Ezra 1:1–2:70, 1 John 3:5–10, Psalm 106:1–15
Some relatives and friends once followed Jesus but are now in bondage to sin and the forces of darkness. At times it seems as if their chosen course will never change. We pray for them yet the years go by without any sign o interest in God. Is there hope? Today’s OT reading brings tears to my eyes and great encouragement to my heart.
The Israelites were taken captive to Babylon. They were there for seventy years and freedom seemed hopeless. Yet God had a plan. He also had the ability to make it happen . . .
“In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus 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. Whoever 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 rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 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.’” (Ezra 1:1–4)
Cyrus was a king, the ruler over many. He held God’s people captive, yet God spoke to his heart and gave him directions to let His people go back to their land and rebuilt their temple. When I read this, I am thinking that the same God is able to speak to forces that hold my family in bondage to sin. He is able to say, “Let my people go” and there are no options but those spiritual enemies must release them and allow them to return to God.
But what about their willingness? One disheartened wife of an unsaved man kept saying that her husband would never follow Christ because he was too stubborn. Is a stubborn heart too much for God? Is laziness or selfishness or disinterest able to stop the Lord from changing lives? It was not among the people of Judah. God had a plan and He would carry out that plan.
“Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem . . . . The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720. Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments.” (Ezra 1:5, 2:64–69)
God changes hearts. Not only did they go back, they returned to their land with generous hearts and open pocketbooks. This is what Almighty God can do; He changes lives. Furthermore, when He changes lives, that change is the mark of His hand. The NT reading confirms this and uses this supernatural change as evidence for true believers . . .
“Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:8–9)
No matter how deep the grip of sin or how far a person drops away from God, He is able to change their heart and motivate their return to Him.
“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise?” (Psalm 106:1–2)
The psalmist praises the mighty deeds of God: “Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness. Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert. So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words; they sang his praise.” (Psalm 106:6–12)
God is in the business of turning rebels into His submissive servants, people who believe Him and praise Him. Should God determine to change hearts, nothing can thwart His plan.