Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;CHAPTER 4
1. The offer of the Samaritans refused (Ezra 4:1-6)
2. The letter to King Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:7-16)
3. The king’s reply (Ezra 4:17-22)
4. The work is stopped (Ezra 4:23-24)
Ezra 4:1-6. The adversaries were the Samaritans. (There is an interesting correspondence with the book of Acts. After the Spirit of God had begun His blessed work, the enemy from without and then within started his hindering work.) They had watched silently the work of restoration and then appeared before Zerubbabel and 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 Esar-haddon, King of Assur, who brought us up hither.” These words revealed their true origin. They were a mongrel race settled by heathen kings in the conquered territory of the house of Israel, the ten tribes. We find the history relating to them in 2Kings 17:24. The king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, Cuthah, Ara, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and colonized them in Samaria. They were a wicked lot, and the LORD punished them by sending lions in their midst. Then they appealed to the Assyrian king and expressed a desire to get acquainted with the “manner of the God in the land.” Priests of Jeroboam, who were captives, were then sent to them. One of these priests taught them in Beth-el the corrupt worship which had been the downfall of the ten tribes. The result was “they feared the LORD, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places.” They served their own idols at the same time. The record saith, “Unto this day they do after the former manners, they fear not the LORD, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law and commandment which the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom He named Israel.” These Assyrians married Israelitish women who had been left in the land. (In the British Museum is a cylinder containing the annals of Esar-haddon, giving the deportation of the Israelites and the settlement of colonists in their place.) These corrupt people with their well sounding words remind us of the Gibeonites in Joshua’s day. They illustrate the wiles of the devil. The leaders of the remnant refused them participation in the building of the house of the LORD. They realized that they were a separated people and to permit these Samaritans to come in would have been disobedience to the Word of God, bringing His displeasure upon them. If they had been permitted to link themselves with the people of God, corruption and disaster would have been the result. But Zerubbabel and Jeshua endowed with divine wisdom knew that they were adversaries and had no call and no right to engage in the work of the LORD. It was a decisive reply they received. “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the King of Persia, hath commanded us.” At once they were unmasked. They turned against them, molested them, and hired counsellors against them to frustrate their purpose. They also wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. The Hebrew word (used only in this passage) is “sitnah,” cognate with the noun “Satan.” Satan was the power behind these Samaritans and their efforts to hinder the work. Their method was Satan’s method. These Samaritans may well be compared with the large masses in Christendom who have a form of godliness and deny the power thereof. Like the Samaritans the unsaved multitudes in professing Christendom pretend to serve the Lord, but they are the enemies of the Cross, and their belly is their god, they mind earthly things. The New Testament demands separation from such (2Corinthians 6:14-18; 2Timothy 3:5; 2John 1:11). Fellowship with them is disastrous, for they are only natural men, not having the Spirit and are therefore unfit for Christian fellowship, for they are serving the world and its god.
Ezra 4:7-16. Bishlam, Mithredath and Tabeel, Persians, and officials of the government, probably closely identified with the Samaritans and residents of Jerusalem, wrote a letter to King Artaxerxes. (Ahasuerus is a regal title, meaning “the venerable king”; Artaxerxes also is such a title, meaning “the great king.”) With the eighth verse begins an Aramaic section of the book, which extends to chapter 6:18. The Syrian tongue was Aramaic. The letter is a very cunningly devised document, full of misrepresentation and falsehood, inspired by him who is “the liar, and the father of it.” They accused the Jews of building Jerusalem and setting up the wall. This was a falsehood, for only the house was being built and not the wall or the city. What they said about the city, its former character of rebellion, was true, and the accuser made use of the past sins of the nation. But God had again been gracious to His people and turned their captivity. Reminding the king of the possible danger if the city were built again and fortified by a wall; and the loss of revenue, they inspired fear in the king’s heart. The same accuser of the brethren, liar and falsifier, who stood behind these letter writers, is still at work and will continue till he is cast out (Rev. 12).
Ezra 4:17-22. The king received the letter and instituted a search into the former history of Jerusalem, which verified what the letter claimed, and he commanded at once that the city should not be built. The falsehood that they were building the city and the wall was not discovered. The enemy was successful. Yet a faithful God watched over it all.
Ezra 4:23-24. We can well imagine that when the letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai and their companions, with what a feverish haste they must have rushed up to Jerusalem, and made them cease from the work by force and power. “Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius, King of Persia.” The remnant was severely tested, and at that time there set in a decline. The former energy seems to have left them, as we find when we consider Haggai’s message. Nor do we read anything at the close of this chapter about turning to the LORD in prayer.