God’s People, part 117: Artaxerxes

Read Nehemiah 2:1-8

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The Temple was finally finished, as had been commanded by the God of Israel and decreed by Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, the kings of Persia.” (Ezra 6:14b)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, becrmause we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ArtaxerxesPart 117: Artaxerxes. I am sure at least some of you who are reading this may be wondering, “Arta-who??” One of the challenging parts of reading the Bible is the fact that we end up reading transliterated names that are often confusing and hard to pronounce. With that said, people two-thousand years from now will have trouble pronouncing our names.

Artaxerxes (pronounced Art-a-zerk’zees) was the son of the Persian king Xerxes (pronounced Zerk’zees), who was the king that married the Jewish girl Esther and made her queen. Xerxes, if you remember, was also the same king who fought against the 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae. In 465 BCE, Xerxes was assassinated by the commander of the royal bodyguard, along with his eldest son Darius. As a result, Artaxerxes killed the commander along with his family and ascended to the throne.

As king, he is known for several different things. One of those things, since his father’s military campaign in Greece was discussed, is Artaxerxes handling of the relations between Persia and Greece. Following his ultimate defeat against the Greeks, Xerxes was forced to retreat to Asia and eventually give up trying to conquer Greece. As king, his son Artaxerxes introduced a new strategy of weakening the Athenians by providing financial support to their enemies in other parts of Greece, as Greece was not unified nation but a collection of city-states. This eventually escalated to further skirmishes and led to a peace treaty between Athens, Argos and Persia.

Where Artaxerxes comes in for us is that he is another Persian king who was favorably looked upon by the Jews. He is mentioned by name in both Ezra and Nehemiah and credited with commissioning Ezra, by a letter of decree, to take charge of the religious and civil matters of the Jewish people in the reestablished Jewish nation. Ezra, with the authority of the Persian king, did just that. He ordered the religious life, read the Torah allowed to the Jewish people, and laid the foundation for the second Temple.

In his twentieth year as King, Artaxerxes gave his cup-bearer Nehemiah permission to go to Jerusalem with letters of safe-passage to the governors in the Trans-Euphrates region and to the keeper of the royal forests to build beams for the citadel by the Temple and to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Thus, as can be seen, Artaxerxes followed in the footsteps of Kings Cyrus in terms of supporting the Jewish campaign to rebuild Jerusalem.

All of this points to one fact that can be seen throughout the Bible and, if we look with open eyes and hearts, throughout our own lives. Here is that fact: God works through all people and all circumstances to build God’s Kingdom in our hearts and, eventually, as the ultimate reality of all creation. Nothing can, nor ever will, stand in the way of our awesome God! The challenge for us is to recognize God’s work in us as well as in others. Even when people seem to be working against God, it is important for us to realize that God’s love ALWAYS wins in the end. Let us, God’s people, embrace that truth and work toward its inevitable and eternal conclusion.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Problems are not stop signs, but are guidelines.” – Rev. Dr. Robert H. Schuller

PRAYER
Lord, pour your love in my heart and your guide me with your Holy Spirit. Grow me into being a part of your “Love Wins” mission in the world. Amen.

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