Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ezra: Redemption Secured

"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing" (Ezra 1:1).

Ezra is one of four books in the Old Testament which recount the priestly history of Israel. The man Ezra was a scribe, a learned interpreter of the Law. His wisdom was so great, in fact, that one ancient tradition held that the ancient books were lost, yet under divine inspiration, Ezra rewrote them all.

Ezra tells the story of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel to return them to their land after seventy years in exile. He explained to his people that they must keep the covenant with God which their forefathers failed to do. If they were to be a covenant people, they had to be free of pagan influence and idolatry. He reiterated the promises of God, of His blessings, should they prove to be faithful.

The story of Ezra, however, is not mere history. The historical events are to be more than learned about; they are to be learned from. It tells not only of the people of Israel but the God of Israel.

The edict of Cyrus, king of Persia, which allowed for the return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple, opens the book of Ezra. The prophet Jeremiah, who served from the reign of Josiah into the Exile, promised such a return (Jeremiah 33). Yahweh is a God who is faithful to keep His promises. He can be trusted.

God’s faithfulness is coupled with the power to fulfill His promises. He is not only willing, but in His sovereignty, able. Cyrus was, at that time, the most powerful man on earth. God, however, worked in the heart of Cyrus. He exercised His rule over the kings of earth.

God continued to manifest His sovereignty as the former exiles met resistance in their efforts to rebuild the temple. First He acted locally, ensuring that the work would continue (5:5). God next safeguarded the work through the decree of Darius, affirming the decree of Cyrus before him.
Finally, God was shown to be not only faithful and sovereign but also forgiving. His chosen people had turned from Him time and again. Yet He heard their cries in exile and forgave them, that they might be a holy nation.

Cyrus’ reign was characterized by religious toleration. The people and nations over which he ruled were encouraged to retain their respective faiths. Ours, too, is a pluralistic society. Be certain that your toleration of non-Christian faiths does not cross the line to accepting them as viable alternatives to the one true faith.