We have here an instance of the old enmity that was put between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. God’s temple cannot be built, but Satan will rage, and the gates of hell will fight against it. The gospel kingdom was, in like manner, to be set up with much struggling and contention. In this respect the glory of the latter house was greater than the glory of the former, and it was more a figure of the temple of Christ’s church, in that Solomon built his temple when there was no adversary nor evil occurrent, (1 Kgs. 5:4); but this second temple was built notwithstanding great opposition, in the removing and conquering of which, and the bringing of the work to perfection at last in spite of it, the wisdom, power, and goodness of God were much glorified, and the church was encouraged to trust in him.
I. The undertakers are here called the children of the captivity (Ezra 4:1), which makes them look very little. They had newly come out of captivity, were born in captivity, had still the marks of their captivity upon them; though they were not now captives, they were under the control of those whose captives they had lately been. Israel was God’s son, his first-born; but by their iniquity the people sold and enslaved themselves, and so became children of the captivity. But, it should seem, the thought of their being so quickened them to this work, for it was by their neglect of the temple that they lost their freedom.
II. The opposers of the undertaking are here said to be the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, not the Chaldeans or Persians (they gave them no disturbance—“let them build and welcome”), but the relics of the ten tribes, and the foreigners that had joined themselves to them, and patched up that mongrel religion we had an account of, 2 Kgs. 17:33. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods too. They are called the people of the land, Ezra 4:4. The worst enemies Judah and Benjamin had were those that said they were Jews and were not, Rev. 3:9.
III. The opposition they gave had in it much of the subtlety of the old serpent. When they heard that the temple was in building they were immediately aware that it would be a fatal blow to their superstition, and set themselves to oppose it. They had not power to do it forcibly, but they tried all the ways they could to do it effectually.
1. They offered their service to build with the Israelites only that thereby they might get an opportunity to retard the work, while they pretended to further it. Now, (1.) Their offer was plausible enough, and looked kind: “We will build with you, will help you to contrive, and will contribute towards the expense; for we seek your God as you do,” Ezra 4:2. This was false, for, though they sought the same God, they did not seek him only, nor seek him in the way he appointed, and therefore did not seek him as they did. Herein they designed, if it were possible, to hinder the building of it, at least to hinder their comfortable enjoyment of it; as good almost not have it as not have it to themselves, for the pure worship of the true God and him only. Thus are the kisses of an enemy deceitful; his words are smoother than butter when war is in his heart. But, (2.) The refusal of their proffered service was very just, Ezra 4:3. The chief of the fathers of Israel were soon aware that they meant them no kindness, whatever they pretended, but really designed to do them a mischief, and therefore (though they had need enough of help if it had been such as they could confide in) told them plainly, “You have nothing to do with us, have no part nor lot in this matter, are not true-born Israelites nor faithful worshippers of God; you worship you know not what, John 4:22. You are none of those with whom we dare hold communion, and therefore we ourselves will build it.” They plead not to them the law of their God, which forbade them to mingle with strangers (though that especially they had an eye to), but that which they would take more notice of, the king’s commission, which was directed to them only: “The king of Persia has commanded us to build this house, and we shall distrust and affront him if we call in foreign aid.” Note, In doing good there is need of the wisdom of the serpent, as well as the innocency of the dove, and we have need, as it follows there, to beware of men, Matt. 10:16, 17. We should carefully consider with whom we are associated and on whose hand we lean. While we trust God with a pious confidence we must trust men with a prudent jealousy and caution.
2. When this plot failed they did what they could to divert them from the work and discourage them in it. They weakened their hands by telling them it was in vain to attempt it, calling them foolish builders, who began what they were not able to finish, and by their insinuations troubled them, and made them drive heavily in the work. All were not alike zealous in it. Those that were cool and indifferent were by these artifices drawn off from the work, which wanted their help, Ezra 4:4. And because what they themselves said the Jews would suspect to be ill meant, and not be influenced by, they, underhand, hired counsellors against them, who, pretending to advise them for the best, should dissuade them from proceeding, and so frustrate their purpose (Ezra 4:5), or dissuade the men of Tyre and Sidon from furnishing them with the timber they had bargained for (Ezra 3:7); or whatever business they had at the Persian court, to solicit for any particular grants or favours, pursuant to the general edict for their liberty, there were those that were hired and lay ready to appear of counsel against them. Wonder not at the restlessness of the church’s enemies in their attempts against the building of God’s temple. He whom they serve, and whose work they are doing, is unwearied in walking to and fro through the earth to do mischief. And let those who discourage a good work, and weaken the hands of those that are employed in it, see whose pattern they follow.