Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Have you ever felt as if God has forgotten you? Perhaps you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time, and your prayers to God remain unanswered.
The Jews must have felt this way when they were exiled to Babylon after Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC. Many were homesick and wondered whether they would ever see their beloved city of Jerusalem again. They sang, ″By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion″ (Psalm 137:1). Those who were familiar with the message of the prophets knew God had promised that after a 70-year period of captivity, He would bring the captives back to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 25:8-11; 29:10). In fact, before this period was up, God was already at work, as if eager to fulfil His promise.
God ″moved the heart″ (Ezra 1:1) of Cyrus, the Persian king who had overthrown the Babylonian empire. Who would have thought that God would be at work in the king's heart? Through the prophet Isaiah, God had already foretold, some 150 years before, how He would use Cyrus to do His will (Isaiah 44:28-45:5).
So the unthinkable happens. The pagan king issues an edict freeing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:2-4). He also attributes his rise to power to ″The LORD, the God of heaven″ and sees his mission as helping to build a temple for God in the holy city (v. 2).
A relatively small group of 50,000 Jews return home-a remnant, as God had foretold (Isaiah 10:22). In Jerusalem itself, a small group of ″survivors″ remain. They are poor and have suffered badly (see Jeremiah 40:7; Lamentations 5:2-5, 11-13). Cyrus orders that these people be assisted with money and resources to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:4).
It is an amazing turning point in the history of the Jews. When all seems lost, God turns a new page with His sovereign hand, demonstrating that He remembers-and will fulfil-His promises. This can encourage us today, especially if we feel that God has forgotten us and His promises. If we wait for Him with faith, He will never disappoint.
Recall a situation in your life when you may have felt helpless. How did your situation change, and what did you learn about God and His promises?
God mentioned Cyrus by name 150 years before he was born, and later used him to help His people. What confidence does this give you? How can you apply such knowledge of God in your life?