Praying Through the Bible project

Living Faithfully Under a Non-Believing State
(Ezra 6.12)

May the God who has established his name there overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem.

Just as God used King Cyrus of Persia to further his plans for the Jews, and Cyrus offered a prayer to him, King Darius of Persia did the same, many years later. What do these prayers by unbelievers teach us about prayer and the work of God? How should a believer live under a State that does not share that faith?

Background

After the last prayer, the Jews begin rebuilding the Temple. Not without problems, though: twice they had to stop because of opposition from people who were still living in the land. These were probably descendants of people whom Assyrian had moved into the land, perhaps also intermarried with the Israelites who had never been taken into Exile. They wanted to help build the Temple, but the Returnees refused. This might seem harsh, but it was based on Israel’s history. They remembered how Joshua had allowed people to stay in the promised land, and their pagan-influenced culture caused problems until the Exile. They would not make the same mistake again.

The people of the land took action against them, and caused the reconstruction to stop. But years later, they began again, and a local governor write to King Darius, the current king of the Persians, asking him if they had the authority to do so. He searched the archives and found King Cyrus’ order that they rebuild the Temple. Darius sent a letter back, saying that they had authority. He went further—the governor was to help them with anything they needed, out of the royal funds, just as Cyrus had decreed. Darius closes the letter with the prayer above.

Meaning

Like with the proclamation of King Cyrus in chapter 1, this declaration of King Darius, and its prayer, may surprise us. Why is pagan king helping the Jews with their Temple, and even offering a prayer for them to their God? Of course, part of the answer is that God was using these rulers to further his own purposes for his people.

But there is a non-theological reason, too. Discoveries of ancient Persian administrative records show that the Persians believed in supporting the religions of the different peoples they ruled over. Unlike the Assyrians and Babylonians, who destroyed temples and forced people to worship Babylonians gods, the Persians believed that diversity of religion was a better way to rule.

Application

While State leaders might not pray to our God on our behalf, we can certainly pray for them, and allow them authority in our lives (where it does not clash with God’s authority). Daniel 4.17 indicates that God is the one who places people in power, believers or not. Jesus and writers of the New Testament letters say the same (Matt 22:15–22; Rom 13:1–7; 1 Pet 2:13–17).

The difficulty comes when a State forces its citizens to do something that is in direct conflict with God’s commands. When that happens, believers are not to become political revolutionaries to overthrow, but merely to passively resist: as Jesus did, as the early Apostles did in Jerusalem, and as the writer of Revelation urges his readers. (See also 1 Peter 2.)

Think today of how your local, state, national government both helps and hurts the practice of your faith. Pray for the leaders, that God will use them as he sees fit, and that you will know how to live faithfully under that State.


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