Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste. – Jeremiah 25:12
The story picks up immediately after the Persian army overruns Babylon and Cyrus becomes king over Babylon and its territories. The opening chapters of Ezra are full of hope: Cyrus, whom the LORD called his anointed…for the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, declares that the LORD has charged him to “build a house at Jerusalem…” Seven decades after the first exiles were deported, five decades after the temple was burned by Nebuchadnezzar, the Jews are going home.
The story is straightforward, but I encourage you to listen for the nuance in Cyrus’s proclamation. He first declares that “The LORD (Yahweh, the God of Israel), the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” This sounds like proper reverence for the Most High God, but later on he qualifies it: “Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel--he is the God who is in Jerusalem.”
The geographic marker is key: “The God who is in Jerusalem.” There is some recognition by Cyrus that the God of Israel had gone before him, as Isaiah promised. But also as Isaiah promised, Cyrus does not truly know the LORD, that there is no other. Worshipping the LORD also is different than worshipping the LORD alone. Israel’s inability to grasp this caused its destruction; the same goes for Judah. It’s what Jeremiah still dealt with after Jerusalem was destroyed. And it will form an important subtext to Ezra-Nehemiah story.
Our verses for this week are Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Ezra 1 through 3. Now let’s read it!
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.