Artaxerxes was a Persian king during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah who though was an unbeliever supported Ezra in the rebuilt of God’s temple.
Now I, King Artaxerxes, order all the treasurers of Trans-Euphrates to provide with diligence whatever Ezra the priest, a teacher of the Law of the God of heaven, may ask of you.
Have you ever had someone who displays little interest in godly things ask you to pray about something he or she is facing? It always jolts us a bit to realize that even the most ardent unbelievers, deep down, may have some regard for God, even if their interest in Him is mostly self-serving. This was clearly the case for King.
Artaxerxes ruled over the vast kingdom of Persia during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Decades earlier, many Jews had been sent into exile under the Babylonians, and then the Persians defeated the Babylonians
and absorbed their territory into their empire. King Cyrus was the first to decree that Jews were free to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Years later, Artaxerxes would make a similar decree and grant Ezra funds to maintain the rebuilt temple and offer sacrifices. His
reasoning is made clear in his letter to Ezra: “Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons?” (Ezra 7:23).
Artaxerxes may have merely been concerned about stacking the deck
of divine providence in his favor, but it was regard for the Lord nonetheless. And it also provided generous funds for building up God’s temple in Jerusalem.
When unbelievers ask us to pray for them, it is tempting to harbor thoughts like, Why should I ask God to do anything for them when they don’t seem to care about following Him at all? But this is not an
attitude of grace and mercy. At the same time, God may already be working in their hearts to bring about repentance, and their request reveals the true regard they have for Him in their hearts. Instead of harboring resentment, respond with a grace-filled, “Yes, I will certainly pray for you” – and do it!