Posted: 03 Jan 2011 11:00 PM PST
IN THIS BROKEN WORLD, THERE WILL ALWAYS be people who try, in one way or another, to discourage and defeat the people of God. Add such people to the discouragements and failures that surface from within, and circumstances can appear desperately bleak and foreboding.
In Ezra 4, the enemies of the returned exiles try three distinct approaches, all of them aimed at defeating this small community of God's people.
The first is to make common cause with them. It sounds so good: "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 4:2). Unwary people might have been taken in. There is always a place for genuine unity, of course, but unbridled ecumenism inevitably results in redefining the Gospel in terms of the lowest possible denominator. One of the best ways to divert a committee is to pack it with your own supporters. Pretending support, you take something over and deploy its energies in some innocuous direction, like a cancerous growth that usurps the body's energies for its own aggrandizement. The strategy does not work in this case, because the leaders of God's people, far from congratulating themselves that help has arrived, refuse to be taken in. They turn down the offer. This precipitates a different strategy from the opponents, one that unmasks their true colors.
The second approach is "to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building" (Ezra 4:4). Some of their plan is disclosed in the book of Ezra; even more of it surfaces in Nehemiah. So committed are these opponents to the failure of God's people that they even hire "counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans" (Ezra 4:5). Rumors, threats, shortages of supply, energy-sapping diversions—all are concocted by strategists-for-hire, clever people who think of themselves as wise, influential, and powerful, but who have no spiritual or moral perception of the situation at all.
The third attack is directly political. In a carefully crafted letter filled with half-truths, these opponents of God's people manage to convince King Xerxes to shut down the building project. The ban remains in force for decades. What begins as a seemingly insurmountable political barrier settles down into a way of life, the Jews themselves accepting the status quo until the powerful preaching of Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1) shake them out of their lethargy.
How have these three instruments of discouragement been deployed in the twentieth century?
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