Tuesday, October 4, 2011

He holds the heart of the king in His hands.

Sometimes reading between the lines gets me into trouble, but sometimes I just can't help it.  Reading through the book of Ezra tonight, I was amazed at how God really does hold the heart of he king in His hands.

"The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; He guides it wherever He pleases."  Proverbs 21:1

First, He moves on King Cyrus of Persia and "stirs his heart" so that Cyrus not only allows, but encourages all willing Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord.  And he sends all the Temple articles stolen by Nebuchadnezzar with them.  And as if that weren't amazing enough, Cyrus further tells His subjects to provide the returning Jews with livestock, supplies, gold and silver, and voluntary offerings for the Temple.  Sort of leaves you scratching your head.  (I mean if Judah had had more kings like Cyrus, they wouldn't have been in this predicament.)  What's even more cool is He prophesied through Isaiah and Jeremiah that He was going to use Cyrus to rebuild His Temple.

"When I say of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd,' he will certainly do as I say.  He will command, 'Rebuild Jerusalem'; he will say, 'Restore the Temple.'"  Isaiah 44:28

"This is what the Lord says to Cyrus His anointed one, whose right hand He will empower.  Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear.  Their fortress gates will be opened never to shut again.  This is what the Lord says:  'I will go before you, Cyrus, and level the mountains.... And why have I called you for this world?  Why did I call you by name when you did not know Me?  It is for the sake of Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen one."  Isaiah 45:1-2a,4

This is awesome, but it isn't the part I found interesting.  What got me reading between the lines is the change in Darius,  who ruled after Cyrus.  When Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates river and some of his colleagues tried to stop the rebuilding of the Temple, Darius is initially indecisive.  He wants to consult the historical records and see if Cyrus did indeed send the Jews back to rebuild Jerusalem with his blessing.  A scroll is found which verifies the Jews' story and Darius not only supports the right of the jews to rebuild the Temple, but requires all taxes collected west of the Euphrates go to pay the expenses for rebuilding the Temple and for voluntary offerings.  He also makes it against the law (punishable by death) to interfere with the rebuilding of the Temple.  Incredible, isn't it?  And I just can't help reading between the lines about the timing of all this and Daniel.

It seems from Daniel 6 that the Daniel in the lion's den incident happened fairly early in the reign of Darius.  It was because Darius had chosen Daniel as one of his three chief administrators to govern his newly apportioned land, and because the Lord blessed Daniel, that the other two governors became jealous and urged Darius to outlaw prayers to anyone but the king.  The Bible doesn't say when Tattenai wrote his letter to Darius or when Darius responded, but we do know the Temple was completed  during the 6th year of King Darius's reign.  So in my reading between the lines, I'm thinking that the Daniel in the lion's den incident happened after Darius received Tattenai's letter, but before he responded.  Why?  Because after the Lord miraculously preserved Daniel in the lion's den, King Darius issued this proclamation:

"Peace and prosperity to you!  I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel.  For He is the living God, and He will endure forever.  His kingdom will never be destroyed, and His rule will never end.  He rescues and saves His people; He performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth.  He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions."  Daniel 6:25b-27

Surely if Darius had already issued this decree when he received Tattenai's letter, he wouldn't have needed to consult the history books before making his response.  So, my reading between the lines means that God directed Darius's heart and that He used Daniel to do it! 

And one last reading between the lines from the books of Ezra and Esther.  King Artaxerxes reigned in Persia after Darius (and after his father, Xerxes or Ahaseurus).  He was also extrememly generous in his provisions for offerings and beautification of the Temple.  Ezra was so moved by the generosity of Artazerxes, that he said:

"Praise the Lord, the God of our ancestors, who made the king want to beautify the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem!  And praise Him for demonstrating such unfailing love to me by honoring me before the king, his council, and all his mighty nobles!  I felt encouraged becasue the gracious hand of the Lord my God was on me.  And I gathered some of the leaders to return with me to Jerusalem."  Ezra 7:27-28

And remember, Artaxerxes is the king for whom Nehemiah was cupbearer.  He also generously gave Nehemiah leave to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem.  So we see that once again God has moved on the heart of a Gentile king!  And this time my reading between the lines says He used Esther and Mordecai to do it!  It doesn't get much more exciting than the book of Esther and you'll just have to read it for yourself, but the main point I want to get at is Esther marries King Xerxes I of Persia and becomes the queen of Persia.  Artaxerxes was at least Esther's stepson, if not her son.  Esther, as mother or stepmother, influenced Artaxerxes.  She must have told him about the Lord, the history of His people, her people, and His law.  And Mordecai, as prime minister, certainly influenced Artaxerxes, as well.

I love finding connections between different books of the Bible.  God's Word is true and these were real people, not just names.  He used Daniel and Esther and Mordecai to influence kings for His glory and he can use ordinary people like you and me, too. 

I've been thinking on the following verse for a couple of days.  I think it's really cool.

"The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him."  2 Chronicles 16:9

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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.