Cyrus Helps the Exiles to Return (1:1–11)
We, too, may feel powerless; we too may feel that our daily toil will have little lasting significance. But we, too, need to remember that it is God who will determine the significance of our labor. We should also remember that God usually chooses to work through those who do not have power, fame and influence of their own. Rather, He chooses ordinary people—like those Jewish exiles—to accomplish His greatest purposes (see 1 Corinthians 1:25–29).
The Jewish exiles in Babylon surely felt their lives had been disrupted forever. Yet through the prophetic words of fellow exiles Daniel and Ezekiel, many of them came to realize that God’s plans had not been disrupted. To the contrary, the exiles saw great new opportunities open up before them.7
It is the same with us: whenever we pass through a period of disruption and upheaval, let us not despair; God is opening up to us new opportunities for service and for personal growth. The day of calamity is also a day of new beginnings for all those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
5–11 Here Ezra describes how the exiles prepared to return to Judah; it was a journey that would take four months (see Ezra 7:8–9). The family heads of Judah and Benjamin8 led in the preparations (verse 5). Those who decided to return were given much assistance by those who chose to stay in Babylon. Cyrus himself gave them the temple treasures that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had plundered (verse 7). These were handed over to Sheshbazzar, the first prince (governor) of the province of Judah9 (verse 8).
Notice in verse 5 that everyone whose heart God had moved—fifty thousand people (Ezra 2:64–65)—prepared to return. But many more than that decided to stay in Babylon. Seventy years had passed; most of the exiles had been born in Babylon. Many had become settled and comfortable; why leave a life of relative ease and return to a life of hardship and uncertainty in Judah?
But just as God had moved the heart of Cyrus, so He also moved the hearts of the exiles. And fifty thousand of them responded and returned to build God’s temple and reestablish themselves as God’s holy nation (Exodus 19:6).