The Lord is above all the kings of the earth. He had His purposes for Nebuchadnezzar in bringing Judah into exile. He also worked through Cyrus in sending the people of God back into the land. After some time Darius issued a decree that the Lord used in the continuation of their work to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Now in Ezra 7 we read of another king, Artaxerxes, who provided for the later return of Ezra the priest to the new Israel.
The Lord knew what His people needed. To the kings of eastern empires this land was just one province that they called “Beyond the River,” and Yahweh was just one god among many. But this one God was moving these rulers according to His purposes, helping His people in their obedience and worship in their new life that He had granted to them in the Promised Land.
In that territory that the Lord had given so many centuries before to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, His people needed more than a place of worship. They needed a teacher of the Law who would help the people to rightly understand the Word that He had given through servants in earlier days. Ezra was a key priestly figure who called the people of God to Scriptural fidelity in his generation. Ezra was given much support by Artaxerxes in his mission, but behind and beneath the desires and actions of both of these men was the hand of the Lord God Almighty.
Ezra did not return to the Promised Land alone. Other priests and Levites came with him. He had studied the Law and was prepared to teach it to his people along with others who served the Lord. These men came with a letter from Artaxerxes commending Ezra, encouraging others to go with him, and commanding full support of their efforts from the local officials in the land.
Artaxerxes was not a priest or a Levite. Someone had instructed him that the furtherance of this policy of supporting the servants of the Lord would be good for his administration, lest God’s wrath “be against the realm of the king and his sons.”
Artaxerxes also gave to Ezra the authority to appoint judges in the land who would rule according to the Law of God. Ezra and those whom he appointed were to see that violators were punished.
How is it that Artaxerxes showed such favor to the Lord’s Word in this particular province? These developments came from the Lord. His Name deserved to be praised, for God “put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem.” It was the steadfast love of the Lord that led to these great blessings. The God who had disciplined them had not forgotten them. His hand was with them in rebuilding the life of worship among His people.
We have even more powerful indications of the Lord’s steadfast love for us in the New Testament era. The cross is our continual reminder that the Lord has loved us with an everlasting love. Jesus has assured us that He will build His church, and that even the gates of hell will not be able to stand against the kingdom Word that will go forth from His humble servants. We have been instructed to teach the Word of the Lord all over the earth with the solemn assurance that our labors in the Lord will not be in vain. This is more than any of the kings of the earth could guarantee us. The promise has come to us from the One who rules over all.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Father, we shall not give up in our mission when You give us strength for the moment before us. You have prepared us for this work of prayer and service. You have trained us and have placed around us others who provide much help. You place Your hand upon Your ministers, and they are granted a heart to study Your Scriptures and to teach Your people. You provide the financial resources for Your Word to be taught and known. You bring to our minds the facts of our redemption by the sacrifice of Your Son, and we are suddenly helped by Your great power. Even the presence of enemies all around us can become the very thing that is necessary for Your good work to go forward. Grant us wisdom from Your Word, so that the greatest glory will come to Your holy Name. Fill the hearts of many men and women with godly impulses according to Your great plan.