This past Tuesday I put up a short little post about an interesting thought I had while reading through Ezra. The book opens with an account of King Cyrus of Persia sending the exiled Jews back to Jerusalem on a mission to rebuild the house of Yahweh. The interesting part for me was the recipient of this mission; God stirred in the heart of a pagan king and not his own people. Of course, in the very next book, we find the story of Nehemiah, a Jewish exile, who also heard a call from God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Taken together, these two accounts reveal the freedom of God’s work on mission in our world – sometimes we, the Church, find unexpected participants as we join in God’s mission.
As I continued to work through Ezra, I came to another passage that I found even more interesting:
14 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; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
How was the work completed? By the decree of the God of Israel AND not one, but 3, Persian kings. Why would the author of Ezra include this detail? Why not just say it was “all God’s work”? I mean… this is the Bible right??? I guess one could come up with several explanations – maybe it demonstrates God’s sovereignty over earthly kingdoms or maybe it reveals the depth of Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel or something else…
What I find most interesting is God’s willingness to work with and through the most unlikely characters. Obviously, the people of Israel had experienced a slight change of heart towards foreigners in the exile. As you begin reading the OT historical books in Joshua and Judges, you might think that foreign peoples were created simply to be “devoted to destruction.” This view becomes increasingly difficult to maintain as the story continues. When you arrive at Ezra and Nehemiah, a foreign, pagan king has become a deliverer – a role played by Yahweh the last time the people of Israel found themselves under the power of another nation.
Whatever happened to cause this change of perspective, I think we should be amazed and humbled by freedom of God’s choice as the missio Dei unfolds in our midst. Maybe we should be less concerned with patrolling the boundaries of our faith and slightly more open to conversation with the “pagans” around us?