Ezra 1:1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing.
The book of Ezra was likely written by Ezra the priest, [and] teacher of the Law (Ezra 7:11) around 430 BC. It tells how the people of God returned from Babylonian exile, rebuilt the temple, and struggled to live for God. It is a story of starting over that covers about a hundred years, from 538 to 433 BC.
Ezra 1:5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.
The generation that went into exile was mostly dead, and a new generation had taken its place. They were born in Babylon, and were comfortable there, so those who returned to the Promised Land were only about fifty thousand (Ezra 2:64-65). The reason they returned was because God moved their hearts. They left family, friends, safety and security for no other reason than that God moved their hearts.
This is why many people do what they do for God. It is why some become missionaries, serve an important cause, or give financial support. God moved the heart of Cyrus to allow the Jews to go home (Ezra 1:1), and he moved the hearts of his people to make the journey back. When God wants to do something great, he often begins by moving our hearts.
Ezra 3:6 On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord.
Shortly after God’s people arrived back in the Promised Land, they gathered in Jerusalem, built an altar, and began to sacrifice daily. This was important because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22), says Hebrews. No sacrifice had been offered for decades because they were living in Babylon. Now, at last, sacrificial blood was being spilt again.
This, no doubt, was a great relief to their collective conscience, but it’s only a small comfort compared to what Christians enjoy. All the animals ever sacrificed merely pointed ahead to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10), says Hebrews. We do not need to sacrifice animals (Hebrews 10:18), but to merely recall what Jesus has done for us, and to give him praise.
Ezra 3:10-11 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord . . . . all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
After building the altar, God’s people started working on the temple itself. When the foundation was laid they gave a great shout; but those who had seen the earlier temple began to weep. In fact, they wept so loudly that no one could distinguish between the sound of joy and the sound of weeping (Ezra 3:12-13).
The new generation was excited about the temple, but the old generation was discouraged by how badly it compared to the former temple. They were wrong to be discouraged, however, since this temple would also bring glory to God. They should have been deeply thankful for the wonderful privilege of serving God himself.
Likewise, the church of Jesus Christ is always growing, declining and being rebuilt. The important thing is not the size of a church, but its faithfulness to Jesus Christ. It is always an honor to serve the Lord of the church.
Ezra 4:4 Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building.
Whenever God’s people try to do something great for God, they will be opposed. But God is greater than the opposition, and in this case, he made them pay for the temple. The king of Persia decreed that all expenses were to be paid for by Israel’s enemies (Ezra 6:8). Furthermore he said, I decree that if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it (Ezra 6:11-12).
God’s people must have been amazed: God led a pagan king to force Israel’s enemies to pay for the temple or die. The temple was being rebuilt, not because God’s people were great, but because their God was great.
Ezra 6:15 The temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
This was about twenty years after the project began, and was a milestone for the people of God. There was a great celebration because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of the king . . . so that he assisted them in the work on the house of God (Ezra 6:22).
Great things are often accomplished by people working together for years. Some of the workers were masons, others were engineers, and others were simply helpers. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah also helped the project through their preaching (Ezra 5:1). The important thing, in any work of God, is for everyone to do what they can.
A little girl sat on the steps of a new church building, and a gentleman stopped to admire it. She explained that she was involved in the project because her dad was a worker, and she often brought his lunch. It takes many people to do God’s work, and each one is important.
Reflection and Review
Has God ever moved your heart to do something for him?
Why did God require blood for sin?
How are you serving God now?