Royal Favor

(2) Returning Home with Ezra, Part 1: The First Return

The book of Ezra was written in two languages: Hebrew and Chaldee, the Persian language. This tends to legitimize Ezra’s claim that his account was written during a time when the Persian Empire greatly influenced the culture and language of the nations under its rule. The events that occur in Ezra begin with a small group of people who want to return to their holy city, Jerusalem, and reestablish their nation and their faith in God. But they need power and protection to do this. God provides both through the decrees of world emperors, one being Cyrus II. Persian emperors were polytheistic kings. Yet, some of them showed respect for the gods of other nations as a political move. Cyrus II, or Cyrus the Great, empowers the Israelites who wish to return to Jerusalem and provides them with the protection to cross the land and inhabit their holy city. This royal favor from an earthly “god” of nations gives us a glimpse of the methods Jehovah God uses to empower and protect His beloved sons and daughters of Abraham.

Ezra 1 begins:

“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” – Ezra 1:1-2

Cyrus reigned circa 539-530 BCE. In 539 BCE when the Neo-Babylonian Empire under Belshazzar fell, Cyrus controlled no less than four great kingdoms. The Babylonian method for recording a king’s reign, which carried over into Persian tradition, makes the timeline difficult to pin down. The Babylonians considered the point at which the king took the throne the accession year, and the year after was the king’s first year of reign. So, Cyrus made the decree in 539 or 538 BCE. That the decree was made in his first year as emperor is confirmed in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23.

Ezra (c. 480-440) alludes to Jeremiah’s (c. 626-587) prophecy in which God told him the captives of Israel would return (Jeremiah 29:10-14) and the city would be rebuilt “on its mound” (Jeremiah 30:18). Like Ezra, many Israelites had waited for this day. To hear the Persian emperor Cyrus make this decree was to know their God had not forgotten His promises to them nor His covenant with them.

Cyrus II of Persia was known for being lenient toward the religious beliefs of the peoples ruled by his empire. The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum in London gives insight into his way of thinking.

“May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily…that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.” 1

Cyrus’ ruling strategy was to appease the gods of the lands he ruled in order to seek their blessing by returning the properties of these gods and their people to the land.2

The decree of Cyrus the Great to the children of Israel included the invitation to return to Jerusalem:

“2Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath Jehovah, the God of heaven, given me; and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3Whosoever there is among you of all his people, his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of Jehovah, the God of Israel (he is God), which is in Jerusalem. 4And whosoever is left, in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, besides the freewill-offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2-4).”

The call to build the temple was open to all Israelites, but it was not a mandatory command to go to Jerusalem. Cyrus gave the invitation to God’s people, and he provided financially for those who wanted to rebuild the governmental and spiritual hub of their culture and lives. Beyond the gifts that were given to aid them, the returning Hebrews were to be assisted by their local neighbors with the funds, tools, and livestock they needed to carry out the work. This was a massive construction project, and Cyrus opened a door for them with his decree. Through this emperor, God paved the way for those who longed to return home. Plus, He supplied the relief funds to restore their temple. And all this was accomplished before they had begun their journey.

Restoring relationship begins with an invitation. In a healthy relationship, no one is forced into it. God provides an invitation to all to come into His presence by supplying the relief fund when He set up the freewill offering of His Son, Jesus, to cover the massive cost of death. He does not force anyone to accept.

Just as God promised Israel that they would return, He promised that all nations would come into His house. Micah 1:2 prophesied, “And many nations shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths…”

The relationships we make in this life are fallible. We forget. We don’t always look for ways to bring us closer to those we love. Let’s face it; we’re a bit neglectful at times. God never forgets His promises. He will always keep His covenant with His people. Circumstances happen that cause us to think God has abandoned us. It isn’t true. His invitation is always open, and He will provide what you need to return home… to Him.

 

  1. English translation of the Cyrus Cylinder, Section 35 Cyrus’ Prayer, http://www.livius.org/ct-cz/cyrus_I/cyrus_cylinder2.html, Accessed 2020/03/30
  2. Ibid, Section 32 Religious Measures, Accessed 2020/03/30

Start Returning Home with Ezra

During this time of staying in our homes to stop the quick spread of COVID-19, it occurred to me that taking away all the busyness in our lives gives us a chance to focus on relationships. We get a chance to reconnect, reestablish,- and reconfirm who we are and what we mean to each other. This is a scary time, but it is also enlightening. Focusing on a relationship brings forward problems we have pushed aside, problems we could ignore before. Old wounds can be reopened; new issues come to light we didn’t know existed. It’s human nature to run from the past and hurry through the present, but that keeps the human spirit from reaping joy and peace in the future. One has to face the struggle to find harmony.

There is a family in the Bible that gives a detailed account of what it means to turn back and, courageously, take a look and accept the past. From this bold step, they learn to take on the challenge of what’s going on in the present and commit themselves to a better future. Ezra is a book that brings hope. It details the struggles of the children of God as they work through the phases of turning things back around in their lives to return to a relationship with their Creator and with each other.

In a psychological sense, everyone takes the same steps that these people of Ezra’s time took. Ezra’s account illustrates how to reconnect, reestablish, and reconfirm a relationship that is valued and important. Changes don’t happen immediately. Instead, one makes a series of decisions to develop strong attachments. Returning Home will be posted in four sections to break down the steps taken in relationship development and commitment. Starting with “The First Return,” Ezra will show us the breakaway from the old situation. “Reigniting” steps through the gradual change of the old way of thinking and doing. The third part, “Renewing,” follows the Israelite people as they implement a new way of thought and action.  The final part, “The Second Return,” follows the last chapters of Ezra, where a greater turning point occurs in a time when, after experiencing the new, changed state of life, God’s children have to ask the crucial question, “Will we stay committed to this relationship?”

Ezra begins his narrative when the Israelite captives are given permission to return from Babylonian capture after seventy years of captivity. The Babylonian empire has fallen, and Cyrus the Great of Persia is emperor of the nations. We’ll travel through the story using the American Standard Version of the Bible for reference. Historical references, some inspired by tidbits of information in the Zondervan Archaeological Study Bible KJV, will be accompanied by web links and excerpts from various encyclopedia and archaeology websites, as well as some information found on Wikipedia. My point is to use references that are, for the most part, well-established and, generally, uncontested in order to depict how Ezra’s account aligns with what we know in history. Below is my attempt at a timeline for context. It is my goal to post daily, so subscribe to be notified of new posts to the Returning Home series.

Israel's Captivity and Return Timeline

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