Not long after Zerubbabel led a contingent of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem to begin rebuilding the temple, they encountered a challenge from those then inhabiting the land. Originally cozying up to Zerubbabel and the rest of Judah’s leadership, they quickly pivoted toward the role of adversary as soon as their overtures for inclusion were rejected, discouraging the people, causing trouble, and sending emissaries to the king in order to punish the Jews for not going along with their wishes (Ezra 4:1-5). Not content with their original efforts and frustrated at their lack of success, they continued to pressure the Persian government from the time of Cyrus to Xerxes and beyond. When Xerxes (Ahasuerus) originally came to the throne, they accused the Jews of treachery, but this got nowhere (Ezra 4:6). However, when Artaxerxes came to power, they tried once more, desperately attempting to politicize their own bitterness due to being diminished in power within Judah (Ezra 7:7-10). Sadly, they were successful, as Artaxerxes took their letter at face value and ordered the Jews to halt their work on the temple (Ezra 7:23-24).
What, you might ask, could they say to convince the Persian King that the Jews deserved such vilification? They took the kernel of truth of the rebuilding of the temple and expanded it to describe their efforts as the preparation for a military buildup and revolt (Ezra 4:11-13). They, of course, described their motives in the best of terms and cast the Jews in the worst of light, completely disregarding the context of their return based on Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 4:14-15). They closed with the ever-popular “slippery slope” approach built on their already doctored descriptions of the Jews’ activities (Ezra 4:14-16), and the king, due to his ignorance and disinterest, accepted the accusation as fact, only looked at the evidence presented in accusation, felt the full impact of their emotional argument aimed at him personally, and stopped the Jews from building (Ezra 4:17-22)
Sadly, there are those today who employ such tactics as well, including in the spiritual arena. They make broad accusations, build up straw men arguments, play upon the ignorance of others, and attack ruthlessly. They lack the necessary godliness themselves for inclusion in greater works of God and so stoop to tearing down the work of others in order to make themselves feel important and powerful. They lack personal character and thus specialize in attacking another’s reputation. They present themselves as bastions of truth, bold defenders of the faith, and God’s men. They must declare it to be so, because people would never guess it otherwise. They build a following that depends on others’ ignorance; they must so they may be considered knowledgeable. The power of accusations can indeed be great, but only if the gullible never bother investigating them to discover the truth.