God had provided for all debts to be forgiven, all slaves to be set free, and all lands to be returned to their original owners once every 50 years. The years were called “The year of Jubilee.” Israel ignored that instruction as well as all the directions God had given the nation in the final chapters of the book of Deuteronomy. Thus, the curses promised in Deuteronomy fell upon them and Syria scattered the tribes of the north then Babylon enslaved the tribes of the south and took slaves to Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied this and added that their enslavement in Babylon would last one year for every year they neglected the year of Jubilee. For 70 years the children of Judah remained captive in Babylon until God moved in the heart of the great king, Cyrus, to send them back to the promised land with the charge of rebuilding the temple and reestablishing Yahweh worship. The first verse of the book of Ezra tells us this. It says, “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 so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.’”

It almost sounds like the great king of Persia, who had conquered most of the known world, was a believer in Yahweh. But Cyrus makes a comment in his journals that suggests it was for political reasons and not for religious ones as the Bible Knowledge Commentary reports, “The famous Cyrus Cylinder (538 b.c.), which records his capture of Babylon and his program of repatriating his subject peoples in their homelands, includes this statement: ‘May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities daily ask Bel and Nebo for a long life for me.’”[1] Ezra, however, sees the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy in Cyrus’ decree. “The ‘proclamation’ is the famous ‘Edict of Cyrus.’ A secular historian would not have seen God’s hand in this. The Cyrus Cylinder, a clay barrel inscription found in Hormuzd Rassam’s excavations at Babylon (1879–82), shows that this king made similar proclamations concerning other people’s gods. But our author saw here the providence of God, a theme that is prominent throughout the book. The author of Ezra-Nehemiah, with his biblical view of history, challenges us also to believe that God works within a specific time frame, that he has a plan, that he keeps his word, and that his prophecies will be fulfilled. God does influence people to accomplish his will. J. G. McConville explains that ‘behind this opening verse … lies the affirmation that all the might of the ancient world was in subjection to God and put at the disposal of his people for their salvation.’”[2]

Believers interpret history differently than others. To the secular world, things came to be by accident, and a progressive development of life called evolution without the assistance or care of a divine being. Historical events can all be explained through human reason and investigation. But the believer sees the hand of God in all events in his life as well as all events in the world. We believe Solomon’s words in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

[1] Martin, John A. 1985. “Ezra.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, 1:654. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Breneman, Mervin. 1993. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Electronic ed. Vol. 10. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.