1The enemies of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people had come back to rebuild the temple of the Lord God of Israel. 2 So they went to Zerubbabel and to the family leaders and said, “Let us help! Ever since King Esarhaddon of Assyria brought us here, we have worshiped your God and offered sacrifices to him.”
3But Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the family leaders answered, “You cannot take part in building a temple for the Lord our God! We will build it ourselves, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded us.”
4Then the neighboring people began to do everything possible to frighten the Jews and to make them stop building. 5During the time that Cyrus was king and even until Darius became king, they kept bribing government officials to slow down the work.
Work on the Temple
24 The Jews were forced to stop work on the temple and were not able to do any more building until the year after Darius became king of Persia.
One of the things I love about my job is the partnership with other youth working organizations. I get such energy when we join up together to achieve something, and quite frankly it’s comforting to know we’re all in this together.
When something comes in the way of working with others, it can be really discouraging. I can imagine as you’re reading this you’re thinking of a situation, maybe a person who had selfish motives, or someone who couldn’t let go of power. I’ve often struggled to hand over responsibility. People get in the way – I’ve gotten in the way.
The simply inconvenient truth is that life is complex and people are complicated. What complicates life for Christians is that we are battling our sinful natures while we are seeking to be transformed by God.
The more one reads the Old Testament the more one sees how complicated the relationships in Israel were. The exiled people, who were mostly from the Southern Kingdom (Judah and Benjamin), have now returned to rebuild the temple, but the Samaritans (the mingled people who were partly descendants of the ancient remnant of the Northern Kingdom) have other ideas. This passage is full of hidden motives and insecurities.
If in verse 1 the Samaritans are called “enemies,” it’s fair to suggest that their offer “of help” in verse 2 is very suspect. And so Zerubbabel and company have to make the tough decision to decline their offer. They are effectively saying no to the offer of help from the Samaritans. Being inclusive is complicated and not always possible.
The temple builders stayed true to their convictions however, but there were consequences (v.24). The Samaritans had revealed their true intent, which was to stop the building of the temple. Their opposition to the temple building was probably due to fear that their position in the land would become inferior. For the returned exiles the standstill on the rebuilding of the temple turned out to be a very large bump in the road!
God, give us the strength to remain true to our calling. Give us the wisdom and courage to say no when we have to, but never allow ourselves to think we are superior to anyone else. Amen.