Human History Is the Unfolding of God’s Events according to his Calendar.

Human History Is the Unfolding of God’s Events according to his Calendar.

“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. 3 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. 4 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 1:2-4).

Historical and cultural analysis points out that King Cyrus and his officials designed the decree (Ezra 1:2-4) as a strategy to control his provinces to prevent any insurrections that often occurred in the past during the reign of Assyrian and Babylonian empires. More specifically, the Cyrus Cylinder shows that this policy permitted Cyrus’ vassals to return to their territories and to practice their culture and religion. King Cyrus might have believed that Yahweh was one of the heavenly armies of his god, Ahura Mazda, along with the god of Babylon Marduck. The passage therefore does not point that Cyrus the great became a believer of the LORD. Then, the return of the exiles seems to be a result of a natural flow of human history and that of the king’s political strategy without any divine intervention. How should we interpret the passage?

A careful reflection of the passage in the context of God’s covenant with his people renders that the return of the exiles occurred according to God’s special timing, method, and purpose. To unpack the statement, first, God chose the particular time for the event. In the Book of Jeremiah, God promised Jeremiah that he would bring his covenant people back to Jerusalem after the seventy years of captivity  (Jer. 25:11-1229:10). There were three official stages of the deportations between 607-586 B.C. Now, King Cyrus in his first year, most likely referring to 538 B.C., made the declaration to all of his vassals, not limited to the people of Judah (Evangelical OT scholars differ in their estimates of the date of the king’s proclamation but still agree that the prophecy was fulfilled after the seventy years of the Babylonian exile). Choosing this specific time in history, God accomplished his promise of returning his covenant community back to Jerusalem after the seventy years of captivity in 538 B.C.

Second, God chose the particular mode of the historical event. Even though King Cyrus and his officials were motivated to devise the strategy to protect and promote the welfare of the Persian Empire, the God of the heaven and earth was already in the act of realizing his divine design, by moving the heart of the king to develop such a scheme according to God’s wisdom and to accomplish his salvation history. Ezra writes in 1:1, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing.” The historical event was the outcome of the mighty hands of the LORD, breaking the cycle of the captivity, and mysteriously, God chose this particular mode to fulfill the promise that he made to his covenant community and liberated them from the captivity. 

Lastly, the historical occurrence was God’s intentional operation. He chose to gather his people back to reconstruct the broken temple and to prepare the groundworks for the Messianic reign and covenant. The return to Jerusalem ensured that the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethel would be fulfilled (Micah 5:2), that the people of Judah would be preserved for the Messiah was prophesized to be born in the line of Judah (Jer. 23), and that the Messiah would be born in the particular time in the world history to be raised in the particular social, cultural, historical setting to fulfill his redemptive mission on the cross (Isa. 53). That is, God’s act of delivering his people from their captivity was not a random event or an outcome of the natural flow of the world history, but a foreseen and customized event that was part of God’s whole redemptive history.

We must remember that human history is the unfolding of God’s events according to his glorious calendar. That means God has special plans for the world and accomplishes them according to his timing, method, and wisdom in his everlasting love, goodness, and holiness for the splendid and unceasing glory of God. We often seek God in the midst of extraordinary works and dismiss him in the midst of ordinary works, as if he is a part-time worker who controls only few parts of the world history. No, he uses believers and unbelievers through what may seem as extraordinary and ordinary events in our perspectives, intervenes directly and indirectly in the affairs of human beings, and even permits evil deeds to flourish in the world. We may not understand the motifs of the special timings and modes that he chooses to deliver his mighty works; however, as he has promised in the past and still proclaims today through the Words of God, they will be done in earth as it is in heaven. We must be in the habit of seeing the unfolding of the world history through God’s calendar and of trusting that he is fully invested and engaged in his redemptive history.

The day came, after 430 years of slavery when God liberated his people from the oppression of Egypt. The day came, after 70 years of the captivity when God used King Cyrus to make the decree. The day came, after 534 years since the return to Jerusalem when the Messiah was born in Bethel. The Day is coming! Let’s rejoice friends, for the days of redemption and deliverance are coming.

J.D. Kim