I love the prayer that goes: "Lord, here I am, again." God is a God of second chances. The theological term for this is the long-suffering of God. It means that He forgives and forgives and then forgives again.

The book of Ezra is about that kind of forgiveness. It is written to document the return of the people to the land from which they had been taken.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrian Empire and its inhabitants deported in 721 B.C.

The Southern Kingdom of Judah also underwent a series of deportations at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

These two deportations were markedly different in character.

Northern Kingdom of Israel

Southern Kingdom of Judah

Conquered by



Dates of Deportation

721 B.C.

605, 597, 586 B.C.


Non-Semitic peoples resettled in the lands and eventually intermarried with those Jews who remained behind.

No outsiders were resettled in the land; it remained virtually uninhabited except for the poorest of the poor.

There were no doubt a number of geo-political reasons for these deportations. But underlying any of these was a spiritual reason. They took place as a result of God’s judgment against idolatry. As the people gave themselves up to the worship of the false gods of their neighbors, so the Lord gave them up to the conquest by their neighbors.

It seems a terrible thing to be disciplined by the hand of the Lord. But you need to know that in this case, the discipline WORKED. The Jews never again dabbled in

the idolatry which brought them to this point. There were other sins into which they fell, but they never again bowed down to pagan idols.

There is a lesson here. Obedience is easier than disobedience. God has called you to be holy and life is a lot easier when you follow his calling.



Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying (Ezra 1:1).

This book starts out with a conjunction. It is translated here as "now," but could just as easily have been translated "and." There is a point being made. This is a continuing saga. Ezra is not a "stand-alone" book. It takes up the thread of history set down by the books of Kings and Chronicles. By opening with this conjunction, the author shows that this is a continuing story.

The nation of Israel was a nation desolate. The northern 10 tribes had been taken into captivity by Assyria in 721 B.C. and foreigners had been settled in their place. Then in three successive deportations, the southern kingdom of Judah had been taken away to Babylon and the land left a desolated waste.

With this conjunction, the story continues. Cyrus the Great comes on the scene and issues a proclamation which allows the Jews to return to their land.

There is a lesson here. It is that God has a continuing story. There are times when it looks as though that story is going to end. The Babylonian Captivity seemed to be such a time. The temple was destroyed, the land desolated, the people decimated. But that isn’t the end. It is only the beginning of a new chapter in God’s continuing story.

What is going on in your life? Problems that threaten to destroy and desolate and decimate? Situations that seem insurmountable? The tapestry of your life becoming unraveled? Take hope! There is a continuing story.

This portion of the continuing story began with the advent of a pagan king named Cyrus. He was the king of Persia.

When Cyrus was born, Persia was a small third-rate country under the shadow of their northern neighbors, the Medes. The king of the Medes entered into a number of alliances, sealing each of them by marriage. One of these alliances was to marry his daughter to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Another such alliance was to marry his granddaughter to the king of Persia.

Thus Cyrus the Great represented the ruling families of both the Medes and the Persians. He began as a vassal to his grandfather Astyages, but soon set out on a campaign of conquest. Anatolia fell to him when he conquered Croesus (known to the Greeks as Midas) and the kingdom of Lydia. Then Gobryas, the king of Elam, revolted and came over to him. Finally Babylon itself fell to him as he took the city without a fight (as recorded in Daniel 5). Thus by the year 539 B.C. Cyrus was virtual ruler of the known world. His kingdom was as wide as the continental United States.

559 B.C.

Cyrus becomes king of Persia.

550 B.C.

Cyrus conquers the Medes.

547 B.C.

Cyrus conquers Lydia and Anatolia.

539 B.C.

Cyrus conquers Babylon

Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar had been unpopular. The former had alienated the priesthood and the latter did the same with the general populace. Cyrus began a public relations campaign that was to have direct ramifications for the Jews.

Ezra begins by telling us that the decree of Cyrus was made in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah (1:1). The Babylonian Captivity had not been a mere happenstance of history. It had been the judgment of God promised upon a willful and rebellious people. The prophet Jeremiah had foretold of this coming judgment. But with that warning had also come a ray of hope. The Captivity would be of a limited duration.

Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, "Because you have not obeyed My words, 9 behold, I will send and take all the families of the north," declares the LORD, "and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them and make them a horror and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.

"Moreover, I will take from them the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp.

"This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.

"Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,' declares the LORD, "for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation." (Jeremiah 12:8-12).

Notice the specifics of this prophecy. It is that the people of Israel would be taken into captivity and their land ruined for a period of seventy years. This prophecy was fulfilled. Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem on three different occasions, each time taking a greater toll against the city.



605 B.C.

Nebuchadnezzar takes Jehoiakim and certain sons of the Jewish nobility hostage including Daniel.

597 B.C.

Nebuchadnezzar takes Jehoiachin and deports 10,000 of the upper class including Ezekiel.

586 B.C.

Nebuchadnezzar burns the Temple, executes the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes and then has that king blinded and taken with the rest of the population in chains to Babylon.

The decree of Cyrus for the Jews to return and to rebuild their Temple was given in 538 B.C., the year after he had taken Babylon.



Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, "The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

"Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem.

"Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:2-4).

When we first read this, we are inclined to think that they are the words of a believer. Cyrus is attributing his victories over the Babylonian Empire to Yahweh and describes himself as an agent of the Lord is decreeing that the Temple of God be rebuilt in Jerusalem. From archaeological records, we learn that this was the policy of Cyrus toward all religions and people groups. The Cyrus Prism was discovered in 1879 by Rassam and describes this policy of Cyrus.

I am Cyrus, King of the World, Great King, Legitimate King, King of Babylon, King of Kiengir and Akkad, King of the four rims of the earth, Son of Cambyses, Great King, King of Achamaenes, Grandson of Cyrus, Great king, King of Achamaenes, descendant of Chishpish, Great king, King of Achamaenes, of a family which always exercised kingship; whose rule Bel and Nebo love, whom they want as king to please their hearts. When I entered Babylon as a friend and when I established the seat of the government in the palace of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord, induced the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon to love me, and I was daily endeavoring to worship him.... As to the region from as far as Ashur and Susa, Akkad, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Kiengir and Akkad whom Nabonidus had brought into Babylon to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former temples, the places which make them happy.

Cyrus seems to have realized that a tribute-paying nation would be more profitable than a devastated country. Thus, he looked forward to turning the desolation into a profitable source of revenue.

Here is the point. Cyrus had his own reasons for instituting his political policy and they were not God’s reasons. Nevertheless, the actions of Cyrus were also fulfilling the plan of God for His people. The actions of the king were doing the will of God even though that king was working on his own agenda.

"It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’" (Isaiah 44:28).

Over a hundred years before the coming of Cyrus, God declared through the prophet Isaiah that this same Cyrus would perform His will by ordering the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Cyrus had not even been born when this was written.

"For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel, My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me." (Isaiah 45:40).

The Lord states that He chose Cyrus to perform certain things even though Cyrus himself was an unbeliever who did not know the Lord. God is not restricted to using believers to carry out His plan. In the same way that He used Cyrus, so also He used the pharaoh of the Exodus.

"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.’" (Romans 9:17).

It was the Lord who raised up the unbelieving pharaoh of the Exodus to his position of leadership over Egypt. He did this so that, by bringing him to defeat through the plagues and through the incident at the Red Sea, the name of the Lord might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.

Are we to take these instances of Cyrus and the pharaoh of Egypt as being the exceptions rather than the rule? Does God’s plan only extend to the great and the powerful while ignoring the humble and the weak? Not at all! If there were anyone who was said to have "free will," it was the king. He could point to someone and say, "Off with his head" and that head would topple. Thus, when the book of Proverbs states the principle of God’s sovereignty over rulers as a general principle, the implication is that God is sovereign over ALL men.

"The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes." (Proverbs 21:1).

It has been said that man’s free will flows in the channels which have been dug by the sovereignty of God. Such a concept is presented here. The Lord carries out His plans and protects His people, not merely in spite of a pagan king, but He actually uses that pagan king to work out His will.

Paul takes this principle a step further to teach that the rulers themselves are placed in their positions of authority by the Lord.

"Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." (Romans 13:1).

Paul was not speaking in the context of a Christian king or governor. It was during the reigns of the Roman Emperors that he penned these words. He did not say that only those authorities which are obedient to divine laws are established by God, but ALL authorities.

This means that, whether a leader has taken a throne by force of arms or through inheritance or even through a national election by the vote of the "free will" of the populace, it is ultimately the Lord who places in office those whom He has chosen.



Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.

All those about them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was given as a freewill offering. (Ezra 1:5-6).

As the call went out for people to return and rebuild the Temple, there were two responses which are mentioned in this passage. First, there were those who went. We are told specifically that God had been as work in stirring up their spirit to go and to do this work. We have already seen how God can motivate a pagan king to accomplish His will. Here we see how He also motivates His own people to do His will.

The second group is made up of people who did not make the journey, but who nevertheless supported the word with gifts and offerings.

There is a lesson here. Not everyone is called to be a missionary to a foreign country. But those who do not go themselves are nevertheless able to support those who do go.



Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods; 8 and Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and he counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.

Now this was their number: 30 gold dishes, 1,000 silver dishes, duplicates;

1 30 gold bowls, 410 silver bowls of a second kind and 1,000 other articles.

1 All the articles of gold and silver numbered 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all up with the exiles who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:7-11).

Cyrus also released the various articles of gold and silver that had been taken from the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. These had evidently been kept in a collection. Daniel tells the story of how Belshazzar took some of these sacred vessels and defiled them in using them during an orgy of eating and drinking. These vessels are now to be cleansed and returned to their original use.

How about you? The Scriptures say that we are chosen vessels of the Lord. Are you a vessel in need of some cleansing? Has sin defiled your use to the Lord? There is good news here. It is that God is able to cleanse His chosen vessels and to return them to His good service.

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