According to Plan
The children of Israel were captive in Babylon for 70 years.
When God gave the law through Moses, he warned that if the people did not remain faithful to God, they would be removed from the land and subjected to their enemies. Throughout their history, God continually warned through His prophets that judgment was coming as the people drifted farther and farther away from God.
Leviticus 26 is one place where God lays out some of the punishments the Israelites would suffer for their hostility toward Him.
Leviticus 26:33-35 says:
I will scatter you among the nations and bring out my sword against you. Your land will become desolate, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then at last the land will enjoy its neglected Sabbath years as it lies desolate while you are in exile in the land of your enemies. Then the land will finally rest and enjoy the Sabbaths it missed. As long as the land lies in ruins, it will enjoy the rest you never allowed it to take every seventh year while you lived in it.
These verses explain why the Babylonian captivity lasted 70 years.
According to the Law of Moses, every seventh year was to be a Sabbath year in which no crops were to be cultivated. The land was to rest. For 490 years, the Israelites had not observed the Sabbath year. Consequently, the land had missed 70 Sabbath years.
Along with the prescribed Sabbath years, God foretold other difficulties. Leviticus 26:36 says, “And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies.”
This proved true among the captive Israelites. Conditions varied among the captives. However, they were allowed to settle into the communities in which they had been relocated. Jeremiah encouraged them to buy land, plant gardens and settle in for the long-haul (Jeremiah 29:4-11). Nevertheless, being captives away from home with no temple and no independence was disheartening. Psalm 137 reflects the discouragement and pain in their hearts.
While God pleaded with His people not to take the path to captivity and chastisement, He also promised that His plans were for their good. He told them that He disciplined them for their good as a father would discipline a son that he loved. (Deuteronomy 8:5) God promised their captivity would have an end and that He would return them to their home. In Jeremiah 29:10-11 it says:
This is what the LORD says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
This is where Ezra 1:1 picks up the story. The 70 years of captivity are complete, and the Lord is bringing His people home. Ezra 1:1 says, “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the LORD fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah.”
God had spoken through Jeremiah at the beginning of the captivity that the captivity would be 70 years. However, as the 70th year approached, the people remained captives of Babylon, and nothing appeared to be changing. Babylon did not have mercy on its captives. Isaiah 14:17 describes the king of Babylon as having been the one who “demolished the world’s greatest cities and had no mercy on his prisoners.”
From a human point of view, there was no hope for God’s people. Then in one night, Babylon was conquered, and the world scene changed. Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian were now in charge.
This does not surprise the child of God. God’s word is our sure foundation. God’s word is more certain than the ground on which we stand. 150 years before the events of Ezra, God told the world that Cyrus the King would order the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem. Isaiah 44:28 was written 150 years before the events of Ezra 1 and it says, “When I say of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd,' he will certainly do as I say. He will command, 'Rebuild Jerusalem'; he will say, 'Restore the Temple.”
It all came about exactly as God decreed.
This does not surprise us.
This same sort of foretelling is exactly what happened with the life of Jesus. God foretold the events of His life in the prophets of the Old Testament so that Peter was able to say:
“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. (Acts 2:22-23)
Peter said that God’s prearranged plan was carried out.
What happened to the people of Israel happened as examples to us. 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (ESV)[ii]
Notice, that this passage makes it clear that we are the ones on whom the end of the ages has come.
God pleaded with ancient Israel not to live in hostility toward Him and warned of the consequences. God pleads with the world today not to live in hostility toward Him and warns of the consequences.
God foretold exactly what would happen even giving time frames, such as 70 years, as well as naming who would be king.
God has also told our world what is coming. He has decreed a seven-year period known as the Great Tribulation, the rapture of the Church and numerous other end-time events.
We can take three things away from Ezra 1 that will encourage us as believers as we live in the end of the ages.
Ezra 1:1 says, “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the LORD fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah. He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom.”
The first thing is that “God fulfills His word.”
Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God's law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” (Matthew 5:18)
We can have great confidence in what is revealed in the Bible. The world may scoff at the promise of Jesus returning, but we know it will happen.
The second thing is God uses the political establishment to accomplish His purposes. In this case, God used the King. It says, “He stirred the heart of Cyrus.”
All the unsettling political events in our world today are not beyond the control or knowledge of our God. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)
God’s foreknowledge and plan give us peace of mind.
Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.”
God moved the heart of Cyrus to make a decree to rebuild the temple.
Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken which resulted in Jesus being born in Bethlehem.
We have confidence in God’s word. We have confidence in God’s sovereignty.
The third thing we have confidence in is God’s purpose for His people.
Through Jeremiah, God said, “I know the plans I have for you.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
God’s plans showed themselves in God’s people during Ezra’s time by God working in and through His people. Ezra 1:5 says, “Then God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the LORD.”
God stirred the heart of the king, but He also stirred the hearts of His people. God had a purpose and a part for His people. The temple did not rebuild itself. God provided. Ezra 1 tells how people gave for the purpose; even the King gave for the building of the temple. God provided money, materials and people to do the work. God can do all things and does not need our help, but He chooses to work in us and through us.
At the time of Ezra, the Temple was to be built. During our time, the Church is being built.
Jesus said, “And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
God is doing this through us. 2 Corinthians 5 tells us we are His ambassadors. God is providing money, materials and people to do the work.
We have confidence God’s word will be fulfilled. We have confidence that God is in control.
How is God moving your heart to participate in His plan?
Are you part of providing money?
Are you part of providing materials?
Are you one to contribute skills?
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.