While we have an enemy, we also have the power to resist him. While he is a deceptive snake, he is not particularly unpredictable. His methods to oppose God and God’s people have been exposed . . . his tactics have been revealed in Scripture. And as I read Ezra 4 this morning it seems to provide some great insight into the enemy’s “playbook” . . .
Context . . . after 70 years in Babylonian captivity, God’s people end up under “new management” — the king of Babylon is defeated by the king of Persia, Cyrus. The Lord stirs up Cyrus’ heart to allow the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1). And so, 42,360 men, with their wives and kids, gather up their belongings, load up the treasures donated by those staying behind, and head back to Jerusalem to rebuild it. And they start work immediately on restoring the temple . . . the place of sacrifice . . . the place of worship . . . the place to which they beckon the presence of God.
And things are off to a good start (Ezra 3). Then in Ezra 4 some new players are introduced to the scene . . . they are identified as “the adversaries” (ESV) or “the enemies” (NIV). . . they are those who oppose the work of God. A reminder that whenever God’s people are doing God’s work they can expect to be opposed by God’s enemies. Check out their escalating tactics . . .
First, they try to infiltrate. “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do” (Ezra 4:2). They try to compromise the effort by joining it . . . to slow down and derail the work from the inside . . . to entice the people into an unholy union with the enemies of God as they portray themselves as friends of God. If they succeed here, it’s mission accomplished. This is the strategy the enemy deploys first and I fear it is far too often way too successful. If the enemy can convince God’s people to let him in and “help out” he gains a huge victory . . . compromising not only the work, but God’s people themselves. Oh, how we need to be on guard against our adversary and stand fast on his “undercover advances” to let him in . . . to convince us to partner with the world in the work of God. It’s a trick!!! Don’t buy it!!! Back to Ezra . . .
When that doesn’t work it says, “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose . . . ” (4:4-5a). Can’t get inside? . . . then the enemy will seek to discourage, and trouble, and frustrate God’s people. Still nothing too overt as King Cyrus is still around and supports the work . . . so they just whisper in their ears . . . and hire professional learned counselors to tell them they’ll never make it . . . like a river eroding the banks they subtly throw up barriers and speak words of discouragement. The enemy tries to convince God’s people to give up . . . forget the work . . . forget the pursuit of God . . . it won’t really make a difference anyhow. But Ezra and the people resist and keep on keepin’ on.
But then a new king comes on the scene . . . the air cover is gone . . . and the enemy becomes a little more open as “they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” and sent it to the new king (4:6). They work the political process to stop God’s people from doing God’s work . . . writing a letter to the king telling him that he had better stop the work as these Jews are just trouble makers. They take partial truths and fabricate a threat that doesn’t exist. And then, when the king orders the work on the temple to stop, these enemies show their full colors, “they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease” (4:23). Open opposition . . . stopping the work by force.
What insight to our enemy and his strategies . . . join ’em and compromise ’em . . . if that doesn’t work, trouble ’em and discourage ’em . . . if that doesn’t work, accuse ’em . . . if that doesn’t work, physically oppress ’em. That’s what God’s people doing God’s work can expect.
Paul says, that as believers, we should be on to how the enemy works, “that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2Cor. 2:11). Paul also reminds us that God has provided us with a complete, sufficient, and effective set of armor that we might “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). How often we concede the battle on the first tactic rather than resisting the enemies advances in the power of the Spirit.
God wants us to stand firm and set our hearts completely on doing the work He’s given us . . . knowing there will be opposition . . . but knowing too that in Him we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37) . . . by His grace . . . and for His glory. Amen?