“Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the Lord God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers' houses, and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers' houses of Israel said to them, ‘You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the Lord God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us’” (Ezra 4:1-3).
Following the fall of the kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians, God’s people would remain in captivity for 70 years before they would be allowed to return to the Promised Land (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). During this time period, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians would conquer the Babylonians. In the first year of his reign, Cyrus, the king of Persia, issues a proclamation allowing God’s people to return and rebuild the House of the Lord at Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4; Isaiah 44:28).
After Cyrus issues the decree allowing God’s people to return, the children of Israel build an altar and begin offering burnt offering unto God in celebrating God’s allowing them to return (Ezra 3:1-6). They also begin laying the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:9-13). However, as the opening verses above indicate, now they begin to run into opposition from the people who were living in the land amongst them (Ezra 4:1-5).
These people first ask if they can help the Israelites rebuild the temple for they claim they also seek after God (Ezra 4:1-2). However, the heads of Israel refused their help (Ezra 4:3). Why? The initial rejection by Israel’s leaders of this offer of help from the people of the land may appear to be unkind, but was it? What was the real reason for these people of the land saying they wanted to help God’s people? Was it really because they were seeking after God or was it for some other reason?
It was for another reason. They wanted to hinder God’s people’s efforts. These people, while feigning to show support, were actually looking to undermine the efforts of God’s people. As it turns out, these foes went on to try to discourage the people, hired counselors to frustrate the purposes of God’s people, and eventually succeeded in getting the new king of Persia, Artaxerxes, to temporarily stop the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 4:4-24). To their credit, Israel’s leaders were wise enough to know what their adversaries were trying to do.
I am not suggesting we should be paranoid and question everyone’s motives. However, when a person acts in a way very contrary to what we would normally expect, we should consider why are they behaving this way? For example, if a man who you don’t know came to you and said, “I would like to take your child to the park for a day of fun” would you just let him? Would you not at least wonder, “Why does he want to do this?” and “Should I be concerned for the welfare of my child?”
God doesn’t want His people to be gullible. There is no commendation for being naïve. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Today, I will seek God’s help as I try to exercise wise discernment in the decisions I make!
“When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; Understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things” (Proverbs 2:10-12).