King Cyrus’ Decree To Help The Exiles Return To Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1 – 4; 2 Chronicles 36:22, 23)

The rise of the Persian Empire will prove to be a real blessing to the exiled nation of Israel. Unlike the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who believed in the uprooting of their captives, Persia’s policy is one of repatriation and maintaining the status quo of the political, social and religious situation to the extent possible. For this reason (as well as for the fulfillment of God’s promised restoration), a very important step is taken by Cyrus the Great in 539-538 BC. He issues the following decree encouraging volunteers among the Hebrews to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple . . .

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”

Imagine the excitement and celebration! But also the dilemma: after over 60 years away from the homeland, the people of Israel are assimilated into Babylonian-turned-Persian society. Those who took Jeremiah’s advice have bought or built homes. Begun businesses, learned a new language and a new way of life. There is also a whole new generation of Jews (as they are now called), who have never even set foot in Palestine. It is going to take a real pioneering spirit to leave prosperous situation for the desolation of a ruined, burned out, brush-covered ghost town (Jerusalem).

But they didn’t forget their spiritual heritage. Over 42,000 decide to return under the leadership of Sheshbazzar, who is appointed governor. Relatives and neighbors give what they can to support the resettlement and reconstruction programs. King Cyrus assists by returning the temple articles which Nebuchadnezzar had looted decades earlier.

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Daniel In The Den of Lions (Daniel 6)

Scripture Text:

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Daniel 6

1. Share a time when you were done-in by having the rug pulled out from under you? How were you set up, betrayed or falsely accused?

2. When have you felt really good about something you did, only to have someone else be jealous or unhappy?

3. What stirs up the jealousy of the administrators and satraps? When their jealous fault-finding campaign (or special investigative unit) runs free of any ethical guidelines, where does it stop (verses 1 – 5)?

4. What trap do the satraps set for Daniel? Why has Daniel’s private life become an issue for public policy and the public’s right to know?

5. How would you describe Daniel’s response to the edict?

  • rebellion
  • perseverance
  • a plea for help
  • faithfulness
  • disregard

6. How did the satraps manage to get their way with the king (verses 6, 7, 12, 13, 15)? Why are appeals to vanity so powerful?

7. Why is the king so distressed (verses 14 – 18)? Is he just favoring whoever he happens to be with at the moment? Or is he sincerely siding with Daniel and his God? Why do you think so?

8. What do you think really happened in the lion’s den to Daniel? To the lions? To the satraps and their families? What about this do you have a problem with?

9. What role does the “laws of the Medes and the Persians” play here (verses 8, 12, 15, 17, 24)? The law of God (verses 5, 10; see 2 Chronicles 6:38, 39; Psalm 55:17)? The faith of Daniel (verses 4, 11, 16, 20 – 23; see Hebrews 11:33)?

10. As part of Daniel’s complete vindication, his accusers receive the same punishment they had demanded that the accused receive (verse 24). Is this Persian custom of vindication and limited (“eye for eye”, “life for life”) retribution supported anywhere in the Bible (see Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 21: Matthew 5:8)? But when, if ever, might it be okay to punish innocent family members of false accusers?

11. How does King Darius respond to all this? Has he become a believer? Why do you think so?

12. Besides jealousy, what might cause people to be interested in the private lives of public figures, especially incorruptible ones?

13. What stirs up your jealousy?

  • the success of others?
  • the desire for material things?
  • the devil?
  • when someone gets whats coming to you?
  • other?

14. Does having strong principles and values cause you to be more or less vulnerable to others? Why?

15. Daniel shows us that the law of God supersedes the law of the land. How do you reconcile what Daniel did with Romans 13:1? How does this square with your view of church and state issues? (see also Matthew 22:1;  Luke 20:25; Acts 5:29)?

16. What parallels do you see between Daniel’s betrayal (verses 3 – 18) and Jesus’ betrayal? Between Daniel’s vindication (verses 19 – 28) and Jesus’ vindication? What do you make of those obvious parallels?

17. When in your life have you experienced God in the midst of a “lion’s den” of skeptics, critics, etc.? How has God alone been your life line?

18. What often keeps you from standing up for something you believe in? Apathy? Consequences? Time? Fear? Peer Pressure? Ignorance?

19. If you were on trial for being a Christian, what verdict would the evidence most likely require?

  • not guilty
  • guilty in the second degree
  • guilty in the first degree
  • deserving of capital punishment

20. Where is the most difficult place for you to maintain your identity as a Christian?

  • at home?
  • at work?
  • at school?
  • at play (ball games, etc.)?
  • among my non-Christian friends?
  • other?

Additional Comment:

Darius’ enthusiasm for the “God of Daniel” is evidently not long-lived. There is no evidence that Babylon did in fact turn to God. On the contrary, it seems that Darius’ character is so unaffected that he betrays his own nation. Realizing Babylonia’s now-weakened condition against the power of Persia, Darius deserts to Cyrus and helps bring about the final overthrow of the very nation he has ruled. Since Nadonidus has gotten into such a drunken state while in exile that he cannot raise a defense, Cyrus walks into Babylon without any opposition and is hailed as King of Babylonia. So ends the power of the great Babylonian Empire, just as the prophets had foretold. Never again will it rise to a position of great power.

Concurrent with the change of rule in Babylon, Daniel leaves the palace and his position of government prominence (Daniel 1:21).. Yet, as indicated in chapter 6:28, he finds favor under the new Persian government. What he does from this point on is unknown, but presumably he remains in Babylon. He will be heard from once again after a period of two or three years.

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Daniel, Gabriel and the Seventy “Sevens” (Daniel 9:20 – 27)

Scripture Text:

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Daniel 9:20 – 27

 

1. What is it like to do a jigsaw puzzle that has missing pieces? Whose handwriting do you find near impossible to decipher?

2. What does this enigma imply about God’s “answering service” (verses 20 – 23)?

3. What six things happen within “seventy sevens”? Which events may refer to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (appx 458 – 430 BC)? Which to Jesus as the Anointed One? Which results seem yet to be? (Hint: What  do the “seven sevens”, the “62 sevens,” the “one seven” mean?)

4. What is the “abomination that causes desolation” (verse 27; chapter 11:31; chapter 12:11): Idol-making? State-church war? Armageddon? In the Gospels, what is it (see Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14)?

5. For Daniel and Jesus, is the emphasis on what the future holds? Or on who holds the future?

6. For you, what is the Gospel in this passage?

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