The Overview of the Chapter: The book of Ezra focuses on the beginning of the Jews' return from captivity. The sins of Judah had resulted in a seventy-year captivity for Judah, but after seventy years the return begins to take place. This first chapter records how the return began.
The Outline (Main points) of the Chapter:
The Jews' return to Palestine was inspired by a king's decree.
"Cyrus king of Persia" (Ezra 1:1). The return was not a result of a prophet's exhortation but the result of a heathen king's decree. Cyrus, who made the decree, was king of Persia.
• The period of Cyrus. Cyrus was king of the nation which replaced Babylon as the great Gentile power in the world (the silver part of the great image in Nebuchnezzar's dream—Daniel 2). Daniel served under Cyrus (Daniel 1:21; 6:28) as well as under Nebuchnezzar and his successors, the kings over Babylon.
• The prediction of Cyrus. Cyrus was predicted hundreds of years before he came on the scene. Twice the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1) mentioned Cyrus prophetically by name. This mention was made many years before he was even born. This mention underscores the Sovereignty of God and reminds us that God is running the show and determining who's who and what's what though man often thinks he is doing this.
"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia" (Ezra 1:1). This was not Cyrus' first year as a king. That began some twenty years earlier. "First year" refers to his first year as king over Babylon which had been conquered and made part of the Persian kingdom.
"That the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled" (Ezra 1:1). The prophet Jeremiah had prophesied that Judah would be in captivity for seventy years after which God would punish Babylon and the Jews could return to Palestine (Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10). God's Word was fulfilled just as the prophecy predicted. God's Word does not fail.
"The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia" (Ezra 1:1). The decree for Judah to return to the land to rebuild the Temple was a result of the moving of Cyrus by God to make the decree. Cyrus' interest in the Jews and their Temple can only be explained by the "the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus." God is still in control.
"He made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing" (Ezra 1:1). The decree for the Jews to return was made in the form of a government proclamation.
• The seriousness of the proclamation. "He made a proclamation." The proclamation made the decree for the Jews to return to Judah official and with great authority.
• The site for the proclamation. "Throughout all his kingdom." Proclaiming the decree in all his kingdom was done because Jews lived throughout his entire kingdom. All the Jews were notified that they could return to Palestine.
• The scripting of the proclamation. "Put it also in writing." This would make the decree lasting. Any challenge of the decree would be answered by the writing as proof of the decree.
We note three important parts of the decree for the Jews to return to Palestine.
• The diadem in the particulars. "The Lord God… hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth" (Ezra 1:2). This statement also gives authority to the decree. It was made by the man who was over the major Gentile kingdoms of the world.
• The duty in the particulars. "He hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:2). Cyrus was given the duty to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a Divine charge.
• The directive in the particulars. The directive is that part of the decree that specifies the responsibility of the Jews in the decree. First, the site in the directive "Let him go up to Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:3). Jerusalem was the site in the directive. Second, the structure in the directive. "Build the house of the Lord God" (Ezra 1:3). The Jews' primary reason for return was to rebuild the Temple which had been destroyed by Nebuchnezzar. God's work comes first. Third, the support in the directive. "Whosoever remaineth… help him" (Ezra 1:4). The decree also included the exhortation for the support of those who would return. We will study this in more detail later.
The response of the Jews in captivity to the decree is recorded in this text.
"Then rose up" (Ezra 1:5). The decree had to be a most welcomed decree to the Jews in captivity. It signaled the end of the forced captivity and now gave the Jews freedom to return to Palestine if they so choose to do so. The decree caused some to quickly decide to return to the land.
"The chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites; with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord" (Ezra 1:5). The leaders of the tribes in captivity from the nation of Judah along with some priests and Levites and others (not of any particular rank or designation) were inspired to return to rebuild the Temple. They made the decision to return to Palestine immediately after the decree was made allowing them to return to Palestine.
"All them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the Lord… in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:5). The group going back to Jerusalem was inspired by God to return and rebuild the Temple, just as Cyrus was inspired by God to make the decree for their return and rebuilding of the Temple. When God calls, He puts a "want to" in the person to do the calling. Divine inspiration accompanies Divine callings. The desire can be quenched by sin but that does not negate the fact that desire comes with Divine callings.
"To go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:5). The main duty of those returning to Jerusalem was to rebuild the Temple which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. This duty was part of the proclamation. And, as we noted in reference to it earlier, God's work comes first. The return was primarily to honor God. It was not primarily for the comfort or freedom of the Israelites in captivity. The problem that provoked the captivity was the failure of the Jews to worship Jehovah-God, so in returning, it is logical that the first thing they were to do was rebuild the Temple and provide for the worship of Jehovah-God whom they had neglected.
Ezra 1:4, 6-11
Any endeavor for the Lord requires help in terms of donations. Those who complain about the offering at church ignore the fact that any endeavor requires material support or it will not get off the ground. While some rascals (such as TV evangelists) have made havoc of taking an offering, it does not negate the need of an offering for a legitimate endeavor. The return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple would require some healthy donations.
The Jewish people provided donations for the return and the rebuilding of the Temple.
• The counsel for the donations. "Let the men of his place help him" (Ezra 1:4). Cyrus gave counsel for the Jews to help their fellow Jews to return and rebuild. He did not make it a command, as he wanted the giving to be done freely.
• The contribution in the donations. "Vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts [livestock], and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered" (Ezra 1:6). The contributions provided the wealth and the material goods to make the trip and to help with the rebuilding of the Temple.
• The character of the donations. "Willingly offered" (Ezra 1:6). The donations were not demanded, taxed, nor pressured out of the people like companies pressure their employees to give to the United Fund so the company looks good in their participation in this corrupt annual charity program. If we do not give freely, we will lose the rewards for giving, for God looks on the heart to check the motivation for giving. Freewill giving is heart giving. If your heart is right, you will give freely and that means you will give liberally. Misers are "have-to" givers not "heart" givers.
• The caution for the donations. "Beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:4). In counselling the Jews to support their fellow Jews in their return to Jerusalem, Cyrus cautions them to make their gifts extra beside the freewill offerings which they made for the Temple. The principle is do not rob Peter to pay Paul. When the church takes a special offering, do not rob your regular offering to give to the special offering.
Cyrus not only encouraged the people to give, but he also set a good example by giving much himself for the return of the Jews to rebuild the Temple.
• The recovery in the donations. "Cyrus… brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:7). When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, he took the many valuable vessels of the Temple and "put them in the house of his gods" (Ezra 1:7). Cyrus gives them back to the Jews for their Temple. This recovery of the vessels of the Temple was miraculous, but when God is running the show, this miracle working happens all the time.
• The receiver of the donations. "Unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah" (Ezra 1:8). Sheshbazzar was the man in charge of these vessels to see to it that they got to Jerusalem and were put in the Temple. It was a great responsibility but he fulfilled it faithfully (Ezra 1:11). Good treasurers are invaluable; bad ones are a plague to the Lord's work.
• The record of the donations. "This is the number of them" (Ezra 1:9). A record of the donations made by Cyrus is listed here in this text. The gifts were mostly "gold" and "silver" (Ezra 1:9, 10) and the vessels involved amounted to over 5,000 in total (Ezra 1:11). When these vessels were taken by Nebuchadnezzar, when he destroyed the Temple, they did not look to have a good future especially when they were put in the "house of his gods" (Ezra 1:7), but God was overseeing it all, and this arrangement simply provided for the safekeeping of the vessels until such time as the Jews would return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. God uses even His enemies to preserve His work. God can spite the devil whenever He wants.