Lesson 4

Facing Opposition

(Ezra 4 & 5, 2 Kings 17:24, Nehemiah 4 & 6)
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Introduction: If you read books you know that some authors do not tell the story using one continuous time line. They like to jump around. Frankly, I prefer the simple over the complex, so I prefer one continuous time line. Our study this week covers Ezra 3-6, among other texts, but Ezra is one of those writers who prefers the complex. He does not tell his story in chronological order, but rather by topic. More confusing is that some of the events we have studied in the last few weeks are in the future of our story, and some we are studying today we have already considered. Let's see what we can learn about facing opposition without getting confused about the timing!

  1. Friends?

    1. Read Ezra 4:1-2. If you have been following this series, you know that we previously discussed how great it is to move into a new neighborhood and have your new neighbors offer to help! Why would Ezra call these helpful new neighbors "enemies?"

      1. Would you call fellow worshipers "enemies?"

      2. Notice that a king of Assyria long ago brought to Jerusalem those who worship the true God. Why would he do that?

    2. Read Ezra 4:3. Do the leaders of Israel have the right attitude?

      1. Read Mark 9:38-40. Would Jesus have refused help from those whose worship is not exactly the same?

    3. Let's see if we can answer these questions. Read 2 Kings 17:24-26. Have you considered using lions as evangelists?

      1. Seriously, why would the resettled people think that some new god reigns in that area? (It was a common belief that gods had authority only over certain geographical areas. If you lived in one place, then you needed to follow the god who ruled that section.)

        1. How does the God of heaven fit into this theory?

    4. Read 2 Kings 17:27-28. What is the Assyrian king's answer to this problem?

      1. Do you think that God sent lions as part of His plan for evangelism? (That would be inconsistent with God's normal approach. But, this brings up an issue that we should not miss. People who are experiencing trouble are often open to hearing the message about the true God. We should be alert to these kinds of opportunities.)

    5. Read 2 Kings 17:29-32. How did the people ultimately resolve the issue of who they should worship? (They worshiped God, but they also imported their old gods.)

    6. Read 2 Kings 17:33-35. How did God view this hybrid worship? (The local people thought that they worshiped God, but they are not worshiping Him when they include other gods.)

    7. Read again Ezra 4:3. With this background, tell me why God's people turned down the help of the local people? (They were worried that they would bring into the worship their additional gods.)

    8. Consider the spiritual lesson in this. If we worship the true God and also worship other things, how does God view this? (We do not worship Him when we add our own gods.)

    9. Read Matthew 6:5. What do you think is the biggest problem today when it comes to false gods? What gods do we worship and how serious a problem is it? (One big problem is worshiping yourself. I often hear people say that a car or a house is a "god." I'm doubtful that many people worship their car or house, but they might have a great car or house to bring glory to themselves.)

      1. How else do some try to bring glory to themself? When you are asked to take the offering, give the prayer, or sing a song and you add a mini-sermon, is that a problem of self-glory?

      2. In who do you place your trust? Do you trust your own opinion over God's opinion? Do you trust your money?

    10. Read Ezra 4:4-5. Does this surprise you - the local people are offended and respond in an unfavorable way?

      1. Could this have been handled more intelligently?

        1. Could God's people have tried to convert the local people?

      2. Are we too fearful about insulting people? (If we start by accepting that they were "enemies," we can believe that they would have created trouble no matter how God's people reacted. Sometimes being clear is best. But, we need to be sure that the Holy Spirit is leading us about being "clear.")

  2. Encouragement

    1. Read Ezra 5:1-2 and re-read Ezra 4:4. What problem do the prophets help overcome? (God's people were afraid to build.)

    2. Read Haggai 1:14. What is the result of the work of the prophets? (The people were "stirred up.")

      1. What offices did Zerubbabel and Joshua hold? (Zerubbabel was the Governor and Joshua was the High Priest.)

      2. What does this teach us about overcoming problems in the church? (We need those who speak for God to encourage the leaders and the people. When the Holy Spirit speaks to our mind things get done.)

    3. Read Ezra 5:3-4. What intimidation tactic did the enemies use to try to get God's people to return to a state of fear? (They wanted their names!)

    4. Read Ezra 5:5. In what should we have confidence when we feel fear? (God is watching over us! God controls the events of life.)

  3. Fight

    1. Read Nehemiah 4:1-3. Do you enjoy being insulted?

      1. What emotion caused these insulting words? (Anger. No one enjoys being insulted. Generally, we think that insults come doing something foolish or making a mistake. This shows that insults may have nothing to do with mistakes on our part. Doing the right thing may cause anger and insults.)

    2. Read Nehemiah 4:4-5. How does Nehemiah react to these insults?

      1. Read Matthew 6:9-12 and Matthew 5:44. In the New Testament, forgiving others is central to being forgiven. Can you reconcile the Lord's prayer with Nehemiah's prayer?

      2. Read Genesis 12:3. Is Nehemiah merely asking God to act on His promise to Abraham?

      3. Read Romans 12:19. Clearly, the prayer of Jesus and the prayer of Nehemiah have considerably different tones. What is the same in both? (They rely on God. Nehemiah is not personally striking back at those who insult God's people.)

    3. Read Nehemiah 4:6. What does this teach us about doing God's work when we are insulted? (Keep at it! Stick to the work and not the insults.)

    4. Read Nehemiah 4:11 and Nehemiah 4:13-14. Does this set a proper precedent for us today? (Read Luke 22:36-38. There is much room for disagreement, but I think that when we are following God's will we can and should defend ourselves and our family. However, if we continue the story in Luke 22 we find that Jesus did not use swords to resist His future suffering.)

  4. Discernment

    1. Read Nehemiah 6:1-3. Is Nehemiah giving an honest reply? (Yes, he is working on setting the gates.)

      1. Why would anyone question Nehemiah's honesty? (Because that does not reflect what Nehemiah is thinking. He doesn't want to meet with them because he knows they want to harm him.)

      2. What lesson does this teach us? (There are times when we have more than one honest answer as to why we are doing something. In this case Nehemiah picked the answer that was least offensive.)

    2. Read Nehemiah 6:4-7. Can you imagine a leader who has to face constant opposition and lies? How should you react if you face this kind of opposition? (Read Nehemiah 6:8-9. Nehemiah responds with the truth and with prayer.)

    3. Read Nehemiah 6:15-16. Who ends up being afraid? (The enemies of God's people. Those who would intimidate end up being intimidated.)

    4. Friend, of the several lessons we have learned about facing opposition, the most important is trusting God. Will you ask the Holy Spirit to help you trust God when the future looks grim? Why not ask right now?

  5. Next week: Violating the Spirit of the Law.

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Lessons on Ezra and Nehemiah

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