EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 1

 

The Cyrus Cylinder

WHAT STIRS YOU UP?

Ezra 1:1—11

Ezra is the author of the book that bears his name. He was a priest and descendant of Hilkiah, the high priest who found a copy of the Law during the reign of Josiah (2 Chronicle 34:14).

Ezra had a big problem. As a priest, he was unable to perform the duties of his office during the Babylonian Captivity. Where would he perform them? There was no temple where he and his exile friends were forced to live. The temple back in Jerusalem was destroyed, although they probably weren’t aware of that yet. But even though he couldn’t do his job, he was not idle during his exile. He spent time studying the Word of God.

[Ezra] was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. (Ezra 7:6)

When we get to the end of 2 Chronicles, we see the Southern Kingdom, Judah, carted off by Nebuchadnezzar into an exile that would last 70 years. We hear nothing from all those Jews in captivity until Ezra put quill to parchment to resume the history of God’s people.

A helpful way to look at the historical books of the Old Testament is like this:

  • The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles record the history of Israel (Northern and Southern Kingdoms) before the Babylonian Captivity.
  • The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther record life after the Babylonian Captivity.

Ezra and Nehemiah are two books but they really belong together, just as the the men who wrote them belong together. Ezra was the priest, Nehemiah was the layman, yet both men were used by God to accomplish His will for Jerusalem. They worked tirelessly together to rebuild the city, its buildings, its walls, and especially the Temple.

God’s timetable is sometimes difficult to understand sometimes. Sometimes it seems to take Him forever to “get off the dime” and answer a prayer or do something we have asked of Him. Other times, God seems to move a the speed of light. But God’s time is always perfect, down to the second. During the 70 years of Jewish Captivity, Babylon was racing toward its own judgment, just as the Captivity was God’s judgment upon Judah. It’s not coincidental that Babylon’s downfall coincided exactly with the deliverance of the Jews.

In the first year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar carried away many Jews into captivity. He reigned a total of 45 years. He was succeeded by his son, aptly named Evil-Merodach, who reigned 23 years. He was followed by Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, who ruled for all of three years. Add that up, and we have the 70 years under which the Jews were held in exile, not allowed to return to Jerusalem. Near the end of Belshazzar’s brief reign, Darius, the Mede, captured the capital city, Babylon, and Cyrus, king of Persia, became its ruler (see Daniel 5).

Why is all this dry historical stuff important? It’s important because all of it fulfills Bible prophecy:

…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’ (Isaiah 44:28)

What is exciting is that the prophet Isaiah wrote that prophecy and named the Jew’s deliverer 150 years before it happened! That dry historical stuff proves the supernatural nature of the Bible! It proves the inspiration of Scripture.

Not only was that prophecy fulfilled in God’s perfect time, these were also fulfilled:

But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever.” (Jeremiah 25:12)

This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.” (Jeremiah 29:10)

…in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. (Daniel 9:2)

All of those prophecies were written long, long before they were fulfilled. The Word of God is nothing if not amazing!

1. The need of being stirred up, 1:1 (KJV)

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia…

The will of God will never get done by human beings until our spirits are “stirred up” to do it. Doing God’s will is contrary to the human nature; we want to do what we want to do; we want to do what we think is best for us. Most Christians struggle just as Paul did:

I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18, 19)

How do we get the victory over the selfish desire to live only for ourselves? We need our spirits stirred up by God. God does not want a bunch of robots doing His bidding, so He never forces us. God wants us, as His created, free, moral agents, to come to the right conclusion on our own: to live for Him and do His will. But we need His help to get to that place.  We need to be stirred up!

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

It is entirely possible to have a form of godliness while our spirits are sleeping the sleep of death. We all need to be stirred up, just as Cyrus was stirred up.

2. God stirs up the spirit, 1:1 (KJV)

The source of all spiritual life and power is God. It is God alone who is able to stir the human spirit. We can do our best to manipulate, to bribe, to shame a fellow believers into living right and into doing God’s will, but that’s not the right way; God must stir the spirit. We can’t do that. We can point a believer in the right way, but it’s ultimately up to God to stir their spirit into obedience.

Not only is a stirred up spirit an obedient spirit, it is a living spirit; it is a spirit that has been raised from the death. Did you know that the unsaved are already dead? They may be up and walking around, but they are dead. It isn’t until their spirits have been stirred that they come alive. And a stirred up spirit is a spirit with a purpose:

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

3. How God stirs the spirit

There are two ways God stirs the human spirit:

(1) The Word of God. We know from reading the book of Daniel, that the prophet poured over the Scriptures, trying to understand them; trying to make sense of the prophecies. Daniel came to the conclusion that in all, God’s people would be exiled for 70 years. Daniel served in the king’s court in Babylon, so it is entirely possible that he showed Cyrus the prophecies in Scripture about himself (see Isaiah 44:28; 45:1—13).

This is the primary way God communicates to His people today. Christians want lightening strikes and cosmic billboards pointing the way, but the fact is, the Bible is the complete revelation of God’s mind to His people. Want to know want God’s will is? Find it in the Bible! Want to know what God thinks about an issue? It’s in the Bible. Nobody needs a special, supernatural revelation “from on high” to know the will of God! All you need is the Word of God, properly understood and applied.

(2) The providence of God. The fact that Cyrus was now governor of Babylon was an act of divine providence; it was God, quietly and stealthily working behind the scenes of human history to get His chosen man in the right position, at the right time, to carry out His prefect will for His people.

God always works that way in the affairs of human beings. Christians work so hard, sometimes, to ensure that such-and-such thing will happen, we expend so much time and energy carefully arranging all the dominoes of our lives, when all we really need to do is simply trust God! And when things don’t go as we planned, we get all bent out of shape and sometimes we feel like doing what Job’s wife told him to do:  “Curse God and die!”  We ought to have this kind of attitude:

If so, nothing can happen in the great Circuit of his Works, either without his Knowledge or Appointment. And if nothing happens without his Knowledge, he knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful Condition; and if nothing happens without his Appointment, he has appointed all this to befal me. (Robinson Crusoe)

It’s amazing that so many so-called Christians are blind to the providence of God. Cyrus was no believer, yet he recognized that the purposes of God had been entrusted to him. It’s an awful thing to know the will of God and to ignore it. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira!

God stirs up the spirit of a person, somehow making them know and feel their place in His great plan. Nobody can be obedient to God or work to accomplish His will unless they have been, like Cyrus, stirred up.

Watch out for circumstances that might seem odd. Keep watch on the people that come in and go out of your life. Pay attention to your surroundings. It may well be that God is providentially stirring up you this very day!

4. Evidence of a stirred up spirit

From what we know about Cyrus, there were three evidences that Cyrus had been “stirred up.”

(1) Manifested faith in the Word of God.

Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (verse 2, KJV)

Somehow, Cyrus knew what God wanted him to do. He simply knew what God’s Word was concerning him and he simply believed it. Keep in mind, Cyrus was no Jew or believer in Yahweh, yet he was keen enough to feel his spirit being stirred by the Word of God such that accepted it and believed it. What does that say about the so-called Christian who knows the Word, is exposed to it every Sunday, yet continually questions it and does his level best to avoid it?

You can tell a believer whose spirit has been stirred up because he has an unshakable faith in the Word of God. Is that your view of the Bible? If not, maybe you need to be stirred up.

(2) A confession of God’s purpose.

…the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom… (verse 1b, KJV)

When we discover what the will of God is concerning us, we should never be ashamed to make it known to the world. Remember these sobering words of Jesus:

If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)

(3) A bighearted disposition.

The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (verse 3, KJV)

Cyrus knew what he had to do, he knew what God’s will was concerning himself and the Jews, and he stepped out in faith, made a proclamation, and made an offer the Jews could not refuse! When God stirs a spirit, he stirs it completely. God never does anything in a half-hearted manner, and neither will we when we commit to do His will. God is generous, and so should we be. God always goes “over the top” and so should we.

And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. (verse 4, KJV)

Talk about being sold-out to God! Cyrus was completely committed to God’s program and he wanted everybody to be as sold-out as he was. When you are stirred up, you want everybody around you stirred up as much as you are.

Do you know what doing the will of God is? It’s noble:

But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand. (Isaiah 32:8)

Conclusion

The spirit that has been stirred up by God will want to do God-like things; big things for God. The story of Cyrus makes us think of what the great missionary William Carey famously said:

Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.

The stirred up spirit is always on the look out for opportunities to do great things for God. Such people are the ones who “seek first the kingdom of God” and His righteousness.

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd
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