Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Does God ever make use of earthly kings who are not believers to facilitate His work? Today's passage shows that He does.
When Ezra returns, he has in his possession a letter of authorisation from the king (Ezra 7:11). Personally addressed to Ezra, it decrees that any Jewish priest or Levite who wishes to accompany Ezra is permitted to do so (v. 13). Ezra is to assess the situation in Judea and Jerusalem with regard to the law of Moses (v. 14), and to ensure that the law is understood and obeyed, and that proper worship of God in the temple and a judicial system according to the law is established.
Ezra is not being sent empty-handed; he is supplied with gold and silver from the royal treasury (v. 15). He is also authorised to collect contributions from the province of Babylon and freewill offerings from the people (v. 16). This is to be used to pay for various sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple (v. 17). The remainder of the money is to be used at the discretion of Ezra and the leaders as God directs them (v. 18). Further, Ezra is authorised to collect contributions from the provincial leaders (vv. 21-24; this part of the letter is addressed to treasurers of the Trans-Euphrates). But he is not allowed to collect taxes from the priests, Levites, and temple workers (v. 24).
Ezra is amply provided for, so that the worship in the temple is not hindered in any way. The king takes care to ensure that God's commands are carried out by the Jews ″with diligence″ (v. 23). The motive for the great lengths to which Artaxerxes goes is stated: ″Why should [God's] wrath fall on the realm of the king and of his sons?″ (v. 23). This was also the motive of Cyrus and the other Persian kings; they had sought to placate the local gods in their realm for their own wellbeing, but God uses this self-interest for His own eternal purposes. Ezra recognises this and attributes the king's goodwill to the work of God in Artaxerxes' heart (vv. 27-28). Surely ″in the LORD's hand the king's heart is a stream of water that he channels towards all who please him″ (Proverbs 21:1).
Ezra is also authorised to set up a legal system to administer justice according to the law of Moses and to punish those who break the law (vv. 25-26). He is also to teach the law to the people (v. 25). Ezra recognises that the hand of his God is on him and is greatly encouraged (v. 28).
Many things in our lives, like travel visas, loans, scholarships, and job applications, may be decided by authorities who may not be believers in our Lord. It is good to remember that God rules over all and can also overrule. God can use such authorities to fulfil His purposes in our lives, and we must not forget to pray. We may be surprised at how He can answer our prayers beyond our imagination.
When things work out well and you feel the favour of everyone, who do you think is at work? How would this motivate you to obey God fully?
The king's letter focused on right worship and proper justice according to God's law. How would you assess your worship and obedience of God, and help others to do the same?