Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 6 2019 - Ezra 1 – The exiles begin their return

The Babylonian empire was succeeded by the even more powerful and extensive Persian empire when Cyrus the Great captured Babylon in 539 BC. The Babylonians had sought to consolidate their empire by taking captive the key population of the countries they defeated and transporting them to Babylon. Cyrus pursued a very different policy. He sent the exiles back to their own countries to live in accordance with their own customs and traditions though they would continue to owe allegiance to Cyrus as their great king. (This decree can be seen engraved on the Cyrus Cylinder now housed in the British Museum.)

Ezra records the decree which freed the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem. Cyrus was ready to help them to rebuild the temple so that they could worship their God – the God of Jerusalem – in the way he had ordained. Cyrus even demanded that any neighbours of returning Jews should help them on their way by giving them gifts of silver and gold – echoing the way in which the Israelites were given silver and gold by their Egyptian neighbours when God brought them out of slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12:35-36). So we read that:

The family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites – everyone whose heart God had moved – prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbours assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings. (Ezra 1:5-6).

We should note that many Jews stayed behind, preferring to remain where they were in the Persian Empire and even to serve in its civil administration as Daniel and his friends had done in Babylon (see the books of Nehemiah and Esther).

Ezra teaches us afresh that the Lord God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is sovereign ruler over all the world. He moves the hearts of kings to serve him, even though they do not acknowledge him as the only real God. God is at work to fulfil his promises and to bring his people back from exile to the land he had promised to give them.

The Lord was at work also through the rulers of the Roman Empire when Jesus was handed over to them and crucified as a threat to the might of Rome. They pursued self-serving policies of their own and yet through their actions accomplished what God had purposed, planned and prophesied.

And God is still working out his own purposes through all the twists and turns of human history.

God is working his purpose out,
as year succeeds to year,
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

Father God, we see a world around us that seems to be marked by chaos and confusion. We are often filled with fears concerning the future; fears for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. Help us to lift our eyes above the clamour of the angry voices that compete for power in our day – voices that often cause us alarm – to see that you are still God and that our risen and triumphant Saviour is King of kings and Lord of lords. Help us by your Spirit to serve your purposes in our own generation and to see your kingdom extended and your name praised.

Peter Misselbrook