Ezra 1:1-4, 7-11
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled…
We are accustomed to pray that the kingdom of God may come; we desire, and therefore ask, that men may offer themselves in willing subjection to the service of their Divine Sovereign. For this we must labour and pray, and always shall do so the more earnestly as we ourselves are the more unreservedly subject to his benign and gracious rule. Meantime there is a sense in which God's rule is a present thing. The kingdom of God is among us; the arms of his power are around us; the hand of his skill is directing our affairs. And this rule of the Supreme is wider than some suppose; its reach is far beyond the thought of many, perhaps of most of us. These verses will suggest to us how far it goes.
I. FURTHER THAN THE CHURCH IS APT TO THINK. "The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus," etc. "The Lord God of heaven hath charged me" (Cyrus) (vers. 1-4). The Jewish Church was slow to believe that God had much to do with any nation beside Israel. Jehovah was, in their thought, the God of Abraham and of his seed in a very distinctive if not positively exclusive sense. His action on those outside the sacred pale was, they popularly imagined, to punish or subdue rather than to control or rule them. They did not expect him to manifest himself to "the uncircumcised," or to use them in his service. But he was governing those outside nations, and he did act upon others than the children of the faithful. He who inspired Balaam to utter those exquisite words of poetic prophecy (Numbers 23., 24. ) now "stirs up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia;" makes this heathen monarch "his shepherd, performing his pleasure" (Isaiah 44:28); calls him his "anointed one whose right hand he has holden" (strengthened) (Isaiah 45:1), and constrains him to render signal service to his people which had great and enduring issues. The Christian Church is slow to believe that the hand of God is at the helm of all national and international affairs, and that he lays that hand of Divine power and wisdom upon men and things whether these be counted among his own servants or not. "Upon whom doth not this light arise?" It was by his all-wise direction that Greece prepared her thought and her language, and Rome her highways for the gospel in the "fulness of times." We know not to whom God is speaking, or whose hand he is guiding, in civilized or savage lands, but we may be sure that he is where we do not suspect his Presence, and is acting through men we should not have ranked among his servants, as the end will one day show. "His kingdom ruleth over all."
II. FURTHER THAN THE WORLD SUPPOSES (ver. 2). We smile now as we read that Cyrus imagined that God had given him "all the kingdoms of the earth" (ver. 2). The heathen monarch little dreamt what God was doing elsewhere, and what strong workmen he had in other spheres that were outworking his holy will, his gracious and redeeming purposes. Little does the world know, greatly does it under-estimate, the work which God is doing in the midst of it.
III. FURTHER IN INDIVIDUAL MEN THAN THEY ARE THEMSELVES AWARE. Cyrus did not know what use the Lord was making of him. "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isaiah 45:5). The Persian king could not foresee that God was inducing him to take a step which should have not only wide and lasting, but worldwide and everlasting, issues and influences. God may be prompting us to take steps - as he has with many since the days of Cyrus - which, when taken, will lead on to the most happy and fruitful consequences, stretching on far into the future, reaching wide over land and sea.
IV. THROUGH THE HEART AND MIND TO THE HAND OF MEN (vers. 3, 4, 7-11). God so acted on Cyrus that that king was
(a) inclined in his heart to take the generous course of liberating the Israelites and causing the temple to be rebuilt. It was generous on his part, for he was thus denuding his country of many of his most industrious and skilful subjects, and he was acting on behalf of a religion somewhat different from his own. And, thus disposed, he
(b) took every necessary and desirable step for its thorough execution. He
(1) issued a proclamation, which he put into writing, authorising all Jews in his kingdom to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of the Lord (vers. 2, 3);
(2) invited his subjects to aid the Israelites with money, cattle, and other valuable gifts (ver. 4); and
(3) restored the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem (vers. 7-11). God may use us whether we know it or not, whether we will or not. He may employ us in his service even if, like Cyrus, we have a very partial knowledge of his will, and some inclination to do it, though we are not fully and wholly on his side. We may be, as many among the heathen have been, instruments in his hand. But how much better to be, as Ezra and Nehemiah were, agents of his, deliberately opening our minds to his truth, fixedly and finally yielding our hearts and lives to his service, consciously and rejoicingly working with him in his beneficent design. It is only such co-workers that will win his final acceptance and, hearing his "well done," enter into his glory. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now 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, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying,
WEB: Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Yahweh 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,