Wednesday Word: ‘He Who Stirs Hearts’ (Ezra 1-2)

I voted yesterday. The presidential primary elections for the state of Missouri took place and I did my civic duty to cast my ballot. For the record, I do not pay that much attention to politics and remain a one issue voter (as soon as something more important than life becomes an issue, then I will think about changing my approach, until then…) Even so, it is hard to not be at least interested in what will happen this November. The coverage of the candidates is all-consuming and thanks to social media we can all pick our man (or woman) to back as publicly and profusely as we like. (Could someone please create a button that will filter all political posts from my Facebook feed?) To be honest, I am usually not paying that much attention at this point in the process, but this year it is hard to ignore.

With all that in mind, I ran across this quote while studying Ezra 1-2 last week:

“Are you worried about recent political developments? About what your government is doing? Do you believe Proverbes 21: 1 (which states: ‘A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses’)? This world is God’s stage. The bad guys have their strongholds, but they remain God’s characters. This is God’s cosmic drama. He will have His way.” (From James M. Hamilton’s ‘Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Ezra and Nehemiah’)

Now that is a helpful quote for an election year. How does he get this idea from Ezra 1-2?

In order to understand that question, you have to back up a bit in Israel’s history. The Lord rescued His people from slavery to Egypt and then gave them the Law so they could live as His own. Yet, they struggled to obey. From the judges to the kings, Israel’s history is not marked by faithfulness to the Law. In fact, the list of wicked kings far outweighs the list of obedient ones. The situation became so dire that God raised up prophets to warn the people of coming judgement and call them to repent. He raised up men like Isaiah and Jeremiah. But the people would not repent. Instead they refused to listen to the prophets and God sent them into exile. They became slaves again to the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

The Lord knew that this would happen. In fact, He raised up Nebuchdnezzar for this purpose. But He also knew that the exile would not be the end of Israel. He had a plan to set them free which He also revealed to Isaiah and Jeremiah, long before it came to pass. And this was not just some general idea, it was specific. He told them how long the exile would last (70 years) and who would set them free (Cyrus). Listen to what God tells them before it happened:

“For thus says the Lord: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place (Jerusalem).'” (Jeremiah 29:10)

“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my Shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built, ‘ and of the temple, ‘Your foundations shall be laid.'” (Isaiah 44:24, 28)

The Lord will tell Isaiah that He will raise up Cyrus and let him conquer nations “for the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen” (Isaiah 45:4). The Lord tells Isaiah and Jeremiah how the exile will end long before it comes to pass.

And what happens? Listen to the first verse in the book of Ezra:

“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…”

And what did the Lord stir up Cyrus to do? He says to the Israelites:

“Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 1:3)

So the Lord warns His people of coming judgement through the prophets and then promises them future deliverance from exile through a king named Cyrus, then raises up Nebuchdnezzar to capture them, then gives the Babylonians to the Persians, and then stirs the heart of Cyrus king of the Persians to send His people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. So let me ask you: ‘Do you believe that God is sovereign over all? Do you believe that He is in control of all things, even the decisions of kings (and presidents)? Do you believe that He will have His way?’ Make no mistake, Cyrus was serving his own ends (he wanted help from any and every ‘God’ he could find and perhaps a buffer from Egypt in the south). But God was still accomplishing His purposes. He was still fulfilling His plans. He was still in the heavens, doing whatever He pleases.

It is tempting to feel a bit rattled by the election year. It is easy to worry and be anxious about the future. But we do well as Christians to remind ourselves of the truth of God’s sovereignty. He is our Rock and our Redeemer.  For it was also His plan to send us a Savior who would pay for our sins at the cross. And just like Cyrus, He would use Judas and Herod and Pontius Pilate to accomplish His plan.  So that by grace and through faith, we might turn from our sins and be saved by King Jesus.  He who stirs the heart has accomplished all of this. All glory to Him!

So go cast your vote.  Be a good citizen and get involved in the process.  But just remember:  ‘This is God’s comic drama. He will have His way.’



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