This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and his associates, the governors who were in the province Beyond the River, sent to Darius the king.7 They sent him a report, in which was written as follows: “To Darius the king, all peace. 8 Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. 9 Then we asked those elders and spoke to them thus: ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’10 We also asked them their names, for your information, that we might write down the names of their leaders. 11 And this was their reply to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 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 and carried away the people to Babylonia. 13 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. 14 And the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought into the temple of Babylon, these Cyrus the king took out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; 15 and he said to him, “Take these vessels, go and put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site.” 16 Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and from that time until now it has been in building, and it is not yet finished.’ 17 Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter.” (ESV)
After years and years of rebelling against God and prophets warning what would happen if the nation of Israel did not repent, God eventually gave Israel over to their enemies and the consequences of their depraved minds. For seventy years they were captives in a foreign land. This meant that there was enough time for three or four generations of Israelites to be living side by side in captivity. This was long enough for traditions to change, religions to be forgotten, and an entire culture to be rewritten and erased from existence. But God had promised restoration to His people. And so, according to the word of Isaiah that had been spoken 150 years earlier (Isa. 44:28), Cyrus released the Jews and allowed them to begin rebuilding their city and their temple.
However, this did not go over well with the locals, and they tried to stop the massive rebuilding project that had begun in Jerusalem.
Now, at this point, we need to pause. Pull back the curtain a bit. Let’s look at this from a different historical perspective. Prior to creation, Satan attempted a coup in Heaven and failed. Although he and his followers were cast out, he just regrouped and continued the battle here on earth. Their first victory was the Fall. But the destruction of man’s purity is not the ultimate goal for Satan. Rather, realizing that he cannot compete against a holy God, his goal is to make the playing field even by removing God’s holiness. And the easiest way to accomplish this? To thwart just one of God’s promises. You see, if only one of God’s promises does not come true, then Satan has proved God to be a liar. Imperfect. Unable to predict and navigate all the variables. In other words, finite and fallible.
So, when God begins to move history and kings in the direction of fulfilling His promise of restoration, when the walls of Jerusalem and the temple begin to be rebuilt, Satan organizes a faction of people with political clout to oppose the work. This is spiritual warfare and the stakes are much higher than a city or a building. It is the character and person of God.
It seems these Israelites knew this as well. For when their opponents asked who they were (so they could tell the king who was “rebelling” against his kingdom), they responded that they were “servants of the God of heaven and earth.” Their focus was not on themselves, but on preserving the name of the Lord. We see this pattern repeated during many spiritual battles throughout scripture, both in the Old and the New Testaments:
In Moses’ injunction for Pharaoh to “Let My people go!”
In David’s answer to Goliath: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
In Joshua’s challenge to the people of Israel: “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
In Gideon’s battle cry: “A sword for the LORD, and for Gideon!”
In the response of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
In Peter’s response to the Pharisees when told to stop preaching the Gospel: “We must obey God rather than men.”
In Paul’s writing to the Corinthians: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
In James’ pleading words: “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”
And even today, when you are sitting at the dinner table, and your 17-year-old child challenges the core beliefs of your faith, or when you are at work and encouraged to compromise your values, or perhaps when you are alone, everyone else in the house is asleep, and you consider watching that internet site you shouldn’t….Whatever battle you find yourself in, whatever “king” challenges you (whether literal or metaphorical), remember:
1) “We are servants of the God of heaven and earth.” That is your starting place. This opposition is not about you. It is, ultimately, about God. You may be damaged or destroyed in the process but you are not the bullseye of this conflict. Fight not only for yourself. Fight also for God.
2) God is a god of promises. And His promises do not fail. He is not a liar, indeed He cannot lie.
3) For this reason, you can stand confidently in the promises of God. “Fear not” should not only be an injunction of angels but also the motto for Christian living. If kings must bow to the will of God, why should we bow to kings?