“Stick With the Truth”
Ezra 4

Just for a moment, let’s say, that you have never seen an acorn or an oak tree. If I were to take you outside and show you a mature oak tree and then put an acorn in your hand, and tell you that the tree came from that nut in your hand, if you didn’t already know, you might find it difficult to believe. 

Or let’s say you had never studied metamorphosis in school and I were to show you a caterpillar and tell you that one day it would be a beautiful butterfly, would you believe it? Especially when the caterpillar puts a cocoon around itself and hides out. But when you see a fragile winged beautiful creature emerge, it’s a miracle. 

Because of our familiarity with these examples we may not recognize the wonder of the acorn or caterpillar. In fact, scientifically speaking the butterfly is not even supposed to be able to fly! But it does. 
This same familiarity can overcome us when we read about the saints who have gone before us and have endured difficulties. It’s almost like we take it for granted that they succeed. Well, it’s not. It’s a miracle! The same goes for those around us who go through difficulties. 

God is still keeping His Word. He is still working through those who chose to do what God says and who set themselves apart for Him. For those who remain faithful in spite of the difficulties which come their way, whether in the form of crafty invitations to compromise or in overt threats. God’s people shine the light on evil when they stand up for what is right. Although it may not seem possible, like the acorn and the caterpillar, oaks and butterflies appear, and it’s against all odds, which allows God to be the only one who can be credited for the victory. 

Let’s put this into the context of what we have been reading in Ezra. The exiles who returned to Jerusalem were living out God keeping His promises. 
Prophets had said that God would save His people and restore them to the land like the exodus from Egypt. It begins to happen in Chapter 1, Ezra tells about the new exodus. Chapter 2, they marched onto the land and were numbered, just as in the book of Numbers.  In Chapter 3, they celebrate the Festival of Booths, worshipping God for His faithfulness. Sounds pretty good, right? Do you recall what happened after the first exodus? You can read about it in the book of Joshua, they conquer the land but they failed to make sure the Canaanites followed God’s law. What was the result? It can be found in the book of Judges, the Israelites became like those around them, and because of this were eventually driven out of the land. 

Round two – they returned to the land, and again faced a challenge from the Canaanites. It’s like a bad penny. Will history repeat itself? Will they decide to compromise? Sure would make life easier. Or, will they maintain purity and holiness, which is bound to bring about difficulties?

Last week we left chapter 3 with the people making such a loud noise they could be heard “far away.” As we read at the beginning of chapter 4, the enemies heard that noise. 

“When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came…”

Note, Ezra introduces these people as “enemies.” Yet, they do claim to worship Yahweh. You can read the full story regarding them in 2 Kings, chapter 17. They offer to assist the Israelites in their building of the temple. To which the heads of the families of Israel, say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” 

Let’s reflect on this for a minute. 

It sounds like this conversation happened immediately, however, I suspect, Zerubbabel and the heads of the families must have had a meeting of some sort and their discussion could have sounded something like this:

“Someone is willing to help, I say why not?”
“They say they worship Yahweh, but I doubt it. They are Canaanites you know?”
“Well, they also have more than we do, more resources, more power, and they have been living here longer.” 
“If we don’t let them, they might get angry, then we will be in trouble.” 
“They’re wolves in sheeps clothing. God told us to build this temple. I say we do what God says.”

They could have used their help, but in the end, the small, vulnerable group of returnees, decided it was more important to appease God than to appease their neighbors. 

Choices like this come to us today as well. The choice to compromise our principles in order not to offend people who could help us, or not to look different. The decision comes between trusting in God and doing what He says, or doing what the world says makes sense? 

Let’s say the Israelites had agreed to let these people help them. Yahweh was a holy God, having idolaters assisting in building the temple would have made Him angry. Plus, the idolaters would have had a stake in any temple they helped to build. Which meant they would have had an influence. 

This image comes from James Hamilton, Jr., “Imagine a battalion fighting to plant their flag on the hilltop. If they betray everything the flag stands for in the fight to the top of the hill, what have they accomplished when they plant that flag? If they adopt all the practices of their enemies in their desperation to win the battle, have they defeated their enemies?” 

Here is where the proof is in the pudding. If the outsiders truly were worshippers of Yahweh, and their real goal had been to see that a temple was built for Him, what would have been their most likely response? Perhaps, something like, “Okay, can we at least stand watch and protect you while you build?”

Instead, we read, in verses four and five, “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

They could have cared less about the temple of Yahweh, They wanted influence and control. 

Stop for a minute, and recognize what the returnees received as a response to their faithfulness to God. In their refusal to compromise, you would think they would have been blessed. Instead, they received opposition that began with their refusal to accept help, in 539 BC and lasted until Nehemiah built a wall, 94 years later, in 445 BC. There may have been some who said, “No thanks,” and died before seeing the temple built. 
This opposition began with a letter from the commanding officer and the secretary, to Artaxerxes, the king. In this letter you can see the worldview of the inhabitants of the land, which was at odds with the worldview of those following Yahweh. Verse 12, states that the worldly inhabitants of the land regard holiness to Yahweh as “rebellious and evil.” Should the king allow them to continue to build, then the king will lose money, verse 13. In verse 14 their allegiance goes from Yahweh, as they claimed to those building the temple, to the palace. Seems their allegiance goes wherever it deems most profitable. The letter continues by encouraging the king to check it out for himself by reading the history books. The reason Jerusalem was destroyed in the first place was because it was “rebellious,” “harmful,” and a place of “revolts.” Oh, and by the way, this letter notes the rebuilding of the walls and the city and does not mention the rebuilding of the temple at all. 
There you have it. Since the beginning of time, with the serpent in the garden, the ability to take a smidgeon of truth, twist it, give it a worldly spin, and without discernment, it sounds convincing. 

Verses 19-20 tells us Artaxerxes did exactly that. He didn’t analyze what had been written. He was taken in, he found the degree of truth between the allegations and what had happened in history and decreed that the rebuilding stop, until he said it could begin again. By the way, this is the same Artaxerxes of whom Nehemiah was the cupbearer.

Back to the example of the acorn and caterpillar, the acorn seems to be dead in the ground, the caterpillar seems to be dead in its cocoon. The returnees were dead in their tracks against the forces of those enemies around them. Or were they? 

Tune in next week when Ezra will return to the work on the temple and its completion in chapters 5-6. 

We see this community of returned exiles struggling through opposition. Jesus had His share of trouble from the world, as did Paul, and the church throughout her existence has been slandered and opposed. The early Christians endured all kinds of lies and distortions—claims that they were cannibals because they partook of the Lord’s Supper, claims that they were incestuous because they referred to spouses as “brother” and “sister” in the Lord.

Jesus told His disciples in John 16:31-33 after they declared they finally understood Him to be from God, with 
Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

Sticking with the truth isn’t just a problem with a worldview. Somehow, telling the truth for Christians can be difficult. The world view, that in order to be accepted you need to be doing everything well, has infiltrated itself into the church. Christians may be able to tell God what’s really going on, but feel shame in telling other brothers and sisters in Christ. As the body of Christ, we need to be honest with each other and then we need to accept each other, with our pains and failures. We are living in the midst of a worldly pandemic. 
People are hurting and people are dying. Pandemics affect people physically but they also affect people emotionally. May we be honest with our pain and may we be able to hear those in pain and reach out with love. 

Matthew West says it clearly in his explanation of his song, “Truth Be Told.” 
The Story behind, “The Truth Be Told”
May you be so close to God this week, you can discern the truth, and then have the strength to stick to it.  

Let’s pray.