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 to put it in writing:
“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’ ”
Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god. - Ezra 1:1-4, 7
The beginning of the book of Ezra was immediately compelling to me, not because of what it said but because of what it didn’t say.
Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ… - 2 Peter 1:1a
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: - Nehemiah 1:1a
These are the beginnings of just a couple books the bear the name of a man. However, the book of Ezra does not have Ezra’s name in the first four verses. In fact, Ezra doesn’t enter the story until chapter 7. Instead, there are three names that are mentioned in verse 1. They are Cyrus king of Persia, the Lord, and Jeremiah.
The Lord and Jeremiah
The Lord made a promise decades ago about the return of His people to the home that He had given them. He made this promise through the prophet Jeremiah in the midst of many lying prophets who were saying that the return from exile would be much sooner. The author of this book makes a point of reminding his readers that what was about to happen was the fulfillment of the promise that God had made through his messenger. We also have promises given to us in scripture. Most of us know about God’s promises at least enough to be looking forward to his work in our lives. However, we often struggle with confusion as to why His promises have not yet come about. Perhaps the information that Ezra gives us about King Cyrus will help us as we seek after God’s promises in our lives.
Cyrus king of Persia
First, there is no indication that Cyrus was a follower of the living God at all. Some historical accounts suggest that he may have been a monotheist and identified at some level with the Jews in their desire to worship one God in a culture that worshiped many. However, in verse 3, King Cyrus refers to the God of the Jews as “their God” or “his God,” depending on your translation. This suggests that the God the Jews worshipped was not a God personal to King Cyrus. Otherwise, he may have simply said “God” or “our God.” Nonetheless, Cyrus was the one through whom God brought about His promise. This causes me to ask why or how God used Cyrus to bring about His promises in the lives of His people. I believe that this text gives us some clues.
…has given me all the kingdoms of the earth
Cyrus began his proclamation by recognizing that the God of the heavens, presumably the God that Israel would go to worship, is the God who had given Cyrus all the kingdoms of the earth. This statement stands in stark contrast with the words of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:30, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” This great king then became like a wild animal until such time as he raised his eyes toward heaven and his sanity was restored. God honors those who recognize that He is the source of all that we have and it is through such honor and recognition that God is able to fulfill His promises.
The Lord moved the heart…
Verse 1 tells us that the reason for the proclamation that Cyrus made allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and Judah was that the Lord Himself had moved his heart. When we recognize God as the source of all things, God speaks to us. In this case, as with many of us, God’s speaking is not through an audible booming voice. Rather, the scripture tells us that God moved His heart. God is the giver of our passions and our desires. While God certainly speaks through His Word, through preachers and prophets, and even through audible voices, one of the most common ways for God to speak is to move our hearts and work through our passions. He often gives us His desires and affinities and these bring glory to Him. For instance, perhaps God has given you a love for children. He may be calling you to work with children for His glory by moving your heart! We should listen to these movements of God when he gives them to us and respond to His calling in obedience. One of the most common reasons that we don’t experience the promises of God is that we have not walked in obedience when God moves our heart.
Willingness to do what we ask of others
One of the most profound moments in this entire chapter does not come until verse 7. After commanding people everywhere to assist the Jews in their return, the King himself opens the treasuries to bring out all of the items that had been taken from the temple under Nebuchadnezzar. He did not ask others to do what he was not willing to do himself. Unfortunately, many of us fail to see God’s promises fulfilled because we are waiting for somebody else to provide for those promises what we are unwilling to ourselves. We ask our pastors, mentors, and churches or Bible Study classes to pray for our situation, but we never take the time to pray ourselves. We ask for help, but don’t want to participate in the solution. God works most often through His people, but many of His people don’t want to be involved. Don’t ask anybody else to do what you are not willing to do alongside them. It might amaze you how God provides and fulfills His promises when you get busy and participate!
God always fulfills His promises. This study in Ezra is going to be an exciting time as we see how He fulfilled His promises for His people! This should be an encouragement and a challenge for us as we seek to experience God’s promises in our lives. Don’t miss next week’s study about what we let get in the way of our worship.