We ended last week with the enemies of God’s people reporting to the king of Persia that the Israelites were rebuilding the Temple. It would seem there hope was to end the project.
Before we get into the response of the king of Persia I want to put ourselves in this situation for a moment. We all have had hopes of something going a certain way. When it seems to not be going the way we want how do we respond? When you really disagree with someone how do you respond? Does your tongue become a wild fire? Do you become hopeless? Do you become pessimistic? Do you begin going into depression? Would someone look at your life and say they are clearly trusting God? I think this is something we need to really consider when we face opposition. Is our response glorifying God or ourselves?
Theme: Even when it seems like God is silent we can trust His promises.
1. The results of the upside down kingdom principle—Ezra 6.1-5.
Darius looks into the matter that the enemies of God’s people requested. It would seem from the text that almost immediately He sees the Israelites are doing nothing wrong. In fact it would seem from his research that the kingdom had not really delivered on what they had promised the Israelites (Ezra 6.8).
Now let’s not loose sight here of what brought this to light—OPPOSITION. The Israelites building project was not going the way they had hoped. Sometimes trials, opposition, things not going the way we hope help us see things more clearly. Sometimes our enemies end making it worse on themselves. The Bible gives us example after example of people opposing God’s people, making it really bad on them, but it ends up being bad for the one who set the trap.
I think one of the clearest examples I think of when I consider the stories of the OT is the story of Joseph. His own brothers sell him into slavery because they hated him. But God ends up using this injustice to save his entire family. Joseph says in Genesis 50.20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good...”.
The story of Joseph is not meant to inspire us to be good moral people like Joseph. No, Joseph is a type. His story is meant to push us forward. There is another man who’s family hated Him. This man is Jesus Christ! He came into a world that hated Him. The Israelites were His own people and they hated Him. John 1.11 tells us, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him”. It was His own people that handed Him over the Romans to be crucified on a Cross. But God used this injustice, the greatest injustice in human history, to fulfill His plans.
So we need to be careful friends when we make plans against our “enemies”. Are we sure our plans align with the plans of the LORD? The writer of Proverbs warns us about this:
When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him...Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.—Proverbs 16.7; 26.27
If we are not careful the pits we dig for others we fight fall into. We need to make sure our plans are to “please the LORD” and not our own ends. It has taken me years to see the depth of my sin. Everything I do, and desire, is tainted by the effects of sin, and if I am not careful to measure my desires against God’s Word than I don’t how much worse off my life would be.
The other thing we can learn from this story is sometimes God allows these trials and persecutions to help treasure Him more. The apostle Paul explains this truth to us:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.—II Corinthians 12.7-9
God’s power is made PERFECT in our weakness. We must not forget we are citizens of the “upside-down kingdom”. The up in the kingdom of God is down. The way down in the kingdom of God is up.
2. The silent providential support of the King—Ezra 6.6-12.
Now before we start to think too much of king Darius here I want to remind of something we learned in Ezra 1. In Ezra 1 sounds like he knows the God of Israel pretty intimately. But we must not forget this was a tactic used by the Persians. The Babylonians would conquer a nation, bring their young leaders back to Babylon, and educate them in the Babylonian way. The Persian used a different strategy. They would encourage you to live the way you want as long as your views did not clash with the political structure, and you paid your taxes. As long as you were good citizens you could practice your religion.
Since Darius is a Persian king many scholars believe he is doing the same thing here. I think you can see this most clearly in Ezra 6.10 when Darius says, “...and pray for the life of the king and his sons.” It is as if Darius is trying to cover all his bases. He would have said this to any nation that was sent back to their homeland to rebuild. In case their “god” was powerful Darius and his offspring would be taken covered. This is no different than our politicians’ today right? When our presidential candidates are giving lip service the God of the Christians most of them are doing this to get your votes. Be careful with these “empty talkers” or like to “tickle your ears” friends. I would encourage you to not put your hopes in a political candidates of this world, but in the same person the Israelites did—“the God of heaven and earth” (Ezra 5.11; cf. Ezra 6.9).
Let’s not forget in Ezra 4-5 the enemies of God set out to stop the rebuilding of the Temple. They were loud, self-righteous, and the Israelites were discouraged and afraid. But the God of heaven and earth is silently working behind the scenes. God uses the accusations of the enemy to reveal the truth. God uses the impure motives of the king Darius to bring accomplish His purposes. Nothing in Ezra 6.1-12 tells us God is directly saying anything. This is why I say He is silently working behind the scenes.
I do not want us to miss the irony here. The irony is the loud enemies of Israel are silenced by the very person they reported the Israelites activities to. Listen to Darius reaction to his research—READ Ezra 6.7-12. I don’t think when the enemies of God’s people set out to stop the rebuilding of the Temple did not expect this kind of reaction. No where do we see the enemies saying anything. The enemies of God and His people have been made silent.
Now before we are tempted again to be overly impressed with Darius let’s not forget why this is happening. This is about the True King exercising His sovereign power and influence over human history. The whole event is about Israel being challenged once again to trust the promises made by God. This circumstance is calling the Israelites to believe in the Covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 12.3—“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonor you I will curse”.
So how do you react when you face threats friends? How do you handle those who curse you? Do you feel the need to vindicate yourself? Can you bless your enemies? The Bible encourages us to bless our enemies. We do not battle the way the world does. Listen to what Paul tells us:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.—Romans 12.19-21
I don’t know about you friends, but I find my motivation for this instruction from Paul in the Cross of Christ. Jesus was willing to die for those who hated Him. And let’s not be a forgetful people. We were all at one time or another the enemies of God, rebels, we hated God. But Jesus died for us. He was willing to die for His enemies. Jesus knew He could overcome His enemies with good. Are we all ready to allow our names to be dragged through mud and trust God with the results? Are we ready to let someone have their way because we trust God with the results? When our Savior went to the Cross He was willing to allow His name to be dragged through the mud. He was willing to submit to the Father and trust Him with the result. Are we ready to follow His example?