Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity built the temple to the LORD God of Israel;…
No sooner had the "children of the captivity begun their good work of rebuilding the house of the Lord than difficulties began to arise. They found, as we find, that the work of God does not proceed smoothly from beginning to end, as, at the outset, we are apt to think it will; that from without and from within obstacles and discouragements spring up and beset us. They soon found that they had to do with -
I. A PROFFERED ALLIANCE (vers. 1, 2). Their neighbours, the Samaritans, a mixed people, composed in part of the remnant of the ten tribes and in part of the Assyrians deported by Esar-haddon from their own country and planted there, made offers of alliance. Moved by jealousy, thinking that the name and fame of a temple at Jerusalem would eclipse anything of the kind they had, perhaps fearing lest it should win the hearts of the people away from the "mongrel religion" which they had adopted - a miserable compromise between pure religion and gross superstition - they came proposing to make common cause with the returned Israelites. "Let us unite our forces," they said. "We will build together; this temple, erected by our joint labours, shall be common property: we worship the same God whom you worship, and there need not be any separation between us." Thus impurity approaches purity; thus error seeks alliance with truth; thus worldliness addresses piety. "Let us walk together," it says. "We will sink our differences; we will keep unpleasant divergencies of conviction in abeyance, and stroll together in sweet communion along the path of life." Here was -
II. A POWERFUL TEMPTATION. Jeshua - and still more Zerubbabel, who was answerable for the peace and order of the community - may well have thought that it was a time for conciliation. The little state was not yet fairly established. It was still in its very infancy, and might well shrink from the field of contention. It was a time when they might excusably go far in the direction of peace. Would it not be wrong, by any churlishness or obstinacy on small points or narrowness of view, to plunge the infant Church into strife, perhaps mortal strife, with those who had so much in common with them, and whom charity might consider brethren? What a pity to endanger the work in hand and, it might be, bring everything to failure when the prospects of success were so bright, if, by entering on an alliance with these men, they could insure the consummation of their hopes! Perchance, too, they might win these men to a purer faith; the sight of the temple on its old site, the performance of the old rites, the singing of the old psalms, etc. might purge their hearts of the evil leaven that had crept in, etc. Thus their minds may have been agitated by doubt and distraction, questioning whether they should have a perilous alliance or a defiant and dangerous isolation. So purity, truth, piety find themselves courted by those who are their adversaries, but who speak with the voice and use the language of friendship. And often do they find themselves greatly tempted to make peace and enter into alliance. Sometimes they do, and disastrous is the' result. Like the Rhone and the Arve outside Geneva, the pure blue waters of the one flow for some time side by side, without mingling, with the muddy and earth-discoloured waters of the other; but farther down they intermix, and the blueness and the purity are gone! But here we have -
III. A STOUT-HEARTED REFUSAL (ver. 3). Zerubbabel and Jeshua peremptorily declined the offered alliance. "Ye have nothing to do with us." "We ourselves will build," etc. (ver. 3). Whatever inward conflict there might have been, there was no vagueness or hesitancy in their answer. It was explicit and downright, as an answer should be to a deceitful offer. It was seen to be their duty to keep apart from men whose association would too probably have ended in corruption, and they dared all consequences. First purity, then peace (James 3:17). Let there be no compromise when the maintenance of principle is at stake. There is far more to lose than to gain in having the help of those who are not really and heartily at one with us. Mere matters of detail are things for arrangement, and it is often wise and Christian to forego our preferences for the sake of brotherly accord. But when great and vital truths are at stake, truths on which human hearts live, truths which heal and save and sanctify the soul, truths for the purity and integrity of which we exist to testify, then let us put our foot firmly down, and, risking misrepresentation and attack, say, "Ye have nothing to do with us." We must walk apart. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel;