Ezra 1-4…God is always watching and working.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon controlled a vast empire and enriched his capital with captive peoples and looted treasure. He had been warned in a dream, interpreted by Daniel, to repent of his sins, but instead he proclaimed: “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” God responded with judgment for his pride. Only after his extraordinary humiliation did Nebuchadnezzar respond: “Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever” (see Dan. 4:28-37).
The Babylonian kingdom was soon overtaken by the Persian Empire (see Dan. 5:28). In contrast to Nebuchadnezzar, King Cyrus of Persia exhibited a measure of humility about his position. Here in the opening chapters of the book of Ezra, we see a key theme emerge: Leaders are important—but only if they allow God to work through them.
Notice throughout today’s reading how often the text describes God working in the hearts of leaders. First, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus in order to fulfill His promise. Historians have said that the Persians, particularly Cyrus, were interested in encouraging their conquered peoples to retain their native religion, assuming that this would keep them happier and less likely to revolt. Scripture provides us with the behind-the-scenes peek, however—whatever political motives Cyrus might have had, it was the work of God that prompted him to make the proclamation to initiate the return of Jewish exiles to Jerusalem (see Isa. 44:28).
God worked through Cyrus to fulfill His promise, and He also moved the hearts of the tribal leaders, priests, and Levites to desire to return to rebuild the temple. Remember that the people had been exiled for several generations; many of them had extended families, good jobs, and comfortable lives throughout the empire. A spiritual prompting made them willing to embrace the arduous task of repairing their decimated spiritual center of worship.
The various lists we see throughout Ezra is very telling of what God is like. We might be tempted to skim or disregard the lists as irrelevant to our contemporary devotional life. But it reminds us that the Lord cares about details, and He provided for the practical needs to accomplish this task. He restored some of the treasure to His people and equipped them for their journey. When the Lord calls you, He will also equip you to obey Him.