Thursday

20 October 2011

"Thus says King Cyrus 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 in Judah." (v. 2)

Background

The book of Ezra tells the story of the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem, which is why it is found among the 'history' books of the Old Testament. In that sense the story it tells is a fulfilment of the prophecies found in the second half of Isaiah, that in the desert will be built a "highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3) enabling his people to return.

Moreover, just as Isaiah points to the striking fact that the instrument God chooses to make this happen is none other than Cyrus the Persian, so too Ezra the scribe records how all these remarkable events begin with a decree from King Cyrus, proclaimed both by a herald and as a written edict throughout his kingdom (verse 1). Cyrus' decision may appear to others as a change in imperial policy following the overthrow of the old regime; but to Ezra, as to Isaiah, it revealed God's hand at work.

Ezra goes on to record what this decision involved; how the heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin were allowed to take back with them "the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods" (v. 7). Indeed he goes on, as a good official, to record in detail an inventory of all the vessels that Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, would take back to Jerusalem (verses 9-11).

All this Ezra records in his matter-of-fact, official way; but perhaps this is a reminder to us all that God is equally capable of speaking though scribes and officials as through prophets and preachers.

To Ponder

It can be tempting to dismiss the decisions of 'secular authorities' and appeal to a higher religious authority; but to what extent is it possible for God act through political leaders and governments?

Are there occasions when we can detect the 'hand of God' in world events? If so, when have they been?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

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