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From 536 BC until 522 BC, work on the temple comes to a halt. The opposition of Israel enemies is in part the problem, but another part is the priority given by the settlers to building their own houses and preparing the land for crops. The record of opposition contains various correspondence between Israel’s enemies and the Persian leaders by whom the resettlement is being permitted.
Notice Chapter 4 describes three different strategies used to hinder God’s people. . .
- offer help that will lead to compromises or even a complete takeover of the project by unbelievers (verses 1 – 3)
- discourage, frighten and frustrate God’s people (verses 4 and 5)
- use official power to force them to stop (verses 23 and 24)
Now, as then, government and opposition groups use these strategies to stymie believers.
1. “The pen is mightier than the sword” – when has that proved true for you? Do you fight better with words or with your fists?
2. Fighting with words. Do you tend to pout? Provoke? Tease? Ridicule? Do you get your best zingers by thinking quickly on your feet or by composing your words on paper?
3. Xerxes reigned from 486 – 465 BC and Artaxerxes I from 465 – 424 BC. How does the opposition under their reigns compare to the opposition under King Cyrus (see chapter 4:1 – 6)? How do you account for the perseverance and intensifying of this conflict over such a span of years?
4. Ashurbanipal squelched a major revolt in Babylonia (652 – 648 BC), destroying the town of Susa (verse 9) in the process and deported the rebels (verse 10). What irony do you see in what Rehum (and the other descendants of those rebels) are doing 200 years later?
5. What was their letter designed to do (verses 11 – 16)? How is that related to what transpired 100 years earlier (under the reign of Cyrus)?
6. What is the three-pronged appeal of Rehum’s letter? What is this plaintiff more concerned about?
- city building code violations?
- political issues?
- advancing his own cause?
- revenging himself and his people on Israel?
- something else?
7. What effect did this letter have on Artaxerxes? On Rehum and associates? On the Jews? And later, on Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 1:3ff, where it is believed he hears news of this episode)?
8. What does Ezra conclude? What happens in the second year of King Darius’ rule (verse 24; Haggai 1:1 – 5; Zechariah 1:1 – 17)?
9. Rehum’s complaints against Israel reminds us that our past sometimes lives on to haunt us. Where do you see that proving true today in national or international affairs? In TV evangelists? In churches and denominations? In your personal and family life?
10. When one party says they alone are the true worshipers of God, and all others are a mixed breed, what might be expected in return? How else do you account for the opposition mounted against ancient Israel?
11. On the other hand, why was Israel right to insist on religious exclusivity and spiritual purity? Today, when might it be valid to assert one’s expression of the faith as the only way? Over against whom? Other denominations? Cults? State religion? Government interference?