The people of Israel had been in exile in Babylon for several decades. Babylon was an enemy land whose people did not know or follow God. It would have been natural—understandable—for the people of Israel to hate their captors and refuse to cooperate in any way. But that’s not what God had told them to do. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God had instructed them,

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5–7)

Rather than resist, God had instructed His people to submit to His plan for them—to settle in Babylon, building homes, having children, and working for the benefit of their new home. As they lived in accordance with God’s plan for them, they would benefit.

Ezra had done that. A member of the priestly line of Aaron, he knew the Scriptures and was determined to teach them to the people of Israel. He also knew Artaxerxes, the king of Babylon, and had found favor with him. Further, the Scripture records that “the gracious hand of his God was on him.” (Ezra 7:9)

And so we read in today’s One Year Bible passage in Ezra 7 about King Artaxerxes sending Ezra and a group of the people of Israel to Jerusalem, along with everything Ezra had asked for, with authorization to:

Conduct an inquiry into the situation in Judah and Jerusalem, based on your God’s law …
Take with you silver and gold … as an offering to the God of Israel …
Take any silver and gold that you may obtain from the province of Babylon, as well as the voluntary offerings of the people and the priests that are presented for the Temple of their God in Jerusalem [to be] used specifically for the purchase of bulls, rams, male lambs, and the appropriate grain offerings and liquid offerings …
Appoint magistrates and judges who know your God’s laws to govern all the people in the province west of the Euphrates River. Teach the law to anyone who does not know it.

Wow! All this from a king who doesn’t know or follow God! (Would a king who did know God give any different instructions?) Ezra had lived in accordance with God’s will, and he experienced God’s blessings as a result. And God worked through King Artaxerxes to accomplish His purposes, as Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.”

I see several things in this passage:

— God is sovereign, even over non-believers.
— God’s purposes and plans for us are for His glory and our good.
— Living in accordance with God’s revealed will—even when it’s hard to do so—results in His “gracious hand” being upon us.

I want God’s gracious hand on me! Do you? If so, you know what to do….

by Darrel Eppler, Chairman of the Elder Board

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