By J.R. Miller
But little is known concerning the history of the people during the seventy years except what we gather from the allusions of the prophets of that period. We know, however, that under God's providence the captivity wrought great good to the Jews. By severe discipline, they were cured forever of idolatry. It has been noted as a remarkable fact, almost, if not altogether, without parallel, that the Jewish nation survived such a dislocation and dissolution of all local and social bonds as the captivity produced. One reason for this was the religious faith that bound them together. Besides, through all their humiliating experiences the hope of a return to their own land, according to their prophets, lived unquenchable in their hearts. A still further reason is found in the fact that the holy seed was in this nation, and it was therefore the object of special divine care. It is remarkable how even the genealogies of families were sacredly kept during the captivity. When it is remembered that the line of the Messiah ran through the tribe of Judah, the importance of this is obvious.
The returning of the Jews, was not an accident in history. The Lord's hand was in it: "That the word of Jehovah . . . might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus." God never forgets a promise. When the end of the seventy years drew near He set in motion providential movements which prepared the way for the return of the people. Not a jot or tittle of anything that God has ever spoken, can fail of fulfillment. Any word of His that we find anywhere in the Scriptures we may grasp and trust, knowing that He will make it good.
Notice the way the Lord brought about this return of His people. "Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus." God can always find some way to reach men's hearts. It may be remembered that Daniel was still living and stood high in the government. Possibly it was through his intercession that the attention of Cyrus was drawn to the Jews in their captivity. Cyrus was a Gentile--but God's dominion is not confined to His own people. His authority extends everywhere. Heathen nations are under His sway. He uses all the powers of the world for the carrying out of His own plans. Men come on the stage of action and carry out their own little ambitions, with no thought of doing anything for the Lord, unconscious that what they do is in any sense a fulfillment of a divine purpose. Yet without knowing it, they are really helping to execute plans of God made long before they were born. It is a comfort to us to know that the divine purposes are being carried out in all the world's life. Even wicked men's devices which appear to be destructive to the Church, are overruled to the fulfillment of God's purposes of love.
Cyrus did much to open the way for the people of Israel to return to their own land. He sent forth the proclamation, "All of you who are his people may return to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you!" The proclamation was addressed to all the Jews who were in the realm. All who would, were invited to go to Jerusalem to help in the work--but there was no compulsion. There is another temple to be built for the Lord, and again builders are wanted. The proclamation comes now not from a heathen king--but from Jesus Christ Himself. Every one is invited to come and take part in this great work. The poorest and the smallest can do something.
The temple at Jerusalem on which these builders wrought has long since perished. But the temple on which God wants us to build shall stand forever, and everything anyone may do on this building shall be eternal. But how can we build on the walls of the heavenly temple? By doing all we can in this world for Christ. Our own lives are parts of the temple, and we may seek to have our characters made good and holy. Then we can strive to make other lives better, to bring other people to Christ, and to help build up in them a likeness to the Lord Jesus. The smallest things that we can do for Christ shall be like stones laid on the walls of Christ's house, which is rising within the veil, like ornaments--little touches of beauty on some part of the glorious building.
Cyrus became enthusiastic in his interest in the return of the Jews. He even sought to get his own people to help the captives in this. "Those who live in any place where Jewish survivors are found should contribute toward their expenses by supplying them with silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock, as well as a freewill offering for the Temple of God in Jerusalem." There was opportunity for everybody to do something. Some of the people would work on the walls and some of them would help by giving money. There always are these two ways of doing our part in the building of God's temple. Everybody had a share in this work.
Only a certain number of the people volunteered to return to Jerusalem--but many others encouraged and aided them. "And all their neighbors assisted by giving them vessels of silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock. They gave them many choice gifts in addition to all the freewill offerings." The people became enthusiastic. When it was known that certain people were to return to rebuild the temple, there sprang up in many hearts the enthusiastic desire to assist. God influences even worldly men, to help His own people in their work for Him. All the money in the world is the Lord's, and He can get it when He needs it. There is a pleasant suggestion also in the words, "strengthened their hands." They were encouraged by the kindness of their neighbors. If we cannot ourselves do much for the cause of Christ, even our little gifts encourage those who are carrying the heavy burdens. If we cannot give money, we can at least give cheer, prayer, sympathy; and ofttimes such help strengthens men's hands even more than money would do.
One other notable thing Cyrus did. Nebuchadnezzar had taken away from Jerusalem the holy vessels of the temple. "King Cyrus himself brought out the valuable items which King Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the LORD's Temple in Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his own gods." It was not the fault of Cyrus that these vessels had been brought to Babylon and profaned by being used in idol temples. But he found the vessels there, and now it would have been his fault if they had been left there. So he quickly provided for their return to their own place. As we go on our way through life, we continually come upon evils that other people have started. We are not responsible for the beginning of these evils--but if we let them go on and do nothing to check them--we will be responsible for their continuance. It is our duty to undo every wrong wherever we find it. If there are wrong methods in vogue in the business in which we become a sharer, we must instantly correct them.