God often delights to do the unexpected, choosing to use unlikely vessels to accomplish His work (e.g., 1 Sam. 16:1–13). In our study of the immediate postexilic period thus far, we have seen how the Lord used pagan kings such as Cyrus the Great and Darius I to liberate His people from Babylonian captivity and facilitate the reconstruction of the temple (Ezra 1; 6:1–12). Who would have thought that the Lord would use such instruments in building His kingdom? But our God proves His sovereign lordship in making use of individuals who do not know Him to benefit His people. Matthew Henry comments on Ezra 6:1–2, “When God’s time has come for the accomplishing of his gracious purposes concerning his church he will raise up instruments to promote them from whom such good service was not expected.”
Today’s passage describes the completion of the postexilic temple and its dedication. From the dating given in Ezra 6:15, we know that the reconstruction ended in the year 516 BC, and verse 14 informs us that the work was finished “by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” Here we have an illustration of the doctrine of concurrence, which tells us that the Lord is working at the same time that people are working, and He uses them to fulfill His purposes. Was the temple rebuilt and dedicated on account of the Lord’s working or the decisions and actions of the Persian kings? The biblical answer is both. God’s decree ordains and governs all that comes to pass in history, and this decree is worked out in time through human beings (see Gen. 50:20). King Artaxerxes I is mentioned in Ezra 6:14, though the temple was completed before his reign. The author includes him to stress that the Persian rulers, by and large, were favorably disposed to the Jews. Artaxerxes would later send Nehemiah to Judah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1–8).
Ezra 6:16–18 describes the joyful dedication of the new temple. While it was a day of great rejoicing, we see that the number of animals sacrificed was far less than when Solomon dedicated the first temple (v. 17; see 1 Kings 8:62–64). This difference emphasizes the lowly position of the returned community and that the full glory of the restoration would occur after their day. But this lesser glory did not keep the people from obeying the Lord and rejoicing in that day (Ezra 6:19–22). We should follow their example.
Just as the returned exiles were faithful to God in an era of lesser glory, so must we be faithful to the Lord when things are difficult and we are not seeing much return on our work. The Lord wants us to be faithful to Him, obeying His revealed will and trusting Him for the increase (1 Cor. 3:5–9). We are to serve Him, trusting that He will use us as He sees fit to accomplish His perfect plan for His creation.