In the Old Testament there are three books (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther) that are historical records between 538 BC and 415 BC. These books record the time at the end of the 70 year period of exile of the Jews from Jerusalem. Around 538 BC, King Cyrus was the ruler of Persia. One priest, Ezra, was in captivity in Persia near King Cyrus. Yahweh remembered His promise—to bring the Jews back to Jerusalem after 70 years of captivity. Yahweh stirred up Ezra’s heart to embark the arduous 1,000 mile journey back to Jerusalem. Even after all the years that Israel worshipped false gods and ended up being displaced to a foreign land, Yahweh kept His promise, His plan that He would return His people to Jerusalem to worship Him.
Jeremiah 29:10. For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place [Jerusalem].’
Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are records of Yahweh keeping His promise to His people. The Jews were scattered across the land north to Nineveh and west of the Euphrates. The Temple needed to be rebuilt, the wall and gates around Jerusalem needed to be repaired, and Temple service and worship of Yahweh restored. This was going to take time and a coordinated plan. Yahweh had it all under control.
Jeremiah 19:11. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’
One day out of the blue, Ezra decided it was time to go back to Jerusalem and went to the king to tell him he was leaving with the Jews and lots of Persian gold and silver. NO! Not at all!! This plan was Yahweh’s, and He caused it to take place. There are two major aspects of this plan that we will look at. One is that Yahweh has His plan and will cause it to come to pass. The other is that when we humble ourselves to Yahweh, pray, read and believe Scripture, and act upon in faith what we have been given by Yahweh, we can be a part of helping the plan to come to fruition.
Not only did Yahweh stir up Ezra’s heart to yearn to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, but also placed a burning desire to worship Yahweh there with all of Israel. (Read Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther to have a full picture of what transpired.) Meanwhile Yahweh was inspiring Cyrus, King of Persia, to make a proclamation in writing to send throughout his kingdom (Ezra 1:2-4). Cyrus instructed the people of Persia, “Wherever this Jewish remnant is found, let their neighbors contribute toward their expenses by giving them silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a voluntary offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:4). Amazing.
Ezra disembarked with 42,360 people, 7,337 servants, 200 singers, hundreds of horses, mules and camels, and 6,720 donkeys! The total of the gifts was 61,000 gold coins, 6,250 pounds of silver, and 100 robes for the priests (Ezra 2:64-69). With all of these people and goods, Ezra thought that he might need guards to protect them along the perilous journey. Before making a decision, Ezra sought the counsel of the LORD.
Ezra 8:21-23, 31. Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.” So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty. Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way.
Ezra humbled himself, prayed, and acted on the results of the prayer to Yahweh.
After Ezra returned to Jerusalem, he began, with other leaders, to rebuild the Temple. The work of rebuilding the Temple helped the nation of Israel to begin to come together again, not to be so scattered and separated from one another. Then the hardest task of all came, to rebuild themselves spiritually. The worship of Yahweh was basically lost and forgotten. An entire generation knew little of Yahweh’s laws nor of Yahweh as Almighty God. As Ezra and the priests read the scrolls to the people, they wept and were joyful to hear about Yahweh. They humbled themselves, prayed, and obeyed the laws once again. The obedience part was very grievous for some, but due to their obedience, great joy and peace resulted.
Several years later, Nehemiah’s heart became burdened by Yahweh to go to Jerusalem to repair the wall around the city. Nehemiah was born in captivity. He never experienced the Temple and worship of Yahweh at that place. Yahweh also inspired King Artaxerxes to allow Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem and to send with him letters of entrée for political purposes. Yahweh had His plan settled years before. He knew that after 70 years of captivity the rebuilding of the Temple and the wall around Jerusalem would lay the foundation for the people of Yahweh to once again worship the one true God at His place of choice. This also made way for Jesus the Messiah to come to “His own” (John 1:11) about 400 years later.
How does any of this matter to us today? The take home message is that Yahweh has His plan of redemption for us today. It is entrance into the Kingdom of God where we can worship Yahweh perfectly. This will be ushered in when Jesus returns.
There are many yet to hear of and believe in Jesus the Anointed One, God’s Son. We have work to do. The exciting part is we do not have to figure out what it is that we are to do. It is placed on our hearts like Ezra, King Cyrus, Nehemiah, and King Artaxerxes’. Humility to hear the call, faithful purposeful prayer, searching of the Scriptures, and faith- filled action is our work. It may be our part of the plan to be the one making sure the packs are on the donkeys, or setting the fire for the food to be prepared, or leading the caravan. It makes no difference what the work entails, it is Yahweh’s work given to us to do with His strength. Jesus strengthens us from within. Make no provision for frustration, disappointments, fear, or disillusionment. When Yahweh is leading the journey, we can face even a long, difficult journey. What is Yahweh calling you to do?