Ezra: Rebuilding What Matters Most
The Jews had been taken into exile in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. He took mainly the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, as they were together during the time of the Divided Kingdom. King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in October 539, and became the king of Babylon, a title of honor denoting the highest position in the civilized world. In 538 B.C., Cyrus issued a proclamation that the Jewish exiles were free to return to their ancestral home. We see this written in Ezra 1:1-4.
Ezra was used to help rebuild the people and the Temple. During the life of Ezra, Haggai and Zechariah were prophesying. God has said, I let you go away in discipline and judgement, but I will bring you back. God is using Cyrus to fulfill His plan, and it must be noted that Cyrus was a pagan king who did not believe in Yahweh. Cyrus' concern was to establish strong buffer states around his empire which would be loyal to him. Also, by having his subject peoples resettled in their own countries, he hoped to have the gods in various parts of his empire praying for him to his gods Bel and Nebo.
In verse 2, it says, "the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia..." To "stir up" means to "put into motion". It does not necessarily mean to agitate or excite. God uses leaders throughout history, good and evil, to accomplish his plans. He is sovereign over all, which is referenced in the term Ezra uses, "the God of heaven". We can see this fulfilled through the prophesy in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10-11. We also see Isaiah refer to Cyrus by name about 150 years prior to this time in Isaiah 44:28.
The response of the Jewish people:
THEN ROSE UP...
1. The heads of the father's houses of Judah and Benjamin
2. the priests and the Levites
3. everyone whose spirit God had stirred
This only totaled 49,897 people because many lived well and got lazy living somewhere else. They didn't see a need to return.
Pastor Alex then spoke of the importance of the heads of the houses by pointing out an excerpt In Carl Wilson's book Our Dance Has Turned to Death, where he identifies the common pattern of family decline in civilizations like the Roman Empire:
1. Men cease to lead their families in worship. Spiritual and moral development become secondary.
2. Men neglect the care of their wives and kids for material wealth. Man began to exalt his own role as an individual.
3. Men's sexual values are changed and a double standard of morality develops.
4. The role of women at home and with children loses value and status. Women are neglected and their roles are devalued. Women revolt to gain access to material wealth and freedom. Sex for pleasure supersedes procreation.
5. Husbands and wives compete for money, home leadership, and the affection of their children. This results in frustration and hostility and opens the door to homosexuality in children. The breakdown of the home produces anarchy.
6. Selfish individualism grows and carries over into society, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller group loyalties. The nation is weakened by internal conflict. Birthrate decreases to create an older society which is vulnerable in defending itself and is less willing to do so.
7. Unbelief in God becomes more complete, parental authority is diminished, and ethical and moral principles disappear, affecting the economy and government. By internal weakness and fragmentation the societies come apart. Only a dictator can save them from within or barbarians invade them from the outside.