Tag Archives: Persian

God’s People, part 117: Artaxerxes

Read Nehemiah 2:1-8

“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.

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

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.


Read Isaiah 45:1-8

“No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NLT)

anointing_of_fresh_oilWhen you hear the word Messiah, who do you think of? When you hear the word Christ, what do you think of? Some of you may know that the words Christ and Messiah mean the same thing, that “messiah” is the English equivalent of a the Hebrew word “mâshı̂yach” (מָשִׁיחַ) and “christ” is the English equivalent of the Greek word “christos” (Χριστός). My guess is that when most people hear the phrase “messiah” or “christ”, whether they or Christian or not, they immediately think of the man who ended up becoming the figure head of the Christian religion, Jesus of Nazareth. Some may even mistakenly think that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name!

I am very certain that when most people hear the words “messiah” or “christ”, they do not think of Cyrus. In fact, if I were a betting person, I would bet that most people would not even know who Cyrus actually is. As it happens, Cyrus was the king of Persia. He ended up being the ruler who took over the kingdom of Babylon after it fell to the forces and the might of Persia. Within Babylon were the people of Judah who had been exiled there because of their trying to ally with Egypt against Babylon. When that happened, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem and, upon overtaking it, forced all of the leaders, the Temple priests, the scribes and people of import were exiled from Jerusalem and relocated in Babylon.

Once Babylon fell to Persia, King Cyrus (who was not a Jew and had no in depth knowledge of the Jewish religion) let the Jewish people return back to Jerusalem. What is even more striking than that, is that Cyrus seemingly had no agenda other than to just let them go home. He didn’t require them to send any money back to him, or pledge their loyalty to him in any way; rather, he simply let them go home to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In response to that, the Jewish priests and scribes wrote of Cyrus that he was the LORD GOD’s “anointed one”, or Messiah (which is “Christ” in Greek). Let me reiterate that. Cyrus, the non-Jewish, polytheistic, war mongering Persian King was the Messiah…the Christ…the LORD’s anointed one.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with such richness that really help point us to the nature of God. If we read Scripture carefully, there were many messiahs. Saul, David, Solomon, and every other King of Israel were all the LORD’s anointed ones. That’s different than being “the Messiah”, the one that some of the first century Jews were looking to come and rid them of their oppressors and reestablish the line of King David forever; however, there were many messiahs and each one of them were anointed by the LORD’s prophets. There really is nothing unusual about a king, or others, being called messiah. What is unusual is that this particular king does not even know, let alone worship, the God of Israel.

What does that say for us? It says that God constantly exceeds our expectations. It says that God will anoint anyone who is willing to have compassion, who seeks justice, who loves mercy, and who walks in the path of humility. Whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile, whether that person is a Christian or a Muslim, whether that person is a monotheist or a polytheist, whether that person is a male or a female, God will work in and through anyone who is willing to humble themselves and let LOVE rule the day. The fact is that God was calling Israel to live in that love, to be God’s chosen, and God worked through Cyrus to remind them of that. The fact is that God is calling us to live in that LOVE, to be God’s chosen, and once again is using Cyrus to remind us of that. Be reminded and live a life of LOVE that witnesses to the LOVE of God.

“This is not the time to shrink back in fear. This is the time to move forward in Faith. Get up every morning knowing you are anointed. You are equipped. You are empowered. You have everything you need to fulfill your destiny.” – Elton Sibiya

Lord, allow me to step out in faith, to see that you have anointed me to fulfill the work of love, compassionate justice, and mercy that you began at the outset of the world. Allow me to act upon that knowledge in service of others. Amen.