My mom likes to say that the hearts of kings and princes are in God’s hand. That’s what I cameaway with after reading Ezra. I was bowled away by the statement of Cyrus, the king 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, which is in Judah… And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem… And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also 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. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. – Ezra 1:2, 4.
After the Israelites had spent years in exile, God was able to convince a foreign king to send them home, and give them everything they need to rebuild his temple. He did not forget them, or hold their past sins against them. He kept his promise and forgave them. Not only that, he had Cyrus convinced that he was only ruler of such a large area because of the Hebrew God. That is power. He did this not once, but thrice. During the reign of Darius, when the rebuilding of the temple was opposed, Darius sent out a letter saying,
And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, 10 that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. 11 Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. 12 May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence – Ezra 6:10 – 12
He did it the third time during the reign of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7). God’s mercy, kindness, love, and power was on display during that time. He wasn’t leading them with pillars of fire or parting seas, but he was with them. In the same way he provides for his people today.
Ezra’s Response to Intermarriage
In keeping with my tradition of blaming all wrongdoing in the Bible on the people rather than God, I must express outrage at Ezra’s handling of this particular event. God had commanded the people not to marry foreigners to prevent those foreigners from bringing foreign gods and leading the people astray. However, some Israelites had done that during the exile. Ezra’s solution was to send away the foreign women and their children. The people had already sinned. In ending those marriages he showed disregard for the institution of marriage and put those women in a bad place. He deprived the children of their fathers. How is that a good solution? It seems more that he missed the point of the command and neglected to show mercy. He would have done better to ensure that the foreigners were converted and put in measures to ensure that the law was followed. The crime had already been committed.