Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
When we faithfully carry out God’s work, Satan will often stand against us. This is to be expected, as he opposes anything that would bring glory to God. The Bible identifies Satan as “your enemy” (1 Peter 5:8) or “adversary” (ESV).
In today’s reading, the same word is used for the “enemies of Judah and Benjamin” (Ezra 4:1). These people are local residents in Samaria (to the north of Judea) who were brought in by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon after he conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC (v. 2; 2 Kings 17:22–24). Many had intermarried with the remaining Jews. Though an Israelite priest had been sent to educate them in the ways of God, they continued to worship their own gods, practising a syncretistic (mixed) religion which dishonoured the Lord and produced new forms of idolatry (2 Kings 17:27–41). These are the enemies who are now trying to disrupt God’s work.
They offer to help the building project and claim to worship God (Ezra 4:2). But the leaders of the Jews see through their ploy and tell them, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God” (v. 3). They have enough discernment to spot spiritual danger. Had they gone ahead and accepted the help of their unspiritual enemies, the work would have suffered and God would have been dishonoured. Idolatry would have crept in, and the enemies would have claimed that the temple was the work of their hands.
In the New Testament, Simon the Sorcerer in Samaria (the same place that many of these enemies came from) offered the apostles Peter and John money to give him the spiritual power they possessed. Peter rebuked him, saying, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:21). That is the problem with those who slyly offer to help the Jews with their building project: their hearts are not right with God, and they are not really worshippers of God.
The leaders give a reasonable answer to their enemies. Cyrus had authorised only the Jewish returnees to build the temple (Ezra 4:3). Spurned, the enemies begin psychological warfare, finding ways to threaten and discourage the Jews by bribing officials to impede the work (vv. 4–5).
We should not be surprised to encounter opposition of various kinds when we are faithfully carrying out God’s work. They can come either as hostile actions or friendly offers that hide subtle spiritual dangers. Satan can be like a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) as well as a deceiving “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). In the first case, we need faithfulness and courage. In the second, we need vigilance and discernment, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of the godly.
How might Satan use human beings as his agents? Why do you think Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13)?
What are the dangers of joining hands with those whose hearts are not right with God in doing God’s work (2 Corinthians 6:14)?