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After 70 years of exile at the hands of the Babylonians, the Jews are invited to return to their homeland when Cyrus, King of the Persians, comes to power. Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the return.
Cyrus’ actions beg three questions. First, why would Cyrus take the chance of allowing the Jews to return? Second, why would Cyrus, a pagan (a believer in many gods), desire to see the temple in Jerusalem re-built? Third, why would God “appoint” Cyrus, a non-believer, to build the temple.
(1) The Jews did not scare Cyrus. He was the most powerful leader in the world. A few Jews didn’t frighten him and thus he saw no threat in allowing them to return. Also, this is the way Cyrus ruled throughout his kingdom. He believed he could still rule with an “iron fist” even by being a benevolent ruler. Not only with the Jews, but also with all conquered people, Cyrus became known as a powerful, yet benevolent king.
(2) We must remember that as a polytheist (believer in many gods), Cyrus had no trouble in believing in Israel’s God. He just didn’t believe that Jehovah was the one true God. In fact, Cyrus wanted to insure that all gods were happy. In his distorted polytheistic way of thinking, a god could not be happy if he had no home.
(3) Here is the providence of God at work. How else at this stage in history would God resurrect the people of Israel?
We ought to also note the attitudes of the people who were returning as noted in Ezra 3:12. Notice the contrast in those who had seen the former temple and those who were seeing the land of promise for the first time.
I think the same sort of thing happens today. Some people miss the blessing of God because they are “stuck” in the “glory” of yesterday. In reality, the “glory” of yesterday for Israel was not all that great or else they would not have been in exile these last 70 years.
There are two problems associated with the attitudes of the ones who had formerly been in the Promised Land. First, they failed to give glory to God for their return. Second, their actions certainly had to be discouraging to those entering for the first time.
Church, give a shout of praise to the LORD today. Your Sunday School class may not be as you remember some years ago. Your church might not be as large as it once was. On the other hand, your church might be larger and therefore lost some of its familiarity. Some things might not be as glorious as you remember them. Give a shout to the LORD today—some things might not have been as glorious as you remember them. Some things may have needed to change!
Devotional by Steve Horn. Scripture links by www.biblegateway.com. Animated video by www.thebibleproject.com.