Just the facts, ma’am.

Perhaps I am revealing my age, but I remember black and white TV. One of my favorite characters was Joe Friday, a no-nonsense detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. Joe understood how easily we can “add to” or “leave out” critical details when discussing important matters.

My, how our culture has changed! Today we have countless sources for the news of the day. All are begging for our attention. Every channel spins the news to suit their audience.

Unfortunately, we can easily fall into the same pattern in our personal lives. It is human nature to shape our story to achieve the desired response. While this might serve our short-term purposes, it falls short of the standard that Jesus expects from his disciples.

While found in the Old Testament, the Book of Ezra offers an excellent example of power of gossip and rumors. After many years of oppression from neighboring kingdoms, Jerusalem was finally captured by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Over the years that followed most of the Jews were deported to Babylon.

The fate of Israel turns with the defeat of the Babylonian Empire by Cyrus, King of Persia. King Cyrus issues a decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland. Less than 50,000 of the estimated 2 million to 3 million Jews embark on the journey. With the blessing of the king and the divine protection of Yahweh, they return to Jerusalem to begin the rebuilding process.

In the concluding verses of chapter 3, we read of the celebration with the restoration of the foundation of the temple. But in chapter 4, we read of three waves of opposition.

The first comes during the reign of Darius, who came to power 38 years after the decree of Cyrus. This wave of opposition is summarized in Ezra 4, verses 4-5.

The second wave of opposition is summarized in verse 6. Xerxes is the Persian name while Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name. This opposition is fully described in the Book of Esther.

The remainder of chapter 4 describes the most impactful opposition achieved through a letter to King Artaxerxes. In this letter we find a great lesson regarding rumors. Consider reading the text to get the juicy details. In the interest of space I will summarize the key details.

First, the accusations made regarding the Jewish people were based in fact. Rehum, the co-author of the letter, described the Jews as rebellious and wicked. He used these terms because Israel has a long history of independence. He encourages the king to have a search conducted in the royal archives to substantiate this claim. He warns that should these people be allowed to complete their construction project they would surely seek their independence once again.

While these accusations were based in fact they were also selective in the facts they chose to provide. The letter makes no mention of the decree by King Cyrus that authorized and paid for the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the first place.

This leads us to the reality that the accusations were presented in support of an agenda. In the letter, Rehum proclaims his allegiance to the king. And why wouldn’t he? The king signs his paycheck! Any power or authority that is extended to the Jews is retracted from Rehum, the commanding officer.

How often do we fall into this same trap? We hand-pick the “facts” we choose to share, leaving out any details that might weaken our case, all in the effort to shape the outcome.

Don’t fall into the enemy’s trap. Speak the (entire) truth in love.