In the preceding article we saw how that archaeological discoveries have gone a long way to corroborate the versions of Cyrus’ decree recorded in the book of Ezra. We noted in particular that the decree was consistent with Cyrus’ general policy towards exiles within his kingdom. In that sense it had been dictated by political expediency. We now turn to a second influence which may well have played a part in the making of the decree concerning Jerusalem.
The evidence suggests that the form (if not the very existence) of the decree owed much to a Jewish influence. As well as employing the personal name of Israel’s God (“the Lord”), the decree indicates an intelligent use of divine titles; it is “the God of heaven” who gave to Cyrus his kingdom, Ezra 1. 2 with Dan. 2. 37, but “the God of Israel” whose house was to be built, Ezra 1. 3 with 6. 14. Also the form of construction of the second temple was to follow closely that of Solomon’s, namely three rows of stones with one of timber, 6. 4 (5. 8) with 1 Kings 6. 36; 7. 12. Such details imply more than a nodding acquaintance with Jewish matters. They suggest that the drafting of the decree was undertaken by a Jewish hand. Nor would this be surprising. We know that, of the later Persian kings, Artaxerxes at least appointed a special adviser on Jewish affairs. We read of Pethahiah who “was at the king’s hand (i.e., in attendance on him) in all matters concerning the people”, Neh. 11. 23-24.
It is not possible for us to identify the “Jewish influence” with any certainty. Nevertheless, there are some grounds for believing that it stemmed from the prophet Daniel. Several known facts point in this direction.
Daniel’s availability, high position, knowledge of the need and evident sympathy with the cause (together with the use of the title “God of heaven”) point very forcibly to his having had something to do with the decree of Cyrus. It would have been most fitting if the man who saw the need and prayed so fervently about it should then have been used by the Lord to help meet that very need. In like manner, it was the same group of men who were told to pray that God would “send forth” labourers into His vineyard, Matt. 9. 38, who were then themselves “sent forth” to work there, 10. 5.
We cannot be certain, however, that Daniel was an influence on Cyrus in the matter of his decree, for neither Scripture nor history says so. But, although there must remain some doubt over Daniel’s involvement, there can be none about the Lord’s!
God was in control of world events. The exiles, He said, are “my captives”, Isa. 45. 13, for Nebuchadnezzar (who had been responsible for their deportation) had been His “servant”, Jer. 25. 9; 27. 6; 43. 10. It was the Lord who had “stirred up the spirit of Cyrus” to make his decree, Ezra 1. 1, just as it had been the Lord who had “raised up” Cyrus in the first place, Isa. 41. 2; 45. 13. (The expressions “stirred up” and “raised up” translate the same Hebrew word. Compare also its use in Ezra 1. 5.) The Lord (a) raised up Cyrus to be king, (fr) put it into his heart to give the Jews opportunity to return to their land, and then (c) put it into their hearts to take advantage of the opportunity given. It was all of God!
The Scripture makes it clear that Cyrus was only “a second cause”. He is described as God’s “shepherd”, Isa. 44. 28, and His “anointed”, 45. 1. The temple was built “according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus”, Ezra 6. 14 (note the order). It seems that Cyrus had no personal, intimate knowledge of God, Isa. 45. 4-5, and yet he was God’s instrument in the fulfilment of His unfailing purpose. Daniel knew, if Cyrus didn’t, that “the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men”, Dan. 5. 21. And so do we!
To be continued
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