“When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said,
‘Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.'” (Ezra 4:1 & 2)
Enter our peoples around. They’ve been watching. Our exiles have rebuilt the altar. They’ve begun sacrificing and resuming their holy days and feasts. And now the foundation is laid.
The sounds of joy and weeping, not to mention the trumpets, have been heard from far away.
And so they come.
Do you remember who our peoples around are? They are Samaritans, mostly peoples of surrounding nations the King of Assyria had brought in 180 or so years ago to replace the 10 Northern tribes he had drug out. These foreigners intermarried with any Israelites who remained in the land. In addition, due to a situation with lions, the peoples around were instructed on how to worship the God of Israel.
However, their worship was mixed with worship of other gods.
This is not a good idea.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob demands all our allegiance. Not for some sort of insecurity on His part. But for sanity, peace, and joy on our part.
And because He’s worthy.
As readers, we have the advantage of seeing the Samaritans described as “the enemies of Judah and Benjamin.” We know allowing them to help is probably not a good idea. But what will our exiles do?
“But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered,
‘You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.”
This looks harsh. Why not accept help? And why so blunt?
It is hard for us to understand what it was like during Old Testament Israel to have God’s emphasis on one nation. It was a savage world. Every nation for themselves. No United Nations or rules of engagement.
When the God of Angel Armies fought for tiny Israel, everyone knew their God was mighty.
But everyone also had their gods. It was a polytheistic world. Worshiping only one god was ridiculous. You had to appease different gods for different things. Want your crops to grow? Make sure you’re good and sacrifice to that god. Need to have lots of children? Placate the god of fertility.
And our band of exiles had learned experientially what happens when they try to represent to the watching world the Most High God Who created all and worship the gods of other nations: captivity.
So being firm and declining their enemies’ “help” was a stand of obedience ensuring that the Temple they rebuild to worship Covenant Yahweh wasn’t mixed with idolatry.
How about us? I’m so grateful worshiping the One True God is no longer connected to a national identity or His Presence subjected to the Temple.
During this time on God’s kingdom calendar, the flood gates are wide open. With the coming of Jesus and the outpouring of His Spirit, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation are hearing about and bowing down to the One Who seeks those who worship Him in spirit and truth.
But as His followers, we still show a watching world what He is like. And when we’re tempted to take our allegiance to Him and mix it with devotion to lesser things, our worship, too, is tainted with idolatry.
Asking myself at the same time: what is it for you?
Your reputation? Money? Success? Comfort? Control? Security?
And if any of those are of higher allegiance in our hearts than Him, how will we know? And what will we do?
I believe the answer is: His Word.
Without the clarity that comes from the Sharp Sword, we so easily get confused. And I don’t just mean we should read once in a while or at church.
Bathe your mind in the Truth of the Holy Scriptures. Memorize and meditate. Let it rewire your brain. Let it expose your idols. Ask Him to give you a pure heart. He is merciful and a Good Shepherd. He will walk us through our struggles.
The world is watching. Let’s show them He alone satisfies.
And invite them to bow down.