Satan’s Propaganda War
The book of Ezra is notoriously difficult to read, let alone preach; but it is there in the canon of Holy Scripture to edify and equip the saints (2Ti 3.16). Whereas, at one level, it provides a crucial link in the chain of God’s redemptive dealings with Israel, it is ultimately vital to our understanding of salvation history for the world. It does this in more ways than we might at first realise.
One area in particular is to provide insight into the spiritual conflict in which God’s people find themselves in the life of faith. This is evident not just in Ezra, but also in its sister books of Nehemiah and Esther. Those who bear God’s name in this world find themselves opposed and oppressed and, at times, even threatened with obliteration – as was the case for the Jews in Esther’s day. The apostle Paul makes much of this in his letters in a way that unmasks the real antagonist behind all earthly opposition as being the devil.
In his commentary on Ezra, in his remarks about the campaign waged against the Jews who had returned to Judah after the exile, Derek Kidner unmasks its real architect. He points to the way the opposition takes on new dimensions in the form of a letter written to King Ahasuerus to frustrate their efforts to repair and rebuild the ruined city. Ezra states, ‘they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem’ (Ezr 4.7). Kidner notes that the Hebrew word translated ‘accusation’ is from the same root as ‘Satan’. He acknowledges it may simply be a coincidence; nevertheless, he suggests it may have been deliberate on the part of the ancient scribe as a means of providing the wider context for the conflict in which they were involved.
This little detail does seem to flow into the following chapter in Ezra’s account. In it, he refers to three letters that were sent to two Persian kings and the impact they had on the Jewish efforts to rebuild the Temple and the walls in Jerusalem. The human authors of these letters are very different, but their underlying focus and content point to a single dark source which they shared – the ‘accuser’ to whom Ezra has already alluded. He is the one who, from the very beginning, has waged a propaganda war against God’s people and God’s cause in the world. The dark enemy knows only too well that, in the words of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ – words are more effective than stones for inflicting serious harm.
We see this in the very first words that emanate from Satan’s lips in the Garden of Eden where he disguises himself as a serpent, ‘Did God really say…?’ (Ge 3.1). Jesus rightly labels him ‘the father of lies’ as he warning his own disciples in John’s Gospel (8.44).
We see it too in the earliest days of church history in the Roman Empire. Christians were accused of cannibalism, incest and atheism by their detractors (twisting their words about the Lord’s Supper, the church as God’s family and their refusal to recognise the approved gods of the Empire.) A campaign of disinformation fuelled the persecution that followed.
There is a very contemporary ring to this issue. We find ourselves in the midst of an information war that has left many people – Christians included – reeling and bewildered over how we ought to respond. It has taken on a whole new dimension from all earlier forms of verbal warfare because of the plethora of online platforms that have a life of their own. Whereas this is indeed the case and whereas it feels intimidating to the vast majority of people who struggle to navigate this realm of communication, we should remind ourselves that God has not left us defenceless.
Just as Paul was able to speak candidly to the Corinthians about the real battle for hearts and minds as being ‘not according to the flesh’ (2Co 10.3), so for God’s people at all times. More than this he says, ‘we have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2Co 10.4). He goes on to speak of destroying ‘arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2Co 10.5). These arguments are made not simply through words, but also by our demeanour, spirit and Christlike love in the way we present them.
It may also be the case, as it was for Ezra and the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem before him, that we may have to endure setbacks and suffering on account of Satan’s lies. But truth will always triumph ultimately over lies. Our confidence rests in Jesus’ promise, ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free…and if the Son – who is Truth incarnate – shall set you free, you will be free indeed’ (Jn 8.32,36).
Whether it be in the so-called culture wars we are facing, or the battle for morality in the realm of human sexuality and gender, words are the most powerful weapons that are being deployed. We thank God for the Christian men and women God has raised up in these times who are especially gifted in their ability to speak God’s truth to these issues clearly and with grace. We must pray God will use their words to enlighten and liberate the hearts and minds of those who have been blinded by the devil’s lies and whose lives scarred by them. When God’s words and the truth they convey penetrate the heart, they not only bring light, they bring true life as well.