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Ezra 4:1-3 (NRSV)

"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 families 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 King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, “You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.”

Why did Zerubbabel refuse an offer for help?

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The offer was a ruse, an attempt by the adversaries (vs. 1) to slow down the rebuilding of the temple. Continue the reading in verses 4 and 5.

Ezra 4:4-5, (YLT)

"And it cometh to pass, the people of the land are making the hands of the people of Judah feeble, and troubling them in building,

5 and are hiring against them counsellors to make void their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even till the reign of Darius king of Persia."

"Making the hands ... feeble" meant they were causing the Judeans (Judahites) problems, trying to prevent the temple from being rebuilt.

The Holy Spirit accurately recorded the words spoken by those offering to help the people of Judah, but the words spoken by the adversaries were a lie. Part of our task in studying the scriptures is to separate the words of men from the words of the Lord, and to realize that men did not always speak the truth.

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Zerubbabel states the ostensible reason in the paragraph quoted in the OP:

You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.

What lay behind Zerubbabel's "you vs. us" attitude here? The text, writing with hindsight, describes those who offered the help as "the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin." These were apparently remnant members of the northern tribes and/or non-Israelites who had immigrated from Assyria and intermarried with them during the Exile. They worshipped God and wished to help rebuild the Temple. Background is given in the Book of Kings.

And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations which you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samar′ia do not know the law of the god of the land; therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away thence; and let him go and dwell there, and teach them the law of the god of the land.” (2 Kings 17:25-27)

The intermarriage issue was not only a problem for the northern tribes, but also for the Judeans:

all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days; it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. 10 And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. 11 Now then make confession to the Lord the God of your fathers, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” (Ezra 10:9-11)

Thus we can deduce several factors in Zeruabbel's decision to exclude those who offered help.

  • He may have had instructions from Cyrus not to cooperate with them.

  • He did not want to share credit for rebuilding with those already living in the area, especially those of impure bloodlines.

  • He may have sensed that they were already "adversaries" in some sense.

Eventually, those he excluded undermined Zerubbabel's authority after their offer was rejected. Later, they would build their own temple on Mount Gerizim and be known as Samaritans. But were they actually adversaries when they offered aid, or did they develop the adversarial posture mentioned in the text only after they were rejected?

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