(Recommended reading: Ezra 1:1-6:22 & Nehemiah 1:1-7:73)
…And, what does it matter? What difference will it make? Well, it could matter a lot and it could make a huge difference.
I want to lay some groundwork before I get to the meat of this topic:
Isaiah was a prophet of God that lived and prophesied somewhere around 740 BC until 698 BC. During this time he prophesied this: “This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one, whose right hand he will empower. Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear. Their fortress gates will be opened, never to shut again. This is what the Lord says: ‘I will go before you, Cyrus, and level the mountains. I will smash down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. And why have I called you for this work? Why did I call you by name when you did not know me? It is for the sake of Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen one. I am the Lord; there is no other God. I have equipped you for battle, though you don’t even know me.’” (Isaiah 45:1-5 NLT) “‘I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill my righteous purpose, and I will guide his actions. He will restore my city and free my captive people—without seeking a reward! I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!’” (Isaiah 45:13 NLT) It clearly states, not just once – but twice, that Cyrus does not know this God of Israel. [Emphasis mine]
Cyrus, that is mentioned in that prophecy, ruled from 559 BC until his death in 530 BC. This means that Cyrus came to rule 139 years after Isaiah died. If I had done more research I may have discovered exactly when Isaiah gave that prophecy about Cyrus; but, apparently it was 539 BC when Cyrus released the Jewish people to return to their homeland. But suffice it to say that it was more than 139 years after Isaiah spoke that word until Cyrus took the steps to free the Jewish people and therefore fulfilled that prophesy.
Cyrus was a very unlikely choice to fulfill such action. He was not a Jew. In the research I did I found nothing to indicate what his personal belief system was. However, it would be easy to think that he likely believed in and possibly worshiped the false gods prevalent in that land. In 1879 a British archeologist discovered something that has been dubbed “The Cyrus Cylinder.” It apparently contained scripts written by, or about, King Cyrus. In those scripts it talks about how he pleased the Babylonian god Marduk who then chose him to defeat Baylon and become their ruler. (If you would like to read more about this, I am providing a link at the end of this article.)*
So, when Cyrus (a non-believer) gave the Jews permission to leave Babylon and return to Judah in order to rebuild their temple and their city – he does not seem to have any skin in the game. So, why did he do it? Why did he just let 42,000+ people (Ezra 2:64) leave his country? Why did he give them the funding and resources they needed in order to rebuild their temple? Because God chose to use an unbeliever to accomplish His goal – something that God is fully capable of, not only then, but He can and does continue to do so even now.
Here is a quote from another article that I read that addressed this: “But, in keeping with the policy of Cyrus, rather than subjugate the exiled peoples, as a foreign king would normally do, he restored them to their homelands and even funded the rebuilding of their temples. This way, he could rule over them more peacefully, extract taxes and revenues, and keep his trade routes open without continual warfare.”** So for Cyrus, it was a win-win situation. (However, the idea of the taxes, revenues and trade routes may have been a miss by the author of this article based on what was stated in Isaiah’s prophecy in 45:13 quoted above – it specifically states that Cyrus would help the Jewish people with their feat “without seeking a reward!”
In those scripts that were discovered Cyrus gave Marduk, their chief god, credit for his position and success; however, when he addressed the Jewish people of his plan, he sang a different tune: “But in the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to make this proclamation throughout his kingdom, putting it into writing: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth have been given to me by the Lord God of heaven, and he has instructed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, in the land of Judah. All among you who are the Lord’s people return to Israel for this task, and the Lord be with you.’ This also fulfilled the prediction of Jeremiah the prophet.” 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 (TLB)
Now down to the topic at hand…why is who you listen to and believe important? Because it can totally make the difference in success and failure.
The large population of Jews that returned to Judah in order to rebuild the temple and eventually the city of Jerusalem had a lot of resistance. Some of the other nations and leaders around them did not like the idea of them rebuilding. So they tried everything they could think of to prevent their success. They wrote letters of opposition to the king of Babylon, they taunted them, they outright lied to them, they went around them trying to stir up trouble for them. Regardless of the resistance, they eventually finished the rebuilding of the temple; but, the city of Jerusalem was left unprotected because all the city walls had been destroyed as well. Now there was a new project of great importance facing them.
Enter Nehemiah. He was sent by King Artaxerxes to assist the Jews with the rebuilding of the walls in order that they could be safe. (In the following…all scripture references will be from the book of Nehemiah.)
Again, as they begin the job of rebuilding the wall, they are faced with resistance from the surrounding nations. In 2:19 they are accused of rebelling against the king. In 4:1-3 they were mocked – called “poor and feeble”. But the people worked together until they had the entire wall completed to half its height. They chose not to believe the words coming from their enemies.
Then those enemies became angry and decided to fight against them. This threat threw the Jews into confusion (4:8). In 4:10 you read about how the workers were tired and started complaining, along with being fearful of attacks from the enemies (4:12). It appears that they succumbed to the words of their enemies, then to their own negative words. So, Nehemiah took strategic steps to protect the people and spoke words of encouragement to them. They apparently believed his actions and words because they returned to work, using extraordinary precautions for safety with plans in place to help others in the case of an attack.
Then you have another internal disturbance where some officials were taking advantage of their own. Nehemiah had to call them out and get things back in order (chapter 5). They believed the words that he spoke and followed them which led to successful resolutions.
Chapter 6 tells about the completion of the wall with only the hanging of doors at all the gate openings to be completed. Now the enemies approach again trying to employ tricks and enticing someone on the inside to spread lies. Nehemiah had their number though and did not fall for it.
When everything was completed it had only been 52 days. I am sure it was a really long 52 days to those doing the hard work – an unimaginable feat really. But…when they stopped listening to the taunts and the lies, putting their differences aside, stopped being fearful of the threats and worked together in harmony – it was accomplished.
What we are going through right now in this nation with all the division, the taunts, the threats, the trickery, the inside jobs, etc. is not that different from what the Jews were experiencing while trying to accomplish their goals. We cannot let the words of others come between us and God and what it is that He wants us to accomplish. We need to listen to the positive and encouraging voices and set our sights on the end goal. Do not be deceived by believing the wrong people, the wrong ideas.
Who you listen to and believe is critical.
Written by Karran Martin – October 21, 2020