Bible Focus: Ezra 1-6
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken through Jeremiah, the LORD roused the spirit of King Cyrus to issue a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom and to put it in writing:Ezra 1:1-4 CSB
This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: “The LORD, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you, may his God be with him, and may he go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. Let every survivor, wherever he resides, be assisted by the men of that region with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem.”
From a young age, we humans have an intense desire to be the rulers of our own destiny. We don’t like to submit to authority. As little children, we have almost no power to earn possessions or provide for our own needs, but we fiercely defend what is “ours” and we passionately argue for what we want. Even when everything we have has been given to us, we still want to act as if we can call the shots.
Growing up doesn’t automatically make us better. We still don’t like to submit to authority. Once we obtain a bit of power, we’re often reaching for much more. Maybe we develop more capacity to earn money and suddenly we’re diving into foolish debt. Maybe we make a few solid decisions and suddenly we’re acting like we can control everything around us. But in reality, everything we have has been given to us by God. We must remember that we are not the One who is calling the shots.
For hundreds of years, Jerusalem stood as the center of Israel’s worship. God empowered King David to capture the city and he enabled King Solomon to build its temple. God told the Israelites to worship him alone, but they stubbornly refused to abandon their idols. After countless warnings, God turned them over to their enemies. The Babylonians captured Jerusalem, deported tens of thousands to Babylon, and ultimately destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. But God promised his people through his prophets that Babylon’s control would not last. God promised the Jewish exiles that he would bring them back to their land.
After about seventy years of Babylonian control, the Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon. Cyrus declared that the Jewish exiles were free to return to Judah, and he gave his support for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Many of the exiles chose to return. They settled in Judah, began worshiping God in Jerusalem, and laid the foundation of the temple.
However, the non-Jewish leaders living in the area opposed the building of the temple. They intimidated the Jews, bribed officials, and complained to the Persian kings that followed Cyrus. They eventually persuaded one of the kings that the Jerusalem temple project was a bad idea. That king issued a proclamation to stop the building, and for years the temple sat unfinished.
But then God sent a message through his prophets Haggai and Zechariah, saying to the Jews that the temple must be finished. The Jews obeyed God’s message and began to rebuild the temple again. The local authorities were shocked. They confronted the builders, asked for their names, and demanded to know who had ordered the rebuilding. The builders responded:
We are the servants of the God of the heavens and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. But since our ancestors angered the God of the heavens, he handed them over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon. However, in the first year of King Cyrus of Babylon, he issued a decree to rebuild the house of God.Ezra 5:11b-13 CSB
So the local authorities sent a letter to the current king, Darius, asking if the builders’ claim was true. King Darius ordered a search of the royal records, and found that the Jews indeed had royal permission to rebuild and were entitled to government support. So Darius ordered the local authorities to cooperate, and threatened extreme penalties on anyone who interfered. The Jews continued building until the temple was complete.
So the Jewish elders continued successfully with the building under the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and King Artaxerxes of Persia. This house was completed on the third day of the month of Adar in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. Then the Israelites, including the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.Ezra 6:14-16 CSB
In reality, the rebuilding of God’s temple was never under the control of the Persian kings, or the local authorities, or the Jewish exiles who had returned. God was the one who moved Cyrus to free the exiles. God was the one who moved on the hearts of the exiles to return. God was the one who spoke through his prophets urging the Jews to finish the job they had started. And God was the one who removed the obstacles and provided support so that the Jews could complete the temple. Bottom line, it was God’s will that the Jews would rebuild the temple, and so it was done. Nothing was going to stand in God’s way.
Here’s the good news: we’re not the rulers of our own destiny. Everything we have in this life has been given to us by God, and every bit of our salvation has been earned for us by Jesus. If we believe in Jesus, then we will have all the good things God promises to us in Jesus. The most powerful thing we can do is to accept this good news and then find courage in whatever God has for us next.
Featured image from Chris King on Unsplash.
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