From generation to generation
Ezra 1: Who among you belongs to his people?
Nebuchadnezzar, it turns out, is the last strong king of Babylon and his destruction of Jerusalem comes near the end of his reign. Before long a new world power rises to swallow Babylon. Cyrus has united the Medes and the Persians, creating a powerful and ambitious kingdom. While it’s probably true that Babylon would have fallen under its own weight anyway, the Persians speed things up to dominate the entire region. For the scattered people of Israel, it appears to simply be a change from one conqueror to another. However, this point of view fails to take the hand of the Almighty into account. This new ruler doesn’t have the negative emotional baggage toward these people that Nebuchadnezzar had. He saw them as a stubborn and rebellious people. Cyrus, on the other hand, wants their God to look on him favorably. A series of events causes him to authorize the rebuilding of the Temple that was destroyed before he was ever born. Because of that he offers these second and third generation exiles permission to return to Jerusalem for that purpose. Many of the Hebrews are satisfied to stay where they were, after all this is the land of their birth. However, some, possibly influenced by the writings in the Chronicles are willing to embark on this challenging adventure. As I work through this material I’m reminded that God is the God of History. From generation to generation he continues to work. People are born, live, and then die, passing from the pages of history. However, God always “is.” There are countless individual stories to be told but through it all, there is just One God.
Take Away: There are many stories to be told, but only one God lives and reigns through them all.
God at work here
Isaiah 45: I’m the one who armed you for this work.
Cyrus the Great of Persia overthrows Babylon and pretty much conquers his world. In modern terms, his name is in every newscast and many powerful people rise each morning and go to bed each night wondering what Cyrus is going to do next. Isaiah, the prophet of God, also talks about Cyrus. However, Isaiah isn’t worried about what this powerful conqueror might do next. In fact, Isaiah has an entirely different take on Cyrus. Isaiah says that even though Cyrus doesn’t even know the name of the true God that God knows about Cyrus and is using this king to do what he wants done. Whether Cyrus knows it or not, he’s on a mission from God. It isn’t his cleverness or wisdom that gives him success. Rather, it’s the hand of God working through him. Beyond that, what cleverness and wisdom Cyrus does have was given to him by God in the first place. And, while Israel and Cyrus don’t know it, the things that he’s accomplishing by his military might are for the good of Israel. Talk about devotionally rich material; this is it! On the big stage of the world, even when I don’t see it, God’s at work. That isn’t to say that God is always orchestrating elections, etc. However, I’m reminded that God has a purpose in mind for this world and he’s working at just the right level, whatever that level might be, to move things toward that purpose. In smaller ways, I also remember that, even when I can’t see it, God patiently works through people and circumstances with his goals in mind. Or (and I said there’s lots of devotional material here), I can place myself on the other side of things. When I try something that’s surprisingly successful I need to remember that, like Cyrus, my success may not be as much mine as it’s God’s. He may be “clearing the way” ahead of me because he’s doing something bigger than I know. However, unlike Cyrus, who the Lord speaks to saying, “You don’t even know me” I do know him. Today, I remember that sometimes the Lord honors me by using me as a partner in what he’s doing in this world.
Take Away: The Lord patiently works through people and circumstances with his goals in mind.