I’ve flown in airplanes a number of times in my life. While I don’t seek out more air travel in the future, I will probably need to fly at least a few more times in my life, in order to keep some promises to my wife for visiting various locales!
At one point in an journey by airplane, there’s a point where the plane has finally gotten to the runway, and the pilot throttles up the engines. The plane finally starts to move at speed (after having been slowly taxiing for a while), and this moment is encouraging for those of us eager to get to our destination. We aren’t there yet, but we’re at least moving! During this process, there’s a moment where the noise of the landing gear stops, as the plane loses direct contact with the runway. At this point, the plane is airborne, but (at least for normal fixed-wing craft) without the opportunity to speed up along the runway, the plane couldn’t generate lift. Without some time to get up to speed, the plane would remain on the ground.
Sometimes, studying the Bible is the same way. If we jump in to an account or a lesson without any context, it might be difficult for us to get “off the ground”, so to speak, in our understanding of what God has to say to us.
Today’s article is about context to the next mini-series from Ezra 4 and 5, which are actually going “back” (from the previous mini-series) in the book of Ezra and catching up on some events recorded in chapters 4 and 5. The context to the text of the next few articles (or, the “runway” leading up to Ezra 4:12) is important. Jumping directly into verse 12 of chapter 4 might seem a little strange: by itself, it doesn’t even tell us who is talking!
Ezra 4 starts with a description of other people being antagonistic to the construction of the temple. For instance, consider verses 4 and 5.
Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Ezra 4:4-5 NIV
With that as a key point, if I could summarize the first 16 verses of that chapter, it might look like this:
- Verses 1-2: A group of people, referred to as “the enemies of Judah and Benjamin”, hears about the temple being rebuilt, and they offer to help. In fact, they say that they have been sacrificing to the Jewish people’s God themselves, which [per Schoville] may have been the case, but probably not to the exclusion of other gods.
- Verse 3: Israelite leaders (including this guy named Zerubbabel) decline their enemies’ help, and refer back to King Cyrus’s decree, instructing them to rebuild God’s temple.
- Verses 4-5: People around the Israelites start to make trouble for them. Words like “discourage”, “make them afraid”, “bribed”, and “frustrate” show up [in the NIV, and similar terms in the NASB].
- Verses 6-7: The timeline of this section isn’t as clear, but regardless of when it occurred, people “lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.”. And, several people are listed who write a letter to King Artaxerxes.
- Verses 8-16: Furthermore (also during the time of King Artaxerxes), a third protest is lodged. A copy of that letter, along with the context, is included here. The letter accuses the people of Jerusalem of preparing to cut ties with the king and no longer pay taxes. It also suggests that Jerusalem has a history of rebellion.
It is near the start of this particular letter that the next article picks up (ready to “take off” after the runway described above). I hope you’ll join me for the next part of this study, but feel free to read Ezra in its entirety, though, and not rely on my limited comments!
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 15, 2023
- The Lookout, January 15, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville. © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. 1706, via BibleGateway.com.