Continuing my readings in the book of Ezra this week, I’ve been struck by how dramatically a trajectory can change.
After experiencing decades of resistance to progress, for the Jews it didn’t look like they would be getting their temple built any time soon. This would have been disheartening to say the least.
In my previous two posts, I’ve explored the political and spiritual persecution the Jews experienced at this time in their history. Evidently, there were people who did not want the Jews to establish a place for worship and they used whatever dirty tactics they wanted, or needed, to make it happen. Or, not happen, as the case may be.
Having recently returned from being deported to Babylon for 70 years, to then return to the homeland and be halted in your tracks would have been difficult. It would have been a bit of a limbo existence for the Jews and would have impacted their sense of identity for sure.
Even when they finally did have success, it is interesting to note that they still refer to themselves as “exiles”. We see ourselves the way others see us.
But do we see ourselves how God sees us? Because God evidently saw the Jews as important. We know this for a number of reasons, but two strike me at this point in particular.
First, God had a person. The person’s name was Ezra, unsurprisingly.
Chapter 7 goes into an awful lot of detail about who Ezra is, to the extent that it’s almost humorous. That is, until you realise what point the writer is making: that Ezra is a descendant of Aaron, the first Chief Priest in all of Israel. You may have heard of Moses. Aaron was his brother.
The writer goes on to say of Ezra that “The gracious hand of God was on him” and it is clear from Ezra’s behaviour – studying God’s word and obeying it – that he is taking the role of “God’s man for the hour”.
Second, the sheer ridiculousness of Xerxes’ behaviour.
Basically Xerxes gives them his blessing and throws everything at Ezra, including the kitchen sink. He lets Ezra and the other priests and Levites go to Jerusalem. He gives them silver and gold and tells them to buy animals for their sacrifices with the coin. Then he says if they need anything else, they can use his royal purse. Then he gives Ezra permission to get a ridiculous amount of dosh from the royal treasurers and says that the priests and Levites don’t need to pay any taxes.
Ezra is also told to appoint magistrates for his people. They are to ensure God’s laws are obeyed and that all the Jews know what the laws are in the first place. Xerxes wants to ensure that all who do not obey the law are severely punished.
It’s actually ridiculous that he does all that when you think about it. That’s more than just decent international PR. Why should he care that much?
Back in chapter 6, the Jews begin to have a bit of a breakthrough with King Darius and herein lies the answer: For seven days they celebrated…because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king…
Sounds like divine intervention to me.
After all the persecution, all the resistance, all the stalling of bricklaying… after all of that, God had a plan and nothing would stop it. Why he let it hover on pause for such a lengthy duration is not answered and is also a question for another day.
But in the end it’s clear. No matter what, God will have his way.
And if it means getting a Persian King to give you open sesame to the royal treasury, well, why not?
God will do what He will do.
Yours in the changing trajectory,