Pt 1: Question"Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel, 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."
Pt 2: Answer"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."
Pt 3: Reaction"Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia."
Note that the first verse states that these were enemies of Judah and Benjamin. Every translation uses the word enemies or adversaries. These people who showed up undoubtedly had heard the shouts of praise and weeping as recorded in the previous verse (Ezra 3:13). And no one could miss 50,000 or so people tramping back with all their families, servants and animals. Their arrival was noted. And not appreciated. What to do? What to do? Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
"Let us help you!" they said. They were all nicey-nice. They asked politely. They said that they respected the Israelites' God. For gosh sakes, we worship Him, even sacrifice! We're like you!
The two tribes said ... drumroll please ... NO.
By today's standards, we'd say that the Israelites were being mean, impolite, "exclusive", "intolerant", and "haters" by refusing the offer. After all, weren't the would-be helpers seeking? Wouldn't it achieve a dual common goal by getting the temple finished earlier and offer the seekers the opportunity for the Jews to dazzle the pagans with their wonderful personalities before setting the bait-and-switch of ... ta-DA! ... sharing the knowledge of the LORD?
No it would not. First, the Jews knew that the LORD had placed it upon their hearts to do the work, He had not placed it upon the Gentiles's hearts. Therefore they were respecting the decree of the LORD by working exclusively toward fulfilling His command. Second, they were respecting the decree of the King to be the ones who built it. And third, we knew then and we know now that there is never a common spiritual goal when pairing with Gentiles. They promote satan's goals, we promote Jesus's. There is between them a great gulf fixed.
Sure enough, their true colors came out. And right away too. They immediately began a multi-pronged approach to thwarting the goal of rebuilding the temple and thus of God's work. They were doing satan's work. It had only been a ruse in that first prong approach of joining them. When that didn't work, right away began to bribe the officials, appeal to the king, discourage the Jews, frustrate them, and bully them. They kept this up for fifteen years. Fifteen years. As we can see by their persistence, their goal was never to help get the temple built, it was only to prevent the temple from being built.
See? Ecumenism never works. The seeker's goals are not the same as ours, and their true colors will come out soon enough.
We can see by one of satan's methods that he sows tares among the wheat, something undoubtedly the pagans had wanted to do. The Jews would have naturally relaxed their guard by being in daily proximity to the pagans, and satan would have started sowing the tares. Intermarriage, friendliness, social mixing or melding their different religions, pollution would have begun. Just ask Solomon how that works out.
Note I'm talking about maintaining separateness when setting out to accomplish a purpose of God, or a consecrated thing, not that we never mix with unbelievers. The fact is, though, the bible is replete with warnings not to mix holy and profane:
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14)
The Greek lexicon defines this unequal yoking as "used figuratively of Christians wrongly committed to a partner holding very different values (priorities), i.e. that run contrary to faith (the kingdom of God). Scripture uses symbols to teach about the importance of keeping spiritually pure. Along this line, Scripture prohibited partnering with the apistos, or the unfaithful, by evoking the picture of two different animals yoked together. Would the field get plowed if you yoked a bull and a goat together?
"...but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away...(Matthew 13:25)
Félicien Rops, Satan Sowing Seeds, pencil, c. 1872.
I've used this pencil drawing before recently. I like it. Why? I'm amazed at the accuracy the drawing evokes of satan's activity and methods. It reminds me of so many different verses. The wheat and the tares is one. The verse where God asks satan where he has been and satan says he has been roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it. (Job 1:7). Another verse is good to remember here, satan is god of this world, (2 Corinthians 4:4) and he has been given power to deliver kingdoms to all he chooses (Matthew 4:8-9).
We must resist the world because satan is the god of it. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9).
We should not combine with unbelievers, or even with those who say they worship the same God as we do but obviously do not. Let not the political, cultural, or social desires get in the way of the biblical desire to remain dedicated to being pure and bringing glory to Jesus. Ecumenism, or interfaith, is not what it seems. This is evidenced by the immediate reaction of the rejected pagans who had asked to "help" build the temple but only wanted to allow satan to go back and forth on it, sowing tares.