Ezra 4:1-3 – 1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
During the earlier days of the Jewish return from Babylon in the 6th century BC, the Jews worked to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This work was started, stopped, and started again. We read of the drama here in Ezra 4-6.
Fairly early in the project, the people of God were approached by others who are here called adversaries. These are the Samaritans, people who were settled into the land of the northern kingdom after the Assyrian conquest in 722 BC. They declare their desire to join with the Jews in the building of the temple, claiming to have worshipped the same God over the past two centuries.
But the Jews would have none of it. They knew that the Samaritans did not worship the Lord. Nor did the Samaritans follow the word of the Lord. Perhaps the Samaritans used some of the same words as did the Jews, perhaps even using God’s name and some of his commands, but their religion was different.
The leaders of the people of God responded to the Samaritan demand to join in the temple building with a flat refusal, saying, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us” (v3). The Jews were not willing to include the Samaritans in the project. Nor were the Jews willing to pretend that the Samaritans and they shared any sort of common faith.
With the story in mind, I think we can find an important application for all believers today. There are always those who are quick to say, “for we worship your God as you do” (v2). And when this happens, we need to have a ready biblical response.
First, understand that not all people, even well-intentioned, are correct when they claim to share with us a common faith. Many a person around us will say that they worship our God. Many will say to us that they believe in “God” too. And we need to be very careful. Before we embrace every person who claims belief in a higher power or even who names the name of Jesus, we need to examine their claim to see if they actually share with us a true and common faith. Do those who claim to worship God actually know Jesus? Do they understand that Jesus is God the Son, God in flesh, who lived out perfection, died as an atoning sacrifice, and rose from the grave for our justification? Do they understand that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Do they grasp that following Jesus includes a surrender to his lordship under the commands of the Scriptures? If not, how can they claim a common faith?
Second, we need to guard against accepting supposed help from those who are not of our faith. I think here more of government aid than I do of temple rebuilding. In our culture, many community doors are flung wide to religious groups who will work together in an interfaith capacity. If Christians are willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other religious groupings, there are all sorts of social benefits. The problem is, eventually those benefits run out. This is especially true when the Christians are actually faithful to proclaim the gospel. AS we truly point to Jesus, the support that we receive from others—support upon which we will rely too heavily if we are not careful—will dry up.
The truth is, the gospel is offensive. The gospel says that we are hopeless sinners on our own. The gospel says that people of other religions, people of sincere faith, are destined for the wrath of God in hell. The gospel proclaims that only those who will reject their former religions, who will reject all forms of human achievement for spiritual credit, only those who turn their eyes to Christ alone in faith will be saved. That exclusivity which cites the Bible as our sole authority and Jesus as our only Lord, a Lord above all governments and social opinions, will quickly turn a supposedly helpful and partnering world against us.
Christians, let us learn from the men rebuilding the temple. Let us be guarded against allowing those who do not know the Lord to claim that they are just like us. Let us not accept help today that will either mislead the lost or lead to our temptation toward compromise. Let us instead stand strong on the word of God trusting that the Lord will provide for all our needs by his mighty power and for his glory.