When God Builds the House (Part 2 – Ezra 5-6)

FPCNorwayEzra: Building the House of God, Sermons

Behold the remarkable providence of God. What was most likely another attempt to stop God’s people from building the house of God actually turned out to advance their progress. Not only does Darius tell the government to keep away, he also tells them to pay for it.

When God Builds the House

Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
February 9, 2020

This morning, we return to the glorious reality that God is the builder of his house. God has the authority, and he gives that authority to his people. He exercises that authority through the preaching of his Word. But in all things and in all ways, it is God who builds his house, and when God builds his house, his people prosper. 

God’s people thrive when the Word of God is preached, supported and obeyed.

We saw last week that this authority is ultimately in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. He is the ultimate builder of the house of God, which is the church—the church being the name for the Old Testament and New Testament people of God (e.g. Eph. 3:6, 10). 

In turn, Jesus gave that church-building authority to his disciples, so that the apostle Paul can say that the church is built on the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). To this day, the church is built on that Word, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

But what happens when God also uses a pagan king to build? In Ezra 5-6, we see that, by a remarkable twist of providence, God is using a pagan king to support the work. So, God’s word is preached by the prophets and supported by the king, and in this way the house of God is built in Jerusalem.

How then does God build his house by the support of a pagan king and government?

1. They Keep Away from God’s People (Ezra 6:6-7)

Human governments, so often, interfere with the affairs of their people, and the bigger the government, the more it meddles. So, when we think about the relationship of the state to the church, we want to say, keep away! That is how it should be. When the state messes with the worship of God’s people, the results are so often disastrous.

For example, in Ezra 4, God’s people are stopped in their tracks by the meddling of local and national government. In chapter 5, another government is meddling in their affairs again. This time, Tattenai and his associates ask the Persian king Darius to look into the legitimacy of the temple rebuilding efforts and to give his counsel on how to deal with God’s people.

We expect to see another negative response in this chapter. However, by the remarkable providence of God, king Darius supports the work of God’s people. Darius’s response is found in chapter 6. In Ezra 6:6, he tells Tattenai and his men:

“Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your associates the governors who are in the province Beyond the River, keep away. Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site.” —Ezra 6:6-7

Isn’t this amazing! This pagan king tells the government to keep away! Leave it alone! Let God’s people do their work in peace. What was most likely another attempt to stop God’s people from building actually turned out to advance their progress. God is using king Darius to stop these meddling officials! By a remarkable turn of providence, king Darius tells them to keep away.

2. They Give Financial Support to God’s People (Ezra 6:8-10)

But God is not yet done with the king. In another remarkable providence, God uses Darius to support the rebuilding of his house by providing financial and material provision from the royal revenue. He goes on in verse 8:

“Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.” —Ezra 6:8-10

God uses the king’s royal revenue to pay for the temple! In other words, the temple is rebuilt with tax money! The entire Persian empire is paying taxes to the king. Every nation and people and serf and lord, under the Persian king, is paying tribute to the king, and God uses their pagan money to build his holy temple! In this case, God specifically uses the money from pagan peoples in the province from Beyond the River. In other words, God is using the money of the historic enemies of God’s people to build a temple to the God of Israel!

Darius tells Tattenai and his men to pay for the temple from the royal revenue. The cost is to be paid to the elders of Israel. They are to be paid in full and without delay. Furthermore, he tells them to provide, day by day, whatever they need to maintain the worship of the God of Israel. That includes all sorts of marketable goods—bulls, ram, sheep, etc. Whatever they need it is to be given daily!

Behold the remarkable providence of God. What was most likely another attempt to stop God’s people from building the house of God actually turned out to advance their progress. Not only does Darius tell the government to keep away, he also tells them to pay for it.

Hear this lesson. The effort to stop the work actually became the means by which God would complete the work. 

God’s house was built by the enemies of God’s people! They tried to stop it but, in the end, they got to pay for it. Pagan money paid for the holy temple, and pagan money paid for the maintenance of God’s worship day by day! What a turn of providence! Matthew Henry writes:

From all this we learn…that what is intended for the prejudice of the church has often, by the overruling providence of God, been made serviceable to it (Phil. 1:12). The enemies of the Jews, in appealing to Darius, hoped to get an order to suppress them, but, instead of that, they got an order to supply them. —Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible[1]

God builds his house by using a pagan king and government to keep away and to pay for the worship of God. He uses pagan tax money and pagan goods to support God’s decree—God’s Word—that his house should be rebuilt in Jerusalem. What was intended to harm God’s people, turned out for their good.

3. They Protect God’s People (6:11-15)

Darius’s decree to support God’s people was no mere suggestion. For he backs his commands by a sober warning. He says in verse 11,

“Also, I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.” —Ezra 6:11-12

Talk about a sober warning! Ancient near eastern kings were brutal. They knew how to terrorize and intimidate their subjects into total submission. They used the fear of terror and the demonstration of terror to keep them suppressed. Just like the Roman empire used crucifixion as a deterrent to rebellion, the ancient near eastern kings used impaling. This involved the skewering of a person on a pole in such a way that would make him die as slowly as possible.

We should observe that seeing a person die by such a slow and agonizing death has a way of improving one’s desire to fall in line with the king! It certainly did for Tattenai and his men! In verses 13-15, they follow Darius’ decree with all diligence and the house is completed! 

The government that is rightly ordered to God’s authority and purpose, not only keeps away from God’s people, not only provides for God’s people, they also protect God’s people. They keep away, they provide, they protect. Indeed, it is the role of every king and government—the God-authorized role—to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. 

Paul says as much in Romans 13. There Paul tells us that every human authority that exists has been instituted by God (Rom. 13:1). God has instituted governing authorities to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior (Rom. 13:3). In respect to punishing bad behavior, the governing authority does not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13:4). 

The role of human kings and human governments is to keep away from the work of God’s people, to provide for the work of God’s people and to protect the work of God’s people. Unfortunately, governments and kings often fail in that duty. But even in those cases, it is by God’s wise providence that he has allowed human institutions to rebel from their God-given roles. But here in Ezra 6, God builds his house through their support.

How Do We Know that God is Building His House through Them? (6:22)

But is it true that God was really behind these events? Was it not perhaps just a stroke of luck that caused Darius to help? Was God perhaps just sitting in the background hoping and wishing that Darius would help? Was God perhaps sitting up in heaven thinking that he would like to help but that he would never violate the king’s free will to make his own decision? Absolutely not. Ezra 6:22 is crystal clear:

And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. —Ezra 6:22

God is the Lord of hearts! It is God who turns the king’s heart. Proverbs 21:1 says that, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” Likewise, Proverbs 16:1 says that, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” Darius’ heart, and the words of his mouth, were from the Lord.

God is the almighty, sovereign Lord of human hearts. On many occasions, God uses the hearts and wills and mouths of wicked men and wicked kings to punish his rebellious people. As the Lord says in Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

But at other times, God uses the hearts and wills and mouths of wicked men and wicked kings to refine his chosen people. Recall 1 Peter 1:6-7, which he referenced a few weeks ago, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

So, we see from the Bible that God turns hearts to punish us and to refine us. It is always to the praise of his glory and it is always for our good. But, be sure of this, there is never a case when God is not the sovereign Lord of the heart. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). God’s people prospered because ‘the Lord had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them’ (Ezra 6:22).

Now it is true that God’s people are going to need a greater king. They will fall into sin again. Pagan kings will turn on God’s people again. There will be more meddling, more persecution and more apostasy. They need a perfect king that can protect and provide. That is why God sent his son to be crucified for our sins and raised from the dead for our salvation. But none of this is outside of God’s providential control. The gates of hell will not prevail, for God has willed it, and Jesus will build it (Matt. 16:19).

In John 19:10, Pilot says to Jesus, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” In return, Jesus says to him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Likewise, the apostle Peter tells the crowd at Pentecost that all of this was according to the definite plan of God (Acts 2:23).

When God builds the house, he can do so through pagan kings and governments because he is the Lord of hearts. The Bible says that he turns them wherever he wills. And because God is the Lord of hearts, we can also pray to him, with great assurance, for the favor of human institutions. We can pray to him, with great assurance, for the peace and prosperity of God’s people. So, by way of application, we close with these words of exhortation from the apostle Paul:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. —1 Timothy 2:1-2

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 620.