“Ezra” series: (post #1)
Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:5, N.K.J.V.)
The book of Ezra opens with all the Jews from Judah, Israel’s southern kingdom, still living in forced exile in Babylon. It has been around seventy years since the Babylonians conquered Judah and initiated the first of what would ultimately be three separate waves of relocating the Jews to Babylon over a period of approximately twenty years. That’s seventy years of judgment for sinfully disobeying God’s laws and worshiping false idols. That’s seventy years of living somewhere other than their homeland of Israel. That’s seventy years of having no temple in which to worship and offer sacrifices. By now, most of those original deportees from Judah have died off in Babylon. But their descendants, probably numbering between two and three million, remain there.
However, a different wind is now blowing in Babylon. The Medo-Persians (an alliance between the Medes and the Persians) have conquered the Babylonians and become the most dominant nation on earth, and their leader, Persia’s Cyrus the Great, has issued a startling decree. He has decreed that any Jew who wants to return home to Judah and help in building a new temple in Jerusalem may do so. The decree raises the obvious question, “Why would a Gentile ruler give a rip one way or the other about the Jewish people?”
We find the answer in scripture. In our Bibles, the book of Ezra is directly preceded by the book of 2 Chronicles, and the closing two verses of 2 Chronicles read as follows:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: 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 the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up! (2 Chronicles 36:22-23, N.K.J.V.)
These two verses are repeated almost verbatim as the opening three verses of the book of Ezra. Notice two things from both passages. First, Cyrus’ decree was the means by which God fulfilled a prophecy that He had given decades earlier through the prophet Jeremiah. That prophecy stated that the Jews would serve the Babylonians for the limited amount of time of seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8-14; 29:10). Second, it was God Himself who inwardly prompted Cyrus the Great to issue the decree. As Cyrus said of God, “He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah.” This is a classic example of Proverbs 21:1, which says:
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. (N.K.J.V.)
I especially like the wording 2 Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:1 both use in saying that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.” The Hebrew word is ur, which means “to awake,” to arouse,” to “stir up.” It’s the same word that is used in our text verse, Ezra 1:5, which says that God “moved” (N.K.J.V.) the spirits of the heads of the Jewish tribes of Judah and Benjamin to arise, go to Jerusalem, and build a new temple. The point is, just as God stirred up Cyrus’ heart to issue that famous decree, He stirred up the hearts of those Jews to put it to good use.
History shows us that, in both instances, God’s inward stirring coincided with outward circumstances. In the case of Cyrus, who was a lost unbeliever, God’s stirring coincided with Cyrus’ plan to create loyalty to him on the part of his subjected peoples by allowing them to return to their original homelands. As evidence of this, the historical artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder, which was created on the occasion of Cyrus’ capturing Babylon, quotes Cyrus as saying, “May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities daily ask Bel and Nebo for a long life me.” Bel and Nebo were two of Persia’s gods.
Also, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Cyrus was shown the prophet Isaiah’s prophecies concerning himself and wanted to fulfill them. Speaking under the inspiration of God, Isaiah had actually named Cyrus by name approximately 200 years prior to the time God lifted Cyrus to world domination (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-13). If the Josephus account is accurate, it provides even more evidence of how Cyrus’ outward circumstances confirmed what God was inwardly stirring him up to do.
Along the same lines, in the historical case of the exiled Jews in Babylon, God stirring many of them to return to Jerusalem and build a new temple there coincided not only with their national longing to return to their homeland but also a prophet’s specific prophecies concerning that return. As I mentioned earlier, it was Jeremiah who had prophesied that seventy years would mark the end of Babylon’s rule over the Jews. So, here again we see that the Jews’ outward circumstances as well as the prophecies concerning their future worked together to confirm what God was inwardly burdening them to do.
Perhaps God is right now stirring you up to do a specific thing. If He is, you already know what it is because you have already been feeling an undeniable inward tug to do it. In addition to you feeling that tug, you are probably also noticing that your circumstances are aligning in a way to make it easy for you to do what God wants you to do. I won’t even begin to guess what that something is, but I will tell you that God has business interests all over the place. All He requires from you to join Him in doing that business is your obedience. This boils the matter down to the simple question: “Will you give Him that obedience and do what He is stirring you up to do?” You see, God has blessings awaiting you in Jerusalem, but you’ll never know those blessings if you ignore His inward stirring and remain in Babylon.