Decrees of God
WHAT IS A DECREE?
A decree is a command which is only as powerful as the speaker’s intention, authority and power to enforce. Mere man can only plan and declare what he plans to do; but he is under the sovereignty of God. James:4:13-16 So he is in no position to make decrees, apart from God’s will.
Ultimately, only God, according to Proverbs 8:14-16 and Psalm 115:1-3 has the power to make a decree and cause it to be accomplished, since He alone is all wise and almighty.
There have been four and only four world empires. Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. There will be one more yet to come, the revived Roman Empire. So, understand as we continue our study of Ezra, that as the book opens the Babylonian empire has just fallen to Persia and now Persia is the world empire.
In the book of Ezra we learn of decrees by Babylonian and Persian emperors. The decrees ordained by God were fulfilled. All other decrees came to naught. Old Testament books related with Ezra include: Daniel, Esther, Haggai and Zechariah.
The events of Ezra take place at the end of the Babylonian Empire and their captivity of Judah and the beginning of the Persian reign of Cyrus. In this and the following studies we will be looking at the history of Judah under the following emperors.
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon 606-561 BC
Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon 536 BC
Cyrus, the first emperor of Persia 538- 529 BC He ordered the return of the Jews to their homeland to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
Cambyses of Persia 529-522 BC
Darius I of Persia 521-485 BC the King who dealt with Daniel.
Xerxes (Ahasuerus) 485-465 BC (he took Esther as his wife) and
Artaxerxes 465-425 He is the Persian king who gave permission to Nehemiah to return to his homeland and rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem.
In the books of Daniel and Esther we learn about Jews who lived in Babylon before and after it was conquered by Cyrus of Persia.
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we learn of the Jews who chose to return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity and help rebuild their temple.
In earlier studies in our Ezra series, we had learned of the decree of Cyrus, the first Persian emperor. Prophesied by Isaiah in Isaiah 44:28, 200 years before his birth, even to his name; Cyrus understood his God-given role in history. He was to free the Children of Judah from seventy years of Babylonian captivity and encourage them to return to Judah and rebuild their temple which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.
Some Jews, such as Daniel, chose, or were led by God to stay in Babylon. beginning under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar and continuing through to the reign of Darius, Emperor of Persia.
Other Jews, freed from Babylonian captivity by Cyrus, chose to return to their land of Judah and to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple and re-establish their lives as free men under the Persian rulers. Their story is told in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
HOW A HEATHEN EMPEROR BECAME A GODLY MAN
The book of Daniel is thrilling reading! In this book we are introduced to four young Hebrew men: Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, who loved God with all their hearts. Learn how God protected them and used them for His glory.
According to Daniel 1:3-8, these four young Hebrew men were brought to Babylon as Jewish captives when they were probably teenagers. Because of their character, intelligence and appearance, Nebuchadnezzar chose to bring them into his court and give them special attention and privileges the rest of the Jews did not enjoy. He believed them to be men who could be a great help to him in ruling the captive Jews. He even gave them Babylonian names, hoping to indoctrinate them into the ways of Babylon and change them. Instead of Nebuchadnezzar influencing them, they ended up influencing him to know and worship the God of Israel.
The story of Nebuchadnezzar’s journey to God begins with his dream recorded in Daniel 2, which Nebuchadnezzar and his sorcerers could not interpret. Then he called in Daniel who was able to interpret the dream. It was about a great image of which Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold.
Nebuchadnezzar was so taken with his glory as the head that he missed hearing or understanding that the image was about to be destroyed with a great Stone, representing Christ’s Kingdom.
THE FIERY FURNACE
In his arrogance, he ordered a great image to be made of of himself and ordered everyone in the kingdom to bow down and worship it whenever special music was played in honor of it. Anyone who refused to bow down would be thrown into a fiery furnace and burned alive.
The three godly Hebrews, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, in honor to God, refused to bow down to any image. Listen to their answer to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16-18. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace. And He will deliver us out of thy hand, O King. But if not, be it known unto thee, O King, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
With the answer, Nebuchadnezzar became furious with the three men and ordered the furnace to be stoked and heated seven times hotter. Then he commanded his soldiers to tie them and pick them up and cast them into the furnace, fully clothed. The furnace was so hot that when the furnace door was opened to throw them in, the soldiers were burned to death, even as they threw them into the furnace.
As Nebuchadnezzar watched the proceedings, suddenly he was aware of a fourth man in the furnace. This fourth man along with the three Hebrew men were still alive walking about within the furnace. They were not burned nor were their clothes. Only the ropes that bound them were burned off their wrists and they walked about freely, unscathed by the heat.
That fourth man in the furnace was none other but Jesus appearing with the three Hebrew heroes in His pre-incarnate state. I take great comfort as a Christian in persecution we may be called to endure, in God’s promise to His own in Isaiah 43:1-3 “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee, for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.”
GOD WORKING IN THE LIFE OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
As Nebuchadnezzar watched in utter astonishment, he said, “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
Nebuchadnezzar then addressed them as “servants of the Most High God” and invited them to walk out of the furnace. As they stepped forth, he noted that the fire had not hurt them. In fact, it had not even singed their hair, nor burned their clothing. They did not even smell burned.
Now listen to the amazing statement by this heathen king. “Blessed be the
God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants that trusted in Him… that they might not serve nor worship any god but their own God.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar made a new decree. ” Therefore I make a decree that every people, nation and language that speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego shall be cut in pieces and their houses shall be made a dung hill; because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted these three men in the province of Babylon.
Was God through with Nebuchadnezzar yet? No, God had more to humble and teach Nebuchadnezzar. We’ll look at that in our next study of Nebuchadnezzar.
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