The Jews return home from exile
1Years ago the LORD sent Jeremiah with a message about a promise for the people of Israel. Then in the first year that Cyrus was king of Persia, the LORD kept his promise by telling Cyrus to send this official message to all parts of his kingdom:
2-3I am King Cyrus of Persia.
The LORD God of heaven, who is also the God of Israel, has made me the ruler of all nations on earth. And he has chosen me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. The LORD God will watch over and encourage any of his people who want to go back to Jerusalem and help build the temple.
4Everyone else must provide what is needed. They must give money, supplies, and animals, as well as gifts for rebuilding God's temple.
5Many people felt that the LORD God wanted them to help rebuild his temple, and they made plans to go to Jerusalem. Among them were priests, Levites, and leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.6The others helped by giving silver articles, gold, personal possessions, cattle, and other valuable gifts, as well as offerings for the temple.
7King Cyrus gave back the things that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the LORD's temple in Jerusalem and had put in the temple of his own gods.8Cyrus placed Mithredath, his chief treasurer, in charge of these things. Mithredath counted them and gave a list to Sheshbazzar, the governor of Judah.9-10Included among them were: 30 large gold dishes; 1,000 large silver dishes; 29 other dishes; 30 gold bowls; 410 silver bowls; and 1,000 other articles.
11Altogether, there were 5,400 gold and silver dishes, bowls, and other articles. Sheshbazzar took them with him when he and the others returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia.
“After Babylonia has been the strongest nation for seventy years, I will be kind and bring you back to Jerusalem, just as I have promised. I will bless you with a future filled with hope – a future of success, not of suffering” (Jer. 29:10-11).
The text above is a very famous message from the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah. The second half of the verse is often used today as encouragement, which it can be, but the context of this verse should always be meditated on first.
As we delve into the Ezra narrative, we need to take stock that the original hearers of Jeremiah’s words were the remnant in exile who hadn’t died when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took captive the best of God’s people.
A future of success? Really? A future of not suffering? The immediate future for God’s people at that time was distress and captivity. Their waywardness and idolatry was out of control and God gave them over, not to be confused with God left them, He gave them over to suffering, yet never forsook them.
But this would not be the end. Suffering will never have the last word. Ezra 1 is filled with hope, as Jeremiah foretold, because not only are God’s people being released from their 70 years of captivity, but almost ironically, this is all coming from the decree of the new world conqueror, King Cyrus of Persia.
God’s ways are often wonderfully unusual! Not only will this new conqueror (v.2-3) pave the way for the restoration of God’s temple (paying for some of it too, Ezra 6:4) he will also restore all of the artifacts from it as well (vv.7-10). Success! Why are these unlikely events happening? Simply put, God promised He would!
God, help me to remember that you will never forsake me. No matter how bleak a situation may look, you are working things out towards an ultimate future of success, not of suffering. Help me draw hope from the power of the Gospel and your promised restoration of all things. Amen.