Ezra 4:2-3 Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do
In Jesus’ day, the Jews hated the Samaritans. They went to great lengths to avoid interacting with them. Where did all this hatred come from? As with most cases of racial or ethnic bias, the roots run deep. The beginnings of the animosity are seen in this vignette about the Samaritans trying to help build the temple. They were not sincere. Ezra says they were “the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin,” yet they offered to help build the Temple? What were they doing? They were snooping around, worried about the potential power of a Jewish nation in the land. They pretended to have Jewish blood but were largely the children of idolatrous nations who practiced an apostate form of worship.
In the days of Joshua, when the Israelites moved into Canaan, they killed most of the inhabitants. Historically, the Jews had many wars with their neighbors; what could the Samaritans expect? A new Jewish presence made them very nervous. Ezra lists the nations that were worried, “the Dinaites, the Aharsathchites, the Tarpelites,” etc. (v. 9). The offer of help was more of a Trojan horse than a sincere gesture. Zerubbabel and Jeshua saw through the ruse and said, “We don’t need your help.” The tension between Jews and Samaritans had officially begun.
Ezra 4:4-5 the people… troubled them in building, And hired counselors against them, to frustrate their purpose
Every time a temple is built, Satan’s dominion on earth is lessened. Every temple success is a Satan failure. So, when the people of God up a temple, he puts up a fuss.
There never has been a time when we have commenced to build a Temple but the Devil has called upon his servants to prevent us from doing the work, if possible. It was so in Kirtland; it was so in Far West and in Illinois; and I expect it will be so here; but it will all tend to roll on the work of God. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 5: 26 - 27)
Ezra T. Benson
We are going to build a temple, we are now laying the foundation, and when it is completed we expect to receive our blessings, and do you think the devil knows this? Yes, he knows all about it, and he stirs up the wicked, and why does he do this? To hinder the people of God from obtaining the blessings they desire. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 2: 359. April 8, 1855.)
James E. Faust
I now come to some even milder forms of trying to serve the Lord without offending the devil. Having a temple recommend and not using it seems mild enough. However, if we live close to a temple, perhaps having a temple recommend but not using it may not offend the devil. Satan is offended when we use that recommend, going to the temple to partake of the spiritual protection it affords. How often do we plan to go to the temple only to have all kinds of hindrances arise to stop us from going? The devil always has been offended by our temple worship. As President Brigham Young once said about the building of temples, there are Saints who say, "I do not like to do it, for we never began to build a temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring." His answer was, "I want to hear them ring again. All the tribes of hell will be on the move, if we uncover the walls of this temple." (Finding Light in a Dark World [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 75)
Ezra 4:5-7 Cyrus king of Persia… Darius king of Persia… Ahasuerus… Artaxerxes
Ezra the priest is writing this history about 70-80 years after the events occurred. He appears to be drawing from two different sources: the first source ends at verse 5 and the second source begins at verse 7, with verse 6 being an intermediate explanatory verse by the author. This particular chapter is a chronologic conundrum. Ezra is talking about the days of Cyrus, Darius, then switches to Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes while telling a story that should happen under the reign of one of these 4 kings of Persia. Comparing external sources that detail the Persian Empire and their kings with multiple names and titles, it is difficult to identify exactly which king Ezra means. The identity of Ahasuerus is the most difficult, but important because that is the king before whom Esther appears to save the Jews who chose to remain under Persian rule rather than resettle Judea.
The take home message is that the Persian Empire was a big deal in the history of the world. Forgotten by most, its grandeur puts the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt to shame. It was much like the Roman Empire some 400 years later, extending across most of the known world, allowing the conquered peoples to live as they wish but exacting a tribute to fund the capital. The Persian kings are important as a subject of Daniel’s prophecies (Dan. 11:2).
- (550-525 BC) Cyrus II, referred to as Cyrus the Great, put the Persian Empire on the map.
- (525-522 BC) Cambyses II, conquers Egypt
- (522-486 BC) Darius I, stabilized empire, improved roads and communication
- (486-465 BC) Xerxes, beats the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae
- (465-424 BC) Artaxerxes I
- (423-405 BC) Darius II
- (405-359 BC) Artaxerxes II
- (358-338 BC) Artaxerxes III
- (338-336 BC) Artaxerxes IV
- (336-330 BC) Darius III, was conquered by Alexander the Great
Ezra 4:12-13 the rebellious and the bad city… then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom
The Samaritans are making a case for the Jews as a rebellious nation. They aren’t just making this stuff up. Zedekiah is the best example. He was made king under Nebuchadnezzar. At the time, the kingdom of Judah was a vassal state of Babylon. The Babylonians had already taken some Jews captive; they had taken some of the wealth of the temple, but Zedekiah thought he could snub his nose at Nebuchadnezzar. After paying tribute to Babylon for a few years, he decided to stop paying. He allied himself with the Egyptians against the Babylonians (2 Chron. 36:13). That was the last straw for Nebuchadnezzar who sent his armies to sack Jerusalem (Lehi and family make a run for it). That’s how the Jews got taken to Babylon in the first place.
Ezra 4:21 Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded
Rebuffed by the Jews, the Samaritan neighbors do everything they can to stop the building of the Second Temple—even to the point of writing a letter to the Persian King Artaxerxes (probably Cambyses II not Artaxerxes in the list above). They accuse the Jews of rebellion, tax evasion, sedition, insurrection, etc. (v. 11-22). “Force them to stop building this temple,” is their request. Artaxerxes (Cambyses II), not knowing any better, acquiesces.
Certainly, this was the act that engendered the greatest resentment among the Jews. Building the temple was delayed for a period of 9 to 17 years (depending on the source). When we think of the Jews hatred for the Samaritans during the Lord’s ministry, we acknowledge that it was a self-righteous, ethno-centric, religious prejudice which was unjustified. Yet, if we look far enough back in the pages of history, we can see the origins of the conflict. For the Samaritans to have the restoration of Jerusalem and its temple halted was greater than any other crime imaginable.
Such is the disposition of the Samaritans… that when the Jews are in adversity they deny that they are of kin to them, and then they confess the truth (that they are not of the lineage of Israel); but when they perceive that some good fortune hath befallen them, they immediately pretend to have communion with them, saying, that they belong to them, and derive their genealogy from the posterity of Joseph, Ephraim, and Manasseh. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI 8:6)
James E. Talmage
The illimitable hatred, rising from so many sources, found vent in the tradition that a special curse had been uttered against the Samaritans, by Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Joshua. It was said that these great ones assembled the whole congregation of Israel in the Temple, and that three hundred priests, with three hundred trumpets, and three hundred books of the Law, and three hundred scholars of the Law, had been employed to repeat, amidst the most solemn ceremonial, all the curses of the Law against the Samaritans. They had been subjected to every form of excommunication; by the incommunicable name of Jehovah; by the Tables of the Law, and by the heavenly and earthly synagogues. The very name became a reproach. “We know that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil,” said the Jews, to Jesus, in Jerusalem. (Jesus the Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 173, footnote)
Ezra 4:23 Then ceased the work of the house of God… unto the second year of the reign of Darius
Cyrus the Great had decreed that the Jews return and build their temple. In the reign of Cambyses II, the Samaritans convinced the king to order a halt to temple construction. Cambyses successor is Darius. Through the work of Zerubbabel, the high priest Jeshua, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the Jews prevail upon Darius to let them rebuild the temple. The next two chapters tell that story.