Preaching, Providence, and the Work of God

By | September 19, 2021

After Israel returned to her land from a seventy-year captivity (Ezra 1–2), the nation began to rebuild the temple. The return was in 538 BC. Rebuilding began in 536 BC, the year that Israel finished the temple’s foundation (Ezra 3). However, foreigners in Israel opposed and halted the work (Ezra 4:1–5). Foreigners beyond the borders opposed the work later as well (Ezra 4:6–23).

When Darius replaced Cyrus, however, the work began again in 520 BC (Ezra 4:24). Haggai and Zechariah prophesied and spurred Israel to complete the temple as led by Israel’s governor Zerubbabel and high priest Jeshua (Ezra 5:1–2). Resistance came again (Ezra 5:3–17), but the Jews did not stop this time (Ezra 5:11–16). In fact, Darius acted on the decree of Cyrus, funded the rebuilding, and provided for Israel’s worship, threatening death to anyone who would stop the work (Ezra 6:1–12). Israel finished the temple in 516 BC.

Ezra 6:14 summarizes: “And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.”

The rebuilding “prospered through the prophesying” and “they finished their building” by the various decrees or commands. Cyrus commanded Israel’s return, funds to help the rebuilding, and the return of the temple vessels (Ezra 1:1–4). Darius commanded funds and resources as well (Ezra 6:1–12). Artaxerxes would stop Israel from rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls (Ezra 4:7, 12) but would later command Ezra and Nehemiah to aid the temple and rebuild the walls (Ezra 7; Nehemiah 2:1, 8). God’s decree was to command the work through His prophets all along the way (Ezra 6:14; cf. 5:1–2).

Like Israel then, sometimes opposition to God’s work gets the best of us. As they stopped working (for sixteen years!), so also we sometimes falter due to people who frustrate us today. But, just as God spoke through the prophets to revive the work then, so also does He move us through His Word to carry on today. The written and preached Word of God encourage us to persevere. And, just as God used pagan kings to aid the temple work, sometimes we find that God uses remarkable providences to help us as well. Whether we find out in this life or the next how God works out each difficulty for our good, we can at least know that He has worked out our greatest need (salvation through Jesus Christ) and is therefore good and wise in working out everything else. Christ will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. So do the work of the Lord!

Praise God for His rule, love, and wisdom to Israel long ago, a reminder that His rule, wisdom, and goodness to each of us and the church as a whole today.

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