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

      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

    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

    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

    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

      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

      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.