Cyrus Liberates The Captives
When, in all of world history, did a nation return to its homeland after nearly a century in exile? Name one, besides Israel! Yet Jeremiah prophesied it and Almighty God made it so. Miraculously, Cyrus king of Persia, announced, "The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem." He gave back the stolen temple treasures and sent the Jews home.
Ezra 1:3 - "Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem."
Isaiah Prophesies To Cyrus 200 Years In Advance
Cyrus the Great received a divine mandate to send the Jews in Babylon back to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. The great historian, Josephus, wrote that Cyrus discovered it when he read his name in a prophecy in the Book of Isaiah - written 200 years earlier!
Isaiah 45:1-4 - "Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, ...I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me."
God Frees Captives According To His Promises
Once the Jews' seventy-year "sentence" was over, Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians, led successively by Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes (Ahasuerus). Zerubbabel led the first Jews back to Jerusalem in 538 BC and restored the holy temple. Ezra led the second wave in 457 BC and revived the priesthood ministry. Nehemiah came to rebuild the city and its walls in 444 BC.
Ezra 1:5 - "Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, ...with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem."
Documenting Prophetic Fulfillment
Ezra 2 provides a genealogical record of the migration/repatriation (in 538 BC) of 42,360 Jews and 7,337 maids and servants from Babylonian captivity to their native homeland in and around Jerusalem. Let the world take note that God fulfills His promises. That includes His promises to you and me.
Ezra 2:1 - "Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city."
Sheshbazzar - Zerubbabel
His Chaldean name was Sheshbazzar, honoring their sun-god. But his Hebrew name was Zerubbabel, "born in Babylon." He was the key prince of Judah who Cyrus selected when he sent the Jews and their treasures back to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel became the "Tirshatha" - governor - of the new state of Israel. He rebuilt the altar, laid the foundation and began constructing the second temple. He put away all priests who could not certify their genealogy.
Ezra 2:62 - "These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood."
The Prophetic Significance of Zerubbabel and Jeshua
Zerubbabel descended from King Jeconiah through Shealtiel (Salathiel), thus a rightful heir to the throne of David. Jeshua, son of Jozadak, descended from Aaron, thus qualified to be High Priest. These two provided, as it were, both a King and a Priest to reclaim Jerusalem and the Temple. God remembers details men might never think about.
Ezra 3:2 - "Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, ...and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, ...and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God."
Prayer And Praise Return To Jerusalem
Within seven months, Jews returning from Babylon settled into the cities of Judah and began donating money to rebuild the house of God. By today's values, over a million dollars was quickly raised. They gathered in Jerusalem, built an altar, and burnt offerings to the LORD. By the second year, construction began. Following David's examples, priests and Levites played musical instruments, sang and praised the LORD.
Ezra 3:12 - "Many ...ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy."
Enemies Always Try To Stop The Work Of God
As soon as Zerubbabel started rebuilding the house of God, old Syrian adversaries came, supposedly wanting to help. But Zerubbabel considered temple work a sacred duty of Jews, and refused outside help. Consequently, they fought against them, ultimately writing slanderous letters to Persia, accusing the Jews of rebellion, sedition and insurrection against the Persian king. Any time you take sides with God, His enemies become your enemies. For a while, they totally shut down the building project. But persevere! Right will prevail in the end.
Ezra 4:24 - "Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem."
Prophets Haggai and Zechariah Help Zerubbabel
When Zerubbabel started to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem, trouble-making Syrians repeatedly asked the Persian authorities to stop temple construction. But the prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to Zerubbabel, who then appealed to Darius the king. Darius found Cyrus' original decree and sent his blessings to Zerubbabel. If God is for you, who can be against you?
Ezra 5:17 - "Let there be search made in the king's treasure house, which is there at Babylon, whether it be so, that a decree was made of Cyrus the king to build this house of God at Jerusalem."
Darius Of Persia Asks The Jews To Pray For Him
Zerubbabel asked Darius to find the decree issued by Cyrus authorizing the Jews to build the temple. Darius found it and added his own decree, ordering all adversaries to leave the work alone and let them speedily build the house of God. He donated sacrifices for the God of heaven, then added, "Pray for the life of the king, and of his sons."
Ezra 6:12 - "And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem."
Zerubbabel Finishes And Dedicates The Temple
Darius communicated with his governors beyond Jordan to cooperate with the Jews as they built the temple. It took about 18-20 years. Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes of Persia all supported the Jews, and Haggai and Zechariah prophesied the word of the LORD as they built. Finally, His house was finished. Similarly, Jesus is now building His church, but soon, He will be finished. Joy comes in the morning!
Ezra 6:16 - "And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy."
Blessed By The Hand Of The LORD
If you want to see what it is like to have the good hand of the LORD on your life, read Ezra 7, when Artaxerxes king of Persia blessed Ezra to return to Jerusalem. Artaxerxes furnished him with incredible riches to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. "And whatsoever more shall be needful for the house of thy God, which thou shalt have occasion to bestow, bestow it out of the king's treasure house."
Ezra 7:6 - "Ezra went up from Babylon; ...and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him."
Artaxerxes Underwrites Ezra's Mission
During Babylonian and Persian captivity, Ezra was a scribe in the law of Moses. Artaxerxes, king of Persia (modern Iran) genuinely feared the God of Israel. He generously supported Ezra's mission to teach the statutes and judgments of God, and "to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem." Men of all nations should fear and worship God.
Ezra 7:23 - "Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?"
Ezra Prays For A Safe Return To Jerusalem
Ezra and the Jews had to cross enemy territories while returning to Jerusalem from Babylon. He called a fast to seek God for safe passage. "I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him."
Ezra 8:23 - "So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us."
God Protects Those Who Trust Him
Artaxerxes contributed great quantities of silver and gold to Ezra for the holy temple. Ezra was greatly concerned about getting it safely from Persia to Jerusalem without robbery. He entrusted the silver and gold to the priests and Levites until they could weigh them "at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD." They fasted and prayed for divine protection.
Ezra 8:31,32 -"...and the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy, and of such as lay in wait by the way. And we came to Jerusalem."
Every Generation Must Answer The Prophets
Ezra had difficulty getting enough priests and Levites to return to Jerusalem. When he arrived, he was distraught to realize that most of them had married pagan wives, disqualifying themselves from the ministry. Ezra went into travail. "O our God, ...we have forsaken thy commandments, which thou hast commanded by thy servants the prophets." Even today, the prophets still speak to us.
Ezra 9:12 - "Give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, ...that ye may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever."
Prayer Sometimes Produces Painful Results
Ezra knew that God would not allow him to use priests or Levites who had married heathen wives. He and the people spent much time in agonizing prayer, weeping sorely. The people realized they had sinned, and promised to do whatever God required of them. Ezra administered a covenant oath committing the priests to put away their pagan families. It took great courage, but it had to be done.
Ezra 10:18 - "And among the sons of the priests there were found that had taken strange wives: ...And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives."