It was a monumental moment in the history of God’s people when Cyrus, the king of the Medo-Persian Empire, in approximately 536 B.C. made a decree by which he allowed the Jews who had been in exile in Babylon to return to their homeland. In Ezra 1:2-4, we find this record of his proclamation:
(2) Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: all the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. (3) Who 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 build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. (4) And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.
So, the Jews were granted the freedom to return to Judah and Jerusalem. Jehovah certainly had a huge hand in this, as He “stirred up the spirit of Cyrus” to make his pronouncement (Ezra 1:1). What is there to see and learn in all of this?
The background to Cyrus’ decree – In order to appreciate the relevance of the proclamation that Cyrus made, we need to consider some statements and activities which preceded it. When you consider all of this background information, it really is an amazing thing to observe how everything “came together,” not by chance, but by plan – God’s plan.
Almost seventy years before Cyrus came to the throne, the prophet Daniel explained a dream of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Daniel 2:31-45). The dream symbolized four earthly kingdoms and the Lord’s eternal kingdom. Daniel later identified the Medes and Persians as the ones who would conquer Babylon (Daniel 5:28).
One year before Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the king’s dream, the prophet Jeremiah foretold that the nations of the ancient Middle East, including Judah, would be under the dominion of the Babylonians for seventy years. At the conclusion of those seventy years, God would turn around and punish Babylon for her sins (Jeremiah 25:1,8-12).
Sometime later, Jeremiah wrote a letter to Jews who had been taken as captives to Babylon. In that letter, God’s weeping messenger told them again that their captivity in Babylon would last for seventy years. The good news, though, the shining light of hope for the future, was that following their seven-decade long stay in unwanted exile in Babylon, Jehovah would bring His people back to their homeland in Judah (Jeremiah 29:1-14; 30:1-3). Jeremiah predicted the fall of Babylon, saying that it would fall to the Medes (Jeremiah 51:11,28).
Those prophecies which we have just noted help us comprehend the Bible’s statement that Cyrus made his decree “that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled” (Ezra 1:1).
The significance of Cyrus’ decree – What was so special about what Cyrus did? First, it allowed the Jews to return to their homeland, where the Savior of the world would be born. The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, not Babylon (Micah 5:2). Second, his proclamation allowed the temple, which had been leveled by the army of Babylon fifty years earlier (in B.C. 586), to be rebuilt. God’s people once again would be able to worship with its proper priesthood leading the way as it was written in the Law of Moses (Ezra 3:2). In fact, not only did Cyrus urge the Jews to rebuild the Lord’s house (Ezra 1:3), the emperor even used government funds to help finance the temple’s reconstruction (Ezra 6:3,4).
Third, what Cyrus did in allowing the Jews to go home fulfilled prophecy. It fulfilled what Jeremiah had predicted (Jeremiah 25,29,30,51), and it also fulfilled what Isaiah had proclaimed about Cyrus before the man was even born! It is true. Read Isaiah 44:28-45:2 and see that Isaiah called Cyrus by name and foretold his role in (re)building Jerusalem and its temple. Amazing.
Other reminders from Cyrus’ decree – We see God’s faithfulness. He keeps His promises, always. “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9), so if He says it is going to happen, that is a 100% guarantee that it will. God said Babylon would fall. It did. God said that the Medes would overthrow Babylon. They did. God said that the Jews’ forced exile in Babylon would end after 70 years. It did. And, He said that Cyrus would be His instrument in getting the temple and the city of Jerusalem built again. He was.
We see God’s knowledge. He has perfect vision of future events, seeing the future as clearly as we see what is going on before us in the present. He knew what would happen with the Jews, Babylon, Cyrus, and His temple. He knew. No surprise there.
We also see God’s providence at work in getting His people back home out of captivity. Jehovah referred to Cyrus as “My shepherd,” calling the king His “anointed” (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Yes, for His sovereign purposes, God uses humans to carry outHis will. That is what He did with Cyrus. Cyrus still exercised his own free will, but his choices and actions brought about what God wanted for His people.
After Cyrus made his decree, a group of about 50,000 Jews, servants, and maids traveled back to Judah under the guidance of Zerubbabel and Jeshua. About twenty years later, they finished rebuilding the temple (Ezra 2-6). Those were exciting times.
— Roger D. Campbell