Ezra 4 – A Time of Testing
The pattern of life with Yahweh is pretty consistent. He is predictable in His life with us. That may sound crazy with all of the unexpected things that happen, but let’s pause and take a step back to gain a broader perspective for a moment.
Let’s look at Jesus’ life as an example. An incredible moment took place when He was baptized. The Father and the Spirit were both present; the Father declaring His delight for His Son. But then the Spirit picked Him up and dropped Him in the wilderness for 40 days of the testing of His faith. The Devil tried to tempt Him into sin. When Jesus resisted the enemy, the Devil fled and the Father had His angels minister to Jesus (See Matthew 3:13-17 and 4).
This cycle became evident throughout much of Jesus’ life. He would have a time of great teaching and healing, then the Pharisees/religious leaders would come and try to trap Jesus in His words and actions. Jesus would flee and find a quiet place to recoup with the Father. Then it would all begin again.
The same is true of our text today. The post-exilic Jews returned in peace, with the king of Persia’s blessing and an abundance of materials. They began sacrificing and worshipping Yahweh again, avoiding the foreigners that the kings of Assyria and Babylon had moved there, as much as they could. But the time came where the nations around them saw that the temple was coming together and they felt threatened. They heard rumours of the power of Israel’s God. In fact, some of them had even experienced it since moving to the land after the Israelite’s were exiled:
“Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and settled them in place of the Israelites in the cities of Samaria. The settlers took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. When they first lived there, they did not fear Yahweh. So the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them. The settlers spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, ‘The nations that you have deported and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the requirements of the God of the land. Therefore He has sent lions among them that are killing them because the people don’t know the requirements of the God of the land.’
Then the king of Assyria issued a command: ‘Send back one of the priests you have deported. Have him go and live there so he can teach them the requirements of the God of the land.’ So one of the priests they had deported came and lived in Bethel, and he began to teach them how they should fear Yahweh.” 2 Kings 17:24-28
The foreigners had also been worshipping the God of Israel since moving there because the land revolted against them until they did, but they worshipped many other gods as well.
Now came the testing of the Jew’s faith. Would they let the foreigners help with building the temple? It may be hard to understand what the big issue would be with that if they served the God of Israel as well. However, the Jews would be risking the foreigner’s input in how they worshipped Yahweh if they did therefore giving them allowance to change things. Prior to the exile, certain Jewish royalty also set up idols in the temple of God to worship them as well. This was completely insulting to Yahweh. This was to be the house of God, a holy undefiled place. So, the Jews needed to make a very clear and firm “No” to outsiders and keep the building project to themselves in order to honour the commands of God.
Would the Jews stand firm in saying no to the other nations and risk further ridicule and bullying? Would they let fear and the king’s order to cease hold them back?
There are times when the LORD seems to go quiet after a beautiful spiritual moment/”high”. Life quiets down and it’s back to the grind. This is a time of testing of your faith. Are you going to continue to trust the LORD, or fall into fear and doubt?