Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Excluded From Clique, collage by Ikon Images,

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel; Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither.
Ezra 4:1-2

When the Israelites were taken into Babylonian captivity only the poorest of the poor were left behind in the towns and provinces, the ones considered unworthy of capture. Eventually people from neighbouring Samaria moved into the area to occupy the empty spaces, and lived, it is imagined, in some kind of harmony with the remaining Israelites, learning to worship their God, albeit in imperfect ways, a worship probably blended with their own understandings and experiences, including much idolatry. It is this hybrid population, referred to here as the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, who came to the returnees offering their services, and claiming to worship the same God. This was a gesture of camaraderie, loyalty and peace. It is rejected outright.

But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the Lord God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.1

As a result of this ostracism the people of the land began to create all kinds of problems for the builders, going as far as writing to king Ahasuerus of Persia warning him of a pending uprising. The building work is officially halted.

There is an elitism apparent here, understandable of course given the long history of Israel succumbing to foreign influence and falling away from God, but nevertheless it is illustrative of the new, holier attitude of the returning people. Desperate not to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers they act without compassion, without seeking to understand, and create for themselves a powerful group of enemies. It could so easily have been avoided. This was not a group of people attempting to impose a different god on Israel, it was Israelites and Samaritans, doing their best to worship the God of Israel, and struggling due to the absence of Levites and other learned men and women. The act of ostracisation hurt deeply, and turned these people from willing allies into resentful enemies.

How easy it is to dismiss those we feel inferior to ourselves, seeking to condemn and reject, to mock and to ridicule rather than to listen and understand. This new generation of Israel chose to isolate themselves in their elitism, and it wasn't until the time of Jesus that the neighbouring Samaritans were recognised as equals—and even then the idea was treated with surprise and suspicion.2

1 Ezra 4:3
2 The story of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37. See also Mirror, 18 October