27Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way 28and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials.
As I read through the book of Ezra last week, the thing that made the greatest impression on me was God’s ability and willingness to change the hearts of powerful people to accomplish His purposes. I’m thankful that we serve a God who is active in the lives of men and women and changes the hearts of those in authority to accomplish His will here on earth. It doesn’t even matter whether those in authority recognize or serve Him! It’s easy to doubt that such a thing will happen when those in authority over us seem to be brick walls in our path. When our parents or boss or clients or even spouse have a history of treating us one way, it’s hard to imagine that anything will change.
That’s the situation the Israelites found themselves in after being taken into captivity in Babylon. Yet God moved on the hearts of three different rulers to release the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city and their temple. First, the Babylonians (Israel’s conquerors) were conquered by King Cyrus of Persia. You can imagine that the Israelites could hardly imagine, barely believe it possible, that a man who had just conquered their conquerors would set them free to return to their homeland. But that’s exactly what happened. It’s described in Ezra 1:
1In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:
2“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.
Here is this pagan king acknowledging that God has appointed him to build a temple Him! There are a number of theories about why Cyrus would believe such a thing and release the Israelites, but they are just theories. Perhaps he wanted to ingratiate himself to his new subjects. Maybe the prophecies of Jeremiah were shown to him and he understood himself to be God’s instrument. Maybe he had a reverence for the God of the heaven.
No one knows the mind of the king except the one true King who clearly influenced it. Matthew Henry points out in his commentary that releasing the Israelites to return to Jerusalem went against all common wisdom: It would have been in the interest of Cyrus’ government to continue to have the Jews as slaves; it would certainly not have been in the interest of his country to allow the Jews to establish their own homeland and government again; and in allowing the Israelites to build a temple for worship, King Cyrus was going against the religion of his own country.
But God moved on his heart and he released the Israelites to return to Jerusalem and establish themselves in the city, rebuilding the city walls and the temple. Rebuilding is a long process, however, and after a few years Israel’s enemies tried to hinder the rebuilding. They tried to intimidate the Israelites and wrote letters to the current king, King Darius, warning him of the dangers of allowing the Israelites to regain their autonomy. So God moved on the heart of King Darius. He sent this memo:
Memorandum [from King Darius]:
3In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem:
Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid…The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. 5Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, are to be returned to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; they are to be deposited in the house of God.
6Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you, their fellow officials of that province, stay away from there. 7Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site.
8Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God:
The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. 9Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, 10so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.
11Furthermore, I decree that if anyone changes this edict, a beam is to be pulled from his house and he is to be lifted up and impaled on it. And for this crime his house is to be made a pile of rubble. 12May God, who has caused his Name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem.
I Darius have decreed it. Let it be carried out with diligence.
Did you catch that? Not only did Darius support the work of the Israelites, he commanded that those who had been opposing it provide the Israelites with all they needed to finish the work! Oh, and while you’re at it, provide whatever they need to make offerings to their God, too! What an amazing turn of events. Israel just received “most favored nation” status in the Middle East!
But God wasn’t finished. Some time after the temple was finished, God moved on the heart of King Artaxerxes to release Ezra and all Jews remaining in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to worship the Lord.
11This is a copy of the letter King Artaxerxes had given to Ezra the priest and teacher, a man learned in matters concerning the commands and decrees of the LORD for Israel:
12 Artaxerxes, king of kings,
To Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:
13Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with you, may go. 14You are sent by the king and his seven advisers to inquire about Judah and Jerusalem with regard to the Law of your God, which is in your hand. 15Moreover, you are to take with you the silver and gold that the king and his advisers have freely given to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16together with all the silver and gold you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the freewill offerings of the people and priests for the temple of their God in Jerusalem. 17With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams and male lambs, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings, and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem.
18You and your brother Jews may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God. 19Deliver to the God of Jerusalem all the articles entrusted to you for worship in the temple of your God. 20And anything else needed for the temple of your God that you may have occasion to supply, you may provide from the royal treasury.
21Now I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you—22up to a hundred talents of silver, a hundred cors of wheat, a hundred baths of wine, a hundred baths of olive oil, and salt without limit. 23Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons? 24You are also to know that you have no authority to impose taxes, tribute or duty on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants or other workers at this house of God.
25And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them. 26Whoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.
Three kings, all who’s hearts were changed to favor the Israelites. I’ve included lengthy passages here to illustrate how completely their hearts were changed – how incredibly favorably disposed they were toward the Jews.
Many years ago I sat across the desk from a potential client. We had completed a couple of small projects for him and had quoted on a very large project. He looked me in the eye and said “We’ve had the budget approved for this large project for a very long time, but I’ve never given the job to anyone because I never trusted anyone to do it well. I’m ready to give the project to you.” I wanted to respond by saying “Why?” Instead I graciously accepted the large project, went back to the office and did the happy dance!
From an earthly perspective, this new client had no reason to trust me with his large project. Performing well on a couple of small projects in our line of work is not a strong indicator that a firm will perform well on a large project. The skill set is significantly different. Additionally, I had only met with him a couple of times, so we hadn’t had enough interactions for him to truly gauge my integrity. I like to believe we’re nice people and comfortable to work with, but still…“Why?” was the question in my mind.
Almost as quickly as the question was formed, the answer came…nothing but the grace and favor of God. God wanted to make it clear to me that our business would grow by His grace. My job was to do my best, lead and work with integrity, and trust Him for grace and favor with clients.
Sometimes I forget that. When clients seem impatient or make unreasonable demands I can fall into the trap of feeling like I have to “do it all” to please them or to keep our business afloat. It’s times like that when I am glad that I serve a God who changes the hearts of those in authority.
How about you? Are there situations in your life that where it seems hopeless that someone in authority will change their mind or behavior? God can change their hearts! Take a few minutes today to ask God to forgive you if you’ve been responding poorly to that person’s leadership or if you’ve doubted that God can change the situation. Then ask God to change the person’s heart and ask Him how you should be responding to the situation. Is some change required on your part? In each of the examples above, the Israelites were serving the king before God changed the king’s heart. Are you serving well?
Remember, friends, that no situation is hopeless. Our God changes the hearts of men (and women).