Although the book of Ezra is primarily about how the Jewish exiles returned from Babylonia to Jerusalem, it also has a wonderful underlying story about how God works in the heart of kings to accomplish His purposes.
In fact, the book of Ezra starts out with this statement:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all of his kingdom, and also put it in writing…
Notice that in the very first year of Cyrus’s reign, God had him doing exactly what He desired. He was putty in God’s hand, because, as it says in scripture, we are the clay, and He is the potter. God simply had to “stir up his spirit” to get him to do His will. It made no difference if he was the king or a pauper; all are subject to God’s will.
God’s will in this case was for the Jewish exiles to rebuild the temple that King Nebuchadnezzar had torn down before he dragged the Jews away to Babylon. So King Cyrus put out a proclamation that the work would begin, and that the people would support the work with silver and gold, and various other goods that were needed.
It wasn’t long before the enemies of the Jews–the people of the land–came against them to thwart their work. Satan certainly wouldn’t want the temple to be rebuilt without a fight. So the enemies frightened them from building and hired counselors against them to frustrate them–and they did so until the end of King Cyrus’s reign, and two years into the reign of King Darius. Cyrus’s reign lasted approx. 30 years, so they were intimidated for 32 years.
Then God apparently spoke to His people through two prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and told them to resume work, and so they did. Then their enemies rose up again and threatened them, but this time, they had grown bolder, and they made it clear they wouldn’t stop the work until they got a proclamation from King Darius. Look at this wonderful verse in Ezra:
But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they [the elders] did not stop them until a report should come to Darius, and then a written reply be returned concerning it. (Ezra 5:5)
So the Jews’ adversaries asked them who had issued them a decree to build the temple. It had been 32 years since Cyrus had issued the decree. The Jews gave them a rundown of the history of the temple and proclaimed that Cyrus’ decree was surely held somewhere in the records of the palace. So the enemies went to Darius, perhaps hoping that the decree would have died with Cyrus, or that Darius would overturn it. However, to their surprise, he issued a command that a search be made, and of course, as God would have it, the decree was found.
And after King Darius reviewed it, the enemies of the Jews were more than a little surprised with his response:
“Now, therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your colleagues, the officials of the provinces beyond the River, keep away from there. Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site…And I issued a decree that any man who violates this edict, a timber shall be drawn from his house and he shall be impaled on it and his house shall be made a refuse heap on account of this.”
Darius may have written these words, but you can be sure they came straight from the mouth of God. He had had enough of the people who had been terrorizing His people, and He was cutting to the chase. I love the fact that Darius actually named the two biggest rabble rousers– Tattenai and Shethar-bozenai–and he made it clear that they needed to back off or else.
What I find intriguing about this story is that the Jews had a proclamation from the king to rebuild the temple. There was no higher authority in the land (except, of course, God, who had also given them the go-ahead). So why did they cower? Why did they let their enemies turn them away from their mission for 30 long years, when they had absolute authority granted by God and his servant, King Cyrus?
I believe it’s because Satan specializes in distraction. He’s the fly buzzing around our nose, annoying us and turning our eyes away from the One in Authority. He’s the evil individual who whispers threats under his breath ominously, making us feel afraid. He’s the terrorist carrying the weapon, intent on making the world afraid of him so he can push his evil belief system.
Satan wants us to forget that we already have the permission, the signed proclamation–the Bible–that says we can go about God’s work. We are under God’s authority and everyone who comes against us is, well, putty in God’s hands. All we need to do is pray that God will “stir up the spirit” of our adversaries…and make them move in the direction of His will or get the heck out of the way.
If we are moving within the will of God, nothing and no one can stand in our way–not even kings, presidents or terrorist groups. God will sweep them out of our way if we would but stand in His might and not cower. How many times in the Bible has God told His people to stand and watch the Lord fight for them?
But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today…” (Exodus 14:13)
“Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes.” (1 Samuel 12:16)
“You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)
If you’re in a battle with the devil, or someone who is evil, don’t cower, don’t back up and don’t let them intimidate you. Simply stand and ask God to fight for you. If He can move kings for His purposes, He can certainly move anyone else. Even our president or other heads of state.
And pray that God would move against the current enemy of Israel–president of Iran, Ahmadinejad–who wants to annhilate them. Stand and pray for Israel, that they would see the salvation of our God.