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Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord.
The discipline of the captivity
The captivity is clearly represented as God’s judgment upon His people for their sins, but it was a judgment so tempered with mercy that it brought them much of blessing in the way of spiritual development. Their trials became a means, in various ways, of spiritual discipline. Losing the temple with its solemn ritual they found that God was a spirit and could be worshipped anywhere; at Jerusalem they had been able to hear His voice in the holy ordinances, but now they were dependent upon the revealed Word; hence diligent attention was paid to the preservation and transcription of the sacred writings, a service which prepared the way for the arrangement, not long after, by Ezra of the Old Testament canon. All such good impulses helped to work out a gradual but sure deliverance from their old sin of idolatry. In Judea the service of idols had become strangely confused with the service of Jehovah. It was thought by many not so very wrong to worship images if at the same time they worshipped God. The evils which assail us now are different in form, but are working along the same line; we have other idols, but the same snare. Natural history has an interesting chapter called “Mimicries of Nature,” the description of certain creatures which have, in a wonderful degree, the appearance of vegetable life and are able thereby to seize more surely upon their unsuspecting prey. It illustrates the peril that surrounds us on many sides in the moral world; evil takes the shape of good; pleasures that seem harmless hide the sting of death, etc. Through such subtle temptations among the Jews idolatry became almost universal. But when they came to Chaldea they saw idolatry in all its naked deformity; it was not confused with true worship, it stood alone. They saw how it denied and despised Jehovah, and it filled them with horror. If idolatry bore such fruit their course was clear; they would have nothing to do with it. Not likely there were some whose religion in Judea had not been very pronounced who in Chaldea were among the foremost champions of Jehovah. In any Christian community there are good citizens who take no sides in the conflict between Christianity and unbelief. But imagine one of them suddenly removed to a community where infidelity prevails, where Christian worship is prohibited, where the Bible is dishonoured, where the prevailing sentiment is that of defiant atheism--how long would it be before he would be found standing out resolutely among the friends of Christ? In a recent revival multitudes signed this simple covenant: “I am trying to live a Christian life, and am willing to be counted on that side.” An impulse like this must have come to many of the Jews in Babylon. The contempt heaped upon their religion strengthened their constancy, and they refused to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.” It is not meant that their harps were kept silent through all those years; but they would never sing the songs of Zion for anybody’s sport; they would die first. Their spirit recalls the drummer-boy in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 who, being ordered by some rebels who had captured him to play for their entertainment, laid his instrument on the ground and leaped into it, tearing the parchment to shreds, and exclaiming,” God forbid that the king’s drum should be beaten for rebels!” whereupon they spiked him to death. (Sermons by Monday Club.)
Returning from the captivity
God rules. His throne is the centre of history. His sovereignty is the key of all the mysteries in providence and grace. We look behind and speak of history; before and speak of prophecy; but He looks neither behind nor before. Yesterday and to-morrow are alike to Him. One glance sweeps the whole horizon. Does ii seem wonderful that Cyrus should have been called and commissioned two centuries before his birth? We forget that telling and foretelling are the same with God. The map of eternity and the universe has always been spread out before Him.
I. The captivity. It was in the year 604 b.c. that Nebuchadnezzar reduced Jerusalem and returned with his first deportation of captives. The date is important because it furnishes the prime factor in all calculations respecting the deliverance from Babylon. The captivity was for an appointed time, seventy years. There was a special reason why it should be precisely seventy years. The Lord had required of Israel the observance of every seventh year as a season of Sabbatic rest; for a period of four hundred and ninety years this injunction had been practically ignored. Seventy Sabbatic years have been desecrated, seventy years of Babylonish” chastisement shall expiate the sin. So true is retribution. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. But the captivity was not mere retribution, it was discipline. Its purpose was not so much to punish as to reform. Bearing a filial relation to God, the chosen people experienced the children’s portion of chastisement (Hebrews 12:6-11). The Jews had a mission. God had called them from among the nations to take charge of His oracles. Monotheism must be kept until Christ. For this Abram was chosen out of Ur of the Chaldees. However superior to other tribes and nations in many particulars, they had not been loyal to their trust. They needed chastening. God had no alternative but to inflict it. Hence the captivity. Nor was the discipline vain. It will be profitable to note some of the lessons which they learned in captivity.
1. They were cured of idolatry. They had previously been unable to resist the imposing rites and ceremonies of their pagan neighbours. Familiarity with the abominations of the Babylonish gods nauseated them. They longed for the living God, saying, “When shall we return and appear before God?”
2. They con-calved a new devotion to the Lord’s sanctuary. Its holy ordinances had once been a weariness; but now they were homesick for Zion. The institution of the synagogue is traced to this period.
3. They learned the value of the Scriptures (Nehemiah 8:1-18.)
4. The stock of Israel was culled and improved. Only the choicest and best joined the restoration.
5. They were greatly knit together during the captivity. “One touch of nature make the whole world kin.” A common sorrow will erase the enmity of years. Pain is a mighty solvent. The Jews of to-day scattered abroad over the earth are a living witness to the unifying power of adversity.
6. The heart and intellect of the nation were broadened. This widening of vision is manifest in all their subsequent history. Thus it appears that the captivity was an essential part of the Divine plan.
II. The proclamation of Cyrus. This also was in pursuance of the Divine plan. The clock struck at precisely the right moment. Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar in 604 b.c. The proclamation was issued 586 b.c., leaving time for the beginning of the second temple in May of the year 534 b.c. The intervening period was just seventy years. Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyprus. How?
1. By the voice of His Spirit in the inner man.
2. Probably Daniel brought the matter to his attention. He may have read to him the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10) and the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:24-28; Isaiah 45:1-4).
3. It may have shaped itself in his mind as a suggestion of policy,
4. Or possibly there was a religious motive. He was a monotheist. He may have received the message and commission from Jehovah as from his own Ormuzd.
III. The return to Jerusalem. It was a voluntary movement. None were compelled to go. All were encouraged. They set forth prayerful and hopeful. In the 126th Psalm we have one of the songs of this pilgrimage. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The exile ended
We may safely conclude from the events stated in this and the following chapters--
I. That the long exile of the Jews had done its appointed work. God sent them into captivity partly to punish and partly to purify them. They had now been sufficiently chastened and they had been cleansed from their iniquity.
1. We may argue from the fact of the Jews commending themselves so much as they did to Cyrus that their lives were estimable and honourable.
2. We know that after the captivity in Babylon they left idolatry behind them for ever. Trouble will sometimes teach us what nothing else will. The Church and the school may have failed to lead us into the kingdom of Christ, but the sadness of orphanage or the loneliness of the first absence from home may lead us to find a refuge in “the God of all comfort,” in the unfailing Friend of the human heart.
II. That God acts with gentle power on the minds of men.
1. On those of His own people. He “raised the spirit” of many of the Jews (Ezra 1:6). He caused them to feel deeply how excellent a thing it would be to repeople the city of Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple of God. He kindled in their hearts the fires of patriotism and of piety. He lifted them up above unworthy and unmanly fears. He made them brave and strong.
2. On those outside the Church. He girded Cyrus though that king knew Him not (Isaiah 65:5). It was by His all-wise direction that Greece prepared her thought and her language, and Rome her highways for the gospel in “the fulness of time.” Therefore--
(1) Let us ask of God that He will inspire us in our time of need. We may have before us some difficult task at school, some trying ordeal to pass through, some new sphere to enter upon, and we may shrink from going forward, but if we ask of God He will “raise our spirit” and make us equal to the effort.
(2) Let us intercede with God for others; they may appear to be quite outside all holy influences, but they are not without the reach of that mighty Hand that can enlighten the darkest mind and soften the hardest heart and renew the most obdurate and stubborn will.
III. That at the call of god we should be ready to undertake arduous or dangerous work. It was a long journey and a perilous one to Jerusalem.
1. It was uncertain what they would find when they reached the city of their fathers; no such tidings came to them as now come daily to our countrymen in England who are emigrating to America; they went forth not knowing what would await them. Moreover, they left behind them some home, kindred, occupation, property. Where God clearly calls us we need not be daunted by danger or by difficulty. He who summons us will clear the way, and will sustain us under every trial.
IV. That those who cannot render the greater are welcome to offer the smaller service. Of those who declined to return there would be some who might have gone but would not, either because they were too timid or because they had attachments which they were unwilling to break away from. Others there were that would have gone but could not, either because they were too aged or infirm, or because they had ties which they felt it would be wrong to sunder. Of the latter there were many who, as they could not do the best possible, did the best practical thing. They could not swell the number of the returning, but they could strengthen the hand of those who went (Ezra 1:6). We may be unable to serve Christ by missionary or ministerial or evangelistic labours, but we can strengthen the hands and cheer the hearts of those who can. We can give them gold or silver or pence. We can speak the inspiring word. We can pray for them and let them know that we are praying. We can write to those who are absent or send them that which others have written.
V. That when we obey the voice of our Master we do more than we know. The Jews who returned from Babylon no doubt believed that they were acting as patriots and were serving their country; but they could have had no conception of all that would grow out of their courageous conduct. We never know what will be the long and large result of a true and brave course. Carey did not foresee the fruits of his self-denying seal, nor Wesley of his “more abundant labours,” nor Livingstone of his travels and his lonely death. It is a cheering and inspiring thought that our present faithfulness may be a living seed from which a large harvest of blessing may spring.
VI. That there is a better restoration than that of precious vessels to the house of God. It was a kindly act of Cyrus (see Ezra 1:7-11), and the Jews rejoiced greatly when they saw those ancient and hallowed vessels beneath the roof of the new temple which they built. But there is a deeper joy in heaven, and there well may be on earth, when a human heart that has been taken away from the service of Christ is brought back again and is included among the spiritual treasures of the kingdom of God. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)
The captivity of evil
Sin may be conceived of as an object, but also as a power--as something to which our actions are directed, but also as something from which our actions proceed. Sin is an internal principle, and he who “commits sin,” who lives in it, obeys it in this sense--obeys it as a force. The whole and constant tendency and bias of the soul is a despotic rule. It is more than an external authority or verbal law. It has a more vigorous and relentless rule. It is more besetting; has a more constant presence and constraining power; it acts directly on the will; it controls and stimulates volition. That is a great bondage that overbears the will, which brings it against itself into subjection, which ignores and defies its active choice, but that is a greater far which corrupts and perverts it. There is no slavery like that in which the very seat and source of freedom is held captive. It is the salt losing its savour; it is the light leading astray; it is the king and leader falling in battle. (A. J. Morris.)
The return from the captivity--an argument for Daniel’s history of the Jews in Chaldea being true
The return of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon is not only a proof of the Divine authority of the Scriptures, considered as the accomplishment of a prophecy, but it is an additional proof of it in this light, that it affords a strong internal presumption that the history which Daniel gives of the manifestations of Divine power in Chaldea, during the residence of the Jews in that country, were true. That we may place this argument in a stronger light, let us consider the full importance of the measure which Cyrus now adopted, and of the benefit which he conferred upon the Jews. The practice of slavery among the ancient nations is well known. The slaves were, in that period, one great branch of property. The slaves cultivated the land, did the household business, exercised the necessary trades, and, in general, performed all that labour in which the mass of the people are now employed. The slaves, therefore, formed one great portion of private property, and of the national stock. The slaves arose chiefly, among ancient nations, from the captives taken in war. This was the great fund from which they were supplied, and constituted a very considerable branch of the profits which accrued to the conquerors in the ancient wars. They estimated the profits of the war, not more by the extent of territory which they gained than by the number of slaves whom they captured. From this view we will be enabled to conceive how very difficult it must have been in ancient times for men who were once reduced to slavery to regain their liberty. The interests of the State, as well as the rights and properties of individuals, were all against them. Where there were so many interests to be consulted, so many properties to be separated, and so many private rights to be resumed, we may conclude that the liberating of the slaves, among the ancient nations, must have been a very arduous State measure. This accounts perfectly for the difficulty which the Jewish nation found in their attempt to emigrate from Egypt. Private persons have sometimes given a slave his liberty as a reward for some distinguished service; but it was impossible, under the ancient manners, for any considerable body of men to be set free without some cause which was very extraordinary. In the edict of Cyrus, then, and the return of the Jews from Babylon, we have a very uncommon piece of history presented to us. That conqueror, among the other valuable property of the vanquished empire, found a whole nation of slaves. This, according to the ideas of these times, was an immense acquisition. It was, in fact, an immense property, the value of which, to a political prince like Cyrus, must have been fully known. Yet we find this politic and wise prince giving liberty at once to this whole nation, and sending them back, after seventy years’ captivity, into their own country. It is this extraordinary circumstance which Isaiah describes, and of the value of which he appears fully sensible, when he says, in his prophecy of Cyrus, “He shall build My city, and he shall let go My captives, not for price nor reward.” Nor was this a sudden resolution. It was not adopted in the moment of victory, nor meant to exhibit a momentary triumph over the vanquished, The Jews remained in the same state in which they had lived under the Chaldeans during one entire reign of the new empire. I say, then, that this transaction affords a strong proof of the credit in which the Jewish nation then were in Babylon, and that the history which Daniel gives of the manifestations of Divine power which were made, during that period, and by the agency of that nation, in the province of Chaldea, were true. The transaction proves itself. There are no data here necessary, but to believe that the nation of the Jews were in Babylon, and that they returned from it. Their return proves the history. It supposes all that is related, and cannot otherwise be accounted for. It is affirmed that, in this period, the God of the Hebrews wan acknowledged throughout the extensive provinces of Chaldea and Persia. At last the body of the Jews, whom the people they lived with regarded as a sacred nation, obtain their liberty, and are restored to their country. This is the history which is presented to us by their own writers; and the actual return of the Jews from their captivity, and resettlement in their own country, in opposition to so many complicated rights, in opposition to so many great interests, and in opposition to the universal practice of mankind in that period, suppose this history, and are a full proof of its authenticity. (J. Mackenzie, D. D.)
The first year of Cyrus
After making himself master of Persia and building up an empire in Asia Minor and the north, Cyrus swept down on the plains of Chaldea and captured Babylon in the year b.c. 538. To the Jews this would be the first year of his reign, because it was the first year of his rule over them, just as the year a.d. 1603 is reckoned by Englishmen as the first year of James I., because the king of Scotland then inherited the English throne. (Walter F. Adeney, M. A.)
The valley of the Euphrates was the centre of three out of the five great empires of antiquity--the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian. In the eighth and seventh centuries before Christ the first of these was in its strength, and from its capital, Nineveh, dominated peoples and lands from the Persian Gulf on the south to the Euxine Sea on the north; from Palestine on the west to the Caspian on the east. But among the many subject cities and tribes there was one city and there was one tribe which with special impatience bore the yoke and with special vehemence sought to east it off. The rival city was Babylon, some three hundred miles further south, situated on and watered by the Euphrates, as Nineveh was by the Tigris. In the province of Babylonia one caste or tribe, the Chaldeans, became distinguished for its energy and enterprise and gradually imprinted its character and its name upon the people of the whole province. But despite all efforts to throw off the yoke, the Assyrian grip held fast. Nineveh ruled Babylon; the Assyrian dominated the Chaldean. The rival tribe was that of the Medes, to the east and north of the province of which Nineveh was the centre. Closely allied with and kindred to the Medes was another tribe, destined through Cyrus to give a famous name to history--the Persians. As yet the more civilised Medes have the mastery, and the hardier warriors follow the standard of the Median king; but both perforce acknowledge the supremacy of the lord of Nineveh. Thus it was till nigh the close of the seventh century b.c. A common policy and hatred and the presence of two able leaders then brought Babylonians and Medes into a temporary alliance. The city of the south and the tribes of the east joined hands and forces. Nineveh was besieged and taken, and the Assyrian empire ended. Babylon now entered upon a brief but brilliant career. Hers is the “Golden Empire” of antiquity. Under Nebuchadnezzar she mounted to the very zenith of her greatness. Meanwhile the Median kingdom became consolidated; and still the Median supremacy over the Persians is unchallenged. But about 560 b.c. a youthful hero-prince named Cyrus summoned the archer horsemen of the clans to arms. A long and bloody struggle ensued; in the end, by the aid of the young commander’s genius, the conquerors were conquered and the foundations laid of the mighty Persian Empire. Cyrus is one of the most benign figures of history. His name (from the sun, “the sunny one”) indicates his nature. When Xenophon sought a sovereign of sagacity and piety to sit as a model for his ideal king he found what he sought in Cyrus. On the downfall of the Medes, he conciliated the good-will of the vanquished by permitting one of their own race to be titular king, whilst the real power of both nations resided in himself. The nominal king reigns but Cyrus rules at Ecbatana. Powerful as he is, his position is one of even greater danger than power. An alliance of three out of the four Great Powers of the day is formed against him. The young lion awaits not the huntsman but prepares to spring. He selects as his first foe Croesus, the king of Lydia. He surprises and storms the city of Sardis, Croesus is taken prisoner, and the Lydian dominion is ended. The Greek cities that fringe the coast of Asia Minor next feel his power and acknowledge his sway. Then he turned his attention to the east, and compelled the Bactrian and Parthian warriors to own him as their master. Cyrus is now free for the great enterprise of his career, the struggle which is to decide whether the Persian or the Chaldean is to rule in Babylon, the seat of the world’s empire. He is now brought within the sweep of the Biblical record. There is an ethnological as well as a religious interest attached to this Persian advance upon Babylon. It is the first great collision on which clear light of history falls between two great families of nations, the final result of which was to push back the Semitic races from the front rank of humanity and to place in their stead the Aryan nations who were henceforth to occupy the high places of the field. Aryan and Semitic thus meet in arms before the walls of Babylon. It is most fitting that the advent of the leader of a movement which had such far-reaching results should be inaugurated with so sublime an expectation as that with which Cyrus is hailed by Isaiah. He was the Morning Star of the Aryan races. Persia made way for Greece, and Greece prepared for Rome, and out of Rome has sprung the modern world, and in the modern world the most vigorous branch of the Aryan stock more and more unmistakably rules. On the downfall of Babylon, Cyrus does not immediately take possession of the position he has won. With the same politic end in view as had previously caused him to make a Median Prince precede him at Ecbatana, he now places another of the same nationality upon the vacant throne of Babylon. For two years Darius reigns, then dies; and Cyrus quietly takes possession as the sole ruler of the territories he had inherited and conquered. Henceforth the Persian who rules from Babylon is “The Great King.” The edict for the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple was issued 536 b.c. It was the Declaration of the Imperial Policy, and the basis of all that came after. It announced by implication friendship between the empire and the Jews--a friendship to which the Jews remained faithful till, two hundred years afterwards, Alexander the Great erected the Brazen Empire upon the ruins of that of Silver. Cyrus was a man of war to the close, and died in battle, disastrous according to one account, victorious according to another. (G. M. Grant, B. D.)
That the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled.
The fulfilment of the word of the Lord
Here are four things which claim our attention.
I. The Regard of God for His word. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled,” etc. (Jeremiah 29:10; Numbers 23:19). “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” “The Word of the Lord endureth for ever.” “He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” We have in this--
1. An assurance that the prophecies and promises of His Word will be fulfilled. “As the architect progressively executes every part of the plan which he has delineated, till the whole design is completed, so God in His providence performs in due order all the prophecies of His Word: a great proportion of His great scheme has already been accomplished, and revolving ages will hasten the performance of all the rest in the appointed periods.”
2. An encouragement to trust in Him. “Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be set on high” (Psalms 22:4-5; Psalms 18:2).
II. The mercy of God to His people. This mercy is seen--
1. In the design and effect of the captivity. “Thus the Divine word of chastisement,” says Schultz, “ever goes hand in hand with His word of salvation.”
2. In the release from captivity.
(1) As to its time.
(2) As to its meaning.
It was an assurance of the Divine forgiveness of their sins. Their release was also the commencement of many and great blessings. “What a fulness of salvation after the night of misfortune--the entire extent of Messianic redemption.”
III. The influence of God upon the spirit of man. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.”
1. The nature of this influence. “This does not mean,” says Schultz, “that Cyrus was influenced in the same way as were the prophets, upon whom, with their greater susceptibility, the Spirit of the Lord came; but yet an influence in consequence of which Cyrus made the will of God his own will, and executed it in the things under consideration. God gave him the resolution and the desire to execute His intention.” All the good in human life is the result of Divine influence.
2. The subject of this influence: Cyrus king of Persia. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will.” He is now using the powers of the world to promote the interests of His cause.
3. The design of this influence. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, that he made a proclamation,” etc. In all the inspirations and impressions He imparts to man, His aim is to save and bless him, and to make him an agent in blessing others.
IV. The suitable response of man to the influence of God. “Cyrus made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom,” etc. (W. Jones.)
The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.--
The soul of man is the great arbiter. We need not, therefore, bow down before every man or woman who claims inspiration. We listen respectfully to the claim, and say, “What does it amount to? what end would you accomplish? to what purpose does this inspiration you claim point?” and if in answer there should come replies indicative of reform, progress, purification, liberation, enlargement, beneficence, verily the answer will prove the inspiration that is claimed. No man is inspired who wishes to do evil. Disclaim and repudiate, not with sorrow, but with indignation, the inspiration that would seek to curtail liberty, arrest progress, hinder the mission of philanthropy--that would overload the weak, still further impoverish the poor, and shut off from the meanest dwelling any beam of daylight. (J. Parker, D. D)
Last week I was in the office of one of our great Glasgow merchants, and, while we were conversing together, he suddenly asked to be excused for a moment, as there was a summons to speak with another Glasgow firm. Without moving from his seat, without being put about in the slightest, or even turning his head, he lifted from before him the telephone connection. A few minutes passed: not a word did I hear of that conversation except “Goodbye.” That was all I heard; but I knew that the man to whom I was talking had been put in possession of a fact which I knew nothing about, and yet all the while I had been in his presence. He had heard, through the special connection that he had, the business and the object of the firm with which he was in communication. Ah me! Sometimes at your side a man gets a communication from Almighty God that you know nothing about, and that is the reason of his activity, and that is the programme that he resolves to carry out at all hazards. He has heard from God; he has been in communication with the Almighty. (John Robertson.)
It seems strange at first that this man should have been chosen for such commission. God might have employed some one of His own people, Ezekiel, for instance, investing him with supernatural power, as Moses was invested when he delivered the nation from its first captivity in Egypt. But no; He selected rather a pagan king, whose appoint ment had been foretold by Isaiah more than a hundred years before. Often since then God has pursued a like course, employing for His purposes those who were not His professed servants--men of wealth, of learning, of position, of power. He does not count their service as excuse for withholding from Him the trust and obedience which are His due; He does not condone their idolatry; but He permits them to be His helpers, sometimes, it would seem, in order that, brought thus in line with His beneficent designs, they may be persuaded to come heartily into His kingdom. (T. J. Holmes.)
Divine stirrings in the human soul
It is taught that, besides the general moral influences, unconscious and diffused--as it were distilled, like the dew, in silence and darkness--there is an active energy, arousing, filling, impelling the souls of men. It is said that the Spirit of the Lord came upon judges, that it came upon kings, upon prophets, upon apostles--came mightily and stirred them all up. As sudden and mighty winds make trees rock, and wrench them, and even overturn them, so, as by a mighty rushing wind, the Spirit of God has descended on men--on Samuel, on David, on Isaiah, on Paul. It is taught likewise that, while this energy of the Divine mind prepared certain men for emergencies, and prepared them to act official parts, all true Christians, all godly souls, are opening to a quickening influence, if not so mighty, yet of the same general kind--an influence which stimulates, assists, ripens, and so finally sanctifies.
There have been great awakenings in literature. Suddenly a nation has, so to say, sprung to its feet and said, “Let us read!” That is a mere matter of what is called profane history. Ages have passed in which men cared not to read, or write, or think; if there were any books to be opened, as a rule they lay untouched; but quite suddenly there has been what is termed a literary revival. Is such a thing possible? If it is possible to have a literary revival--that is, a revival of the love of learning, the love of reading, the love of writing--why may there not be such a thing as a religious revival, in which men shall say suddenly, but unanimously, “Let us pray”? And when men so moved to pray they shorten the distance between earth and heaven. It would be perhaps most difficult to believe in a religious revival if there had not been analogous revivals--revivals of learning, revivals of art. (J. Parker, D. D)
That he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom.--
The edict of Cyrus
I. The devout acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty.
1. In the bestowment of His favours.
2. In the authority of His commands.
II. The magnanimous emancipation of god’s people.
1. The spirit in which this emancipation was made.
(1) It was generous.
(2) It was pious.
2. The purpose for which the emancipation was made.
III. The generous exhortation to assist God’s people,
1. Its purport.
2. The persons to whom it was addressed.
3. The pattern by which it was enforced. Rawlinson regards “the free-will offering for the house of God” as the gift of Cyrus himself.
He not only wished them well, but helped them to realise his wishes. Lessons:
1. Be prepared to acknowledge and appreciate moral excellence outside of the visible Church of God (Luke 7:1-10; Acts 10:22).
2. Imitate Cyrus in his practical acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God.
3. When we cannot offer our labours in good enterprises, let us cheerfully offer our gifts. (William Jones.)
The proclamation of Cyrus
I. In a way of literal interpretation.
1. The person by whom this proclamation was issued.
2. The proclamation itself.
II. In a way of spiritual improvement.
1. What a sad state the men of the world at large are in. They are slaves, being in bondage to their lusts, to the world, to Satan, and to the grave (Romans 6:12; Romans 8:21; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:26; 2 Peter 2:19; 1 John 5:19.)
2. What an invaluable blessing the gospel is.
3. What will be necessary to obtain what it offers?
4. What is our bounden duty when it has become effectual for our good? God is said to “raise the spirits” of such as are ambitious for liberty; and it need not be mid to whom we are indebted if we differ from others (1Co 4:7; 1 Corinthians 15:10; James 1:17). (William Sleigh.)
The proclamation of Cyrus and the proclamation of the gospel minister compared
The text suggests to us a resemblance between the proclamation of Cyrus and that of a gospel preacher.
I. The proclamation of both is merciful. The proclamation of Cyrus meant restoration.
1. Restoration of lost liberty; and--
2. Of lost religious privileges. The gospel preacher has to preach deliverance to the captives and set men to rebuild the temple of the soul that has fallen into ruins by reason of sin.
II. The proclamation of both is divine. The God of heaven gave Cyrus this commission--it did not spring out of his own policy or philanthropy; it had its origin in God. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus.” The true gospel minister is a messenger of heaven. He has not to proclaim his own theories, but the Word of God. No man is a true gospel preacher whose spirit has not been “stirred up” by the Lord, and who does not feel that necessity has been laid upon him. How does God stir up a man to preach now?
1. By a powerful revelation to his soul of the miserable moral condition of humanity. He is made to see all men in bondage and in ruin.
2. By firing him with the spirit of Christly philanthropy. The love of Christ is made to constrain him, etc.
III. The proclamation of both is universal. The proclamation of Cyrus was to every Jew. Not one excluded. It is so with the gospel minister: his message is to all “Go ye into all the world.” He calls upon every man to repent, to believe; he invites every man to liberty and peace.
IV. The proclamation of both is practicable. Cyrus laid down no terms difficult to fulfil.
1. The power to return every Jew possessed. All necessary helps were promised.
2. Cyrus furnished them liberally with the means to rebuild their own temple (Ezra 1:7-11), so every man is enabled to obey the gospel.
V. The proclamation of both is extensively disobeyed. (Homilist.)
To build Him an house at Jerusalem.--
God is calling men to build
God is calling men to build--not necessarily in wood and stone and iron, but to build character, life, utility. And this can be done everywhere. Not to public building are all men called. What sweet homes some men have built! The moment you pass within the door you feel the genius of home welcoming and blessing you; the traveller says, “I must tarry here”; the hungry man says, “There is bread within these wails; I know it though I do not see it.” What businesses some men are building, marked by high policy, reputable for known morality, uprightness, straightforwardness--compli-cated businesses, yes every line palpitating with conscience. This kind of building is not always recognised as it ought to be; but it ought to be pointed out as a possibility to every man. We cannot all build upon the mountain-top or in the great thoroughfares of the city, but we can build privately, quietly, secretly: we can build up broken hearts, we can be confirming feeble knees, we can be towers of strength to men who are enfeebled and impoverished. (J. Parker, D. D)
God’s house built for the sake of man
What need had God for a house? He made the stars; He wears the constellations as a garment; the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot sin, in him: what does He want with a house? Nothing; but He knows that we do; He knows that the building of the house is necessary for our education. What need has He of our prayer? None. Cam we tell Him anything? No. Does He not know what things we have need of before we ask Him? Yes. Why, then, should He call upon us to tell Him what He knows, to ask Him for what He well understands we need? Why should there be any throne of grace or altar of prayer? For our sakes. This is a means of education. We lean things by doing them. (J. Parker, D. D)
Let him go up to Jerusalem.
The release of the Jews from Babylon an illustration of the redemption of man from sin
We discover an analogy in these two things as regards--
I. The subjects. The Jews were exiles and captives in Babylon. “Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). In his sinful state man is an exile from his true condition and place, and the bondsman of evil powers.
II. The agents. Cyrus and Jesus Christ. The analogy between them is st least twofold.
1. Both were called of God to this work. Ages before his birth Cyrus was prenominated for this work (Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 14:6). And Jesus Christ is pre-eminently the Servant, the Anointed, the Sent of God (Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 4:18-19; John 3:16-17; Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 4:9).
2. Both effected this work by battling with and overcoming the oppressors. Cyrus had to conquer the Babylonian Empire before he could release the captive Jews. And our Lord and Saviour, as the Son of Man, encountered sin and mastered it.
III. The source. In both cases the blessing flowed from the free and unmerited grace of God. The Jews had no claim upon Him against whom they had so Persistently rebelled. “God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
IV. The extent.
1. It is offered to all.
2. It is accepted only by some. Great numbers preferred to remain in Babylon.
(1) Many did not feel any deprivation or degradation in their exile and subjection.
(2) Many had attachments and interests in Babylon which they could not or would not leave.
V. “Go up to build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem.” A striking illustration of the grand end of redemption. (W. Jones.)
Our choice of the true life
I. Cyrus presented these exiled Jews with the chance of a free choice. Cyrus did not compel. These Jews might, or they might not, go to Jerusalem. It was for each one of them to choose. So Christ, in His call to the true life and heaven, puts before men the chance of an utterly free choice. “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.”
II. This choice which Cyrus presented to these exiled Jews was a choice of exclusions. If they chose to go to Palestine they must yield what things would keep them in Babylon. They might carry with them many things (Ezra 1:7-11). But their houses and lands, every detaining thing, must be surrendered. So this choice which Christ presents to men is necessarily a choice of exclusions. Christianity is not narrowness. Read the charter of a Christian liberty in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23. But Christ comes to save a man from sin. What Babylonish and preventing sins you cleave to must be yielded.
III. It was a choice toward nobleness which Cyrus gave these exiled Jews. Surely it was better, nobler to go to Jerusalem and rebuild God’s temple than to dwell in exiled ease in Babylon.
IV. This choice which Cyrus opened for these exiled Jews was a choice necessitating faith. Between Babylon and Palestine stretched vast wide sandy plains. But for the heartening of the Jews choosing the nobler destiny there was the Divine promise. So for the Christian, the man who accepts Christ’s call to the nobler life, there are Divine promises,
V. This necessity of choice. For every one of us, in high spiritual way, this choice confronts Babylon or Jerusalem. (Homiletic Review.)
His God be with him.--
God with us
I. THE DEVOUT WISH EXPRESSED: “His God be with him.” It is equivalent to our “goodbye,” which is an abbreviation of “God be with you.” The wish comprises two things.
1. Personal relation to God: “His God.” This expression may be viewed in two aspects.
(1) “His God,” as opposed to the gods of the heathen.
(2) “His God,” as engaged to him in covenant relation. Thus our Lord speaks, “My Father, and your Father”: “My God, and your God” (John 20:17). Martin Luther said that the sweetness of the gospel consisted chiefly in its pronouns, such as me, thou, thy, etc. “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). “Who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). “Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
2. Realisation of the presence of God: “His God be with him.” His presence is a guarantee of all the help and blessing which we need. But in uttering this wish in respect to the Jews, Cyrus probably had an eye to two things which the presence of God would secure to them:
(1) Guidance and guardianship on their long journey.
(2) Success in their great undertaking.
II. The kind expression of this wish. The expression of this wish indicates on the part of Cyrus--
1. Reverence towards God. He does not utter these words thoughtlessly, but seriously.
2. Kindness towards the captives. He wished them well, and proved the sincerity of his wishes by practically helping them in their best interests.
1. Do we sustain this personal relation to God?
2. Do we realise the blessed presence of God?
3. Do we desire that others also may realise His gracious presence? (William Jones.)
As He is not a God without infinite wisdom, and infinite power, and infinite goodness, and infinite blessedness, etc., so He passes over in this covenant all that which presents Him as the most adorable Being to His creatures. He will be to them as great, as wise, as powerful, as good as He is in Himself; and the assuring us in this covenant to be our God imports also that He will do as much for us, as we would do for ourselves were we furnished with the same goodness, power, and wisdom. In being our God He testifies that it is all one, as if we had the same perfections in our own power to employ for our use; for He being possessed with them, it is as much as if we ourselves were possessed with them for our own advantage, according to the rules of wisdom and the several conditions we pass through for His glory. (Stephen Charnocke, B. D.)
Let the men of the place help him with silver.
“Not many years since,” writes a clergyman, “I had occasion to solicit funds to aid in the prosecution of a work of benevolence. I stepped into the office of a Christian friend, with whom I had a partial acquaintance, and incidentally mentioned the unpleasant business before me, and inquired of him for the residence of a certain benevolent individual, and added that I hoped to get one dollar of him. After receiving directions, I turned to go out. ‘But stop,’ said this brother, ‘suppose you let me have the privilege of contributing a little of the money which the Lord has lent me to this cause. Put down £20 for me.’ I expressed my surprise that he should contribute so liberally, and remarked that I should feel myself in duty bound not to call on him very soon on a similar errand. ‘Well, then,’ said he, ‘my brother, I think you will very much mistake your duty. If you knew how much pleasure it gave me to contribute of my substance to the Lord, you would feel no reluctance in calling again. And now let me charge you, when engaged in similar business, never to pass me by. Call, and I think I shall be able to do something; and if not, my prayers shall go with you.’“ (Signal.)
A stimulus to generous offering
Two weeks ago I told you that three thousand dollars had got to be raised to pay for the repairs of this house. The plates were sent round, and about six hundred dollars were raised. I was heartily ashamed, and have not got over it yet. Last week the trustees came, and asked me if I would name the matter again, and I said, “No, I will not.” But this week, upon their renewed application, I have consented to speak once more. If this don’t do, you may pay your debt how you can, for I will never mention it again. I’m not going to be a pump to be thrust into men’s pockets to force up what ought to come up freely. When the surgeon comes to a place where he must cut, he had better cut. For more than a year I’ve seen that our plate collections grew meaner and meaner. I didn’t want to face you with such things as I’ve got to say to-day, and I put it off as long as I could. Now I shall speak plainly once for all, not having the face to bring the matter up again. This debt has got to be paid, and will you meet it honourably, and pay it like men, or will you let it drip, drip, drip out of you reluctantly, a few dollars st a time? You can take your choice. I’m not going to try to drill money out of you as I would drill stones. The amount of meanness among respectable people is appalling. One needs to take a solar microscope in order to see some men. (H. W. Beecher.)
Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord.
The restoration of the sacred vessels
I. The preservation of the sacred vessels (Ezra 1:7-8). These are the vessels which are mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36:7 and Daniel 1:2. In the providence of God most of these vessels were remarkably preserved, to be in due time restored to their original place and uses. Learn: Since God is so careful of the mere vessels consecrated to His service, may we not rest assured that He will much more preserve His consecrated people?
II. The numeration of the sacred vessels. This numbering indicates--
1. The reverent care of Cyrus for these sacred vessels.
2. The grave responsibility of Sheshbazzar for these sacred vessels.
Learn: That persons, places, and things which are devoted to religious uses should be reverently regarded by us.
III. The restoration of the sacred vessels (verse 11).
1. This was a fulfilment of prophecy (Jeremiah 27:22).
2. This is an illustration of the restoration of perverted things to their true uses.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the great restorer of the violated order and the broken harmony of the universe of God. (William Jones.)
The restitution of the stolen vessels
This appears to be more than an act of generosity or justice. A certain religious import belongs to it. It put an end to an ancient insult offered by Babylon to the God of Israel, and it might be taken as an act of homage offered to Jehovah by Cyrus. Yet it was only a restitution, a return of what was God’s before, and so a type of every gift man makes to God. (Walter F. Adeney, M. D.)
It is not without significance that the treasurer who handed over their temple prosperity to the Jews was named “Mithredath”--a word that means “given by Mithra,” or “devoted to Mithra.” This suggests that the Persian sun-god was honoured among the servants of Cyrus, and yet that one who by name at least was especially associated with this divinity was constrained to honour the God of Israel. Next to Judaism and Christianity, the worship of Mithra showed the greatest vitality of all religions in Western Asia, and later even in Europe. So vigorous was it as recently as the commencement of the Christian era, that M. Renan has remarked that if the Roman world had not become Christian it would have become Mithrastic. In the homage paid by Mithredath to the God of Israel may we not see an image of the recognition of the claims of the Supreme by our priests of the sun--Kepler, Newton, Faraday? (Walter F. Adeney, M. D.)
A restoration of misappropriated property
There was a great restoration of misappropriated property. What a restoration there will one day be. What have men taken away from God’s Church? Nearly everything they could lay hands on. They have taken away gold, art, music, miracles, inspiration, rationalism, morality, science, and they have left God a very bare house. When the period of spiritual revival has come, and the holy issue is wrought out in all its meaning, all these things will be brought back again. Art will come with her brush and pencil, and say, “I will beautify the house of God’s revelation.” Music will bring back her harp and her instrument of ten strings, and her cymbals and organs, and say, “Make me a handmaid in God’s house, for all I have and am must belong to Him”; and Reason--exiled, expatriated Reason shall return, saying “They have kept me in vile servitude; admit me to my Father’s house.” And Science will come and pray; and Morality will say, “They have been trying to divorce me from theology, from right religious motive and impulse, and I have died like a flower that has been plucked; restore me to my vital relations, and I will once more bloom in the house of God.” (J. Parker, D. D)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezra 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19