: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (Ja. 5:16). God also wants you to pray fervently to Him to intervene when you or others need deliverance (Ps. 3:1-6; 25:2). If you are facing oppression or persecution, are you crying out to Jesus for His intervention and protection? If you give up in the face of oppression, you let Satan win the battle.