Captured! Carried off! Deported to a foreign country because of war! The people of Israel had already spent decades in exile in Babylon. Meanwhile, the Persians defeated the Babylonians and now ruled the stranded Israelites in exile. Then came the year 538 BC. and we read about an incredible event: “…then the LORD awakened the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.” (Ezra 1:1). The rest is history.
This intervention of God sets in motion everything the Israelites long for. God moves the king of Persia to proclaim throughout his kingdom: “Every Israelite may return to his homeland”. And on top of that he calls on all his citizens to donate toward the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem; gold, silver, livestock and other goods (Ezra 1:4). God directs the affairs of his people in amazing ways.
The whole world in his hand…
Throughout the book of Ezra it speaks of God having His hand over situations and stirring various people to bless His people (1:5; 3:11; 5:5; 6:22; 7:6+9; 8, 18+22; 10:14). God stirrs, awakens, and (possible in Hebrew) even “irritates” the heart of the most powerful ruler in the world at that time (Ezra 1:1). Just as Proverbs 21:1 says: “In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.“
Even in times when it seems as if the fate of many is in the hands of individual rulers, it is God who really has it in his hands. This leads us to prayer and encourages us to trust in God’s sovereignty.
…you and me, in his hand
When I read these verses in Ezra, the first thing that struck me was this: If God can stirr the heart of such a powerful ruler, how much more can he stirr mine!? How much more can the almighty God shift my perspective where I’ve hit a dead end? How much more can he bring my resteless and distracted mind to a place of peace? How much more can he enable us, who have his Spirit, to live lives of close fellowship with him?
God is calling us to a life that is “awakened” by Him. Every aspect of our lives is to be filled and determined by his life (John 15:1-11). This does not mean doing more for him, but rather surrendering all to him. We can also use the approaching Easter time to surrender all at the foot of the cross in prayer. We are challenged to believe in his power, to awaken what has fallen asleep in us and sets things in motion where our wheels have stopped turning.
I’m sure that after spending decades in exile, the Israelites hardly believed that their fate would change anymore. But just one wake-up call from God was enough to change everything! Even today he uses people and situations that we often do not expect. Do we believe that “what is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)?