God’s timing in history should be a clear affront to human secularism. Those who reject the power of God have missed the clear hand of God upon Jewish history. The testimony of Ezra shows off God moving upon history in brilliant colour.
In the lead up to the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah had prophesied that the captives in Babylon would be freed after seventy years: “This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”(Jer. 29:10, NIV)
Daniel, pre-eminent royal slave who had served the kings in Babylon for six decades, pushed on Jeremiah’s promise in prayer, fully expecting that what God said would happen was certain to become a reality:
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans– 2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. 3So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes( Daniel 9:1-2, NIV)
God answered yes to Daniel’s cry.
The book of Ezra opens with the historic account of God’s timing and Cyrus’ freedom of the slaves of Babylon: “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lordspoken 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)
After seventy years of captivity (605 BCE – 536 BCE), King Cyrus, renowned ruler over all of Mesopotamia, decreed that God’s people must return home after seven decades of slavery. At the king’s command over fifty thousand exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem, laden with enough provision to establish themselves and their nation once again.
Talk about a God-sized shift of circumstance!
In today’s terms, that would look like a city of homeless families suddenly given keys to Habitat for Humanity homes. Or ten boatloads of Syrian refugees landing in Canada, not desperately impoverished, but with bank accounts waiting and all of Canada cheering them on. It would look like a Prime Minister who, in deep longing to please God, suddenly enacting a law to protect the unborn, with the authority and resources to make it happen. Now these unexpected turn of events would be awesome in Canada, but in the days of brutal Babylonian captivity and takeover, this shift would have seemed impossible for any Jew.
For anyone who has ever been pushed aside by life’s trauma, “Come on home” are the sweetest words. For the Jews living as slaves across Babylonia, King Cyrus’s decree would have been astounding:
All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:3-4).
Now, consider the power of God timing in this historic event. Isaiah had prophesied by name that God would raise up a pagan ruler to deliver His people in Isaiah 44: “Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure,Saying to Jerusalem, You shall be built,”And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”
Wayne Johnson’s article, “Cyrus the Great”, shouts out the significance of this prophecy:
One of the truly astounding prophecies of the Bible is found in the last verse of Isaiah 44… It has to do with Cyrus, king of Persia. According to the historian Herodotus (The Histories i.46), Cyrus was the son of Cambyses I. He came to the Persian throne in 559 B.C. Nine years later he conquered the Medes, thus unifying the kingdoms of the Medes and the Persians.Cyrus is mentioned some twenty-three times in the literature of the Old Testament. Isaiah refers to Cyrus as Jehovah’s “shepherd,” the Lord’s “anointed,” who was providentially appointed to facilitate the divine plan. God would lead this monarch to “subdue nations” and “open doors” (an allusion to the Jews’ release from Babylonian captivity). He would make “rough places smooth,” i.e., accommodate the Hebrews’ return to their Palestinean homeland. He would ultimately be responsible for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the temple.(https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/264-cyrus-the-great-in-biblical-prophecy)
You see, Isaiah was not even alive during Cyrus’ days. As Johnson reflects:
“What many people do not realize in reading Isaiah 44:28ff is that this heathen ruler was named by the prophet long before the monarch was even born. Isaiah prophesied in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1). His ministry thus occurred in the latter portion of the eighth century B.C. (ca. 740 – 701 B.C.). This was some one hundred fifty years before Cyrus came to the throne!”(see https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/264-cyrus-the-great-in-biblical-prophecy)
Incredibly, in his very first year of becoming king, Cyrus fulfilled the words of the Lord spoken through Isaiah. After seventy years of captivity, suddenly freedom papers were pushed into Jewish hands. God in His mercy had assured His people, by naming their deliverer through Isaiah decades earlier. When King Cyrus released the Jews back to their homeland, the Diaspora knew it wasn’t some cruel joke, or a trick devised in cruelty by their captors, because they already had the memo!
Notably, King Cyrus guaranteed the successful resettlement of the Jews with the clear intention to build God a temple. Josephus, a well-known first century historian, wrote how Cyrus authorized the safe passage and implementation of the rebuild to his governors concerning the Jews, stating:
“I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues…I permit them to have the same honour which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wine and oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachma; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury.”( from The Works of Flavius Josephus ,Translated by William Whiston and see http://www.Josephus.org.)
Cyrus provided resources, permission, honour, even the temple vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had rampaged from the temple seven decades earlier. The king had the authority and the power to see the temple for the God of Israel erected for Jewish worship to resume. Cyrus commanded the Babylonians to give provisions to the Jews to fund their trek across Babylon back to Judah. In addition, King Cyrus ordered his subjects in Samaria to pay tribute to the Jews, including oil, wine, gold and cattle and forbid anyone from blocking his orders by threat of crucifixion. Finally King Cyrus established Zerubbabel, a royal descendant from the house of David, to rule as governor in Judah. All these provisions were ordered by a pagan King who desired the favour of Almighty God and understood the power of blessing His people.
By the seventh month, after seventy years of exile, incredibly, worship was established through sacrifice:
Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening burnt offerings. They also kept the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings in the number required by ordinance for each day. Afterwards they offered the regular burnt offering, and those for New Moons and for all the appointed feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and those of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to the LORD. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, although the foundation of the temple of the LORD had not been laid (Ezra 3: 2-6, NKJV)
Let’s Pray: Lord, help us to expect mercy and grace and power every day from Your loving Hands! May our wonder at Your great mercy in the days of Ezra increase our faith in You today. Thank you Father God, that You are sovereign in each of our lives. Holy Spirit, open our hearts to great expectations in our God this day, in every circumstance as we trust in what our Lord Jesus has done, our great Deliverer, who has freed us all from captivity to sin, for His Glory. Amen.
1. Where have you stopped expecting in God? Has the delay been long and hard? Can you see this story of God in history and believe for His power in your life again?
2. What can you do to “keep on keeping on”? How does your faith community impact your endurance level?
3. Why did Daniel pray? Where does intercession intersect with God’s timing?
4. Do you believe God can sovereignly affect kings and national leaders like He did with Cyrus? Where does prayer intersect with this reality?
5. Would you pray for your leaders today? Proverbs 21:1 states “the king’s hear is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Ask the Lord to turn the hearts of our leaders, that they may impact our world for great good as Cyrus did.
This Week’s Reading: 2 Chronicles 30 – Ezra 9
Next Week’s Reading Ezra 10 – Nehemiah 8