“And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 6:22 ESV)
The second half of Ezra chapter 6 records the completion of the temple. After all the Israelites had been through this far – coming out of captivity, receiving back their sacred vessels, making the journey to Judah, building an altar, facing their enemies, ceasing the work, then starting the work again and getting their work verified – finally, “they finished their building by the decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius” (6:14).
As they did when they laid the foundation (as recorded in chapter 3), the Israelites celebrated the work with praise according to biblical prescriptions: led by the priests and Levites, they gave God offerings, they kept the Passover, they feasted, and they worshiped together. Unlike the end of chapter 3, however, we do not see a division among the people, wherein the older generation sobbed while the younger generation celebrated; rather, Ezra records this event in terms of great unity and joy. What seemed to be the difference? Perhaps the difference between the two celebrations was that this time, God himself was recognized as the reason for this grand accomplishment.
Verse 22 sums this up: “the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them . . .” Here is a clear recognition that this was God’s doing. Yes, man used ordinary means – a decree, a letter, a search. But God is the one who turned the king’s heart. God is the one who brought them there. God is the one who made all this happen.
Joy lasts longest when God is its source. Otherwise, joy is bound to dissipate. Even when we rejoice over good things, like the building of the temple, when we don’t recognize that God has provided these things for our good and his glory, we miss out on the bigger picture. The same God who stirs the hearts of pagan kings and works his glorious will to its glorious end will stir our hearts to joy as we fix our minds on him!