The mixed population of the land was the forefathers of the Samaritans mentioned in the New Testament. They were not true Jews. When the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., they relocated people from outside into the capital city of Samaria. This led to intermingling in marriage with the Jews there (2 Kings 17:23-41). This was a common tactic used by the Assyrians to prevent insurrections.
These were the people who opposed the work. At first they were deceitful. They offered to help claiming they worshiped the same God, but their worship mixed the worship of the LORD and other gods (2 Kings 17:29, 32-34, 41). They probably said they wanted to help only to sidetrack the project from within. Zerubbabel and the people flatly refused their help.
When that did not work, they did a frontal attack with harassment all the way to the time of Darius who ruled from 521-486 B.C. The temple was finally completed in 515 B.C. (4:24).
The letters of Ezra 4:6-23 are chronologically out of order. Here is the order from Ezra 4-10:
Ezra 4:1-5 (Cyrus, 559-530) (Reigns of Cambyses [530-522] and Smerdis )
Haggai (Darius I, 521-486)Zechariah 1:1-8:23Ezra 4:24-6:22
Zechariah 9:1-14:21Esther (Xerxes/Ahasuerus, 485-465)Ezra 4:6-23 (Xerxes/Ahasuerus - Artaxerxes, 464-424)
Ezra 7:1-10:44 (Artaxerxes)
They are here to show that the harassment lasted all the way to the reign of Xerxes in 485 B.C. These letters were written during the reign of King Artaxerxes, and the events during his reign are in Ezra 7-10. Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26 are in Aramaic which was the trade language of the day.
The letters summarize the story of the opposition to building the temple, walls, and other buildings in Jerusalem. Ashurbanipal (669-627 B.C.) is mentioned. He was the Assyrian king who completed the relocation of the captives from the northern kingdom of Israel. When he died, the Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians in 612 B.C.
The "long history of revolt against kings" mentioned by Artaxerxes might have been referring to history of former kings like Solomon (1 Kings 4:21) and Zedekiah (2 Chronicles 36:13). The letters caused the work to stop until the reign of Darius (521-486 B.C., Ezra 4:24).
I am reading Ezra and drinking Earl Grey in my half-full/half-empty cup and was feeling a bit discouraged this morning until I started reading this chapter. I am reminded that the glass really is half-full when we walk with God, and we do not need to be discouraged!
I remember reading in this part of the Bible during a time of tremendous discouragement in ministry. A woman spread unsubstantiated rumors about me in the midst of a very fruitful and wonderful Bible study. She was jealous of my leadership, and she wanted me to stop. It was so hard to continue under such intense scrutiny and suspicion. One person believed the rumors and dropped out of the study and still holds me at arm's length today, but most are still my dear friends. I just got off the phone with one of them thanking her for her encouragement during that stressful time. She was the strongest of the people who exhorted me to "Build on!"
As for the woman who spread the rumors, a few years later, she abandoned her husband and children and left our city, never to be seen again.
I really wanted to quit, but God gave me such encouragement through the leadership of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah!
Are you discouraged and want to quit? Take encouragement from the life of Zerubbabel who saw the project through to the end.
Can you see things through to the end despite opposition?
Lord, when we face opposition for something we know You have called us to do, may we not listen to the lies of the enemy but to Your still, small voice that tells us to carry on. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.