God had given a sample of His kingdom upon the earth, in partial measure, either in David or in Solomon. Still, it was only the type of that which is yet to be, when the kingdom of God shall be established in its power, with its great central seat in Jerusalem, but also a most powerful system of blessing for the earth. We know there will be more than this, but this is not given us in the early books. In the prophets we find the Holy Ghost shows us a universal kingdom - a kingdom of all under the whole heaven.
And this touches the glory of God in a very special way, for in point of fact, it is to this that all Scripture turns. Whatever has been points onward to the future, for God has never yet had, except in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ - never yet had His full glory in the earth. And even in the Lord Jesus Christ, although there is nothing that ever will be so deep, nothing in which God's eye sees such perfection, nothing in which we who know Him and love Him may also have such communion with God in the delight of His own Son, still it was not His kingdom: it was the King, but not the kingdom. It was a kingdom given in His person, but not the kingdom given in power.
It was not yet the establishment of it; there was a display of the power in His person, that will cast out the devil, and that is the reason why so much scope and importance is attached in the Gospels to the expulsion of demons from men, and why it is the very first sample of power put forth in that Gospel which, the most deeply of all, shows us what the power of Satan is now, and what the kingdom of God will be by and by, namely, the Gospel of Luke. It does not begin there with other works, but with that particularly. So also, in another way, Mark shows us similarly the power of Satan met and overcome by the superior power of God in the person of the Lord Jesus. It was a demoniac that is first healed in both cases. But we find, further, the painful history of the decline and fall of what God once established in Israel.
We now come to a fresh point in God's history - the intervention of grace towards a remnant whom He brings back from captivity into the land; and we have here in two books - Ezra and Nehemiah - both sides of the mighty work of God in His goodness; not power, but grace - not the establishment of anything according to the mind of God, but the grace of God intervening to sustain a remnant where there was not the authority of God establishing things according to His own mind - where the things were very far from it, but, nevertheless, where God's grace led those who enjoyed His secret - those that had faith - to confide in God under any circumstances, and, therefore, full of instruction to us who find ourselves now in a state of things remarkably analogous to that of the remnant that returned from Babylon. We shall find abundant proofs of this in the slight sketch that I may be enabled to give at this time.
I take up, of course, the first of them - Ezra - where the great point is the house of God. In Nehemiah we shall find the great point is the city: not the house, but the city. But still it is the relation of the remnant to God, and the ways of God's goodness in dealing with the remnant - whether it be the building of the temple or the building of the wall - which is the main subject of these two books respectively.
And, first of all, we see the mighty change that had taken place in the fact that Cyrus the Persian is so prominent a Gentile. How strange that a Gentile should be in power! He sends a proclamation calling upon Israel, and in the name of Jehovah as a most open acknowledgment of His power. The truth is that Cyrus, so far, is a type of a greater than Cyrus, and for this reason it is that he appears in the judgment of Babylon. Now, Babylon, as it was the first great power of the world that was raised up in God's providence to chastise and parry away the ancient people of God because of their sins, so the judgment of Babylon sets forth the judgment of the world-power in its last shape. In this way, therefore, Cyrus in the prophecy of Isaiah is clearly viewed as a precursor on a small scale of a great deliverer who will come, the last act of the power of God at the end of the present dispensation being the fall of Babylon, followed by the coming of the Lord Jesus to take the kingdom. It is under the seventh vial that Babylon is finally judged, and then comes the Lord Jesus in the clouds of heaven to establish the people of God upon the earth, as well as to display the church and all the other heavenly saints above.
Now it is evident that the measure in which Cyrus prefigures this mighty deliverer is but small. Still, I have no doubt that God had all this in view when He was pleased in His own wonderful way to send out such a call by him, Cyrus king of Persia, who pronounces that the Jehovah God of heaven had given him all the kingdoms of the earth. We know how truly this will be the case with Christ - that He is really the righteous man whom Cyrus set forth in a very small measure - that He is the one who will trample down the kings of the earth like mortar - that He is the one who will judge - that they shall be as stubble before His bow. But now Cyrus proclaims that the road was open to Jerusalem, and so far from hindering the return of the people of God, he encourages them in every possible way. He exhorts them to go up and build the house of God, and, further, that all people were to lend them their help along the road. Cyrus himself sets the example of that which he proclaims to others. For instead of contenting himself as a king naturally would with having let go a large band - a considerable band - of a race which had been so opposed to all other kingdoms (for so the Gentiles regarded Israel), he, furthermore, brings out the vessels of the house of God, and brings out the gold and the silver which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away from Jerusalem. All this is now given back to Israel in order that they might go with this confidence, not only that God providentially had made the road back, but that God had inclined the heart of the Gentile himself to the honour of the Jehovah God of heaven.
These, then, are the circumstances which come before us in the first chapter. But then, the state of things at that time in no wise answers to the reality that will be by and by. For instead of the Gentile being supreme, the plan and intention of God, we know well all through Scripture, is that Israel shall be the head and the Gentiles the tail. And, in fact, it is this alone which enables us to understand the history of the world, and the extraordinary state of the world ever since the Gentile times began. Men are and have long been, very boastful of this very time that God calls the times of the Gentiles. What is it in God's mind? A state of confusion only controlled in God's providence by His setting up the basest of men to rule over it. So it is that God speaks of it. How humiliating! Whilst Gentile pride vaunts itself in its great men that govern the world, I repeat, God characterises it as a season - a mere interval of time - that has merely come in because of the rebellious, apostate sin of Israel, and, accordingly, He allows in His providence that the worst shall gain the upper hand. We cannot form a right judgment of the state of the world and of its history on a large scale without bearing that in mind.
This does not in the smallest degree hinder the Christian - the believer - from paying honour to the powers that be, for that is clearly our duty. As honour is not at all based upon their personal character, we have nothing at all to do with their origin, how they got their power, or how they use their power. All that we have got to do, as believers, is to own God and the magistrate. Perhaps the magistrate, or the king, does not own God himself. That is a serious thing for him, but it does not change our relation. Our duty, even if the kings or the magistrates were all infidels, is to acknowledge them to be God's ministers, no doubt blindly serving, but still as accomplishing in their position God's purpose, though they little think it themselves. In short, we are bound to pay this honour to the powers that be, and it is no question what their particular shape may be. It may be a monarchy or an empire, or a republic, or whatever men may own for the moment. Our business is to render honour and subjection to the higher powers. This makes the Christian's path extremely simple, and I press it, beloved brethren, because we are in a time when altogether different views prevail. The spirit of the age is totally against what I am now saying. I give you, therefore, full warning as to it.
You must not expect to find what I am now saying in the thoughts of men, in the mouths of men, in the writings of men; but the contrary. Men regard themselves as the source of power, not God. They think it is purely a question of man's will. I grant you it may be man's will, as the mere outer source of it. But what people forget is this, that it is God that evermore governs, even though wicked men may be the instruments that come forward publicly. Our part is not with the instruments at all, but to own God in whatever He allows for the time being to have power upon the earth. And this the Lord Jesus Himself has shown us in the most clear and decided manner, for there were very different thoughts in Israel when the Lord Himself was here. But He has touched upon this question and shown it in that memorable answer of His to the Pharisees and the Herodians when He demanded of them to produce the coin, and pointed to the image and superscription of Cæsar, and gave them this decisive word, "Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's."
This is what belongs to the time meanwhile; but how great the change when all things in heaven and on earth shall be put under the King - "the Great King" - when the Lord Jesus will be not only the acknowledged Jehovah, but King over all the earth - when what was only in a partial and boastful manner said of the king of Persia, who was called "the great king," will be emphatically and intrinsically true of Him and of Him alone! Then how infinite the blessing! when the heavens and earth shall be united all to His praise, and all the fruit of His grace, and all joined in His glory. This is what we wait for, and we know that by the grace of God we shall be with Himself on high. We shall be with Him and appear with Him in glory when He appears in glory. But this was only a partial type and so much the more partial because the state of things is real, and the confusion where God only holds the reins providentially though it might be by men who were heathen, for such is the state of the times of the Gentiles. And the times of the Gentiles you will remember began with Nebuchadnezzar, and will go on till the Lord Jesus appears in glory. We are in the times of the Gentiles now, only we are called out of the world by the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. On this, however, I do not touch.