The Lord knows us, and He knows what we need. And one thing we all need is encouragement—encouragement to faithfully obey and serve Him, even when doing so seems to offer no benefit. Thankfully, His encouragement is available to us, as it was to the Jewish people in Ezra 5–6.
The Jewish people who returned to Judah from their Babylonian exile made the Lord their priority in life again as they began to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. They were filled with enthusiasm, and soon they had completed the foundation for the temple. But with that, unfortunately, the work came to a screeching halt.
Opposition arose from ungodly people around that area. These adversaries didn’t want the Jewish people back in their promised land, and they certainly didn’t want them reestablishing the worship of the God of Abraham. They tried everything they could to discourage the Jewish people—they even threatened bodily harm. And eventually they succeeded. The people were so disheartened and discouraged that they abandoned any further work on the temple for the next fifteen years.
Well, here in the fifth chapter of Ezra, during the days of the Persian king Darius, the Lord encourages His people to return to this important reconstruction. And God sends encouragement to them through two sources.
First, they are encouraged by God’s prophets. Chapter 5 and verse 1 says:
Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them.
Now eventually we will get to their messages, which have been recorded in Scripture in the books of Haggai and Zechariah. But for now, they encourage the people to overcome their personal fears and concerns and finish the job. They understand that as the people make the Lord their priority, God will take care of the rest.
That reminds me of the way Hudson Taylor encouraged his missionary team in China back in the 1800s as they faced physical threats and financial difficulties. He used to say to them, “If you are simply obeying the Lord, all the responsibility will rest with Him, not on you!”
Well, fortunately, the people here respond in faith and obedience; verse 2 says:
[They] arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
Now this doesn’t mean all their problems go away; in fact, the opposition immediately returns. Tattenai, the Persian governor responsible for this region, comes around and asks who gave the Jews the authority to build this temple. He even wants to know the names of those involved.
This is nothing less than a threat. But this time, the people don’t stop the work. The continued encouragement from God’s prophets—Haggai and Zechariah—is exactly what they need to keep going.
The second source of encouragement comes from God’s providence. The word providence refers to the way God moves people and events to fulfill His ultimate purpose. God is the ultimate chess player as He moves history in His direction.
Governor Tattenai sends off a letter to King Darius, hoping the king will shut down this reconstruction of the temple. But God will providentially use this to benefit His people.
This letter from Tattenai is quite clever. He’s trying to prove to Darius that the Jewish people are rebellious. To make his point, he quotes the Jewish leaders in his letter to Darius. In other words, he is saying, “King Darius, you need to know this is what those people are saying.” He then cites their words:
“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago . . . But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house . . . However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt.” (verses 11-13)
Now Governor Tattenai is hoping Darius will smell treason in their words. After all, they referred to themselves as “the servants of the God of heaven,” not Darius. Tattenai also includes a reference to King Cyrus making a decree that the temple should be rebuilt. Apparently, Tattenai does not believe a pagan king like Cyrus would decree such a thing, so he asks King Darius to search the royal archives to prove it never happened.
But here in chapter 6, when Darius orders the search, the proclamation of King Cyrus is discovered. And with that, God changes everything in Darius’s mind.
King Darius writes a letter back to Tattenai—and you have to love this letter. Note the king’s demand here in verse 7:
“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.”
Tattenai’s letter completely backfires. God had moved Cyrus years earlier to release the Jews to rebuild the temple and to keep this proclamation in the royal archives.
And that’s not all. Surprisingly, Darius also demands financial support from Governor Tattenai! His letter reads here in verse 8:
“Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you [Tattenai] 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.”
In other words, “Tattenai, I want you to start signing the checks to cover the bills on this building project.”
And if that is not enough, Darius makes a further demand:
“And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven . . . let that be given to them day by day without fail.” (verse 9)
And then there is a P.S. at the bottom of the letter in verse 10, where Darius asks the Jewish people to pray for him and for his family.
Wow! Do you see God’s providence in all this? God turns the hostile actions of the governor completely around. And in four and a half years, the temple is rebuilt.
Well, this calls for a celebration. The temple is dedicated with various offerings, and the priests and Levites are set in order for the service of the Lord. And verse 18 emphasizes that everything was accomplished according to what is “written in the Book of Moses.”
One month later, the people celebrate Passover (verse 19) and, along with it, the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread (verse 22). It’s hard to imagine the great joy with which they celebrated.
Chapter 6 ends with the theme of joy:
The Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king . . . so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel. (verse 22)
God sent the people two sources of encouragement: the prophets of God and the providence of God. Beloved, I want you to keep that in mind. These are the same encouragements you and I have today.
When discouragement knocks on your door, when you encounter enemies of the gospel who want you to stop living for God, you need to listen to God’s prophets—that is, to God’s living, inspired Word. It will encourage you to remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Be encouraged also by the providence of God, knowing “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Now that does not automatically make life easier, but it does remind us of our ultimate security, which is in Him.
 A. J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century, Book Three: If I Had a Thousand Lives (Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1982), 454.