Ezra 5, 6

Ezra 5, 6

SERIES: The Providence of God

The Lord of History

Introduction:  The other day I watched a news program which indicated that gambling is the fastest growing industry in the United States.  Forty-eight states now have some form of legalized gambling—lotteries, horse racing, dog racing, casinos, etc.  Even East St. Louis has finally discovered the golden egg that is supposed to pull it out of poverty—legalized gambling.  When you add to that all the legal and illegal gambling that goes on in sports, office pools, card games, church bingo, and the stock market, you have a situation that boggles the mind, dwarfing every legitimate business and industry in our nation.

It is not my purpose this morning to offer social or moral commentary on the proliferation of gambling, though I do not mind stating flat out that I believe it is one of the most destructive trends in society today.  But I would like to ask two questions.  First, why are state and local governments, Indian reservations, charities, and even churches so eager to promote an industry which is a parasite on public morals and whose only proven products in the lives of those who participate are poverty, addiction, crime, and suffering?  The answer, of course, is money—short-term profit for short-sighted promoters.  

The other question is, of course, why are people so gullible to think they can beat the odds, or even if they beat the odds, to think that money won in gambling will ever bring them happiness?  Read the accounts of major lottery winners over the past decade and the only conclusion you can draw is that winning the lottery is a sure path to broken relationships, divorce, poverty, and depression.  The gullibility can only be explained by the fact that people have lost the perspective of an ordered universe governed by a sovereign, benevolent God.  If there is no infinite personal God and if the luck of the draw is the primary factor determining your station in life, then why not gamble?  

But the Christian has another perspective.  There is no place for “luck” in his system (in fact, I wonder whether the word should even be in the believer’s vocabulary), and his frame of reference puts contingencies in a whole new light.  He sees God as not only the Creator and Sustainer, but also as the Lord of history.  Our journey through the OT book of Ezra brings us today to the completion of the post-exilic temple, and while we want to pay attention to the historical facts unfolding before our eyes, our focus this morning will be upon the evidence of God’s providential interaction in the affairs of men.  Before reading chapters 5 and 6 a brief review may be helpful for the sake of those who have not been with us recently.  

The Jewish people were taken into captivity in about 600 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who also destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the great temple of Solomon.  The Babylonian empire, however, was short-lived, and its conqueror, Cyrus, king of Persia, adopted an enlightened policy of allowing captive peoples to return to their homelands, renew their religious practices, and enjoy a reasonable measure of self-government, so long as they paid their taxes and remained loyal to the empire.  Among the beneficiaries of this policy were 50,000 Jews who returned to Palestine in 538 B.C. with specific permission from Cyrus to rebuild their temple.  With a burst of enthusiasm, they succeeded in laying the foundation, but then opposition from the people who had settled there in their absence, plus spiritual apathy and distorted priorities in their own lives, brought the work to a standstill for some 15 years.  

God sent two prophets—Haggai and Zechariah—with a simple message: “off and on”—off your seats and on your feet and get this temple built!  As we read chapters 5 and 6, I want you to keep your eyes open for both overt and hidden evidence of God’s providential interaction with His people.  We will remain seated as this is a long portion of Scripture.  Ezra 5-6:  

             Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. 2 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Joshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.

             3 At that time Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates went to them and asked, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” 4 They[a] also asked, “What are the names of those who are constructing this building?” 5 But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received.

             6 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates, the officials of Trans-Euphrates, sent to King Darius. 7 The report they sent him read as follows:

             To King Darius:

             Cordial greetings.

         8 The king should know that we went to the district of Judah, to the temple of the great God. The people are building it with large stones and placing the timbers in the walls. The work is being carried on with diligence and is making rapid progress under their direction.

         9 We questioned the elders and asked them, “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?” 10 We also asked them their names, so that we could write down the names of their leaders for your information.

         11 This is the answer they gave us:

         “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 But because our ancestors angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon.

         13 “However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God. 14 He even removed from the temple of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple in Babylon. Then King Cyrus gave them to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor, 15 and he told him, ‘Take these articles and go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem. And rebuild the house of God on its site.’

         16 “So this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God in Jerusalem. From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished.”

         17 Now if it pleases the king, let a search be made in the royal archives of Babylon to see if King Cyrus did in fact issue a decree to rebuild this house of God in Jerusalem. Then let the king send us his decision in this matter.

         King Darius then issued an order, and they searched in the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon. A scroll was found in the citadel of Ecbatana in the province of Media, and this was written on it:


         In 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. It is to be sixty cubits[a] high and sixty cubits wide, with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. Also, 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.

         Now then, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and you other officials of that province, stay away from there. Do 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.

         Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God:

         Their expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and olive oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, 10 so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.

         11 Furthermore, I decree that if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it. And for this crime their house is to be made a pile of rubble. 12 May 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.

         13 Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence. 14 So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. 15 The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

         16 Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy. 17 For the dedication of this house of God they offered a hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred male lambs and, as a sin offering[b] for all Israel, twelve male goats, one for each of the tribes of Israel. 18 And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses.

         19 On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. 20 The priests and Levites had purified themselves and were all ceremonially clean. The Levites slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles, for their relatives the priests and for themselves. 21 So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel. 22 For seven days they celebrated with joy the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.

The first obvious evidence of God’s providential interaction in this story is that …

God watches over His people.  (5:1-5)

Verse 5 says, “But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped.”  The context reveals another attempt to interfere with the work in addition to the numerous attempts we witnessed in chapter 4.  Apparently, the enemies of the Jews solicited the governor (Tattenai) to institute legal action against the project. This development must have been discouraging to the exiles.  After 15 years of inactivity, they finally renew their obedience to God and wham! they get hit with renewed opposition.  

This suggests to me a principle worth considering, namely that spiritual renewal inevitably invites opposition.  This isn’t abnormal; this is normal, and there are numerous examples of it in Scripture, particularly in the book of Acts.  You see, the Enemy of our souls has nothing to fear from a lukewarm, apathetic Christian, but a renewed believer is a great threat to him. If you were in Satan’s shoes, wouldn’t you try to generate trial and tribulation to discourage anyone who showed enthusiasm for the will and work of God?  I think so.  

Is the answer, then, to choose apathy so that life can be peaceful?  Apparently many Christians think so, but the problem is that such a choice fails to take into consideration that there are two distinct kinds of peace–there is the peace of a stagnant pool, and there is the peace of God that passes all understanding.  The apathetic believer can only experience the former, never the latter.   

Now Governor Tattenai gives evidence of being even-handed and objective; in fact, one gets the impression that he only reluctantly pursues this matter, perhaps as a political carrot to the rabble rousers who are opposing the Jews.  So rather than issuing an injunction against the temple construction while the matter is being investigated, he allows the work to continue until the appeal process is completed.  But the author of Ezra gives the credit for this to God.  Tattenai’s deference to the Jews is attributed to the fact that “the eye of their God was watching over them.” 

Is the eye of God still watching over His people?  Is this a principle that we can count on today?  I believe so, though it is not always obvious while we are going through a situation. Let me suggest an illustration.  The fall of Communism has been the major news story of the past three years.  The last world-wide boss of the Communist party was in our state a few weeks ago declaring the demise of that godless philosophy.  But to whom or what is the credit given for this totally unforeseen event? 

Some have given credit to capitalism (“free enterprise has defeated socialism”).  Some have credited the Reagan military buildup (“we forced Communism to spend itself to death”).  Others have credited democratic dissidents, market forces, or Gorbachev himself (though I doubt if he intended to destroy his own power base and work himself out of a job).  Still others may attribute the fall of communism to luck.  But few seem to see in this amazing development the eye of God watching over His people.  After all, there was a faithful remnant in the Soviet Empire who refused to bow the knee at the altar of communistic atheism.  And there are tens of millions more who had never heard the Gospel who now have a window of opportunity if we will share the Gospel.

Can you see the eye of God watching closer to home?  Examine your own life.  Think of the influences that have ravished many homes–addiction, divorce, crime, cancer–which most of us have escaped.  Is that because we are so righteous?  Is that because we are so hard-working?  Is it because we are lucky?  Or is it because the eye of our God is watching over us?  The second evidence of God’s providential intervention in our story concerns the correspondence we read earlier between Tattenai and King Darius. 

God turns potential evil into good.  (5:6-6:12)

In stark contrast to the letter Rehum and Shimshai wrote to Artaxerxes in chapter 4, this letter from Tattenai to Darius in chapter 5 is a model of decorum and fairness.  He simply states the facts, asks for information, and allows the Jews to speak for themselves. However, we must remember that his letter is the result of an effort on the part of sinister forces to stop the building.  There was the expectation that a search of the royal archives would fail to produce the alleged decree of Cyrus.  After all, since Cyrus’ death ten years earlier there had been great turmoil in the empire.  Two successors survived only nine years total, and Darius himself is in a very tenuous position.  Perhaps the enemies of the Jews have reason to believe Darius will not even search for Cyrus’ edict, but rather simply issue a stop order based upon his own self-interests.  

But God turns the tables on the enemies of His people.  He not only allows the decree of Cyrus to be found, but He also moves the heart of Darius to go way beyond the decree in supporting the work of the Jews.  Darius not only orders Tattenai and his fellow officials to stay away from Jerusalem and not to interfere with the work on the temple, but he renews the order of Cyrus that the expenses are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, actually from Tattenai’s tax base—a part of Cyrus’s decree that had apparently never been obeyed.  

Furthermore, even the animals for burnt offerings and any supplies needed by the Jewish priests were to be provided daily without fail.  (Not that the king is being entirely altruistic about this. There’s something in it for him too, as he indicates in verse 10—”so that the priests may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.”  Darius was a polytheist, and a few extra prayers from another god were nothing to sneeze at).  

Still further, the king adopts sanctions to go along with his orders.  “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.”  This is not mere rhetoric, friends.  Herodotus informs us that Darius once had 3,000 leading citizens crucified for an attempted coup.

Yes, God turns potential evil into good.  He has been doing so from the book of Genesis to this very day.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but later is able to say to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  I can think of an example in my own life.  Nearly 20 years ago I was fired from a teaching job in a fundamentalist college because of my “liberal views” (I once said in class that the wine that Jesus produced at the wedding feast of Cana was real wine, not grape juice).  But God used that event to turn my heart to the pastorate and to the Free Church.  My wife endured the very painful divorce of her parents when she was 8, but a few years later she came to know Christ through the witness of her new stepmother.  If we look for it, we can find many examples of God turning potential evil, or even real evil, into good.

Darius’ letter concludes, “May 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.”  Well, friends, Darius may have decreed it, and I suspect he was basking in a high estimate of himself as the greatest power broker in the world of his day when he did so, but our text goes on to tell us a third way in which God’s providence interacts with His people, and it is this:

God causes human instruments to cooperate with His purposes.  (6:13-15)

Verse 13:  “Then, because of the decree King Darius had sent, Tattenai, governor of Trans-Euphrates, and Shethar-Bozenai and their associates carried it out with diligence.  So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo.  They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia.  The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius,” (i.e., about 20 years after their return from exile).

When we say that God uses people to accomplish His purposes, most of us have no problem with that.  We know He uses pastors and missionaries, and teachers, and faithful workers all the time. Here emphasis is placed upon His use of two preachers—Haggai and Zechariah—to motivate His people to finish the temple.  

         He uses preachers to motivate His people.  (6:13-15)  If you read Haggai and Zechariah you learn quickly that these preachers are given little personal credit for their work, for over and over it says, “the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai” or “the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah.” These men were cooperative instruments in the hands of a sovereign God.  But a truth that is a little more difficult for us to grasp is the fact that God not only uses His own people to bring about His purposes—He is also perfectly free to use those who don’t even acknowledge His ultimate Lordship.  

         He uses kings to decree what He commands.  (6:14-15) The Jews may have finished the temple according to the decrees of Cyrus and Darius (v. 14), but those decrees were in turn the result of a previous command of God (also v. 14), even though the kings were unaware that God was using them to do His will.  I turn you to the book of Isaiah, chapter 44 to get a better picture of how God operates behind the scene.  This passage is a prophecy about Cyrus, but the subject might just as well have been Darius, or Gorbachev.  We’re going to begin reading in the last verse of Isaiah 44 and continue through the 7th verse of chapter 45: 

It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd,
And he will carry out all My desire.’
And he says of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’
And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’”

This is what the Lord says to Cyrus His anointed,
Whom I have taken by the right hand,
To subdue nations before him
And to undo the weapons belt on the waist of kings;
To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:
“I will go before you and make the rough places smooth;
I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars.
I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden wealth of secret places,
So that you may know that it is I,
The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.
For the sake of Jacob My servant,
And Israel My chosen one,
I have also called you by your name;
I have given you a title of honor
Though you have not known Me.
I am the Lord, and there is no one else;
There is no God except Me.
I will arm you, though you have not known Me,
So that people may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the Lord, and there is no one else,
The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating disaster;
I am the Lord who does all these things.

God is still using human power brokers without their knowledge.  He sets them up and takes them down.  At times He may use a despot to punish a nation; at other times He may establish a benefactor to reward a nation.  Then again He may even use a despot to be a benefactor.  I think of Mobutu, the ruthless dictator of Zaire, who nevertheless has been a powerful friend of the Free Church’s medical missions work in Zaire.  

Just remember that God is not paralyzed by the powerful people who seem to be obstacles to truth and justice in your life. You may have a vicious boss who has regard for neither man nor God, but God has the power to remove him immediately or cause him unwittingly to act in your best interest.  That is why the Scriptures encourage us to pray for those in authority over us.   

Now you can see that I have inserted a parenthetical thought in my outline.  I do this in an effort to be absolutely honest with the facts.  We have seen three kinds of evidence from our text that God providentially intervenes in human affairs in behalf of His people.  First, He watches over His people and sustains them during trial.  Second, He turns potential evil to good.  And third, He causes human instruments, both good and evil, to cooperate with His purposes, even though they are often unaware of it.  

But what about when He doesn’t?  What about times when despite the watchful eye of God, His work is stopped?  What about times when the potential evil becomes actual evil?  What about times when human instruments are allowed to operate at cross-purposes to God’s will, with the result that many innocent people are hurt?

Would anyone here want to question that sometimes God’s providence does not intervene?  What happens then?  Is it theologically fair to give God the credit when things turn out well and not blame Him when they don’t?  I’m not sure I can give a completely satisfactory answer to these questions, but I trust I can help you put the matter in perspective. 

There are two extremes we want to avoid.  One is the extreme of determinism, often accompanied by fatalism—the notion that every detail of our lives is preplanned to the extent and degree that human freedom is eliminated, and contingent events are viewed as non-existent.  The humorous example I think of in this regard is the radical Calvinist who fell down the stairs, picked himself up, brushed himself off, and sighed, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over.”  I don’t believe the Bible teaches that God is just pulling strings on an elaborate puppet stage. 

On the other hand, we need to avoid the opposite extreme which might be called existentialism or radical freedom, the notion that nothing is pre-planned, and that a person charts his own course, unaided and unhindered by anyone or any force outside himself.  Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, wrote, “There is no determinism.  Man is free, man is freedom.”[i]  

The biblical Christian accepts neither of these extremes.  We believe that God is ultimately in control of this universe and that on certain occasions He sovereignly intervenes in the course of human affairs.  At the same time, however, He has created this universe to operate by a set of laws—some physical, some moral, some spiritual, some economic, some logical.  The physical laws, like the law of gravity, are quite familiar to everyone.  But there are moral laws that are every bit as certain, such as “whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”  There are spiritual laws, like “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  An economic law (one that our government apparently doesn’t accept) is that if you keep spending more than you earn, you’ll eventually go broke.  An illustration of a law of logic is the law of non-contradiction, a law that is essential for communication or even thinking.  

It has been said that God’s laws cannot really be broken; we can only be broken by them.  In a sense that is true.  You jump off a cliff and the law of gravity will make you pay.  The same is true of the moral, spiritual, and economic laws God has set up.  Now here’s the rub:  there is a tendency on the part of some Christians to think they are exceptions to these laws.  They forget to take God into account, ignore evidence of His sovereign intervention, quit praying for His intervention, and generally live as practical atheists.  How tragic!  

On the other hand, there is the temptation on the part of others to overemphasize the extent and degree of God’s intervention and try to read spiritual meaning into every incident.  Such people tend to adopt the “doctrine of preferential treatment,” namely that God always gives preferential treatment to His own children unless they are being chastised.  When such a person finds his house burn down, his first question is, “Why did God allow this?  What did I do to deserve it,” when it might be much more sensible for him to simply ask, “I wonder if I had faulty wiring.”  After all, one of the physical laws God established is that faulty wiring produces fire.

I guess my plea for us today is to be sensitive to the fingerprints of God in history, but not to go to seed with it.  We have no business trying to interpret every event in history, especially as it is unfolding, as though we had divine insight into its causes and its results.  In his brilliant book, Knowing God, J. I Packer writes,

    “If you stand at the end of a platform on York station (that’s the Grand Central Station of London), you can watch a constant succession of engine and train movements which, if you are a railway enthusiast, will greatly fascinate you.  But you will only be able to form a very rough and general idea of the overall plan in terms of which all these movements are being determined….  

    If, however, you are privileged enough to be taken by one of the higher-ups into the magnificent electrical signal-box that lies athwart platforms 7 and 8, you will see on the longest wall a diagram of the entire track layout for five miles on either side of the station, with little glow-worm lights moving or stationary on the different tracks to show the signal men at a glance exactly where every engine and train is.  At once you will be able to look at the whole situation through the eyes of the men who control it:  you will see from the diagram why it was that this train had to be signaled to a halt, and that one diverted from its normal running line, and that one parked temporarily in a siding. The why and the wherefore of all these movements becomes plain, once you can see the overall position.”

             Now, the mistake that is commonly made is to suppose that this is an illustration of(the ideal Christian’s position)….  People feel that if they were really walking close to God, so that He could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would, so to speak, find themselves in the signal-box; they would discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them every moment how God was making all things work together for good.  Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place, whether they should take it as a sign to stop doing one thing and start doing another, or what they should deduce from it.  If they end up baffled, they put it down to their own lack of spirituality. 

    Christians suffering from depression, physical, mental, or spiritual (note:  these are three different things!) may drive themselves almost crazy with this kind of futile enquiry.  For it is futile:  make no mistake about that.”[ii]  

Packer goes on to show from the book of Ecclesiastes that this world’s course appears enigmatic more often than orderly, that much of what happens is quite inexplicable to us, and that most things that happen under the sun bear no outward sign of a rational, moral God ordering them at all.  He then concludes,

    “Many of us need this admonition.  For not only are we caught up with the ‘York-signal-box’ conception, or misconception ….; we feel that, for the honor of God (and also, though we do not say this, for the sake of our own reputation as spiritual Christians), it is necessary for us to claim that we are, so to speak, already in the signal-box, here and now enjoying inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings.  This comforting pretense becomes part of us….

    And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret councils is shattered.  Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent, and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted.”[iii]  

The bottom line is that God’s sovereignty and His providence is operating all the time, interacting and intervening in human history.  But it is more important for us to know it’s there than it is for us to identify it in specific events.  

There is one more truth our text reveals which we should not miss this morning.

God fills His people with joy as they recognize Him as the Lord of history.  (6:16-22)

We are told in verse 16 that upon the completion of the temple the people of Israel appropriately celebrated the dedication with joy, offering great sacrifices as a sin offering for all Israel and installing the priests and Levites in accord with the Law of Moses.  Then they celebrated Passover for the first time in decades, followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Again, the fact of their joy is emphasized.  The last verse of chapter 6 reads, “For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king of Assyria, so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel.”  

Notice something carefully here in verse 22.  It doesn’t explicitly state that the Jews knew God had changed the attitude of the king so that he assisted them.  All they knew for sure is that the king had favor on them and assisted them in the work on the temple.  The writer knew it was God, (I assume because the Spirit of God revealed it to him), but I suspect the people going through it at the time only knew that God was somehow involved, not how he was involved.  They knew He was there; they knew He was in ultimate control; therefore, they were filled with joy.

Frankly, that’s all it takes for a believer to have joy–to know that His God is the Lord of History, and yet He loves and cares for them.  On this Memorial Day there are undoubtedly names of friends or loved ones which come to mind, individuals who have died prematurely—victims of war or accident or illness—apparent mistakes in an ordered universe.  Don’t believe it!  Our God is the Lord of History.

We currently face much uncertainty in our nation–race relations, upcoming elections, an economy in recession—apparent evidence that things are out of control.  Don’t believe it! Our God is the Lord of history.

You may be facing some severe trial in your own personal life.  Events seem chaotic and your enemies seem to have the upper hand.  Don’t believe it!  Our God is the Lord of history.  

But, friends, as important as it is for you to recognize God as the Lord of History, it is even more important to know Him as the Lord of your life.  He can be if you come to Him by means of His Son Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes unto the Father but by Me.”

DATE:  May 24, 1992






[i]  Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, 56.

[ii]  J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 102-103.

[iii]  Packer, 106.

Ezra 7
Ezra 3