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Ezra 1:1-11 – Cyrus’s Decree


The decree of Cyrus the Great permitted the people to return to their homes in Jerusalem, thus ending the Babylonian exile and fulfilling Jeremiah's prophecy.


The Babylonians dealt with conquered peoples by deporting them to Babylon where they could live in relative freedom and prosperity, perhaps accounting for the meager numbers of exiles who wished to return to Jerusalem with Ezra and Nehemiah. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians in 539 B.C.E., the policy of deportation as a means of dealing with conquered peoples changed. The Persians preferred that conquered peoples stay in their own lands (but pay tribute) worshiping their own gods (and praying for the Persians). This tolerant religious policy signaled the end of the exile for the people of Israel and led to Isaiah's description of Cyrus as God's "anointed" (messiah) in Isaiah 45:1, even though Cyrus was not a follower of Israel's God.

While they were in Babylon, Jeremiah had urged the exiles to accept their lot (Jeremiah 29:4-9). But he also announced that the exile would last only seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; 29:10), after which time the people would return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. These first verses of Ezra see the decree of Cyrus as the fulfillment of Jeremiah's words. Notice that Cyrus's apparently magnanimous offer is somewhat self-serving and that it is "the Lord" who "stirred up" Cyrus's spirit to make the proclamation, just as it was the Lord who "stirred up" the Assyrian and Babylonian kings who brought God's judgment upon Israel (1 Chronicles 5:26; 2 Chronicles 21:16) and who "stirred up" those exiles who returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5). The majority of those people who returned at the stirring of God were members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the priests, and the Levites. But the text understands Cyrus's decree to mean that, though not all the exiles need return to Jerusalem, they all need to support the rebuilding of the temple (vv. 3-4).

The returning exiles bring with them the temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had removed when he destroyed Jerusalem (vv. 7-8). The return of these vessels serves to strengthen the continuity between pre- and postexilic Israel. The discrepancy between the list of the vessels (2,499; vv. 9-10) and the stated total of 5,400 vessels (v. 11) is due to the author's utilization of differing sources.

Ezra 1:1-11


End of the Babylonian Captivity

1In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:

‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill-offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.’

The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites—everyone whose spirit God had stirred—got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 6All their neighbours aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. 7King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8King Cyrus of Persia had them released into the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9And this was the inventory: gold basins, thirty; silver basins, one thousand; knives,* twenty-nine; 10gold bowls, thirty; other silver bowls, four hundred and ten; other vessels, one thousand; 11the total of the gold and silver vessels was five thousand four hundred. All these Sheshbazzar brought up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

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