Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England during the 1600s. At one point, he sent his Secretary to America on important state business. While his Secretary was gone, Cromwell found himself unable to sleep. It was his practice that his valet slept in his room in case Cromwell needed anything during the night. In the middle of one of those nights Cromwell woke his servant to tell him he couldn’t rest because he was afraid something would go wrong with the diplomatic mission. “My lord,” said the valet, “may I ask you, did God rule the world before you were born?” “Well, yes, of course.” “And will He rule it after you are dead?” “Certainly.” “Then, master, why not let Him rule the present, too?”
Like Cromwell, when we limit our perspective to only the present, we become short-sided and gain no value from the past to prepare us for our future.
The guiding principle of God’s providence is context. He is able to manage the present because He knows the past and future.
Without that understanding, we react much like Habakkuk: God said: Hab 1:6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs.
Habakkuk’s response? Hab 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously?
He didn’t ask: God, how are you going to You use dirty rags to clean up Your people? He asked: God, why on earth would You use dirty rags to clean up Your people? In other words, God, you’re not handling this problem correctly. But we read on and God’s plan was right on target for the outcome He intended.
But to get there, required bringing the history of other nations into Scripture.
When we read the history section of our OT, we rarely, if ever, consider what God is doing in the rest of the world. But remember, Prov 21:1 The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes. God is not just God of the spiritual world, but God over all. Lord of lords and King of kings. The whole universe is His. And He has authority to do with it whatever He chooses.
Especially when He wants the history of those other nations to intersect with Biblical history.
The Northern Kingdom is gone, so let’s just follow the Southern. God’s promise was that the Babylonians (Chaldeans) would take over Judah. Now at the time that prophecy was made, Egypt and Assyria were in control of the middle east. Egypt up to Jerusalem and Assyria from Jerusalem north. For Babylon to fulfill the prophecy, they had to defeat both Egypt and Assyria.
In 605 B.C., at the battle at Carchemish, the three powers came together. With Nebuchadnezzar leading the Chaldeans, they defeated the Egyptians and the Assyrians for world domination. Then the Babylonians turned their attention toward Jerusalem. They took control of the Southern Kingdom, took many captive (Daniel among others) but left the city intact. This began a 70-year captivity as prophesied by Jeremiah.
Jer 25:11-12 This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,' declares the LORD.
Nebuchadnezzar set up a subservient king in Jerusalem, but that king rebelled against him, so, in 586, they returned and wiped out the city, broke down the walls and destroyed the Temple.
Now, it was the habit of the Babylonians that when taking over a country, they stopped the religious practices of their captives, obligated the people to worship the Babylonian gods, and changed their lifestyle to fit into Babylonian culture. Even to changing names to reflect their gods. (Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego in the book of Daniel were originally Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.)
At the end of the 70 years, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar had taken the throne. At a feast, Belshazzar saw a hand write on the wall. He called in Daniel to interpret what it meant. The answer was: you have been weighed and found wanting, and your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Persians. What it meant was: God was done using Babylon and was moving to the next phase.
God had used the Chaldeans for a strategic purpose, which was, to take Judah captive and destroy the Temple. But this would be temporary. The next step was to bring in the Persians. The very night God wrote on Belshazzar’s wall, the Persians broke into the city and overtook Babylon. Now, a different nation was in charge, led by Cyrus.
Two very important things happened for God’s people when Cyrus took over.
- It answered the prayer Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple: make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them.
- It ended the 70 years of captivity: Ezra 1:1-3 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem.
In answering Solomon’s prayer, God brought in a more compassionate people. Where the Babylonians’ objective was to convert the captives to Babylonian culture and religion, the Persians were not interested in the worship or culture of people they took over. Much like the Romans who come in later, have your gods and your culture just serve the Empire.
Cyrus and the Persians were part of God’s plan and not just the product of one nation dominating another nation, a random event in the history of nations at war. They were unknowingly fulfilling the will of God. David said: Stuff like this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord, speaking for Himself in Isa 44:26, 28 Confirming the word of His servant and performing the purpose of His messengers. It is I who says of Jerusalem, 'She shall be inhabited!' And of the cities of Judah, 'They shall be built.' And I will raise up her ruins again. It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' and of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.'"
Written over a hundred years before Cyrus was even born, God wanted the people to know when it happened, it was His plan, so He named the man who would set up the restoration of His people. Again: The sovereign activity of God fits into the marvelous category!
In a statement found from Cyrus: "I am Cyrus. King of the world. When my soldiers in great numbers peacefully entered Babylon... I did not allow anyone to terrorize the people... I kept in view the needs of people and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being... Freed all the slaves... I put an end to their misfortune and slavery. The Great God has delivered all the lands into my hand; the lands that I have made to dwell in a peaceful habitation... "
Cyrus ordered the return to Jerusalem for all who wanted to go and issued the decree that the Temple be rebuilt. This was in 538 B.C. and is covered in the Book of Ezra. Many, but not all the people returned at this time. That would come later.
Following Cyrus was Darius. Darius affirmed and added to the decree by Cyrus to rebuild the Temple: Ezra 6:8 Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay.
Now, step out of the Biblical story and let’s see what’s going on elsewhere with Darius. To expand the Persian Empire to the West, Greece became the next target for conquering. But in the battle of Marathon, in 490 B.C., Darius lost and the Persians pulled away. Defeat left a sour taste in their mouths.
Darius’ son, Xerxes took over from his father in 486 B.C. with a plan to go back to Greece and conquer them. In 480 B.C., in a strategic land and sea battle at Thermopylae the Persians were again defeated by the Greeks. The Greeks mustered 7000 troops to the Persians hundreds of thousands and won. The movie The 300 tells this story.
Why bring this up? Greece was an insignificant country to invest so much effort to destroy, but sometimes past wounds drive us to fight unnecessary and unwinnable battles. Why was it unwinnable? The Spartans were tough – the Navy SEALS of ancient times. But more so, look at how instrumental Greek culture would be in the future.
Many historians believe that a Persian victory would have crippled the development of Ancient Greece, and by extension western civilization, and this has led them to argue that these two battles were among the most significant battles in human history.
Consider the Greek language. English is imprecise. We have words that cover way too much territory. Like the word love. The Greek’s had five. So, if you planned on writing something you wanted to be understood and studied very specifically, Greek was a much better language. That’s why God used it to write the NT. Do you think God was working to preserve the Greeks for a project He had planned down the road?
An even greater reason God wouldn’t let the Persians defeat the Greeks is that the Greeks play into the next phase of God’s plan. Nebuchadnezzar had had a dream of future events. It involved the nations that would rule the world. Babylon, Persia, the Greeks, then the Romans. The Greeks were being protected for future plans.
Back to the story. When does this happening in Bible history? Well, let me change the name Xerxes to his more familiar name, Ahasuerus.
Ahasuerus is the king of Persia we find in the story of Esther. Let’s try to fit this into the context of the Book of Esther. At the first of the Book of Esther, the king had a grand feast and wanted to present his beautiful wife Vashti. [Now, Vashti is a nickname meaning: The Beautiful One. Her real name was Amestris.]
Vashti refused to display herself, so she was removed as queen. When does this happen? Before this battle with Greece. What’s recorded in Persian history is, after the loss: he withdrew into himself and allowed himself to be drawn intointrigues.
Est 2:1-2 After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king's attendants, who served him, said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king.
After these things – the war with Greece – the search for Esther began. The war ended in 480 B.C. There was a year of beautification for the young girls. Esther 2:16-17 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the seventh year of his reign. The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Ahasuerus became King in 486. War was in 480. The seventh year was 479.
But in the primary story in the Book of Esther, there was a plot to kill all the Jews who lived in Persia. Without Esther being Queen, the whole population of the people of Israel would have been wiped out. The most famous line in Esther was from her uncle Mordecai: Esther 4:14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?"
Mordecai was placing the decision for her to go before the King and plead for the life of her people into a context. Who knows if this is not why you are now Queen? Maybe all of what had gone on was to get you into a position to deliver your people.
So, look at all God did to answer Solomon’s prayer, fulfill Jeremiah’s promise, respond to Isaiah’s prophecy. Working through wars to accomplish even greater purposes. Bringing a marriage together to keep His people alive.
A sovereign God accomplishes His purposes. He has the right to use whatever means or circumstances or people He chooses, to work His plan. We never know what He is doing at any given time, so, we are to be thankful people who know He’s doing what’s best and what He’s doing will work all things together for good.
- For God to be able to accomplish His purposes, He must be in charge of whatever it takes to do so.
- Though we don’t always see what He is doing, we know He is actively engaged in working all things together for good.
- Our definition of good may not be the same as His.
- So, we are to live convinced He is able to keep what we have entrusted to Him as He handles the matters of our lives with love, purpose and perspective.