Sunday School Lessons

Take the Help Where God Gives it to You

In my state of residence (Ohio), betting on sports became legal at the start of 2023, and booking companies (whose math skills are better than those of most current and future gambling addicts, I’m afraid) wasted no time in blanketing the people of Ohio with advertisements, trying to get them to sign up and place wagers.  (This bothers me because I watched what legalized gambling did to the state of Illinois where I grew up, but that isn’t the point of this article.)

Despite knowing that the odds always favor the house, I did consider taking some of these companies up on their offer of free bets (i.e., with “house money”).  I reasoned that I could convert these promotional wagers into money by making conservative bets, and then I could just give the winnings to the church.  Before you judge me, I didn’t actually do this, but I pondered the moral implications of doing so.  Would my local congregation be willing to accept money that came from those stuck in a cycle of losing bets?  I don’t know the answer, although I think that there are probably two main schools of thought, here: some people that support giving gambling winnings to the church, saying, “The devil has had that money long enough”, while others would be offended by even the suggestion that money like this be given to God’s work.

As the book of Ezra begins, a Persian king makes a decree:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
Ezra 1:1 NIV

In Ezra 1:1-4, we find a non-Hebrew king being motivated by God (i.e., Yahweh, the great “I AM”) to build a temple for God in Jerusalem.  This king is allowing anyone from God’s people to go to Jerusalem for this work.

Do you remember how the Egyptians gave material goods to the Israelites after the tenth plague, as the Israelites were leaving Egypt?  (This was prophesied to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:21-22, and fulfilled in Exodus 12:33-36.)  The events here sound pretty similar, except this time the king is ordering that those around the returning exiles are to supply them, including “freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem”.  A commentator [Schoville, p.42-43] suggests that these supporters would be Jewish people who chose not to return, and might include non-Jewish people as well.

Skipping down to Ezra 1:7-8, King Cyrus isn’t only commanding others to support the people of God.  He is also returning items from the temple of God that had been stolen by Nebuchadnezzar (a Babylonian king who had sacked Jerusalem previously, although Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire itself had been overthrown by the Persian empire that Cyrus now ruled).  The next couple of verses count out thousands of gold and silver articles that were returned.

So, we have a case here where God used a king and an empire who were clearly not worshiping Him (or at least, not worshiping only Him), in order to fulfill promises that God had made to the Israelite people.

I am not suggesting that you go out and buy a lottery ticket, trying to “bribe” God into making it a winner by telling Him that you will give part of it to His ministry.

However, I want to be sure that each of us is looking for God’s intervention and provision, even if it doesn’t come from the sources that we expect.  God took care of Joseph’s family through the polytheistic Egyptian nation, and saved Moses via Pharaoh’s daughter.   He spread the good news about Jesus Christ through the [also] polytheistic Greek nation’s language, on the roads built by the Romans.  God is the God of the universe, and can work through anyone – even those who don’t accept His sovereignty – to achieve His goals.

Of course, if you are a follower of Jesus, it is still wise to ask God before accepting any support that will unnecessarily bind you – as a member of the body of Christ – to a non-Christian organization, or could force you to compromise Christ-like principles.

Still, if God provides for you through an unexpected source, but it still seems to be in His will, take the money and use it for His work.  Don’t resist His plan just because it differs from your own, and don’t be too proud to accept a more creative solution from God, when your ordinary solution (maybe the one that you prayed for) wasn’t part of His will.

From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 8, 2023


  • The Lookout, January 1, 2023, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press NIV Commentary – Ezra-Nehemiah, by Keith Schoville.  © 2001 College Press Publishing Co.

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