September 18 (Daily reading: Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137) The amazing beginning that the Hebrews made to rebuild the temple quickly ran out of steam. Their enemies came from the north, from the area of Samaria, and offered to help, saying that they had been sacrificing to the same God. Who were these people? 2 Kings 17:24 says that after the king of Assyria had taken the Israelites into exile in Babylon, he resettled Samaria with people from foreign countries. They had been there for almost two hundred years after Samaria fell. Some did sacrifice to God, along with all their other gods. Israel, trying to start over in Jerusalem, did not need this spiritual compromise! So, they said, “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God” (Ezra 4:3). This made their enemies angry, and they began a concerted effort of discouraging the rebuilding.
The first letter written back to Babylon went to King Artaxerxes, who agreed with the enemies of the Hebrews. He issued a stop work order effective immediately. “Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill” (4:24) for almost two decades. When Haggai and Zechariah presented God’s reminder that they had neglected God’s house, the work resumed. Their enemies again challenged the work. “But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews” (5:5), so the work continued.
A second letter was written to the Babylonian king, now Darius. After looking into past records, they found the decree of Cyrus stating that the temple should be rebuilt. Darius sent word to the enemies of Israel: “Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God” (6:7). They were also instructed to help the Jews, under penalty of death if they disobeyed. We again see God’s sovereignty. He moved the heart of a foreign king so that His purposes for His people could be accomplished.
– Al Gary