1 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:
2 “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. 3 Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. 4 And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”
5 Then 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. 6 All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings.
7 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. 8 Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.
9 This was the inventory:
gold dishes 30 silver dishes 1,000 silver pans 29 10 gold bowls 30 matching silver bowls 410 other articles 1,000
11 In all, there were 5,400 articles of gold and of silver. Sheshbazzar brought all these along with the exiles when they came up from Babylon to Jerusalem.
(Ezra 1:1-11 NIV)
The ending of the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:22-23) is virtually identical to the beginning of the book of Ezra (Ezra 1:1-3). Here we see God active in the affairs of humanity and history to provide for and protect His people.
As a quick historical catch-up, God used the Babylonians (led by King Nebuchadnezzar) to overthrow Judah and Jerusalem because of the Jewish peoples’ idolatry and hardness of heart towards Himself. Now Babylon has fallen to Cyrus king of Persia.
God has not forgotten nor has He forsaken His people. He had promised that He would restore His people after seventy years (Jeremiah 29:10). When Cyrus became king, the Lord stirred his spirit to let the Jewish exiles return to their homeland and rebuild the Lord’s Temple. The Lord had made this promise and recorded it many years before through the prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 41:2; 44:28; 45:1,13) and Jeremiah Jeremiah 51:11.
While verse 2 makes it sound like Cyrus is a godly king, let’s not overly romanticize these words. In Cyrus’ mind, this is a matter of good diplomacy and foreign policy. Extra-biblical literature record Cyrus’ actions toward the Jews as one of many such actions he took toward various exiles and religious groups.
While Babylon had used exile and brute force to rule its subjects and demand their respect, Cyrus used a lighter touch to garner his subjects’ loyalty. Cyrus allowed a certain measure of self-determinism by allowing exiles to return to their homelands and re-establish their religious practices. The Jews were no exception to this policy.
While Cyrus was a benevolent dictator, it was clearly the Lord who stirred the king’s heart and ruled over Cyrus and the Perian empire, causing him to release the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple (Isaiah 40:23-24).
The Lord also stirred the hearts of a portion of His people to return to the Promised Land and rebuild the Temple (v. 5). Whether through decree (v. 4) or generosity (v. 6), those Jews remaining in exile donated much to the band of people returning to Jerusalem.
Even though Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged the Temple in Jerusalem and carried off the vast majority of its treasures and valuables, the Lord, in His sovereignty and providence, had preserved those treasures and valuables throughout the decades. Cyrus had his officials make a careful accounting and inventory of those items and returned them to the Jewish people to take back to Jerusalem (vv. 7-8).
As we conclude chapter 1, we see Sheshbazzar coordinating the people and items that will make the trek from Babylon to Jerusalem (vv. 8 and 11), and Zerubbabel (a different person) who will actually lead the team on its journey to Jerusalem (2:2).
The long night of seventy years is ending; the dawn of a new day is approaching for God’s people.
What trials and struggles are you having today? Remember that nothing but the Lord lasts forever.
May we live by the Psalmist’s words today:
For His anger lasts only a moment,
but His favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
(Psalm 30:5 NIV)