“the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom…” ~Ezra 1:1
Reading the latest news on world politics rather can be sobering, if not a unnerving. Personally, I’d much rather read about Usain Bolt edging out Justin Gatlin in the 100-meter dash of the Track and Field World Championships than the latest on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It’s far easier to read about Andy Murray’s historic David Cup victory than the latest on the Global Terrorism Index.
While there’s value in knowing the happenings from a political perspective around the globe, it also reminds me of my helplessness when it comes to living that tranquil and quiet life that I desire for my family and those around me. Being a vocational pastor in the United states means that I’m eligible for health insurance and an annual vacation; in other countries, it means the threat of imprisonment and public beating. The decisions made by those in positions of political power and authority impact the opportunities available to my family—our home, occupation, education, healthcare, and religious freedom. It’s sobering to think that so much of how my life is lived is affected by the decisions of only a few men.
Ultimately, however, the hearts and ambitions and decisions of those in authority are under the control of God Almighty. It is His hand that moves and stirs the spirits of even the most powerful rulers. It is the hand of God Himself that truly orchestrates world history. Wisdom lives not in fear of politicians, but by faith in God’s sovereignty over politicians. Proverbs 21:1 reminds us, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
Think of what it was like to have been part of the Jewish community back in the 6th century B.C. Conquered and held in captivity, God’s chosen people had lost all political power. Without a king of their own, they were at the mercy of the pagan kings. Would they ever be allowed to return to Jerusalem? Would they ever be able to rebuild their temple and rebuild themselves as a people? What were the chances, given that they were under the Persian king’s rulership—a king who was the most powerful political ruler in the world but had no history of worshipping their God? Chances looked slim.
Yet, out of seemingly nowhere, King Cyrus decreed for the Jews’ return to Jerusalem and for the rebuilding of the temple. Enemies of the Jews attempted to sabotage these plans, but oddly enough, the successive Persian—and pagan—kings kept decreeing for the temple’s rebuilding in defense of the Jews. From a human political perspective, the odds of this happening were slim. But from a theological perspective, from which Ezra writes, the likelihood of such intervention was not in question. The one and only God of the universe stirred the hearts of the Persian kings to support and protect His people in the same way that he had hardened the heart of the Egyptian pharaoh to oppress them centuries earlier.
The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart became the backdrop for the most astounding display of God’s miraculous power at a global level that resulted in the deliverance of God’s people from slavery. The stirring of Cyrus’ heart resulted in the return and rebuilding of God’s people from captivity. In both a hardening and a stirring, God’s redemptive work on behalf of his people was accomplished. The hearts of the world history’s most powerful rulers have always been moved by God’s hand in accordance to his will. In his hand rests the movement of world politics, he has always orchestrated it in accordance to his redemptive purposes for his people. Sometimes, he purposed for their oppression; sometimes, for their salvation. But it was ultimately always him, and ultimately always towards the greater picture of redemption.
Because of God’s sovereign hand, world history will always be moved in favor of God’s people, according to His good purposes. That doesn’t mean that Christians will be rich. It doesn’t mean that Christians will have equal access to the luxuries and rights that are available to other citizens. We’re reminded of this when we hear of how Johnpaul—our beloved brother in India—has to live in the slums of Tenali, India along with other Christians because the city does not currently permit Christians to live in the inner part of the city.
Christians will experience persecution from the world (2 Tim 3:12). But God always ensures that, regardless or who or what nation is in power, his people will be able to do what he has called them to do. This was true for the Jews in Israel, as the book of Ezra shows. And, in this dispensation, it is true for the church. This is why, writing from prison, Paul could say, “my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,” (Phil 1:12). The commission of global discipleship cannot be stopped, because the Word of God cannot be imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9).
There’s no doubt that world politics has its fair share of corruption. There’s no doubt that political rulers around the world don’t look favorably upon Christ’s true followers. But we need not be frightened, despite the increasing growth of hostility towards true biblical faith. World politics will ultimately be in our favor, because the Sovereign One who redeemed us as his people has always and will always involve himself in world politics. Back in Ezra’s day, he commissioned for the building of the temple and stirred the hearts of the Persian kings to make it happen. Since Christ has risen, he has commissioned his church to make disciples of all nations, to mobilize worshipers of him to the ends of the earth. And he will continue to move the hearts of politicians and nations and world leaders to ensure that this will happen—to ensure that Christ’s elect will hear His gospel, repent, be saved, and be fused into his church.
So the next time you read about what’s happening around the world from a political scene, be aware but not afraid. Ultimately, it’s working in our favor and for his glory.