When serving the Lord it is critical to continually consider the holiness and righteousness of God Himself. The Bible teaches that God seeks to utilize His servants, not only to perform tasks, but to do so in the manner of His character, leveraging His attributes by His Spirit. The Bible explains that God’s servants are to be an extensions of His own hand. Therefore, it is important for the people of God to remember the nature and integrity of God’s hand. Upon remembering these things, the people of God should be compelled to humble themselves in order that God’s Spirit would be the motivator and manufacturer of ability unto the completion of His commands. This way, the work is not only completed, but God is exalted in the process since His attributes are clearly seen through those laboring in His purposes. The scriptures explain these things in order that God’s people would consider the truth and have the right attitudes while serving the Lord. Hence, the primary thing that God’s servants should be focused on isn’t necessarily the task at hand, but the attitude we have while completing those tasks.
The testimony of Ezra 8:24-36 provides a good example of many people that had the right attitude while serving the Lord. The Bible shows that Ezra and his team, who ventured from Babylon to Jerusalem, were diligent to seek the Lord, and the fruit of their pursuit was evident in their attitudes. The journey to Jerusalem did not begin seamlessly and easily. At first, Ezra recognized that his team was missing a critical component that was required to do the job God commanded correctly. Ezra recognized that he did not have any men from the tribe of Levi present in his company. This was a problem, but rather than rely on his own improvisational wisdom to address the issue without inconvenience, he stopped the progress of the team, sought the Lord, and let the Lord work a miracle to take care of the issue. The Lord provided an adequate number of Levites that quickly volunteered for the journey. Next, Ezra became concerned about the extent of the journey they would undertake. The road from Babylon to Jerusalem was approximately 900 miles. The king of Persia and his counselors had equipped Ezra and his team with an extraordinary amount of gold, silver, bronze, animals, and other valuable resources. Ezra knew that he and his people would likely be a target of thieves, and having rejected the king’s offer of a royal escort and protection, Ezra called for the people to fast in order to seek the Lord, His wisdom, His provision, and His protection in the journey.
The testimony of Ezra 8:24-36 explains the events that took place while Ezra and his people fasted. They sought the Lord diligently in desperation, but didn’t just sit around. Ezra previously turned down the king’s offer of protection because he desired to show the king of Persia that God would be faithful to see the job through. Ezra wanted to prove God faithful and able to get the Jews back to Jerusalem without issue. If the Jews were going to make it to Jerusalem to restore the temple worship there, Ezra wanted to make sure that God got the credit for the miracle, not the Persian king. Therefore, while the people fasted, Ezra selected twelve elders to take stock of the resources that had been given to them to take to Jerusalem. Ezra selected twelve men of integrity that feared the Lord and had them account for all of the gold, silver, bronze, animals, and other necessary and valuable resources. Ezra wanted to take account of these things before the journey began to ensure that the people arrived with the exact amount, showing that God is faithful to preserve His people and the necessary resources unto the completion of the work He ordains.
The details of scripture explain that the people counted out well over $600 million worth of just gold and silver! These were the funds and resources that were given to Ezra from King Artaxerxes, his counselors, and many of the Jewish elders that were living in Babylon that didn’t go back to Jerusalem. The efforts of Ezra were well funded and the command of God to restore temple worship was well equipped. With such a large sum of money, Ezra understood that there was great temptation among his people and in the people they would pass along the way to Jerusalem. When Ezra commanded the elders to count the money, he explained God’s perspective regarding the people and the resources that had been received. Ezra explained that, as God’s servants, the people were also God’s instruments of righteousness. As God’s instruments, the people were reflections of God’s hand. Since God is holy and the people were supposed to reflect God, the people were considered holy. This means that the people were separated from everyone else in their purpose. Their lives were founded on spiritual purposes that had eternal implications. They were not to comingle or fellowship with anything that was considered defiled, corrupt, dark, or wicked because God is separated from those things. The purity of God was to be made manifest in the people that God had selected to do His work.
Ezra not only reminded the people about their personal responsibility to the Lord, but also explained God’s perspective concerning the resources that had been given to them. The resources were considered holy just like the people were considered holy. Since the resources were donated to equip the people in their spiritual purposes, the resources were also instruments of God’s righteousness, used to enable the people in God’s will. It was important for Ezra to remind the people of this truth lest the people become overwhelmed by temptation and think it permissible to steal or use such abundance for their personal purposes instead of God’s. God did not influence the hearts of Persian rulers inspiring them to give unto His purposes so that the people could take from those resources and build up their own personal purposes. God did not inspire the hearts of the Jews in Babylon to give unto their venturing brethren just so that those people could leave and pursue their own selfish ambitions. The Persian rulers gave to the Jews because they were giving offerings to the Lord and expected the Jews to honor their desire to seek God the right way. The Jews in Babylon gave to the Jews leaving for Jerusalem for the same reasons. As such, the resources that Ezra accounted for did not belong to the Jews that cared for them. They were merely stewards taking care of God’s own possessions that were intended to be used for His purpose. As a result, the money and resources were holy as well.
This is an important concept to understand. Those who serve the Lord are considered holy because they not only serve the Lord, but are considered extensions of God’s own hand and should resemble His character. Those who serve the Lord must always remember that the tools, resources, and time that God equips His people with to do His will is also His. As servants, we are not owners of anything. In fact, the Apostle Paul was clear to explain that our bodies are not even our own, because we were bought at a price, the blood of Christ, and should use our bodies to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)! If our bodies are not even our own and are the possession and dwelling place for God’s Spirit, how much more so the things that He gives to us? What do we have that we were not first given, and if we have indeed received it from God, why do we treat our possessions as if they are ours to leverage for personal gain and satisfaction? The testimony of Ezra 8:24-36 explains that the people agreed not to do this, and God honored their humility, dependency, and faith.
The scriptures explain that Ezra and his team finally set out for Jerusalem on the twelfth day of the first moth of the Jewish calendar. When they arrived, they took three days to settle themselves in and then got right to work. The first task they embraced and executed was the accounting. The scriptures explain that Ezra called for the priests that were already serving in the temple in Jerusalem, and they all went through to account for the resources together to hold each other accountable. The Bible explains that everything checked out. The funds were accounted for perfectly and the people celebrated by offering an abundance of burnt offerings to honor the Lord. This testimony shows that when God’s people consider the spiritual integrity of their identity as God’s servants, coupled with an understanding that our possessions are actually God’s holy possessions, the people respond with honesty and integrity because of their fear of the Lord. After all, the Bible states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of offending God by the misutilization of His resources caused the people to wisely take care of God’s resources and immediately use them for intended purpose when the time came. Secondly, the scriptures show that God was faithful to protect His investment. God does not equip His people just to bury His people. Though there was great risk traveling 900 miles through unfamiliar territory without protection, God proved Himself trustworthy. The appearance of protection was not important. God’s protection could not be seen with the eyes, but the results spoke for themselves, proving that God was indeed in charge of the miracles taking place, not the Persians.
Lastly, it is important to recognize that when Ezra accounted for all the funds and the sacrifices began taking place, he did not leverage his authority from Artaxerxes to take over in Jerusalem. Ezra was the clear leader when the people left Babylon. However, Ezra did not flaunt his leadership when he got to Jerusalem, recognizing that some of his brethren had already been well established in the land for some time. Though Ezra was a direct descendant of Aaron the high priest, Ezra did not enter Jerusalem expecting to be the man in charge. The Bible is clear to explain that Ezra and his team “gave support to the people of the house of God.” Ezra was sent into Jerusalem because the king felt that the worship of the Lord was better suited with Ezra in charge. Ezra did not submit to the opinion of the Persian king. Ezra walked according to the organization and purposes of the King of kings. He did not create strife, conflict, and jealousies by removing people to exalt himself, even if that was the expectation of others. Instead, Ezra, a direct descendant of the high priesthood, an expert in the Law, a trusted man of the king of Persia, a man with Persian permission and authority, offered himself as a servant. Ezra and his team served their brethren in the temple as assistants and supported their needs according to the jobs they were already doing. This is a great illustration of the humility that they had initially expressed when they were still in Babylon seeking the Lord through prayer and fasting. This is what a holy servant of the Lord should look like.
Depending fully on the Lord is a difficult proposition to the flesh of any human being. It’s hard to let God do what God does. The scriptures teach that God does not work according to human reason and logic, which means that He’s going to accomplish His purposes in the lives of His people in ways that are different than we as people would go about them ourselves. The Bible teaches that God’s people are called to walk by faith and not by sight. This means that God’s people are called to make decisions in which the outcome is not always certain. Though we trust that the ultimate outcome will be good, we can’t account for the details of God’s plans that produce good. We don’t ever know how hard things will actually be. As people, we have the habit of wanting to be assured of something with details, plans, and proof of good results. God doesn’t always provide these comforts. Whether or not God provides these comforts is not important. God expects His people to do what He says by faith, trusting that He’ll produce a favorable outcome at some point according to His mercy, grace, and faithfulness, regardless of how much detail we have about His plans.
This means that following the Lord can be scary at times. The scriptures show that those who faithfully followed the Lord did so, but sometimes with great concern. This is a natural human response. Where the faith of these Biblical heroes shined was in the fact that the concern for the circumstances didn’t cause God’s people to be unresponsive to God’s commands. God’s people might have had to move forward with fear at times, but moved forward nonetheless. The reason that it can be so concerning to trust the Lord is because the manner in which God calls His people to trust Him. God wants His people to depend on Him for provision, protection, and providential leadership and wisdom. This often times disqualifies the use of experience, material possession, or outside help. The manner in which God calls His people to trust Him is often totally unorthodox to traditional human rationale, but these opportunities allow God to reveal His transcendent power, sovereignty, wisdom, and grace. Thus, it is in the midst of circumstantial uncertainty that God’s revelation is made clear and His greatness is exalted.
This truth is documented in the testimony of Ezra. In Ezra 8:21-23 the Bible explains that Ezra called for a fast before leading his group of people into the journey to Jerusalem. The scriptures state that the Persian king Artaxerxes commanded Ezra to lead a group of men from Babylon to Jerusalem in order to restore worship unto God in the temple that had been rebuilt. At some point in time, God got a hold of the hearts of the Persian rulers and leaders so that they feared God and desired to offer Him sacrifices and supplications in the temple in Jerusalem. Ezra was a highly esteemed expert of the Mosaic Law and so was selected by the king to lead another group of Jews back into the Promised Land. Artaxerxes and his counselors had equipped Ezra with an abundance of resources, including an official decree that gave him permission to travel, animals for sacrifices, and permission to take any and all necessary resources from any of the Persian territories in order to perform their duties of worship. Ezra essentially had a blank check to use for his job, signed and authorized by the most powerful man in the world at that time.
Ezra was well equipped to do his duty as the Lord commanded except that when they left, they realized that they had neglected to ensure they had descendants from the tribe of Levi to go with them. Since the Levites were the men God commanded to lead and assist in the bulk of the duties associated with temple worship, it was critical that Ezra find the right men for the job. He halted his progress that consisted of over two thousand men, women, and children so that he could recruit the men he needed. Ezra didn’t want to compromise in his duties. He was committed to getting the job done right, trusting that the Lord would somehow provide the men necessary to fulfill the Law properly. The scriptures testify that God was indeed faithful. Ezra was able to acquire the proper leadership over a three-day period, at which point he was prepared to continue on in his journey. However, the testimony of Ezra 6:21-23 explains that Ezra did not immediately begin his journey again. Ezra commanded the people to fast instead.
Here, it is interesting to note the manner of Ezra’s leadership. The scriptures show that the Jews returning to Jerusalem had to travel nearly 900 miles from Babylon to the temple. It might seem odd that such a journey would begin with a fast that apparently lasted three days. When undergoing such a journey with men of various ages, women of various conditions, and children, it might seem more logical to ensure each individual was at their peak strength. Yet, Ezra commanded the people to abstain from eating for three days, and this would be the manner in which they began their journey. The Bible explains that Ezra commanded the fast on account of shame. Apparently, Artaxerxes had offered Ezra a royal escort to Jerusalem. When Artaxerxes equipped Ezra with all of the resources to offer scarifies unto God, he also offered Ezra a company of guards to accompany Ezra so that they could have safe travel. It would be difficult to travel such a distance with so much abundance of resources. Traveling in such a manner without the king’s protection would have made Ezra and his company any easy target for thieves and the like. It was good that the king made such an offer, but the Bible explains that Ezra rejected the kings’ offer.
Ezra wanted to trust in the Lord through his journey. While it seemed reasonable to accept help from the king that was sponsoring his journey, Ezra wanted to give the Lord a chance to exalt His own name through the course of the journey. He told the king, “the hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” In other words, Ezra had expressed confidence that the Lord would ensure safe passage to Jerusalem, and according to His faithfulness, would be able to fulfill His Word without the help of the Persian army. Ezra was confident that God would express His wrath against anyone that tried to oppose God’s will for the people to return to the Promised Land. Ezra was confident that God was powerful, wise, and sovereign to get the Jews where they needed to go in a safe manner. His decision likely didn’t seem logical, but Ezra wanted to trust in the God that transcended human strength since it was God that had enabled his progress up to that point.
Ezra’s confidence didn’t last long. The reason that Ezra instituted a fast before they began their journey was because Ezra was concerned. Seeing that they needed Levites and realizing the magnitude of the journey, Ezra realized how big his responsibility and his calling was. Ezra wanted to depend on the Lord and put himself in a position to do so, but as Ezra started to walk by faith instead of sight, he became gravely concerned for the things he saw and perhaps for the things he couldn’t see. He instituted the fast because he wanted to remain dependent on the Lord. Ezra saw God produce a miracle to provide the Levite leadership when they recognized they weren’t originally present in the group. Ezra knew God had worked many miracles to even put the Jews in a position to return to their home land. Though the circumstances looked uncertain, Ezra didn’t want to start relying on his own wisdom to give himself and others a false sense of confidence. Ezra called for the people to fast so that all of the people could know that the Lord who is faithful, would be their leader, their provider, and their protector.
The testimony of Ezra 8:21-23 explains that the people fasted and entreated God, hoping that He would provide a safe journey for the men, women, children, and possessions. The Bible states that God heard and answered their prayers. The scriptures explain that every person that started on the journey, finished the journey. All of the money that was taken at the start was accounted for in the end. God was indeed faithful. The decision to reject the king’s offer of protection and leadership likely seemed like a prideful or foolish decision. Ezra simply didn’t want to trust in the resources of the world to do a work that God commanded him to do. That which seemed foolish was actually wise. The fast that Ezra instituted allowed the people an opportunity to get their minds centered on the fact that, as God commanded the people He would lead, provide, protect, and enable. God does not call for His people to trust in Him just so He can let them down later. The circumstances might seem like God is setting His people up for shame and failure, but the Bible shows that it is shameful to depend on the ways and resources of men to do spiritual work. The testimony of Ezra 8:21-23 shows that God is able and willing to transcend the uncertainty of circumstances to see His people through to the end of His good purposes when we depend on Him.
The Bible teaches that the Lord is faithful to equip His people to do the things that He commands. God does not command His people to perform certain duties according to His purposes only to set them up for failure. The scriptures show that God often employs those who are ill-qualified and equipped to do certain things so that He receives glory, not only for the completion of the task, but for the provision and providential care He provides through the work. The reason God sends His people into circumstances that can seem overwhelming is to show His people that His glory and greatness transcends the difficulties of circumstances. He is able to see His people through the completion of the commands that He gives, no matter what! This is an encouraging truth to remember, especially since we as people are frequently responsible for the hardships we encounter. While God’s people experience difficulties during the service of the Lord, often times it is because of our own foolishness, forgetfulness, or weaknesses that have little to do with the circumstances. Though we are children of God and servants of His purposes, we are flawed in many ways. We make mistakes. We have good intentions, but often times neglect key issues that can complicate things later on. The Bible teaches that God accounts for these things too, thereby showing that, no matter the extent of help required, God is able and willing to provide.
An example of this truth is documented in the testimony of Ezra 8:1-20. In this portion of scripture, the Bible explains that Ezra had made his preparations to leave Babylon by the order of the king. The Persian king Artaxerxes issued a decree that commanded Ezra to take some of the Jewish elders, priests, Levites, and other able-bodied workers to correctly institute worship and sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem. The scriptures explain that the Lord God somehow got a hold of the hearts of the Persian rulers so that they agreed to send Ezra and others into Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to God, even on their behalf. God had struck the hearts of the Persian rulers so that they feared Him and supported the Lord’s purposes for the children of Israel. They not only sent the Jews back to their land, but gave of their own personal resources as well as from the regional taxes, to financially support Ezra and his team. God had ensured that Ezra had access to everything that was required to do the job that God ordained him to do.
The testimony of Ezra 8:1-20 lists the names and families of the men that accompanied Ezra back to Jerusalem. The scriptures explain that Ezra gathered 1,498 men with him, not including women and children. Though this second group of captives was not a great of a number of people that first went back to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Joshua nearly eighty years before, the number of people that left with Ezra was adequate for Ezra’s purpose. Ezra recorded the names of the heads of the families and made efforts to venture south to Jerusalem to make the 900-mile journey. However, at the beginning of his journey, Ezra recognized that, though he had adequate manpower to accomplish his task in Jerusalem, none of those men were from the tribe of Levi. This was a problem! Ezra was being sent to Jerusalem specifically to ensure the integrity of temple worship and sacrifice. The Persian rulers paid quite a sum to ensure Ezra and his team could do their jobs, hoping that they could receive favor from God. Yet, among the 1,498 men that Ezra counted, none of them were Levites.
The Levites were the men that God appointed to the work of the temple. The Law of Moses called for the Levites to have charge over most of the temple duties, including the receipt of sacrifices, the preparation of sacrifices, the distribution of sacrifices, and even the singing that was to take place during the sacrifices. Only the Levites were allowed to do this work and Ezra didn’t have a single Levite with him. The previous chapter in Ezra shows that the Persian rulers gave Ezra the freedom to take Levites with him, but somehow, the people failed to ensure there were Levites in the group when they first left. They had somehow overlooked where their volunteers had come from to ensure that they had the right people. They had permission to get the right people, but made an honest, yet critical mistake in their recruiting efforts. Upon recognizing this issue, Ezra immediately stopped the progress of his journey. This was an issue that he knew had to be addressed immediately, no matter the inconvenience or difficulty associated with the stoppage of their progress.
The Bible states that Ezra and his team stopped at a place called Casiphia that was just north of Babylon. They stayed there three days in order to seek a solution to their problem. Ezra didn’t lean on his own understanding to fix the problem, possibly realizing that it was his own understanding (or lack thereof) that created the problem to begin with. Ezra called for the elders of his group to convene. Ezra explained the issue and the men sought the Lord together. Ezra explains in the testimony of Ezra 8:1-20 that “the good hand of God” was upon them so that they were able to have “men of understanding” provide wisdom to them. Eventually, after three days, Ezra and his team were able to locate and recruit 38 Levites and 220 Nethinim (assistants to the Levites). Though the number of Levites was small, it was sufficient to meet the needs of His group, relative to the size of the total population Ezra was leading.
The scriptures explain that Ezra thanked the Lord for His provision. When the people made a mistake, God was able to correct it. The people were not purposefully negligent as was the case many times in the past. Still, God was able to address and satisfy honest mistakes that were made on account of the natural weaknesses of His people. Many times, the calling of the Lord is a great deal to bear within itself. The calling of the Lord can be just as overwhelming as the work needed to be done to fulfill the calling. Often times it is hard to process the amount of work that needs to be done and account for every detail. Though the absence of Levites at the start of Ezra’s journey was a great oversight, the Bible shows two important things to consider. First, Ezra would not compromise his work for the sake of convenience. Ezra had already begun a long journey with over 2,000 people under his care. It would have been inconvenient to stop their progress at that time, especially with children and livestock in their care. It would have been difficult to explain to the people that were counting on him that he had already made a mistake. Still, Ezra stopped for a long as was necessary to make sure that the work of the Lord was done right. He wasn’t going to cut corners. He wasn’t going to try to slide by, changing the commands of God to work with what he had. He knew he didn’t have what was required, but also knew the Lord was faithful to provided that which was need. Thus, Ezra was committed to taking whatever time it took for God to provide. He and the elders spent three days seeking the Lord, receiving His provision, and engaging the people according to the true standards of God.
Secondly, it is important to recognize that God honored the request of the people. God’s patience was not so short that He became frustrated and annoyed with the weaknesses of His people. The Bible teaches that God is merciful, gracious, and longsuffering. The Bible teaches that God knows the weakness of our frame, understanding that we often make mistakes. Regardless of the cause of the mistake, God was willing to hear the cries of His people that sought Him. God was willing to respond to the requests of His people that were depending on Him. God honored the humble desire of the people to serve Him correctly and eventually provided the people that were needed to do the job. God could have brought this mistake to Ezra’s attention beforehand, but didn’t do so. God let Ezra make the mistake only to show the patience and grace He offers to those who diligently seek Him. God dealt with Ezra in a gentle way so as to encourage the work; not in a harsh way to criticize Ezra’s weaknesses and problems. Thankfully, this is the way God works with those who seek to please Him by serving Him. He knows we fail. He knows we get overwhelmed. He knows our wisdom and understanding is flawed. He doesn’t expect us to obey His commands with flawless obedience. God accounts for the issues we cause, whether they are purposeful or accidental. Still, God provides favor according to His faithfulness so that His people can do the things that He commands, proving that, if not for the “good hand of our God being upon us,” nothing good would come of us.
When the Lord wants something done, God’s people can rest assured that the work will get done. The participation or ability of His people will not be a hindrance. The opposition of those who despise God will not be a hindrance. The scriptures show that God is willing and able to do whatever it takes to accomplish His purposes to fulfill His eternally unconditional promises. The scriptures teach that God is sovereign, all-powerful, has all wisdom, is supremely patient, and is everywhere all at once. God will leverage each of these attributes at any given time to influence people to fall in line with the things that He wants. If people desire God’s will but are unable and unqualified to participate in the works of God’s goodness, God will empower, enable, and protect His people, allowing them to contribute on the basis of mercy and grace. If there are people who oppose God’s purposes, God will either destroy them or change their minds and hearts so that they become champion supporters of His causes. The history of the Bible shows that God has done some exceptionally extraordinary things to fulfill His promises, definitively proving that He is God and there is no other!
The testimony of Ezra 7:11-28 documents historical evidence of this truth. The testimony of Ezra 7:11-28 documents a letter that King Artaxerxes wrote to Ezra, permitting him to go back to Jerusalem to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The contents of Artaxerxes’ letter resemble the words of someone who knew and feared God; perhaps the words of a Jew. Yet, Artaxerxes was a pagan Persian king. History shows that Artaxerxes followed the same pattern of leadership that his predecessors adopted. The Persian empire grew strong because of the influence that they imposed against the people and nations that they conquered. Their manner of rule was similar to that of the Babylonians. They sought to impress their culture and their manner of living onto those that they conquered so as to dispel future attempts of rebellion. Others were simply recruited into the Persian army and sent out to fight as slaves on behalf of Persia. Yet, the scriptures show that three Persian kings showed exceptional favor to the children of Israel and did things that seemed out of character, not just for the Persians, but for all ancient empires.
The letter from Artaxerxes first addresses Ezra in a way that is important to pay attention to. Artaxerxes referred to Ezra as not only a priest of Israel, but also as “the scribe expert in the words of the commands of the Lord and His statutes.” The scriptures never refer to anyone else in such a manner. It was not just that Ezra was a committed student to the Word, but was declared an “expert” in the things concerning the Lord. Artaxerxes saw the understanding that Ezra had with things pertaining to God’s Word and commands, and saw that no one compared to Ezra in this regard. Artaxerxes deployed Ezra because the Persian king felt that Ezra was best qualified to do that which Artaxerxes wanted done. Notice that it was Ezra’s understanding of God’s Word that enabled him to be “qualified.” Ezra’s leadership capabilities were not mentioned. Ezra’s financial wisdom and management was not considered. Ezra’s strength was not a factor. Ezra’s personality had nothing to do with Artaxerxes’ decision. Thus, the Bible shows that those who appear as “qualified” to do the work of the Lord as His servants, are those who understand the Lord according to His Word. Who better to serve the Lord to please Him than those who know the Lord and His purposes according to His Word?
Upon addressing Ezra in this manner, Artaxerxes issued his decree. He commanded his kingdom to recognize his personal desire for Jerusalem, specifically concerning temple worship in Jerusalem. Artaxerxes didn’t give Ezra permission to go to Jerusalem so much as he gave a command. The Persian king was extremely motivated to engage Ezra in his God-ordained purposes. Artaxerxes commanded Ezra to recruit volunteers from Babylon to take to Jerusalem with him in order that they could assist him to do that which God commanded in the Word. Artaxerxes explained that he was not the only one that felt it to be a good thing to send more Jews back to Jerusalem to manage temple worship. The king also explained that his seven chief counselors agreed with the king. Thus, God not only got a hold of the king’s heart, but also the hearts of the men that made up his cabinet. Suddenly, the Persian officials were considering the things of God, His purposes, and His commands according to His holy Word. Though the Persians were typically accustomed to imposing their own commands and standards, the scriptures show that God was influencing the hearts of foreigners to support His own purposes.
The Bible explains that Artaxerxes also financially sponsored Ezra and his purposes. The Persian king not only gave a command to return, but financially equipped Ezra and his team to ensure they were able to travel safely, quickly, and then perform their tasks once they arrived. Artaxerxes was sure to explain that the resources that were given to Ezra to take were donations given by the counselors and the king himself. The king explained that these men were giving “freewill” offerings to the God of Israel, recognizing that God’s dwelling was in Jerusalem. Artaxerxes was also sure to explain the purpose for the extensive amount of resources. The king and his counselors gave freewill offerings to Ezra and the Jews because they wanted Ezra and the Jews to give them to the Lord on their behalf. The Persian rulers wanted to engage Ezra in his purpose as a priest in order to seek the favor of the God of Israel! Therefore, they were adamant about the manner in which the resources were to be used. Artaxerxes wrote to Ezra that he needed to be careful about how the funds were used. The king emphasized that the money and resources were to be used specifically and exclusively for temple worship. The animals were not for the personal increase of the Jews, but to give as sacrifices and offerings on behalf of the Persians. The funds weren’t to be used for the personal increase of the Jews, but to pay for the labor that needed to be done to conduct the sacrifices and offerings.
This is important to consider. While God was exercising supreme control over all things to influence the hearts of pagans, thereby enabling His people according to His purposes and promises, the favor that His people received was NOT intended make His people rich. God did not provide favor to the Jews so that the Jews could simply escape bondage and live comfortably in the Promised Land to fulfill personal ambitions. God was not exercising sovereignty so that His people could indulge in the desires of their flesh. The increase of God’s people was intended to equip them unto God’s purposes. It was a miracle that God used Gentiles to increase God’s people, but the source of increase doesn’t change the purpose of the increase. The Persian king was clear to state that he and his counselors gave freely to Ezra’s purpose because they wanted to seek the God of Israel and receive His favor. Misutilization of the resources that the Persians gave would result in severe consequences.
The Bible explains that Artaxerxes also offered to give Ezra more if needed. The king essentially gave Ezra a blank check, signed by the Persian king, to do whatever needed to be done in order to do what the Word of God said. This is an amazing work of God! It is amazing to see that God can influence the heart of ANY person to suddenly and passionately believe in the purposes of God so as to equip His people unto their spiritual purposes. This is similar to the quality of giving that took place on the Day of Pentecost when the church of Jesus Christ was born. People willingly gave of their possessions in order to equip the apostles in their purposes to dedicate their lives to the proclamation of the Gospel. They sold their houses. They sold their goods. They gave their life’s savings. The people valued the purposes of God more than their personal ambitions and since they were not the ones called to apostleship like Jesus’ original disciples, they contributed to the cause by equipping the men and women that Jesus called to serve Him “full time.” Artaxerxes was a Persian king. He was not a man that understood the scriptures. He was not a man that knew the statutes and ordinances of God concerning the Law, sacrifices, and offerings. The king was confident in Ezra’s understanding of God based on Ezra’s understanding of the Word. Therefore, the Persian rulers did what they could to seek God’s favor by equipping God’s people with immeasurable access to the resources required to do their jobs facilitating the worship of the Lord God Almighty.
When Artaxerxes completed his decree, he explained that his commands were reflective of God’s own commands. Artaxerxes originally identified himself as the “king of kings” to testify of the extent of his authority. Yet, at the end of his decree he recognized that the God of Israel is the God of heaven. Though Artaxerxes might have had supreme rulership over the people, God had supreme rulership over him. This is why the Persian rulers sought God’s favor. Somehow, they learned of God’s supreme power, control, wisdom, and goodness. Somehow, the Persian rulers learned of God’s affection for the children of Israel. Recall that the testimony of Ezra Chapter 4 summarized the opposition that the Jews faced when trying to restore Jerusalem. During that time, there were men that wrote letters to Artaxerxes seeking to foil the progress of the Jews. They encouraged Artaxerxes to do his own research to learn about the history of the Jews. It was then that Artaxerxes began to learn about God’s people, and while he put a stop to the progress of the Jews at that time, the Lord struck fear in his heart at some point later.
The testimony of Ezra 7:11-28 reflects the king’s fear of God. The Persian king didn’t want God’s wrath coming upon him and his people. This is why the Persian rulers sought God and His favor. This is why they paid so lavishly to equip God’s people in God’s purposes. Somehow, knowing the sovereign and supreme control and power of God, they were terrified of what might happen if God poured out His wrath upon them. The Persians enabled God’s people on account of their fear of God Himself and threatened anyone that might interrupt God’s purposes for the Jews according to the scriptures. It didn’t matter that the Persian rulers were pagan Gentiles. God revealed Himself in whatever way that was necessary to get their attention, strike up fear, and engage them in His purposes by influencing their hearts and minds. When Ezra received the king’s decree, he was encouraged and confident in God’s purposes. He recognized the hand of God over the king’s heart. Ezra knew that God was the One who put these things upon the heart and mind of the king; influencing his personal desires to match God’s holy purposes for Israel. This is not something that happens naturally. Ezra recognized and acknowledged the transcendent involvement of the Lord God Almighty, and referenced God’s mercy as the cause of all these good things. Ezra was encouraged, not only by God’s power, not only by God’s supreme control, not only by the fear that God caused, but by the fact that all of this favor was provided to Israel on account of mercy. It is the mercy of God that enables God’s people in these sorts of ways. Hence, Ezra was encouraged by the hand of God that was revealed through mercy, thereby engaging Ezra in his purpose, but in a humble and meek manner that exalted and glorified God properly.
The Bible teaches that God offers and provides mercy to His people for a purpose. While all people are conceived in sin, born wicked, and live spiritually separated from God and His purposes, God desires to take many of those people, transform them from the inside out, and equip them for His eternal purposes. God takes people that He compares to vessels fitted for destruction, and equips them as vessels of mercy in order to use them as instruments of righteousness. The scriptures teach that God’s purposes are not arbitrary. Having created each and every person uniquely for His purposes, God desires to teach people who He is and reveal His goodness to them in the process of the work His people do to serve Him. God has special and unique learning experiences ordained for each of His people. This means that each of the events within the lives of His people have been carefully orchestrated and arranged to motivate, equip, and enable God’s people to serve Him in particular ways, thus leading His people to receive exceptionally awesome revelation from God!
The Lord doesn’t waste moves in His providential care. While it might seem like there are moments in life that are slow, pointless, or foolish, God is ALWAYS using EVERY moment in life for a purpose. The cliché that “everything happens for a reason” is absolutely true. We might not always understand the reason, and the reason might not be fully realized until much later in life, but the Bible makes it very clear that God is always working to move His people from one place to the next in order to serve His needs, and learn of His goodness and glory in the process. This truth is made clear in the testimony of Ezra. In Ezra 7:1-10 the Bible describes the events that took place that led Ezra from Babylon into Jerusalem. The scriptures first explain that Ezra was called by Persian authorities to go into Jerusalem. Ezra was originally one of the captive Jews that were living in Babylon, but was being deployed to Jerusalem by command of the king.
The scriptures first identify Era’s heritage and genealogy to reveal that this man was a direct descendant of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel. This truth already reveals the extent of detail that God considers when He appoints His people for specific duties. The position of the high priest was very important for the Jews. He was the man that was chiefly in charge of leading the children of Israel in scarifies and worship, overseeing that the ordinances and statutes of the Law pertaining to the worship of God were followed properly. The high priest was also chiefly in charge of interceding on behalf of God’s people. It was the high priest that was called to atone for the sins of the Jews on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was the high priest that was called to enter into the Holy of Holies once a year, offering sacrifices unto the Lord on that day. It was the high priest that was called to waive the grain offerings before the congregation of Israel on the day of Pentecost as a prophetic picture of Jesus presenting Jews and Gentiles as “approved” unto God. When the first group of Jews left Babylon to go into Jerusalem, Joshua was the high priest. The testimony of Ezra 7:1-10 explains that Ezra was being deployed into Jerusalem for that purpose, being born of the correct heritage. Though Ezra was born in Babylon as a descendant of Aaron, his purpose to serve as high priest in Jerusalem was finally being realized.
The scriptures explain that Ezra was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses. This is an important detail to consider as well. In the Book of Daniel, the scriptures explain that Nebuchadnezzar took the choicest young men of Israel and put them through a 3-year assimilation program. Nebuchadnezzar’s goal was to entrench the Jews into Babylonian culture so that the Jews would grow comfortable and appreciative of Babylonian culture, thereby distilling the likelihood of future rebellions. The testimony of Daniel explains that Nebuchadnezzar changed the names of the people from Hebrew to Babylonian. He changed the diet of the Jews by giving them access into the king’s own food resources. Lastly, Nebuchadnezzar educated the Jews in Babylonian literature and taught them their language so as to strip their cultural identity from them.
This was a common method used of ancient empires, and was fairly successful towards many of the Jews at that time. Yet, the scriptures explain that Ezra was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses. This means that, while many were being forced to assimilate into Babylonian culture, God was somehow making it possible for Ezra, a direct descendant of Aaron, to have access to the Law of Moses and the time to study it diligently. This is not a coincidence. It might have seemed like an act of futility to read the Law of God in a region as foreign as Babylon. Ezra was born to be a high priest, but his upbringing didn’t resemble the traditional means of preparation for that position. Still, the Lord was preparing Ezra for his purpose. Ezra was somehow able to possess the Law, read the Law, study the Law, and become the most skilled scribe in the Law as the Law would have required of the high priest. The circumstances to prepare for the Levitical priesthood, especially as the high priest of Jerusalem, might have seemed backwards, but God is the Master of using the “backwards” to accomplish His good purposes.
The scriptures state that, not only was Ezra able to possess and study the Law, but the king of Persia was the one who granted Ezra permission to go down to Jerusalem in order to fulfill his purpose. This is also unusual. The testimony of Ezra stated that the Jews finished building the temple during the reign of King Darius I in 515 BC. The scriptures also testify that it was Artaxerxes that gave permission to go down to Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign. This would have been 457 BC. This means that the temple had been completed fifty-eight years prior; this is seventy-nine years after Joshua, the first high priest that left Babylon, began building the temple. This is a long time! Three major Persian kings had ruled during this time that had elapsed. This is an entire generation’s worth of time that Ezra was in Babylon without purpose, studying the Law diligently for a purpose that he couldn’t fulfill until 457 BC!
When Ezra went down to Jerusalem, he didn’t travel alone. The Bible explains that Artaxerxes allowed Ezra to take more of the captives in Babylon back down to Jerusalem with him in order to help him manage the temple worship. Ezra didn’t take just anyone. He took men that would be helpful to his purpose to administrate the temple worship and sacrifices. He was able to take some more priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and Nethinim. There are two things to consider in these details. First, it is important to notice that more captives were leaving Babylon to assist in temple worship because of the inadequacy of the ones that were already there. The scriptures show that the priests, Levites, and temple workers that were already there had quickly fallen into sin and needed stronger leadership. It was not just that Ezra was being deployed to fulfill his purpose, but that his purpose was to lead his people to repentance. It likely would have been a joy to enter into the Promised Land of his people, but his people were not in a condition that was pleasing to the Lord. Ezra’s escape from captivity in Babylon would not consist of fun and games, comforts and bliss. Ezra’s was going into a difficult situation, which leads to the second point. No matter how many of God’s people fail, He always has enough vessels to get His job done. The spiritual leadership in Jerusalem was failing, but God was able to send prepared reinforcements to do the job correctly. God’s people can easily be replaced when seeking to serve self instead of God; but for those called lead as Ezra, notice that the Lord provided the manpower support Ezra would need.
The testimony of Ezra 7:1-10 shows that God had covered all of the required basis to engage Ezra in his purpose. The circumstances didn’t seem helpful to Ezra’s purpose at first, but the Lord provided adequate means for Ezra to prepare himself to do the job God had prepared for him. The scriptures explain that God has prepared “good works” for His people since before the foundation of the world! The resolution of Ezra’s circumstances to end up back in Jerusalem show God’s providential care and supreme wisdom was always at work. Whether Ezra realized it or not, God was preparing Ezra for a great purpose. The scripture explain that Ezra left Babylon on the first day of the first month and arrived in Jerusalem four months later. The scriptures are clear to explain that it was the “good hand of his God upon him” that enabled Ezra to enter Jerusalem safely, prepared, and able. The timetables listed in this portion of scripture are especially important to pay attention to. While it is not clear how old Ezra was when he made his journey, it is clear to see that God took many years to engage Ezra in his purpose. Those years prior were not wasted years. Those were the years that Ezra spent in preparation for his purpose – specifically seeking the Lord with his heart through the knowledge of the Law. This just goes to show that the long time that had elapsed in Ezra’s life before he got to Jerusalem was the required time he needed to prepare to do the job God appointed to him. This is true for all of God’s people, whether we realize it or not. Any time God’s people spend “preparing the heart to seek the Law of the Lord and do it to teach it” is not wasted time, no matter how much time elapses until God’s people get to actually do the work.
The Bible explains that the people of God were created in order to give Him praises and worship on account of His goodness and glory. When God’s people praise Him, we are fulfilled in our purpose and satisfied in our souls. The Lord exercises His sovereign control to engage His people in His righteous works so that His people can learn of Him and experience the revelation of His mercy and grace through the work. It is in this time that God shows who He really is. It is one thing to read about the mercy of the Lord. It is another thing to walk by faith in the promises of God, serving His eternally unconditional promises by His righteousness and experiencing His mercy. When God’s people are able to see the power, majesty, glory, greatness, and goodness of God’s hand in this manner, it is an AWESOME experience – one that God’s people should not only cherish in the moment, but relish and desire more than anything else in life. God doesn’t need to engage His people in His work. He can do the work Himself. Instead, God allows His people to participate in His purposes so as to see His goodness through the work He does, thereby fulfilling His desire to receive praises, so long as we give our praise to Him.
Evidence of this truth is provided in the testimony of Ezra 6:16-22. This portion of scripture details the work that the Jews conducted in order to dedicate the temple and subsequently celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem was a miraculous event. God changed the hearts of many people, both Jew and Gentile, in order to engage His people in the work of restoring Jerusalem. While the construction of the temple only took seven years, the overall elapsed time for the temple to be completed was twenty-one years. The children of Israel took a fourteen-year break from the work that God commanded because of outside opposition as well as internal indifference. This stoppage in work goes to show just how hard it was to do what God had commanded. Thus, when the temple was completed, the people rejoiced in ways that were incredible! Though God promised to restore His people, the destruction that Babylon caused to Jerusalem made it seem as if God’s promises would have been impossible to fulfill. With man, many things are impossible. With God, all things are possible as was made evident by the work that God did through the hands of His people.
The dedication of the temple was a lot of work, but was done with absolute joy. The temple was dedicated to the Lord through sacrifices and offerings according to the Law of Moses. The scriptures testify that the people offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and twelve male goats. This was a joyous celebration, but a bloody one. This was a time of rejoicing, but also a time of great labor and slaughter. This is important to understand. While God desires the praises of His people, God is holy. He does not just want any sort of praises. God’s people do not have the liberty to make up their own way of worshiping and thanking God. If not for the provision of God Himself, we wouldn’t even have the motives to thank God. Thus, God’s people must look to the standards of God’s righteousness in the Word to know how to thank Him rightly. Since sin causes distance between mankind and God, the Lord requires sacrifice to deal with sin before His people can praise Him. Therefore, the joy of the people was not such that they sought to praise the Lord profanely. Instead, they were faithful to the commands of God, trusting them to be right and true, and did what God said, but found joy in doing so. To them, it was a privilege to labor in the Lord with joy because of the extent of work they had seen God do through their own hands unto their great benefit.
Upon dedicating the temple in the appropriate manner, each Levite took to their responsibilities in order to celebrate the Passover feast and the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. The dedication of the temple was not a celebration that took place to replace the normal feast days. The celebration of the dedication was conducted in addition to the normal feast days. This is the extent of thanks that the people had for the glory of the Lord. The scriptures testify that the Levites made sure that they were still purified according to the Law and each person did as the Law required. They didn’t cut corners even though some time had elapsed. The scriptures stated that the temple construction finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which would have been February 3rd. The Passover festival took place on the fourteenth day of the first month of the sacred calendar year. This would have been nearly a full month later. Still, the people did exactly as the Law commanded, no matter how recently things had been done. The people still celebrated with great joy, no matter how much time had passed.
The testimony of Ezra 6:16-22 explains that all of the people who returned from the captivity of Babylon ate together and rejoiced to seek the Lord God of Israel. This was a feast of praise to the Lord through the fellowship of His people. Notice that the people not only ate together, but purposefully sought the Lord. There are many people that share meals together and speak of perverse and profane things. There are many people that share meals together but do not consider the Lord at all – even in church settings. This was not the case of the celebration of the people at this Passover festival. The people came together – not for food – but to rejoice in the work that the Lord had done to fulfill His promise. The Lord promised to bring His people back into the land. The people were back in the land. The Lord had promised to restore the spiritual integrity of the people. The temple where the presence of the Lord once dwelt was rebuilt. The Lord promised to be the God of His people, and there the people were, able to offer pure sacrifices unto God according to the righteous standards of His Law. The Lord was faithful to restore His people, even if it was to this small degree. No matter how many people were in the land or how big the temple was, the Bible explains that the people were thankful to God for what He had done and sought to celebrate the faithfulness of God together. The Lord had used each and every one of them in His work. It was fitting that each and every one of them enjoyed the benefits of the work God had completed.
The Bible explains that the people celebrated this way for the full seven days of the feast. While it might seem like a burden to some to consider the Lord, these people saw it as an opportunity and privilege that was of supreme value. Some people scoff at the idea that God should be praised, as if there are more fulfilling and entertaining things to do. Some approach the worship of God as a burden as if it is taking away from something else that is better. The Bible proves that this is not true. The testimony of Ezra 6:16-22 shows that the people were fulfilled and excited. They didn’t just have fun – they had joy. There is a big difference between the two! The Lord expects praises from His people, but this is not at the expense of His people. Praising the Lord and expressing thanks according to the righteous standards of His Law does require death to self, but that is only so that the soul will be satisfied according to the Lord’s purpose. Many seek the praises of men more than the praises of God, but the testimony of Ezra 6:16-22 shows that the praises of men is cheap compared to praising God in recognition of the good things that God has done through His people for His benefit AND ours.
The world today is a culture that seeks to drive the theory that if a person puts their mind to it, they can accomplish anything. According to the Bible, this sort of thinking is the basis for most sin. Sin is categorically identified as the attitude of the heart or human philosophy that contradicts the truth of God’s nature, character, holiness, and righteousness. The idea that anyone or anything can exist or function apart from the power, mercy, and grace of God is a lie from the pit of hell. It was this very thinking that caused the devil to rebel against the Lord God Almighty from the very beginning. This was the basic essence of sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden. They consumed fruit that promised to produce knowledge of good and evil apart from the revelation of God. They pursued a quality of goodness apart from God, figuring that to be possible. They sought the knowledge of evil in order to oppose God as if they could do so without consequence. The scriptures plainly teach that God is the creator AND sustainer of all things. When God breathed life into all living creatures in the Genesis account, the word used to describe life is a word that simply describes ability of any kind. God created creatures, appointed their purpose, and made them functional to accomplish that purpose. The Book of Colossians teaches that all things were created by Jesus, for Jesus, and in Him ALL things consist. If not for the ability that God provides through Jesus, no one would be able to exist, let alone perform.
Understanding and remembering this truth should be one of the primary focuses of any Christian. When God’s people focus on this truth, we are able to then examine the truth of circumstances for what they are – the effects of God’s hands. Then, God’s people are able to more easily connect the circumstances of life to the big-picture plans of God’s work concerning the Gospel. Seeing life through the lens of God’s hand is what causes God’s people to notice God’s power, acknowledge His sovereignty, praise His wisdom, and worship His grace. This truth is made evident in the testimony of Ezra 6:13-15. In this portion of scripture, the Bible explains how the second temple was completed. King Cyrus, the king of Persia, initially sent out a decree calling for some of the captive Jews in Babylon to leave there, go back to Judah and Jerusalem, and begin rebuilding the Lord’s temple and restoring temple worship. Cyrus appointed Zerubbabel and Joshua to administrate the logistical, civil, and spiritual requirements of this work. Cyrus provided legal permission and financial provision to engage the Jews in God’s purposes.
The Bible explains that the Jews arrived in Jerusalem and began laying the foundation of the temple in 536 BC. They immediately began offering sacrifices in praise and thanks to the Lord, but also experienced great opposition and discouragement from some of the native Samaritans that lived in the area. The construction continued until the foundation of the temple was completed two years later. After that, the people allowed their discouragement from the circumstances of the building and the opposition to cause spiritual indifference. The Jews took a 14-year break from the command that the Lord had given to His people! During that time, the Jews began using the tools, resources, time and energy that God gave to build the temple in order to build up their own personal ambitions. The Lord was not pleased at all. During that time, God sent prophets to exhort and encourage the people back to their purpose. God sent the prophet Haggai first. The words of Haggai were rough. Haggai spoke harsh words of criticism against the Jews. God was displeased with their spiritual apathy and warned that if they didn’t get to work on their original purpose, there would be severe consequences. Having originally been captive in Babylon, the Jews knew God was serious.
Also, during that time, God sent the prophet Zechariah. The words of Zechariah were less severe. Zechariah’s message was one of encouragement, explaining to the Jews why it was so important that the temple got build. God told the people His plans concerning the Messiah. The temple needed to be built because it was an important part of God’s prophetic plans. God swore that He would take the form of flesh as the Messiah and walk in that very temple in order to offer salvation to His people and fulfill His eternally unconditional promises to the world. This message coupled with the message of Haggai was sufficient to refocus the minds and hearts of God’s people. The testimony of Ezra 6:13-15 explains that the people reengaged in their work on the temple in 522 BC under the reign of King Darius I. This was an amazing feat since the opposition against the children of Israel had intensified. The Jews were not only opposed by the native Samaritans, but also some of the Persian governors had written letters to King Darius to question the building in Jerusalem. Though the Persian governors tried to frustrate the work of God’s people, the sovereign wisdom and work of God had ensured that His people could not be stopped. The accusations against the Jews could not be verified by Darius. Instead, Darius was able to validate the work of the Jews according to the previous declarations of King Cyrus. Darius not only co-signed on Cyrus’ original declaration, but also issued his own declaration to further empower and equip the Jews. The temple was ultimately completed in 515 BC as a result.
The testimony of Ezra 6:13-15 explains that it was the sovereign work and transcendent influence of the Almighty God that enabled the completion of the temple. Ezra testifies that after Darius sent out his decree to enable the Jews in their construction, the Persian governors that opposed the Jews soon became their biggest champions. God’s influence over the heart of Darius caused the Persian governors that opposed God’s work in Jerusalem to fear the words of their Persian king; and while submitting to the decree of their king, they were actually submitting to the will of God! This doesn’t take place unless God first changes the heart of Darius. Additionally, Ezra testifies that the words of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had a profound impact on the Jews that were supposed to be building. It was not just that the building ceased for 14 years because of foreign opposition. Flat out, God’s own people had lost interest in God’s purposes and began to indulge in their own. The hearts of foreign people weren’t the only hearts that needed to be changed. God spoke His word through the two prophets that He sent. Those words had an impact and were sufficient to change the hearts of God’s people. They were no longer seeing their personal ambitions as the most valuable things in life. The people suddenly cherished the purposes of God more than their own, and completed the work that needed to be done according to God’s purposes.
God changed the hearts of Cyrus, Darius, and also Artaxerxes in the future. Where there was opposition, God exercised His sovereign control to influence the hearts of the world’s most influential people in order to enable His purposes, proving that He is the Lord God, and there is no other! He is most powerful. He is most supreme. He is the wisest. When His own people needed to be directed towards the Lord’s good purposes, the Lord was able to influence the hearts of 49,897 Jews as well. There is no work too hard. There is no group too large. There is no person too powerful. There is no individual too stubborn. When God says something will get done, it will get done. Every jot and every tittle of every facet of His Word WILL be done! It is true that the work took a total of 21 years. The building only took 7 years, but when considering the 14-year break that God’s people took, the total lapsed time in construction on the temple was 21 years! This is obviously a lot more time that it should have taken. Nevertheless, this was the exact amount of time that God ordained. The prophetic timeline outlined in Daniel’s 70 Weeks Prophecy shows that God had already accounted for all of this time. He knew how long the temple should have taken to be built. He also knew how much time it would actually take to be built. In the end, the temple was built in the exact right time according to God’s prophetic and Messianic purposes; and if not for the sovereignty, wisdom, power, mercy, grace, and patience of God, the work never would have been done at all. The Bible makes this perfectly clear. Praise be to God for His sovereignty, wisdom, power, mercy, grace, and patience that enables any person to contribute in any way to the work of His glory and greatness!
It is a difficult thing to understand the miraculous work of God. Though we call God’s works “miraculous,” we as people always have the tendency to try to explain it. We forget that the nature of God’s work is unexplainable. The scriptures themselves describe God as “wonderful,” which literally means, “full of wonder,” referring to the fact that He is difficult to comprehend. God’s ways are not like human ways. His thoughts are not like human thoughts. He uses things that seem foolish to people to accomplish His purposes that always result in good in the end. While everything in nature reproduces of its own kind, God’s power transcends nature so that He is able to produce righteousness from corruption. This means that, when God does things that seem impossible or unlikely in the scriptures, they are hard to understand. It difficult to understand how God’s sovereign control and power is able to influence people. It’s is difficult to understand how God is able to drive people in the direction of His purposes in order to fulfill His promises, even when they don’t recognize God’s influence. Yet, these are important qualities to recognize of the Lord because this is the power that He uses to bring deliverance, restoration, redemption, salvation, and blessings to His people. If not for the “wonderful” sovereignty of God, we would not be able to enjoy the benefits that He promised.
This truth is made clear in the testimony of Ezra 6:1-12. This portion of scripture documents the research that Darius I, king of Persia conducted to verify the claims of the Israelites concerning their work to rebuild and restore the temple in Jerusalem. King Cyrus sent Zerubbabel, Joshua, and many others to Jerusalem over ten years prior. They began building the temple within two years, laid the foundation of the temple, and then took a 14-year break from their construction. The Lord was angry with the spiritual negligence of His people. He sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to exhort and encourage His people to get back to work according to His original purposes. When they did so, they began to experience opposition from the Persian officials that were close to the land. The Bible mentions two specific men that inquired about the Jewish construction that interrogated the Jews to intimidate them. The intimidation tactics were unsuccessful. The Jews were prepared with confident answers to the questions of the Persians, testifying of the greatness of God, His sovereign command to build, and referred to official permission and sponsorship they had from King Cyrus. The Persian officials weren’t satisfied with the answers of the Jews, and so they sent a letter to the new king, King Darius I, in order to let him know what was going on, in hopes that he would put an end to the Jewish restoration.
The testimony of Ezra 6:1-12 explains that the efforts of the Persian officials failed again. King Darius I received the letter of “inquiry” from Tattenai and Shethar-Boznai (the Persian officials), and conducted his own research. Upon searching the historical archives and recorded documents, the Bible explains that Darius found a scroll in the palace that was in the province of Media. That scroll contained the information regarding Cyrus’ first decree to deploy the Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild and restore Jerusalem, especially the temple. It didn’t take long for Darius to discover that the Jews were just following orders that were given by his own predecessor. Yet, the Bible also shows that when Darius read Cyrus’ original decree, he was moved himself to respond zealously in favor for the children of Israel. Not only did Darius validate the original decree of Cyrus, but also went a step further to support the Jewish restoration. Darius issued his own decree in the same way that Cyrus had originally issued his. Like Cyrus, Darius also called for the Persian officials to leave the Jews alone and let them do their work. In fact, Darius went a step further and told the Persian officials to collect the local taxes and give those funds to the Jews to financially support their building efforts. Additionally, Darius told his own governors that if they opposed the Jews in any way, they would have their own houses torn down and hung from their doorposts.
When examining extra-Biblical resources and secular history about Darius, it is hard to reconcile those historical facts about Darius compared to his decree as documented in scripture. The historical testimony of Darius shows that he was a ruthless man. He sought to expand the Persian empire by taking slaves from all over, and instead of training his own people to fight, forced his captives to fight on his behalf. He constantly waged war with major kingdoms and empires like the Greeks and sacrificed many lives of his captives in the process. The loss of men in battle didn’t seem to affect him as much as the embarrassment of defeat. The testimonies of Darius seem to imply that he had little regard for those he conquered. Yet, the testimony of Ezra 6:1-12 shows that Darius extended tremendous favor towards the Jews. Darius read the decree of Cyrus and seems to have fallen in love with the Jewish people so as to encourage them, enable them, and threaten his own people if they were to oppose them. How is this kind of temperament possible considering all that we know of Darius in other historical references?
This miraculous change of heart can only be explained by the sovereign power and control of the Lord God Almighty. The Bible explains that the Lord is God and there is no other. He is the Creator of all things and in Him, all things consist. He is not just the Lord of things on earth, but also spiritual entities, principalities, and rulers of the darkness of this age. God is in control of EVERYTHING! Therefore, it should come as no surprise that He was able to implant His own desires into the hearts of those who originally opposed Him. Consider how important this testimony is as it speaks to validate God’s promise to offer salvation of the soul. The scriptures boldly proclaim that none are righteous. All fall short of the glory of God and are conceived in sin, born into condemnation. Even in salvation, Christians are not made righteous. The principle of “justification” explains that those who believe upon Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah will be “declared” righteous on account of that faith. This does not mean that God’s people are made righteous – at least not in this life. Thus, even God’s people continue to live in this world as corrupt, unrighteous, and wicked.
The miracle of salvation is made manifest any time a child of God does something considered righteous according to the Word of God. A Christian is not able to do righteous works in salvation because of a transformation that took place. A Christian is able to do righteous works in salvation because the Spirit of God dwells within the hearts of a corrupted person, motivating, influencing, and manifesting God’s own righteousness through that person despite the corruption. Then, the transcendent power of God is made manifest. Though God uses corrupted vessels to do His righteous works according to His promises, His righteousness is so great that He is able to produce light out of darkness, where naturally, darkness would only be able to produce darkness. This is exactly what God did with Cyrus AND Darius. God exercised His sovereign control over the conscience, heart, and human drive to influence two Persian kings to desire His own divine purposes for the children of Israel. These desires were contrary to their normal personalities. These desires were counter-productive to the goals of ancient empires. None of that mattered. Seeing the miraculous favor that Darius provided for the Jews is clear evidence that God is able to do whatever needs to be done to restore His people unto His promises of blessing!
Knowing this, the people of God should be encouraged and emboldened. God has promised to restore His people. Though God’s children are not made righteous in this life, the essence of God’s promise is centered on eternity. His influence and control of the human spirit, as seen with Cyrus and Darius, is evidence that God’s power transcends our rationale, understanding, and logic. God’s power is eternal indeed! Since this is true, He is well qualified to offer the quality of restoration that the scriptures emphasize. Clearly, God will exercise whatever control is necessary to do what He promised. Even if God has to turn the hearts of the enemies of His people He will do so; and He’s already repeatedly proven that He can! Who then can oppose the Lord God Almighty? Who then can contend with the God of Israel? When Darius read the original decree of Cyrus, his heart was stirred up, not only to empower and enable the people of God, but also to seek Him. The testimony of Ezra 6:1-12 explains that Darius wanted the temple to be completed quickly and sacrifices to carry on. The Bible states that Darius wanted the Jewish priests to conduct their sacrifices and offerings day-by-day as commanded by God in order that “the God of heaven” would be pleased and the priest could even pray and give offerings to the Lord on behalf of himself and his sons. Darius wanted the Jews to give sacrifices and offerings on his behalf!
This is the kind of change God can do in the hearts of even the most spiritually-distant people. Who could have guessed that someone as ruthless and uncompassionate as Darius I would have shown the Jews so much favor and even sought the favor of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? As odd and unusual as it might seem, this sort of change and miracle is right on par with the rest of the Bible’s testimonies of God’s work. It might be difficult to explain and rationalize from a human perspective, but from a scriptural perspective, this is just God being God, proving to His people that He is faithful and able to deliver, restore, and bless His people according to His eternally unconditional promises!
The Bible teaches that none are righteous and that all fall short of the glory of God. The psalms declare that all people have been conceived as sinners so that when born, we are like “vessels fitted for destruction.” In other words, unless God intervenes in the lives of His people, all people would remain condemned according to the sinful nature that identifies every human being. Thankfully, the Bible shows that God is just, but also merciful. God has taken it upon Himself to work miracles in the lives of some that He has called to be His people. God does not make these people righteous, but instead, takes up residence into the hearts of His people by His Spirit, in order to restore and revive the corrupted soul, thereby motivating and manufacturing works that are in the likeness of God’s own righteousness. Thus, God works through His people according to His righteousness to accomplish His own purposes by the control and influence of His own Spirit. This work becomes obvious to onlookers, and the Bible refers to this miracle as “fruit of the Spirit.” The problem with this work is that those who continue to live without the Spirit, according to natural human depravity, oppose the work of God. Therefore, since the work of God takes place by the transcendent influence of His own righteousness in the lives of God’s people, those who oppose God inevitably oppose God’s people. This has been true since the beginning and will continue to be true until the end.
Knowing that “the world” hates God and His people because of the work God does through His people, it is important for God’s people to understand how to handle such opposition. The nature of this opposition is on account of the work that God desires to do through His people concerning spiritual and eternal purposes that result in God’s glory. This means that it is important to continue in the work despite the opposition. Still, the scriptures show that there are particular ways to deal with opposition that lend to the glory of God as well. God is not merely glorified in the completion of the work done through His people, but also in the manner in which His people persevere through opposition to complete those works. The testimony of Ezra 5:3-17 shows the appropriate way to handle various oppositions that come to those who diligently serve the Lord and His purposes. In Ezra 5:3-17 the Bible explains that there were two men from the Persian government local to Jerusalem that sought to question the work of the Jews building the temple. These men were named Tattenai and Shethar-Boznai. While these men were not malicious in their inquiry about the work of the Jews, their inquiry was a nuisance to the work nonetheless.
The Bible explains that these two men found out about the construction that Zerubbabel and Joshua had been managing and sought those men for questioning. The Bible doesn’t say who the Persian governors questioned, but they were able to question some of the Jews involved in the building. The questioning by the Persian governors shows that those who oppose God’s work will come from many places and from all angles. Recall that, at first, the Jews were pestered by men that were native to the region of Samaria. This means that the Jews were hated and opposed by those local to their work and those foreign to their land. Recall that this opposition was influenced by demonic activity in the spiritual world, showing that the spiritual entities that oppose God’s work will leverage any available people as tools to disrupt the purposes of God. The Persian governors sought to intimidate the Jews by asking to know the names of the leaders of their group and questioned their intentions. The scriptures show that God’s people were prepared with simple answers.
Though the Jews sufficiently answered the questions of the Persian governors, the Persian governors continued in their efforts to frustrate the work of the Lord. The Bible explains that Tattenai and Shethar-Boznai wrote a letter to King Darius to let him know about the things that were going on. While it might seem like Darius should have already known about the activity in Jerusalem, history reveals that Darius I had his mind more diligently focused on matters in Greece. Darius I was the king that opposed the armies of Athens, engaging in famous wars such as the Battle of Marathon. The attention of Darius I was more focused on things in the west towards Greece, not necessarily things in the south in Jerusalem. The letter that the Persian governors sent to Darius was simply a recount of the information they had received from the Jews. The letter sent to Darius was not exaggerated or embellished to slander the Jews, but was merely an attempt to confirm whether or not the people had permission to do the things they were doing as they had claimed.
There are a few good things to learn about how to respond to opposition from the letter that was written to Darius. First, it is important to recognize that the Persian governors referred to God as “the great God.” This shows that God already had a reputation for being the God of all gods, and that the attitudes of the Jews didn’t diminish from His reputation. The Jews spoke of God in a manner that would have supported the reputation God had, which means that they spoke confidently and boldly. This is likely due to the exhortations and encouragements that the Jews received from the writings of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Though the Persians worshiped their own false gods, they recognized the supremacy of the God of Israel on account of the testimony of His people. Thus, those who serve the Lord and deal with opposition should not let the opposition affect our attitudes towards the One we serve. He is “the great God” whether we are able to serve Him in simplicity or in opposition.
Next, the scriptures show that the Jews had truthful and plain answers for all of the question that the Persian governors asked. Though the Persians sought to intimidate the Jews, the Jews weren’t intimidated because they knew the truth of God’s identity AND His purposes. Having received divine instruction from God through the prophets, the Jews were confident in their purpose to build the temple and knew of the extent of provision and protection God was undertaking to enable the completion of the work. The Jews didn’t stumble in their answers because they knew who God was and knew what He was doing. In 1 Peter 3:15 the Bible says:
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always [be] ready to [give] a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…”
The Jews were questioned by the Persian governors and they were prepared to give a defense concerning their conduct and purpose. They provided a reason for why they were living the way that they were, doing the things that they were doing. The hope that was in the hearts of the Jews was centered on the completion of the temple because they knew that’s where God’s heart was. Those who know God and His purposes are able to respond with the appropriate “defense.” Those who walk according to the heart of God are able to understand the hope that is in them and communicate that hope with clarity, purpose, boldness, and conviction. The Jews knew that God had ultimately given them the command to complete the temple, but also explained the practical manner of God’s work. The Jews explained that God exercised His sovereign control to use King Cyrus to engage Zerubbabel and Joshua with legal permission to rebuild the temple. The Jews told the Persian governors that Cyrus not only gave permission, but financially sponsored the cause, as well as returned the holy items of the temple back to the Jews to use upon completion of the construction. The Persians were left with nothing else to say, except verify the testimony with Darius I.
Here, it is important to understand the work of God that enables His people to confidently answer the opposition. Notice that God not only sent His own people as prophets with divine instruction, warning, and encouragement, but the manner of God’s work to enable His people was miraculous too. When God used Cyrus to enable the Jews in the construction, He also disarmed future Persian opposition. How could one Persian king oppose the clear and obvious desire and order of past Persian kings? How could Darius go against the desires of the man that preceded him, making it possible for him to have the extent of rule that he did? God knew what He was doing. He didn’t just work a miracle to change the heart of Cyrus, but showed tremendous providential wisdom to do His work in such a way that ensured the continuance of His purposes. God enabled His people in such a way that would ensure they remained enabled. Therefore, the servants of God had nothing to fear seeing that God had dealt with the opposition long before the people opposed. Thus, the right response towards opposition is simply to state the clear facts about who God is and what He has done – nothing more, nothing less.
The Bible is historical in nature, but is unique in the way that it is organized. There is a great deal of scripture in which the details of certain events are not listed chronologically, or more in-depth details are provided in different portions of the Bible. This means that it is important to consider all scripture when studying any one particular point. Context and historical setting are critical components to understanding the Word and God’s intents. For example, in the testimony of Ezra 5:1-2 the scriptures explain that the prophets Haggai and Zechariah both prophesied to the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Joshua. Recall that the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem had completed laying the foundation for the new temple, but were experiencing opposition from some of the people in the surrounding areas. The opposition sought to distract and discourage the efforts of Zerubbabel and Joshua and the testimony of Ezra 5:1-2 explains that God addressed this opposition through the words of the two prophets that He sent. However, these two prophets documented their words to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem and those words are included in the Bible under the titles of each prophet’s name – the books of Haggai and Zechariah. Thus, while Ezra’s testimony mentions that God responded to the opposition of His people with prophetic utterances, those utterances are clearly documented in other parts of the Bible.
It is important to take into the consideration the full scope of Ezra’s testimony. Ezra 5:1-2 explains that Zerubbabel and Joshua rose up and began to build the house of God until it’s completion, but there is a great deal of time and activity that took place between verses 1 and two, which is documented in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. The prophet Haggai was sent first. First, it is important to see that the prophet Haggai begins his address to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem by providing a date and time stamp. He wrote the first part of his letter on September 1, 520 BC. Haggai makes mention that it was the second year of Darius’ reign, the king of Persia. This means that King Cyrus of Persia had died and that the construction of the temple had halted on account of the persecution that had taken place. Consider these dates. The Jews were sent back to Judah and Jerusalem by Cyrus in 538 BC. The construction of the temple began two years later in 536 BC. The foundation of the temple was laid and completed two years after that in 534 BC. Darius I became king in 521 BC, and Haggai’s letter is dated in 520 BC. This means that construction had ceased from 534 BC when the opposition began all the way until 520 BC, in response to Haggai’s and Zechariah’s prophecies. That shows that there was a fourteen-year gap in building! Haggai explains why.
The testimony of Haggai explains that the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem became discouraged by the opposition of those who lived in the neighboring regions, and that discouragement quickly turned to indifference. The prophecy of Haggai candidly explains that the zeal and joy that the people had when they finished laying the foundation of the temple, quickly fizzled out. The people didn’t like the opposition that they faced. The people didn’t endure the frustration. The people didn’t persevere in the obstacles. Instead, Haggai reveals that the people started to loath the difficulty of the task God ordained, and began to gratify their personal and selfish ambitions. They took the resources intended for the temple and used them to build up their own houses. The people took the time and energy that was supposed to be put towards the rebuilding of the temple, and invested their time into personal aspirations and goals. Thus, God severely charged the people to get back to work through the prophet Haggai. Though the people invested their time and energy into self-gratification to cope with the difficulties of God’s ministry, God made it so that the people were absolutely dissatisfied with the results of their efforts. They sowed much crops but harvested little in that 14-year period. They ate a great deal, but were never satisfied in that 14-year period. They clothed themselves lavishly, but could not stay warm or maintain joy in that 14-year period. It was not as if the people just didn’t want to work. Haggai was candid to explain that the people labored to earn wages, but their labor was for their personal purposes, not God’s. Therefore, God made it so that the people could not attain their personal and financial goals. God said it was as if they earned wages just to put the money in a bag with holes in it.
God was clearly exercising His sovereign control over all things to cause bitterness in the hearts of His people. This goes to show that those who have been appointed to serve the Lord in particular ways will by no means find satisfaction until that service is rendered in humility and gratitude. God will make sure of it! God spoke through the prophet Haggai to call the people to repent. God gave them 14 years to come to their senses, and in 14 years the people proved that they did not really care much for God’s original purposes. If not for God’s intervention through His prophets, the people would have remained indifferent to God’s purposes, remained in their bitter dissatisfaction, and the temple would have remained unfinished. God was angry that the people were so concerned for their personal affairs while His own house lay in ruins. The people had quickly grown cold towards God on account of the opposition that they first faced. It is sad to see how little resolve the people of God can have when the slightest bit of inconvenience, challenge, or difficulty arises. Those who were praising the Lord for progress one day, were soon denying His Word and purposes through selfish ambition. God responded to the spiritual apathy of His people by sending a drought, which affected the ability of the people to prosper in their personal endeavors. This shows that God will exercise the full extent of His control over creation to engage His people in His purposes when necessary.
The prophet Haggai wrote about how the “discouragement” of the people was not an excuse to stop doing what God said. Apparently, the people took the words of their persecutors to heart, especially concerning the size of the temple they were building. The size of the second temple paled in comparison to the size of Solomon’s temple. When the opposition made fun of the efforts of the Jews, the Jews shut down and sought to prove themselves by building up their personal gain rather than obeying the simple commands of God. God was not pleased and commanded the people to repent, or else. Haggai’s exhortation was a strong threat to the people that, according to the testimony of Ezra, was sufficient to inspire the people to get back to work with the same zealous passion they had before their 14-year vacation.
It is helpful to know that God didn’t simply employ threats to His people to engage them in His purposes. While the prophecy of Haggai was stern and intense, the prophecy of Zechariah was extremely encouraging! The tone of Zechariah is much different than that of Haggai’s words. The Lord used the prophet Zechariah to encourage the people by providing a glimpse into what was happening in the spiritual realm of reality. Recall that when the Jews in Jerusalem and Judah began receiving opposition that the prophet Daniel prophesied about this opposition in Daniel Chapter 10. There Daniel wrote about a demonic entity that was opposing the people of God during the days of King Cyrus. Daniel also wrote about God’s response to that demonic opposition, in that God appointed angels to combat the demons that were influencing those who persecuted Zerubbabel and Joshua. The prophet Zechariah received a series of visions that explained the details of some of the spiritual opposition that took place during that 14-year break in construction.
Zechariah’s letter begins with a call to repentance. God quickly explains, like He did through the prophet Haggai, that the people were committing evil by neglecting the command to rebuild the temple – especially as they were using allocated resources for their personal gain. Zechariah then had several visions that involved “the Angel of the Lord” and His work to stimulate the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem. Here, it is important to recognize that the identity of “the Angel of the Lord” is none other than Jesus Christ. His appearance and attributes are identical to the manifestations of Jesus in New Testament portions of scripture, and is simply referred to “the Angel of the Lord” to identify His pre-incarnate nature. The Lord allowed Zechariah to see Jesus exercise His power and authority in the spirit realm to enable the progress of Zerubbabel and Joshua. Though the Jews were being opposed in this world, God was regulating the extent of opposition in the spiritual world. Thus, no matter the quality of opposition that the Jews faced, they could rest assured that God was still in control, doing the work that needed to be done to enable His people in obedience.
Additionally, Zechariah was able to hear the continual affirmations of Jesus that the promises of the Father would be fulfilled. Though the children of Israel were judged for their disobedience, Zechariah was told to continually write that God would STILL fulfill His promises to Israel to bring them back into the Promised Land. Zechariah was commanded to repeatedly write that God STILL desired to dwell with His people in the land, specifically in Jerusalem. This is why the reconstruction of the temple was so important. God was still committed to His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and vowed to dwell with His people as their Savior, and wanted to do so in the very temple that Zerubbabel and Joshua were commanded to build. Their purpose was bigger than their personal ambitions, and the prophet Zechariah was sent to boldly and profoundly proclaim this truth! God encouraged the people through Zechariah, though the structure seemed small, God’s work was HUGE! He would pour out His own Spirit to equip His people. He would exercise His almighty and sovereign authority to keep the opposition in check from the sprit realm. Regardless of the accusations of even Satan himself, God would exalt His people and glorify Himself through them. This was the promise of “the Lord of Hosts,” or the “Lord of Armies,” referring to God’s authority of ALL things in both heaven and earth.
This is why the people repented and got back to work. Receiving a stern warning of God’s judgment, but also powerful words of encouragement concerning God’s Messianic plans was sufficient to reenergize the people according to their purpose. The people were able to see the risks of disobedience by being reminded of God’s judgments. The people were also able to be encouraged by the testimony of Zechariah, seeing the extent of attention and spiritual resources the Lord was allocating to the success of His people to rebuild Jerusalem. The testimony of Ezra 5:1-2 explains the results of God’s merciful and gracious declarations that took place during a 14-year break. The brief testimony of Ezra 5:1-2 shows that, no matter the spiritual opposition, the physical frustrations, or the personal indifference of God’s own people, God’s purposes WILL be accomplished in the exact manner, at the exact time that He desires. There is no one and nothing that can prohibit the purposes of God. Therefore, those who are engaged in the purposes of God can move forward with confidence knowing that God Himself is doing all of the work since the results of the work resolve in the manifestation of His glory through the fulfillment of His promises.