Ezra Part One Dive
THE MORE I READ THE MORE THE MATRIX IS REVEALED
I love reading the Bible, no surprise there! I love that the more you read the Bible, the more the matrix becomes clear. Sometimes we can forget that with all its different authors and all its different books, the Bible has a divine thread of salvation history that runs through it all; all the historical books, all the prophetic books, the psalms, the gospels, the letters, all play a part in this divine story. And as we journey along, God uses the matrix of these authors, stories and letters to reveal His plans bit by bit. Not one to tell the punchline at the beginning of the joke (which I do all the time!), God reveals the story of redemption piece by piece, bit by bit. That is why you should read your whole Bible, not just quotes, verses or pieces, because if you read it as a whole unit, this incredible, divine plan will be revealed to you in its fullness and glory.
So as we jump into another piece of this divine puzzle, let me show you something cool about Ezra. To see the piece of the puzzle, first turn one page back and read the last section of Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 36:15-23. Once you have done that, read the first chapter of Ezra! Wait a second – did you notice the first three verses in Ezra are identical to the last two in 2 Chronicles? Why? It’s because Ezra and Nehemiah are a continuation of the journey that we have followed in 1 & 2 Chronicles.
If you are doing the TYB schedule, I realise that we have jumped Chronicles and just finished studying Kings but don’t panic, you haven’t missed out! Kings and Chronicles cover the similar story with different focuses, so you will have the same sense of continuation no matter how you got to the Book of Ezra! So let me tell you where we are up to in the story.
Outside of Time and In Control
When we begin our journey in the Book of Ezra, the People of God, His kingdom, their people and their kings have been taken into exile. Actually, they have been there for seventy years. They have been under the influence and governance of the Babylonians and now the Babylonians have been taken over by the Persians. It is at this point that we join the story.
The beginning of Ezra just jumps into the story, but there are so many things that you need to know to understand how incredible the first chapter of Ezra actually is and how in control God is, even in the midst of exile. Let me tell you no matter what happens in your life and circumstances, God has worked it all out and has a path of redemption, a way through, even if you can’t see it right now!
The next piece of the puzzle is this: this book is part of the journey of Israel and the salvation history of God. Throughout this history, God has spoken through His prophets to guide, direct and correct the People of God. Because we are reading it 2000+ years later, we don’t really grasp the significance of how God was in control at every point, but let me show you the matrix within this story:
E 1:1-4 ’In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.”’
Stop there and ask yourself: why would King Cyrus do this? Why would a new king, in the first year of his reign, who has just come from a military victory (overtaking Babylon), decide to let the People of God go back to their hometown, Jerusalem, and build the temple of the Lord?
Revealing The Matrix
The reason King Cyrus did this is that 150 years earlier, God had written that He would do it, through the prophet Isaiah. Check this out:
Is 44:28 ‘... who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be; rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’
Is 45:1-2 ‘This is what the LORD say to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:”
Keep reading Isaiah 45, it really is incredible! Especially verse 4, ‘For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor’.
Imagine Cyrus reading his name and reading that God had summoned him to do His will! How incredible is that? God gave Isaiah this prophecy not the day before, not even the year before, but way back before Cyrus was born! God knew that He would restore the people of Israel and specifically how He would do it! Our God is in control!
But wait, there's more. Did you notice in Ezra 1:1 that King Cyrus was doing this because of the words of Jeremiah? Jeremiah foretold the exact time that the people would be under the Babylonians and the time that their exile would finish.
J 25:11-12 ‘This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the Lord, “and will make it desolate forever”’.
J 29:10 ‘This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place”’.
He Positions the Players
Amazed? I’m not finished yet! There are more pieces of the puzzle to go, like who told King Cyrus about these prophecies? Now this is incredible, most historians account Daniel with giving the prophecies to King Cyrus. How do we know that? Check out Daniel Chapter 9.
D 9:1-3 ‘In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes’.
Daniel figured it out when King Darius, son of Xerxes, was in his first year of reign. He read the prophecy and realised that the time was up. He prays and reminds God of His promise! I love this, he calls forth the prophecy, he prays it to be activated! Read Daniel Chapter 9 and 10 to get the full picture of what happens when he prays. And then we have Daniel 10:1, which shows us that Daniel worked with Cyrus, King of Persia, ‘in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar)’.
God placed Daniel in the right place at the right time to read, activate and tell the king the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Imagine that conversation between Daniel and King Cyrus as Daniel showed him the timing and his name and what he was about to do for the People of God. Interestingly, Daniel doesn’t go with Ezra to build the temple, he remains where he has influence, and God continues to give him visions that direct and guide the king of Persia as we discover in Daniel 10-12.
So through Isaiah, God prophesied the exact king who would help the temple be rebuilt, Jeremiah prophesied the timing, Daniel was in the right place at the right time to read the prophecies and tell the king of Persia. The pieces of the puzzle are all put together by God! Is your mind blown? The Bible is so interconnected! How amazing and in control is God? As you read the books of the Old Testament, you recognize and become part of this incredible matrix of the divine story of salvation, the one God had put in place from the beginning!
Never, ever doubt that God is in control, no matter where you find yourself. He knows, sees and already has a plan! All you need to do is find out what it is, activate it in prayer and watch it happen! Have a great time as you read Ezra and see the plans and purposes of God fulfilled through this incredible story.