1 - 4 God’s People May Return to Jerusalem
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also [put it] in writing, saying: 2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’”
Seventy years after the Babylonians led the people into exile, God is going to work to fulfill His word through Jeremiah (Jer 29:10; 24:6-7; 25:11-12; 27:22). That word means that after seventy years the exile comes to an end and the people may return to the land of God. The beginning of the return comes from a work of the LORD in the spirit of Cyrus (verse 1).
God also acts on the basis of the prayers of His servants, which have been introduced into His plans through diligent study of His Word (Dan 9:2-3). He brings back a remnant so that the temple can be rebuilt in its place and so that the true King, the Lord Jesus, can be introduced to them. This act of God is therefore in accordance with the promises given by the mouth of Jeremiah and the prayer of His servant Daniel.
Whatever the external circumstances, God has in His hand the hearts of all men, also the hearts of kings (Pro 21:1). The instrument, Cyrus, was announced two hundred years earlier by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 41:2; 44:28; 45:1-5). As soon as he is in power, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. God does not waste any time. He uses Cyrus, the king of Persia, to give the opportunity to return to Judah. This also means that He does not give Babylon, who led His people into exile, the honor of allowing His people to return.
God is using the world powers here to carry out His plan (verse 2). Cyrus calls Him “the God of heaven” because God has removed His throne from the earth and handed His people over into the hands of the nations. Cyrus does not command anyone to return to Jerusalem. Names are not mentioned, room is given for everyone (verse 3). In this way only God-fearing people will answer the call. The hearts of these people go out to the glory of God and to the place of His Name.
This pagan ruler Cyrus announces that the way to Jerusalem is open. Not only does he not prevent the people from going, but he encourages them to go. He instructs all nations to do the same (verse 4), while he himself gives what Nebuchadnezzar has robbed from the temple.
There is nothing legal in this movement. It must be the result of grace that works in the heart. If it is legal, all freshness and strength will be lost. It is not wise to try to force people to take a position where grace has not brought them. To insist on abandoning human systems and putting that on people’s conscience as a matter of duty is not good. As a result, many people, while outwardly occupying a place of separation, are not really attracted by Christ.
For the flesh it is not very attractive to go to Jerusalem. The city is a ruin. Yet Jerusalem is the place of “the Name” for faith. For the believers now, the place of worship is not a geographical place – “neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (Jn 4:21) – but a spiritual place. It is the place of which the Lord Jesus says: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt 18:20). We find that place wherever He is acknowledged to be the only Head and Lord and where His own are gathered around Him in that awareness. That is what corresponds to the place He chose in the Old Testament to make His Name dwell there: the temple in Jerusalem.
5 - 6 Who Want to Go
5 Then the heads of fathers’ [households] of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. 6 All those about them encouraged them with articles of silver, with gold, with goods, with cattle and with valuables, aside from all that was given as a freewill offering.
“The heads of fathers’ [households]” (verse 5) represent believers who are willing to take responsibility. In a revival, it is also necessary that there are people who take on the leadership. They take the lead on the path of faith and others may follow on the path they take. In the local church it is they who show the believers the way to realize that the Lord Jesus is in the midst. They teach about it and they show it in their lives. It is good to seek their company and to go along with them.
There are also “the priests and the Levites”. These are the ones who have the service to God in mind. They have not been able to serve in Babylon, because there is no temple there. It stood in Jerusalem and was destroyed and they were deported. Now they are ordered to rebuild the temple. This will make it possible for them to do their service again.
With every revival it is necessary that these two elements are present. Priestly service today is the privilege of every child of God and is not limited, as in Israel, to a special class. The same applies to Levite service. Every believer has a task, a function, in the church.
Every believer is a priest. There is no distinction in this. Every believer is also Levite. In this there is distinction, because every believer has a different task. Herein not one is above the other, but each believer is a complement to the other.
That the heads of fathers’ households and the priests and the Levites go to Jerusalem to build the house of the LORD is not self-determined action. Just as the LORD raised up the spirit of Cyrus to call for a return to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the temple (verse 1), so the going up of the three groups mentioned above is also the consequence of His work. A revival is the work of God, not the result of deliberations and agreements of men.
Although there have been people from other tribes as well, they are mainly people from the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Christ is presented to them at His first coming on earth, with the result that He is rejected by them. The fact that it mainly concerns the two tribes also shows that this is not a national restoration. The restoration of the ten tribes only happens when Christ appears for the second time (Eze 20:33-44; Jer 31:6-14).
There is no spirit of judgment or enmity or jealousy between those who go and those who stay (verse 6). Those who stay behind give everything to those who leave. Although the circumstances are very different, what is happening here is reminiscent of the exodus of the people from the Egyptian slave house. Then the Egyptians also give the departing people all kinds of objects (Exo 12:35-36).
7 - 11 Articles of the House of the LORD
7 Also King Cyrus brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and put in the house of his gods; 8 and Cyrus, king of Persia, had them brought out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and he counted them out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. 9 Now this [was] their number: 30 gold dishes, 1,000 silver dishes, 29 duplicates; 10 30 gold bowls, 410 silver bowls of a second [kind and] 1,000 other articles. 11 All the articles of gold and silver [numbered] 5,400. Sheshbazzar brought them all up with the exiles who went up from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Cyrus treats the articles of the house of the LORD with respect, in contrast with the last king of Babylon, Belshazzar (Dan 5:1-4). These articles were robbed at the various deportations (verse 7; 2Chr 36:7,10,18; Dan 1:2). The first deportation takes place at the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim. The second takes place during Jehoiakim’s reign and the third in the eleventh year of Zedekiah. The seventy-year exile is to be counted from the first deportation.
In the spiritual application the objects for the service represent persons. We may see ourselves as silver and gold vessels, in which we see the value we have for God (2Tim 2:19-21). The separation of the articles belonging to the LORD from the articles belonging to the idol temples of Babylon is necessary. What is of God must be cleansed from what is not of Him.
The articles are given “Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah” (verse 8). Sheshbazzar is the Babylonian name for Zerubbabel. He descends from David and is his heir. His name is also in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus (Mt 1:13). He does not boast of his ancestry, but takes the place of someone whose faith can be imitated. The time of the great things is over. That the articles come under the supervision of Sheshbazzar suggests to us that the Lord Jesus has us at His disposal.
Various articles and their numbers are mentioned (verses 9-11). Among them are also twenty-nine knives [Darby Translation]. Here we see that God does not consider anything small (Job 36:5; Mt 10:30; Lk 12:7). He who counts the stars and has named them all (Psa 147:4) also takes note of the knives brought back from exile and knows their number.
They are knives that belong to the temple utensils and were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 52:17-23). These knives are used by the priests to divide the sacrificial animals into pieces. After being taken into exile, there is no more sacrificial service. After the return, however, it can take place again when the altar is erected. Then the knives are also needed.
We can make an application for those who in a Christianity full of confusion have gone in search for ‘the altar’, the Table of the Lord, and have found it. That is where the knives have their place. The knives are used to skin the sacrificial animal and divide it into pieces to lay on the altar, that it may be a soothing aroma to the LORD. We can say that we use these knives when we are concerned with the inner feelings of the Lord Jesus and tell God what we have discovered. Using the knives allows us to penetrate deeper into the feelings of the Lord Jesus. We don’t stop at a superficial contemplation of His Person and work.
A knife also serves to cut in a straight line the Word of truth (2Tim 2:15, Darby Translation). We must do justice to the whole Word of God, i.e. give each part of it its proper meaning and effect.