From: Jessica Patton
As a student of history and political science, I sometimes find the story related in the first chapter of Ezra to be a bit overly simplified, maybe even naive. It starts off “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...” and then goes on to tell how Cyrus allowed the Jews exiled in Babylon for 70 years to return to Jerusalem with vast resources plus articles previously looted from their temple to begin worshipping God again.
Just a little historical background...Legend says that upon Cyrus’ birth, his grandfather the king ordered Cyrus killed. Instead, Cyrus was given to a shepherd to be raised and, when grown, he overthrew his grandfather to become the Median king. Cyrus then defeated kingdoms in modern Iran, Turkey, Greece and more before conquering Babylon. Historians claim that Cyrus defeated Babylon easily partially because the high priests were dissatisfied with their current ruler. Cyrus was seen as tolerant because he permitted local customs to continue and local gods to be worshipped once he came to power.
When I think of all the earthly things that had to happen to lead up to this moment of triumph for the Israelites, it boggles my mind that Ezra attributes it to God simply doing what He said He was going to do. From a human perspective, it seems as though many of these historical points could be given credit for this outcome. Couldn’t we attribute this generous act to Cyrus being an enlightened ruler who understood that conquered peoples are less restive when their cultural and religious traditions are preserved? Or perhaps the political/religious division within Babylon led Cyrus to remove one contentious group to prevent the weakening of his empire in the future? The opportunities for speculation are endless.
But Ezra skips over all of that, and calmly and confidently asserts that God is faithful, He is in control, and He is working on behalf of His people. God stirred up Cyrus’s spirit, Cyrus started issuing proclamations, and amazing things happened for the Israelites. How can it possibly be that simple? Isn’t our world just as broken, just as tumultuous, just as frightening? Don’t we just as desperately want things to be different, to have our world put to rights, as the ancient Israelites did? Why are we still crying out with the Psalmist “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” (Ps. 42.5) Why do so many in our country have to cry out “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!” (Ps. 43.1)
In pondering these passages over the past few days, I’ve come to realize that on some level, it really is just that simple. God is faithful, and He is still in the business of stirring up people’s spirits now to carry out His vision of reconciliation and restoration in the world. The thing that gives me the most hope, honestly, is that it wasn’t only Cyrus’s spirit that God stirred up. He didn’t only use leaders who make good policy decisions to further His plan. He stirred up the individual Israelites too, both to go back and to give generously, and they responded. (Ez. 1.5-6) I pray that we, as God’s people, would have spirits sensitive to His stirring and that we would be faithful to act when so moved.