Ezra 1-3 The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia

From Ezra 1-3

Laying the foundations
Laying the foundations


The book of Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles ends. As prophesied by Isaiah (Isa. 44:28), the Persian King Cyrus had sent exiles led by Zerubbabel back to Jerusalem in 538 B.C. (Persia had defeated Babylon in 539.) Despite opposition from the non-Jewish inhabitants of Judea, and after encouragement by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the temple was rebuilt (515). Then in 458, Ezra led the second of three waves of returning exiles. By the time Ezra arrived, the people had again fallen into sin. Ezra preached God’s word and the people repented (10:9–17). Ezra succeeded because God’s hand was upon him (7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31). This book, perhaps written by Ezra, shows God’s power in covenant faithfulness, moving even pagan kings to accomplish his redemptive purposes. (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ezr). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

The LORD is faithful to his promises despite the circumstances of his people. The people of Judah had been in exile and under foreign rule for many years. The LORD remembers his promises and stirs up the spirit of Cyrus, the king of that time. He proclaims the authority of the one true God of heaven, sends his people to restore the temple and supports them. The passage echoes a common repetition in scripture, including the gospel – where a virgin gives birth to a boy who is called Immanuel.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

The people of Judah are in exile, but the LORD has not forgotten them or his promises through his prophets. The letter of Ezra was written to encourage God’s people the LORD still remembered them.

1 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, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing. (Ezra 1:1)

‘That the word of the LORD by Jeremiah might be fulfilled’. The author associates the events of this passage with the LORD’s promise (Jer 25.11-14; 29.10-14; cf. Isa 45.13) and power.

‘The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia’. The LORD works in the spirits of foreigners as well as his people. Despite their circumstances the LORD was still in control and faithful.

We can trust the LORD will fulfill his promises to us despite our circumstances.

Scholars say Cyrus’ proclamation was written in Hebrew.

Hubbard, S. et al. with Logos Bible Software and KarBel Media, 2012. Faithlife Study Bible Infographics, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Hubbard, S. et al. with Logos Bible Software and KarBel Media, 2012. Faithlife Study Bible Infographics, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, 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.

3 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.

4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:2-4)

Cyrus publically acknowledges the God of heaven (the God of Israel) gave him authority over all the kingdoms of the earth (probably just the world as they knew it then). This is an amazing confession for a foreign ruler to do. Except that we need to remember the author of Ezra was working the letter a certain way to encourage his readers. That is, what the author of Ezra said, and what really happened.

Cyrus says the LORD charged him to (re)build the house of the LORD. To do this he needs people willing spirit to go. His proclamation encourages people of willing spirit to go up to Jerusalem to rebuild it.

Are you willing to go where the LORD calls you?

‘He is the God who is in Jerusalem.’ Reflecting the belief there are different gods for different places.

Cyrus also encourages the people around those who are going up, to support them in their ministry financially. The whole scene should remind us of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. In Exodus the Egyptians were keen to give them all they wanted in the hope they would leave and no more of them would die.

5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem.

6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered.

7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. (Ezra 1:5-8)

In response to Cyrus’ message, the people of willing spirit rise up and they are supported by those around them.

They also return the vessels of the house of the LORD we read about in the book of Daniel. Ezra and Kings seem to give different accounts of the state of these vessels. In the book of Kings they were cut into pieces (2 Ki 24.24; 25.13-17) for eventual melting down and reuse.

Finally they give an account of all they were given. Written down as a record to this day.

9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:9-11)

Story of Israel

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

The passage echoes similar themes to what we see in Exodus regarding God’s covenant and promise with Israel. The circumstances of the people, often poor. And God’s fulfillment of his promise through a certain agency. This table will help draw the parallel.

God’s covenant and promise Circumstances of his people Fulfillment of God’s promise
Promise of freedom and land Slavery in Egypt Sent Moses, Plagues, Red Sea, Sinai, Promised land
Promise of return to Promised land, restoration Exile in Babylon, under foreign rule LORD stirs up the spirit of Cyrus

So the people of Judah hearing Ezra read aloud would be encouraged. Encouraged in that God was performing a similar work in returning them to the Promised land as he did earlier with Israel in Egypt.

Story of Jesus

The gospel message in Matthew begins with Jesus’ birth fulfilling one of Isaiah’s prophecies.

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” (Mt 1.18-2.6)

I mean to imply Jesus’ coming in the gospel fits the same pattern we have seen in Ezra and Egypt.

God’s covenant and promise Circumstances of his people Fulfillment of God’s promise
Promise of restoration, Spirit and Christ Under foreign rule, sin Sent Jesus Christ

The LORD has been continually faithful to his promises despite the current circumstances of his people. He will honour his promises to us as well.

Keep trusting and waiting on him.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2016. All Rights Reserved.