Home » Various Sermons » Sermon on Ezra 1

Sermon on Ezra 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:

“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.  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. 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.”

 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. 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. 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. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers,  30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 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.

Introduction

“ 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:

“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.  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. 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 1.1-1.4

1.1 Ezra, begins with a rather common opening for Hebrew narratives, “And…” which could be translated various ways.[1] It helps to connect this event with the preceding narratives of Chronicles and Kings. That this is the next step in the history of God’s people.

Cyrus, compared to Nebuchadnezzar and Persia compared to Babylon were quite different from each other, Babylon, to strive to keep peace through its realm tried to enforce it through force, through exile, such Judah’s case.[2] Cyrus instead, strove to keep the peace, by allowing the various displaced people of the Babylonian wars to return, such as the case with the Jews.[3] (As well as being attested for by various inscriptions of his freeing other people exiled by Babylon).[4]

We are told that this is the first year of Cyrus’ rule, this points to the first year of his rule following the conquering of Babylon, which happened roughly around 539 BC, under his general Ugbaru.[5] Perhaps the writer wanted to focus on this part of Cyrus’ reign since this was what was important for Jewish history. This decree is likely to have happened in the fall of 538 BC.[6]

The writer is clear that Yahweh drove Cyrus to action, it helps to show the case of the sovereignty of God, God’s hand affects all nations, not just Israel in the past, and he guides unbelievers toward his plans as well.[7] This is a common Old Testament thought, that Yahweh rules and directs the world , so the original readers would have nodded in agreement with this statement.[8]

Connected to this, is Jeremiah prophecy, likely 29.10: ““For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” That is the length of the Exile had come to an end, however one tries to calculate it doesn’t matter, the point is that the prophecy of old was fulfilled.[9]

This proclamation, would have been made by heralds going throughout the land and communicating it by word, it would have been written down and given to the community for proof the proclamation, however. Therefore, the writer, easily could have had access to a copy of it for the work.[10]

1.2 Cyrus, refers to Yahweh by name and further by the tile of God of heaven.

Likely Cyrus merely recognized Yahweh among the many gods of his people, and he may indeed have accepted that Yahweh was one of the gods who had brought him victory.[11] In the Cyrus Cylinder he praises Marduk, the Babylon’s chief God, for his victory, and here he ascribes it to Yahweh, perhaps because it was an edict to the Jews, or because he had learned of the prophecies concerning him.[12]

1.3 Build the House, it may be that Cyrus was directed toward the prophecy of Isaiah (44.28;45.13) that he would help in the rebuilding of God’s temple.[13] “who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ””

I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the Lord of hosts.

Josephus makes this claim as well.[14]

1.4 The final part of the decree, concerns making “provisions of funds for building the temple.”[15] This decree is directed to every survivor, likely this is referring to all of the exiled Jews, it is also likely that the people of the place refers to Jews as well, those who would staying behind, which Cyrus directs to support the returning Jews.[16]  Furthermore, the ones staying behind likely were given this command since many would have been rich and the one who could easily give most.[17]

(It is very likely that this decree was in some way written by the assistance of Jews, either through Jewish court officials, or Jew sought by officials).[18]

Comment: God is not caught off guard, he is in control and is able to bring his plans to their end goal. The Exile happened, but connected to it, were the promises of God that it would end and that his people would be restored. Cyrus is moved to make this decree and however it might be explained, by the secular eye, the writer to Ezra knew that God was in control of it all.

There is much which God controls and directs that we so often do not realize, however, God is in control. God is sovereign over all, that whatever leaders in ruling the rule so to speak, they are there because God has let them, and may perhaps have a use for them, even when we scratch our heads and wonder how. God is able to direct and is able to accomplish his goals even though a leader doesn’t realize God’s hand upon it. It would be better not be like Cyrus, but like the others in this passage however.

 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. 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.” – Ezra 1.5-1.6

1.5 The people who are returning of what comprise of the Jewish people, that is men and women of the tribe of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, the other tribes are not part of this picture.[19] The other tribes had belonged to the other kingdom, which had been exile and who never returned. Of this group, returning it is only a small handful of pious people.[20]

Three groups of people are pointed out, the Chiefs, the priests, and the Levites, with the chiefs or fathers referring to men who would have been the head of their tribal clans.[21] Not all of the people in these positions of authority seemed to have tried to go back, only those whom God had stirred up.[22]

Many of the Jews who would return were not the richest and likely rather “ill equipped,” for what awaited them in Jerusalem.[23] Verse 6, however, indicates that their kinsmen supported them somewhat for what awaited them.[24]

1.6 Not all of the Jews would return, many remained for a variety of reasons, A) many had become prosperous in this land of exile and B) enjoyed a great amount of freedom, so that there we no push to return.[25] The use of all, would seem to indicate that everyone of the Jews who did not return in some way tried to make an offering for the temple.[26] It may well, be that these verse is also referring to the fact that non-Jewish neighbors helped them as well, perhaps God had moved the gentiles in much the same way he did the Egyptians in the Exodus account.[27]

Comment : In the return, we see several examples of the way in which God moves a person’s spirit, first we see by  decree of Cyrus, for the people to return and build, this would have encouraged many, and secondly we see by God working at their spirit to help motivate them, that in some way he showed them personally the way that he wanted to direct their paths.[28]

As God can work on the national level, he can also work on the individual level. There are many times where God is working with us, closing doors, so to speak and opening others. Where he is prompting us, with little encouragements and the various ways that he helps to understand if we are going toward the right path.

As the people who would return, were directed and went rightly back to Jerusalem we need to be men and women who seek to follow God and the promptings in our lives. To seriously speak with him in prayer about the decisions we have to make and to help us focus on the paths we will have to take. To trust him in all things.

“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. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers,  30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 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 1.7-1.11

1.7 Nebuchadnezzar is related in several passages as taking from the Treasury, such as 2 Kings 24.13; 25.13-16; 2 Chronicles 36.10, 18; Jeremiah 52.17-19.[29] Nebuchadnezzar had placed these relics in the temples of his God for two reasons, as a victory trophies and as tokens of the supposed superiority of his god.[30]

1.8 Cyrus, once again reverses what Nebuchadnezzar had done, and so returns these treasures. Verse 8 also shows that Cyrus worked through his officials, here we see it is Mithredath, who gives the vessels back.[31] (Ezra could have easily of known this via court records).[32]Mithredath is called the treasure, and it likely refers to a high position among Cyrus’ financial officials, (or as Batten suggests the treasurer of the temple)[33] outside of this, we know nothing of him.[34]

Mithredath entrust the sacred vessels to Sheshbazzar, the identify of who is debated. At one point, Sheshbazzar was equated with Zerubbabbel, but most scholars now disagree with this.[35] Instead most prefer to see the two as distinct persons. That Sheshbazzar was perhaps the first Governor of the providence, who died early on, to be replaced by Zerubbabel.[36] His name is clearly Babylonia in origins, meaning either Shamas protects the son or Sin protects  the father.[37] The apocryphal work 1 Esdras and Josephus both saw Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel as different people.[38] His role, like his identity, is rather uncertain, though it seems that Zerubbabel succeeded him.[39] Despite being called a prince in most translation, this phrase is also ambiguous merely meaning he was given some sort of authoritative position.[40] It is likely that he was prominent leader of the tribe of Judah, but whether he was of Davidic descent is merely
“speculative.”[41]

(It is suggested that Sheshbazzar may be the Shenzzar of 1 Chronicles 3.18; both of whose names could easily go back to the babylonian form Sin-Ab-usur. This Shenzzar was the son of King Jehoiachin, and could therefore make Sheshbazzar Zerubbables’s uncle.).[42]

1.9-1.10 Various translations differ on the vessels listed in 1.9-10, due to uncertainty and so translations may different widely in this passage.[43]

1.11 5,400, does not equal the sum of the articles mention, but it mad simply be due to copist mistakes or account errors on the part of the Persians.[44] In any case, this passage show that the Exiles did not return empty handed (likely Cyrus wanted to further appease them) and so what was taken for wroship was returned.[45] Sheshbazzar, dealt not only with receiving the temple treasures, but he also led the expedition back to Jerusalem.[46]

The writer gives no details concerning the journey back home, though it was a trip that likely took about 100 days.[47]

Comment: God prompted the way for the journey to open up and then he provided the way for it to take place, as he did in the case of the Exodus. If there is a task that God wants to accomplish he provides help, sometimes not as dramatic as what is seen here, and it doesn’t mean that the task will be easy, for the rebuilding of the temple will take time. Yet God will be there with his people and as mentioned will send help in a variety of ways.

As we go through life seeking the will of God, he will direct our paths, he will help to guide us and strengthen us. To provide encouragements and help us along the way. These things may be difficult tasks, but there is the hope of the eternal reward at the end. Therefore we should be in constant communication with God and seek him as we try to do his will.

Conclusion


[1] Fensham, 42.

[2] Fensham, 10.

[3] Fensham, 10.

[4] Short, 489.

[5] Fensham, 42.

[6] Batten, 55.

[7] Lewis, 6-7.

[8] Fensham, 43.

[9] Fensham, 42-43.

[10] Fensham, 43.

[11] Fensham, 44.

[12] Batten, 57.

[13] Short, 489.

[14] Short, 489.

[15] Batten, 59.

[16] Fensham, 44.

[17] Batten, 60.

[18] Fensham, 44.

[19] Fensham, 45.

[20] Fensham, 45.

[21] Batten, 65.

[22] Batten, 65-66.

[23] Fensham, 10.

[24] Fensham, 45.

[25] Fensham, 10.

[26] Batten, 66.

[27] Williamson, 426.

[28] Lewis, 11-12.

[29] Fensham, 45.

[30] Batten, 66.

[31] Fensham, 45.

[32] Fensham, 45.

[33] Batten, 67.

[34] Fenshem, 46.

[35] Fensham, 46.

[36] Short, 490.

[37] Fensham, 46.

[38] North, 386.

[39] Fensham, 46.

[40] Fensham, 46.

[41] Williamson, 426.

[42] Shot, 490.

[43] Williamson, 426.

[44] Williamson, 426.

[45] Simson, 384-85.

[46] Batten, 68.

[47] North, 386.


2 Comments

  1. dan todd says:

    Didn’t I hear most of this yesterday!

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