The book of Ezra records one of the greatest turning points in the work of God for all time. I have several books about the history of military conquests. One of them describes fifteen decisive battles that changed the course of history. As I was looking through that book recently, I thought to myself, “Did God know the outcome?” Of course! God’s Word declares that the Lord sees the outcome of every war before the battles are ever fought.
God is never caught off guard. Our minds cannot fully grasp how the affairs of men move in harmony with the will of God through the ages, but the Bible says, “He is before all things”(Colossians 1:17). Understanding this will enlarge our thoughts about the greatness of God.
The Word of God says in Ezra 1:1-3,
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
Note this one word in the first verse: “fulfilled.” As we begin studying this book, let us start by studying fulfilled prophecy. Centuries before Cyrus the king of Persia had defeated the Babylonians and given the decree that the Jews could return home, God foretold it by the mouth of His prophets. When we speak of prophets, we are talking about men who foretell things along with men who forth tell (boldly proclaim).
God gave certain men the ability and the words to write before time to foretell events that would take place. The Word of God recorded not only that the event would happen, but the name of the person who would make the decree and proclamation. Read Isaiah 44:28-45:3.
In Isaiah’s prophecy, the Lord foretold that Cyrus was to be His shepherd and His anointed. The Lord chose a Gentile, not a Jew, and assigned to him this task.
The Word of God says in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” When we consider the kings and kingdoms of our day, remember that the Bible promises us: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.”
The Lord is working in our world, and He gives us examples of this in the Bible. God works on the hearts of kings because the heart of a king is in the hand of God. God is on the throne of the universe, and the reins of the world are still in His hands!
We have a perfect example of this with the king of the Persians who captured the kingdom of the Babylonians and said to God’s people they could be set free. The Bible says in Jeremiah 25:12, “And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.”
The twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah records a prophecy given before the fall of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. During Jeremiah’s ministry, the people of Jerusalem were living in horrible fear of the Babylonians. Eventually, the Babylonians besieged the city of Jerusalem, starved the people, broke through the walls, burned the temple, and carried away the Jews as their captives back to Babylon for seventy years. But before this happened, God promised them the Babylonian captivity would not be the end of His care over their lives.
For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:10-13
Even before they were ever captives, God said, “You will be seventy years captive in Babylon, and then I am going to deliver you. I will raise up the Empire of the Medes and Persians to anoint a king by the name of Cyrus. I will lead Cyrus to read the Word of God and discover the responsibility I have assigned him to set you free and send you back to Jerusalem.”
The book of Ezra reveals this turning point. God spoke to King Cyrus and said, “I want you to let the people know they can go back to Jerusalem and to Judah.” What we read in Ezra 1:1-3 shows us that the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah were fulfilled.
The Word of God came to Cyrus, saying, “It is time,” and so the Jews had the opportunity to go back. “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2). This Gentile king recognized that God had put this power and authority in his hand. Do you recognize what power and authority God has put in your hand? Do you recognize who is really in charge? Cyrus said, “The God of heaven has given me this responsibility.”
Then he asked this question: “Who is there among you of all his people?”
He was speaking about one type of people. In the kingdom of Babylon that he had conquered, and in the kingdom he had rallied together of the Medes and Persians, there were many types of people, but he said, “Among us, in this part of the world, there is a special people.”
We refer to these special people as the Jews. Keep your eyes on the Jews. The Jews are God’s clock, and God’s eye is upon them. Let us notice that He made to them back in Genesis.
In the twelfth chapter of Genesis, God called a man by the name of Abraham, and through Abraham, He raised up a people we now refer to as the Jews. Read God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.
Genesis 12:3 says, “All families of the earth shall be blessed.” King Cyrus read the Word of God. Because of the victory God gave him over the Babylonians, when he thought about the God of heaven and earth, he thought about the blessings that had come to him because of these people the Jews, and then he made this decree on their behalf.
The Lord wants His creation, the people of all the earth, to know Him. He chose a man by the name of Abraham, from that man raised up a family, and from that family a nation, and to that nation, God shows His special favor. To them God reveals Himself, and through them He reveals Himself to the rest of the world.
When the Lord Jesus Christ came into this world, He came unto His own, but they received Him not (John 1:11). When God made Himself known in the Person of His Son, He was the perfect revelation of God the Father. The express image of the invisible God was made known in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3). But what did the Jews do with Him? They rejected and crucified Him. He is not finished with them, but because they rejected Him, they have been set aside for a time.
One of the most heartbreaking things you will read in the Bible is found in Matthew 27:21-25. The rejected Saviour was on His way to the cross to be crucified. He had been officially rejected by Israel and the leaders of Israel as the Promised Messiah. They attributed His works to the work of the Devil.
The name of Christ means the Anointed One, the Promised Messiah. I cannot explain the suffering of the Jewish people. Machines of torture were made just for them. I am not going to try to know all the answers. Only God knows all the answers. But the Saviour was rejected and they said, “Let His blood be on us and on our children.” Yet, God loves them so. The Bible says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
If we were to travel back in history, we would find this moment in time when God judged His people, Israel. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen to the Assyrian Empire, which was absorbed by the Babylonian Empire.
Jerusalem was once the pearl of the whole world, but the Babylonians, the first rulers of the world, came upon the Southern kingdom of Judah, brought down the capital city Jerusalem, the Temple, and all the things associated with the worship of the Jews.
The Word of God described this destruction in Lamentations. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem”(Lamentations 4:12). The city was left in smoldering ruins, burned to the ground, and the temple was destroyed.
During the siege before the fall of the city, things became so pitiful that mothers were consuming their own babies up to a certain length to try to stay alive. All that ended when the Babylonians broke through the wall.
King Nebuchadnezzar overtook the king of Judah when he attempted to flee into the plains of Jericho. They mercilessly killed his children in front of him and then burned out his eyes so that the last thing he ever saw on earth was the death of his own children. Then they put him in a cage and carried him through the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem back to Babylon.
In response, God said, “I am going to judge you, Babylon. I am going to bring you down and make you the kind of desolation that you have made out of Jerusalem.” The Lord had allowed Babylon to be an instrument to chastise His own people, the Jews. For seventy years the captive Jews lived in Babylon.
Then after the Babylonians were defeated by the Medes and Persians, one man read the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, went to the King Cyrus who was reigning the new Medo-Persian Empire, and said, “God put you in His Word and said that you were brought to power so that you could release His people and send them back to Jerusalem.”
The first remnant returned with Zerubbabel. His name implies that he was born in Babylon. Many years later, the Word of God says Ezra came. Ezra’s responsibility was to restore biblical worship. God blessed Ezra in this work. There was much peril involved, but it was his assignment.
We can identify with Ezra and his God-given assignment. The Lord has allowed this moment in history for a remnant of His redeemed people who truly know Him and His Word to lead a new beginning of biblical worship. He has given us a window of time to obey.
The Lord says through His prophet in Ezra 9:8, “And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God.” They would not have this opportunity for long. As urgent as this message was in Ezra’s day, it also stirs us to make the most of the opportunity God has given in our time.
God is working in this world. In the book of Ezra, the Lord fulfills His promised prophecy. The Word of God says in Isaiah 46:9, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me.”
We may be living in a garden of strange gods, and we may have fewer people worshipping the true and living God in America than ever before, but God says, “Take a look at your history.” Modern-day Americans may know everything that has happened in the last twenty-four hours, but they know very little about what has happened in the last two hundred years.
The Lord has given us His prophetic plan and purpose. Christ Jesus is coming again. He is calling His people to Himself. This is the day to strengthen the things that remain and return to the truth of God’s Word.
The way things are now is not the way they will always be. We are living at a pivotal point in human history. All around us events are unfolding that remind us that there is a true God on the throne, and He desires our worship. He is to be recognized, honored, and glorified. We need to understand what the Bible teaches about fulfilled prophecy. Just as the Lord fulfilled His prophecy in Ezra’s day, He will do it in our day.
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