The Lord Stirred Up the Spirit of Cyrus

“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: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”  (Ezra 1:1–2, ESV)

What do you think was in the hearts of God’s people as they were being carried away into the Babylonian captivity? They probably felt pretty despondent, leaving their homes, their belongings and their way of life. Nebuchadnezzar had absolute power, and Babylon was the greatest nation on earth. Who could overcome? Could any escape back to the land? Would they be put to grievous labor or forced to fight in Nebuchadnezzar’s army?

The situation must have seemed hopeless! Yet strangely, God himself said that he was going to do this. But how could God cause his people to be carried off by this heathen nation — and not only carried off — but also kept in captivity through multiple kingdoms? After all, they now belonged to Persia. Only a miracle could save them from national dissolution… but the purveyor of miracles was (how should I say this) not favorably disposed toward releasing them at this time.

For a people who are outside of the will of God, needing a miracle is a good place to be. When relief comes, they would know that it was the hand of God and not the hand of men. Israel’s entire history is the account of God’s people getting into pickle after pickle, and God delivering them, and then… the nation forgetting again. I do not know which one grieves God the most: sliding back into sinful ways or forgetting his past deliverances. But people walk toward the needs of the day.

As such, memory needs to be exercised and maintained — and we do not do this especially well. It is not in our nature to remember the holy times; it is in our nature to walk headlong toward sin. That is why God sends the captivity, and the captivity is why God sends the deliverance.

The miracle in this slice of history was not so much the physical returning to the land, as it was the stirring up of the spirit of Cyrus. As king of Persia, Cyrus had no motivation to send the Israelites back to Jerusalem. In fact, he should have been disposed not to, seeing that once a people have re-established, they might fortify themselves and rise up against the kingdom. Cyrus declared, however (and this is no small slice of humility for an absolute ruler) that it was the Lord who gave him all the kingdoms of the earth. And this same God is charging him to build a house of worship in Jerusalem — the quintessential holy city. Cyrus, the king, was taking orders from a greater King… and that was no small humility.

You see, kings understand each other, but as more nations assume the model of a government by and for the people, we inch away from the idea of a sovereign ruler — and from the probability that God will work governmental wonders through the heart of an individual. As measured on the biblical scale, a single absolute ruler is the model that best represents God’s rule over us. But today’s world has little tolerance for sovereigns — and this breeds a peculiar arrogance. We who have little love for earthly sovereigns tend to pull away from the idea of a Heavenly One — as if God’s will would be better served by committees.

In the absence of absolute sovereigns, will we ever see another miracle like God stirring up Cyrus to do his will? Never say never… but Jesus is coming soon. And when he comes to rule and reign, we will need no other sovereign. In fact, we will be free — free like we’ve never been free before.

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