God Works Through Artaxerxes

Though many of the people of Judah are still in bondage to the king of Persia, and have been removed from their land, God finds a way to get them back to their homes.  In an amazing passage, we read:

Artaxerxes, king of kings,

To Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven:


Now I decree that any of the Israelites in my kingdom, including priests and Levites, who wish to go to Jerusalem with you, may go.  You 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.  Moreover, 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, together 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.  With 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.

You 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.  — Ezra 7:12-18

And so, a second wave of the captive people is sent back to their homeland by the Persian king.  How can it be that the king of Persia would simply release the people, allow them to rebuild the temple, and help pay for the effort?  I believe we see the answer later in the chapter.  At the end of King Artaxerxes’ letter, we see him write these words:

Praise 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 and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.   — Ezra 7:27-28

God’s spirit rested even on a non-Israelite king, and the Lord saw fit to bless him in the presence of onlookers.  To me, this looks like a pre-cursor to salvation eventually being extended to all people, not just to the chosen Israelites.


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