The Persian king Cyrus’ reign over Babylon began in March, 538 B.C.
In his first year of reign, he issued a decree that gave the Jewish exiles in his empire the right to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
God gave Cyrus a sense of urgency about this; “the LORD stirred up his spirit” (Ezra 1:1).
Cyrus’ Decree Was a Biblical Prophesy
A future forecast must be unambiguous before being considered a prophecy. Cyrus was prophetically named long before he was born (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1, 13).1
The remarkable recognition of God’s hand upon Cyrus’ life is connected with the extraordinary prophecies regarding Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28-45:4. Isaiah’s clear prophecy of Cyrus was given 150 years before Cyrus came to power. (Isaiah 44:28-45:7; Ezra 1:1-4)2
A Heathen Emperor Recognized Our God
Note that a heathen emperor, Cyrus the Great, had somehow recognized the fact that Jehovah Elohim, the God of the Jews, was the God of creation.
The biblical prophet Daniel was instrumental in this “stirring up” of Cyrus. Daniel was Cyrus’ prime minister. 1
The Bible’s Book of Ezra
The Book of Ezra, tells of the pioneers who came back from exile to Jerusalem a whole lifetime before Ezra. We don’t read of the prophet Ezra until chapter 7.
The events recorded in Ezra were also recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, but they exist in contemporary documents that have been discovered by archaeologists.
Cyrus’s policy of cooperating with local religions and of encouraging the return of exiles has received explicit archaeological confirmation from the inscriptions of the king himself, especially in the famous “Cyrus Cylinder.”
Cyrus’ decree was also following the general policy of the Persians. A feature of the Persian empire was its integration of a great diversity of peoples into a single administrative system. The integration maintained a tradition of respect for local customs and beliefs and proper forms of religion.
- flourished in the fourth century B.C. Babylon and Jerusalem.
- The list of names in the first five verses of chapter 7 tells us that Ezra was a direct descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses.
- He was the religious leader of the Jews who returned from exile in Babylon.
- As a scribe, Ezra was an expert on the law of Moses.
- He was a reformer who reconstituted the Jewish community based on the Torah (Law, or the regulations of the first five books of the Old Testament).
- He enforced the cancellation of debts among the Jews and ruled with justice and righteousness.
Through his narrative, Ezra declared that they were still God’s people and that God had not forgotten them.
Ezra 1:1, 2 is the fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 44:28; 45:1, 13.
Ezra chapter 1 contains a narrative of the Edict of Cyrus and the initial return of exiles to Judah for the restoration of the sacred temple vessels. It also introduces the section comprising chapters 1 to 6 describing the history before the arrival of Ezra in the land of Judah in 468 BCE.
Through his narrative, Ezra declared that they were still God’s people and that God had not forgotten them. Ezra spent his life as a priest, serving the Israelites during their exile in Babylon and as they returned to Jerusalem. His religious leadership helped generate a revival among the Jews as they resettled. Ezra is called “the father of Judaism” or “the second Moses.”
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Ezra 1:1, 2 – Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (NASB)
The decree of Cyrus not only allowed the return of the exiled people, but also a rebuilding of the destroyed temple.
God’s people had spent 70 years in exile, and they needed to be reminded how to live. As a scribe, Ezra was an expert on the law of Moses, and he had “determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra returned to Jerusalem for that purpose.
The book of Ezra declared that they were still God’s people and that God had not forgotten them. Likewise, He has not forgotten you.
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- (Morris, The New Defender’s Study Bible, notes on Ezra 1:1, 2
Note: Dr. Henry M Morris, Ph.D., LL.D., Litt.D. (1918-2006) was an American young Earth creationist and the founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and is considered by many to be “the father of modern creation science”, 1918-2006)
2.Henry C. Thiessen (revised by Vernon D. Doerksen), Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), pg. 13.
Note: Rev. Dr. Henry C. Thiessen (1934 -2015) was a Southern Baptist minister with orthodox, congregational, pre-tribulation, pre-millenial views.