Grace For The Journey
One day, towards the close of the 18th century, a gentleman and a lady sat side by side in a stagecoach as it rumbled its way through the English countryside. The lady appeared to be occupied with the content of the book in her hand, at times reading, at times meditating on what she had read. She was enjoying the words of a lovely hymn,
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Steams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
She turned to the gentleman and sought to interest him in what she was reading. She asked him if he knew the hymn. At first, he appeared embarrassed, even a little agitated. Eventually with tears in his eyes he said, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who composed that hymn many years ago and I would give a thousand worlds if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” The man on the stagecoach was Robert Robinson. The hymn was the product of his pen some thirty years previously. In the words of his own hymn, he was “prone to wander,” but thank God he experienced the restoring grace of God. We are all “prone to wander,” and “prone to leave the God we love.” When we catch up with the Jews in the book of Ezra, we discover that they are in captivity in Babylon. God has a way of giving us what we insist upon having. The Psalmist says, “And He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul.”
(Psalm 106:15). God allowed Babylon to conquer His people because they were given over to idolatry. He sent them back to Babylon to the very center of idolatry, and there God cured them of idolatry forever. From that point on the children of Israel were monotheistic. They believed in the only one true Lord God.
I want you to take on a journey back in time to about 500 years before the Lord Jesus was born. That means, we are going back in time to about 2,500 years to this land that was known as Babylon. It is modern Iraq, but in those days it was Babylon, the fountain head of all idolatry; Babylon, the origin of every germ of evil teaching; Babylon, where the children of God, the Jews were in the land of captivity.
There are six books in the Old Testament, which have to do with the Jews being in captivity in Babylon. Three of those books are in the historical section of your Bible, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The other three books are in the prophetical section of your Bible: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Those six books have to do with
This period of time known as
The captivity and the return
Of the Jews back to
The land of promise.
Ezra is a book that emphasizes . . .
The ongoing work of God
Among His people to
Preserve, protect, and promote
His redemptive purposes.
Now you might wonder why I would take us into a study of such an old part of Israel’s history. After all, we are living in the year 2021. We are a modern people. We have needs and we face problems that seem a lot different than way back then. We live in an age that focuses on experienced-centered living that focuses more on how one feels and how one is to walk by faith and obedience. Need I have to remind you that people in every age are the same. We need to study this portion of the Word of God because it will directs our mind to a God who is holy, who demands reverent worship, uncompromising loyalty, total obedience, and wholehearted commitment.
Chapter 1 is all about “A New Beginning.” Beyond that, it is all about God. We will learn about God’s providence, God’s people, and God’s provision. It will be a great adventure of learning and living by these marvelous and always abiding truths.
1) THE COMFORT OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE.
Do you know providence is? The best definition that I have found is, “Providence is that work of God in which He preserves all His creatures, is active in all that happens in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.” Now we see in the opening verses of Chapter one. We see here the providence of God in relation to . . .
a) God’s Word.
We see that in the opening phrase, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the Word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled …” The prophet Jeremiah had prophesied not only the fact of the Babylonian captivity but the duration of it. He said in Jeremiah 25:11-12 and 29:10, “And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD, ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation” … “For thus says the Lord, ‘after seventy years be completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you in causing you to return to this place.” The seventy-year captivity began in 606 BC and in 536 BC Cyrus issues this amazing proclamation, allowing the Jews to go back to their homeland to rebuild the temple.
The decree of Cyrus was
The fulfillment of prophecy.
No doubt during the long night of the exile God’s people must have wondered at times if they would ever see Jerusalem again. Psalm 137:1 gives us vivid picture of how the people felt, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.” All seemed to be lost and there appeared to be not future for the people. But . . .
God was faithful to His Word
And did not forget His people.
Do you recall Joshua’s witness at the end of his life, “Not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14). The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” This nation had broken the Covenant, but the Lord had remained faithful to His Word. One of the great proofs for the inspiration of the Bible is the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Someone has said that there are over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about the first coming of Christ. All of those prophecies were fulfilled to the exact detail.
Isn’t it an amazing book we hold in our hands? In spite of their sins, these exiles were God’s chosen people and children of the Covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3). God was faithful to His promises and He did not forget His people. But then He never does! Are you finding that difficult to believe? Are you going through some kind of personal exile? Is your situation dark and gloomy? Is Satan whispering in your ear that God has forgotten you? Is he tempting you to look at your circumstances rather than God? The truth God wants you to stand on is that at such a time, when everything else has failed, the only thing we have left to rely on is the faithfulness of God and His Word. We also see the providence of God in relation to . . .
b) God’s World.
God is in control of the nations. God is governing global affairs in accordance with his blueprint for mankind. God is still on the throne.
- It was the Lord who raised up Nebuchadnezzar whom He called, “My servant,” (Jeremiah 25:9 27:6 43:10 ), to chasten the people of Judah.
- Then He raised up Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and establish the Persian Empire. The Lord called Cyrus “My shepherd,” (Isaiah 44:28 ) and “My anointed,” (Isaiah 45:1). In Isaiah 45:13 the Lord said, “ He shall build my city and he shall let go my captives.”
Now when we consider the fact that these words preceded Cyrus’ decree by about two hundred years it is really astonishing and amazing. Here we see the sovereign hand of God working through the processes of history. This is all the more remarkable when we realize that Cyrus did not know God (Isaiah 45:5). But God knew Cyrus. The Bible reminds us “that the hearts of kings are in the hands of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:1). Whatever political motives lay behind Cyrus’ decree, God was working out His own plans. What a God we have!! What a Bible God has given us!
Proverbs 21:1 continues, “The kings heart is in the hand of the Lord; Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” People do not have to be Christian believers for God to use them. It does not matter whether it is a president, or a prime minister, or a mayor, or a governor, God can exercise His sovereign power to accomplish His purposes for His people. This is one reason why the Bible exhorts believers to pray for those in authority, not that our political agenda might be fulfilled, but that God’s will might be accomplished on this earth (1 Timothy 2:1-8). Puritan John Watson said, “God can make a straight stroke with a crooked stick,” and that is what He did with Cyrus.
If we could lay hold
Of this great truth
That God is control
We would be
Freed from anxiety.
As we watch the news programs on television, and see the world scene with its rebelliousness, perverseness, political unrest, and shaky foundations we might become fearful for the future. That is why it is so important to listen to God. He says in Daniel 4:17, 25, and 32, “… That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.”
But there is another thread here, not appearing in this chapter that God used in the fulfilling of His purposes. For we see here God’s providence in relation to . . .
c) God’s workman.
In the 9th chapter of Daniel we find Daniel reading His Bible. Do you know where he was when he was reading it? He was reading Jeremiah’s prophecy (25:8-11). Do you know what he was reading about? The end of the captivity after seventy years. (Daniel 9:2). That really grabbed his heart! Daniel knows that the captivity has lasted nearly seventy years. It is almost time for God to take the Jews back to their own land, and that drives him to his knees in prayer and to cry, “Lord do as you have said.”
Some believe that Daniel, prime minister in the administration of Cyrus, showed his monarch, these prophecies about the duration of the captivity, and that under God Daniel’s influence had the effect of disposing the king to be favorable to the exiles. It is possible that Daniel’s last official act was to prepare the papers releasing his people from Babylonian bondage.
Now that is . . .
Not only wonderful but amazing . . .
To be able to stand back and
See the heart of God planning
And the hand of God shaping
The events of history according
To His plan and power!
I heard about a ship that was caught in a storm. The passengers were fearful that the vessel might sink. A group of them huddled together, in a state of distress. Then someone suggested that one of the party should go and talk to the captain. The chosen person made his way to the helm of the ship, where he saw the captain from a distance. He moved toward him and as he did so, he caught a glimpse of the captain’s face. Immediately his fears were quelled, because he had seen on the captain’s face . . .
The serenity of man who
Had nothing to fear.
It was obvious that
Under his control.
Are you filled with fear like this? You need to get a glimpse of the face of the Captain of our salvation! The One who has everything under His control.
2) THE CHALLENGE FOR GOD’S PEOPLE.
Look if you will at verses 2 to 3, “Thus Cyrus king of Persia: all the kingdoms of the earth the LROD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who 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 build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God, which is in Jerusalem.” What a challenge this was. For those who would return home it would involve considerable sacrifice and hardship. They were not going on a holiday, but were faced with a dangerous journey of some 900 to a 1,000 miles and the land waiting for them had been devastated, and its temple had been razed to the ground. What a challenge.
Now we need to put this challenge in its context. We see . . .
a) Nationally: The Glory Of God Had Departed.
We see an important phrase in verse 2, “The Lord God of heaven.” This lovely expression is peculiar to the books of the captivity. During the captivity God was known as the “God of heaven.” Why? Judah turned away from the Lord and Jerusalem was burned, and the temple was destroyed. The prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of the glory of God departing from the earth (Ezekiel 9:3, 10:4 11:22-23). That Shekinah glory cloud that had rested on the mercy seat lifted in the Holy of Holies and then moved over to the threshold of the temple door. Then it moved from the temple to the Mount of Olives on the east of the city. Finally, it departed back to heaven and for a period of time, until, Christ came, there was no glory of God on earth. God was the “God of heaven.” Do you see where Judah was a nation? “Ichabod,” could be written over the nation, the glory had departed.
b) Spiritually: A Passion For God Had Declined.
The people of God found that the geographical distance between Babylon and Jerusalem reflected something of the spiritual distance between themselves and God. They were estranged from the Lord, removed from the blessing, and under His discipline. Spiritually, life in these two centers Jerusalem or Babylon, speak to us of two different kinds or levels of life that may be experienced by the people of God.
It was always
Up to Jerusalem
Down to Babylon.
Paul identified the spiritual significance of these places when he said to the Corinthian believers in 1 Corintians 3:1, “I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal.” Here we have the New Testament counterparts of Zion and Babylon. You probably know that Corinth was the carnal church of Paul’s day? They were marked by strife, division, and immaturity. They were man centered when they should have been Christ-centered. They were feeding on milk, when they should have been feeding on meat. Spiritually, they were like these people of old by the rivers of Babylon. How did Judah ever land in captivity in the first place? Their passion for God declined.
(1) There Was A Departure From The Worship Of God.
Their love for the Lord had grown cold and idolatry usurped the place that should have been the Lord’s in the hearts of His people. They had heard and knew the importance of what God said in Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have no others gods before me,” but they treated it with indifference and even contempt. I wonder do the words of Robert Robinson’s hymn summarize your spiritual condition? “ Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Could it be that you, like Israel, have fallen out of love with Christ?
(2) There Was A Departure From The Word Of God.
God had instructed the children that every seven years the land was to enjoy a Sabbath. The whole year the land was to be rested. (Leviticus 25:1-4; 26:32-35). But, the children of Israel did not live by God’s Word. For 490 years the land had no rest. Think of it – 490 years and no sabbatical years, that is 70 sabbatical years ignored. So what did God do? He sent them into captivity for 70 years.
Some years ago, a prison chaplain noticed one of the prisoners sewing a covering on a pair of overalls. Greeting the man cheerfully, the chaplain said, “Good morning, friend, sewing?” “No sir,” replied the prisoner with a grim smile, “reaping.” The Bible says, “the way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15 ). These causes have their spiritual counterpart today. Could it be that the decline of a love for the Lord and obedience to His Word has led you spiritually down to Babylon?
c) Personally: The Hour Of God Had Dawned.
The Lord not only moved the heart of a heathen ruler, He motivated the hearts of a Hebrew people. These were days of great stirrings. Verse 1 tells us, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.” The prophet Haggai in chapter 1 verse 14 tells us, “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel” …. “and the spirit of Joshua” …. “and the spirit of all the remnant of the people, and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts their God.”
It was Zurubbabel, who led the first return from Babylonian captivity and he did so because the God of heaven “stirred up,” his spirit. It reminds us of Paul in Athens where he waited for Silas and Timothy. Luke says in Acts 17:16, “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” Paul’s spirit was so grieved by the idolatry of the city that he was moved to preach the gospel. Are our hearts ever stirred when we contemplate the idolatry, the blasphemy, the depravity, and the anarchy of our nation?
This is what happened at the time of the recovery from Babylon. God’s hour had come. God was moving towards the bringing in of the promised Messiah, and this required that the chosen people should be present in the promised land.
This is what gave urgency to
The leaders and to the people.
They understood that the Lord
Was in this thing and so
They rose up to go.
This is what revival is all about!
God stirring the hearts of His people.
Revival is not something on
The outside that works in.
Revival is something that
God does on
The inside and works out.
Revival is a heart matter.
It is something that begins to take place in the human heart. There is Divine Sovereignty in revival as God stirs the heart, but there is human responsibility in revival as we meet the challenge. Cyrus says in verse 3, “Who 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 build the house of the LORD God of Israel) He is God, which is in Jerusalem.” We cannot create the wind, but we can set the sails. Is your cry this?
Oh for the floods on a thirsty land
Oh for a mighty revival
Oh for a sanctified fearless band
Ready to hail its arrival.
3) THE CERTAINTY ABOUT GOD’S PROVISION.
The Lord not only delivered His people from Babylon, but . . .
He also provided all
The costs for the journey,
And for the settlement
In Jerusalem as well.
Think for a moment about . . .
a) Those that remained.
Sadly, all were not ready to leave Babylon. Jerusalem and its temple lay in ruins but that did not matter too many.
No doubt a great number
Had grown comfortable
In Babylon and preferred
To remain there.
But one thing that can be said in their favor is this – There was no spirit of enmity or judgment between those who remained and those who returned. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that those who remained helped their brethren who went up. They provided the things that they needed. Verse 6 tells us, “Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold; with good and livestock, and with precious things, besides that was willingly offered. Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods . . .” God moved in the hearts of those who stay to support those who were going. I am sure they were encouraged by what God was doing and helped them to be reminded about God moving and care which they would need when they got back into the land.
Did you know that in warfare it is estimated that for every soldier out there on the front line there has to be ten people behind him? Ten people getting supplies to him, food, clothing, medical care, and ammunition. The same not true in the army of God. That is why it is important to keep a strong home base. The stronger we are at home, the more we can do abroad.
b) Those that returned.
In God’s Hall of Heroes are the names of nearly 50,000 Jews who left Babylon for responsibility in Jerusalem. The Lord had called them back to do a difficult job . . .
To rebuild the temple,
To restore the city,
To reform the people.
It involved a four-month journey, a distance of almost 1000 miles, and a great deal of faith, courage, and sacrifice.
Who would meet their needs? God.
Who would provide the materials? God.
Who would give the manpower? God.
Do you know what one of the great names for God in the Bible is? “Jehovah-Jireh,” which means “the Lord will provide”(Genesis 22:14). Here is a great truth . . .
Those whom God calls He equips.
Take the case of Hudson Taylor walking on Brighton beach on the 25th June 1865. He came to the decision to begin a mission work in central China and wrote these words in his Bible, “Prayed for twenty four willing, skillful laborers.” Two days later in faith he opened an account in the name of the China Inland Mission with the sum of ten pounds. In the years that followed God provided all that was needed so that it became one of the great faith missions of the Christian world, with hundreds of workers in the field.
What about godly George Muller of Bristol? On the night he had made known his intention at a public meeting to start an orphanage, he made it clear that no one would ever be asked for money or materials, there would be no charge for admission and no restriction on entry because of class or creed. All those employed as masters, matrons and assistants would be unpaid and had to be believers. At the end of the meeting no collection was made but a lady gave him ten shillings and volunteered for the work. The next day, a husband and wife volunteered their help, and also promised, to give all their furniture for use in the orphanage. From that point on Muller never looked back and never lacked support for the work. For . . .
God’s work done in God’s way
Will never lack God’s supply.
I wonder is God challenging you specifically? Is He exercising your heart about ministry? Is He calling you to “… go up …. and build?” (verse 3). Is the Lord challenging you, is He stirring your heart to get involved in His work? Is He calling you to build up the work of God in the place he has planted you? Are you available to Him? Are you willing to say . . .
Mine are the hands to do the work
My feet shall run for Thee
My lips shall sound the glorious news
Lord, here I am send me
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”