It’s one of those verses in Scripture that, for me, spikes the awe-o-meter. But not because it’s reveals explicitly the glory of God, or describes directly the nature of His holy character, or chronicles thoroughly the mighty work of His hands. Rather, its focus is a pagan king, who acted in a not-so-pagan manner — because of a glorious, holy, mighty God. And “all” God did was stir it up.
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.”
(Ezra 1:1-2 ESV)
The LORD, God of heaven, stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia. Literally, He wakened it. He opened the eyes of his heart. He roused the sensitivity of His inner being. Just as God had moved a pagan king 70 years earlier to be the means to judge His people and rip them from their land, so He moved again in the spirit of a powerful political figure to restore His people to their land, giving them the task of rebuilding the place where the glory of God had dwelt. Amazing!
We’re not told exactly how God did this with Cyrus. Was a it a dream? A vision? A word from a trusted counselor? Safe bet that Daniel had some influence, been used of God in some manner to make the God of heaven known. But specifically, how the king came to the conclusion that he was being directed to let the people of Israel go and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem is unknown.
But another reading this morning perhaps offers a clue.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
(Proverbs 1:7a ESV)
The fear of the LORD, says Solomon, that’s the starting place. Mark that as your true north, and the Spirit of God has something to work with in leading someone down the paths of life. Start with humbling yourself before God, and it greatly increases your chance of being led by God. Acknowledge a sovereign, all mighty God who reigns supreme, and it has a way of bringing clarity to the life you’ve been given to steward.
And I think Cyrus, however it came about, knew the fear of the LORD.
The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth . . .
Cyrus was a big kahuna throughout the known world, but He confessed that there was a God who was LORD over all in an unknown realm beyond his world. Cyrus, by His military might and means, had conquered all the kingdoms of the earth, yet he acknowledged that, ultimately, they had been given to him by a God, according to His purposes, who sovereignly and powerfully ruled in heaven. Cyrus knew he was a big deal, but he also confessed we wasn’t the biggest deal. And that, I think, is at least a part of what it means to fear the Lord.
And that’s what God had to work with. With that acknowledgement, with that posture, the Spirit of God was able stir the spirit of a man to do the will of God.
Humility which acknowledges the rule of God has a way of awakening an individual towards the mind of God. Being real about who I am in light of who God is, can rouse the soul to desire to walk in the ways of God. To confess that all I have He has given, can prime the pump for the Spirit’s work in directing how to steward what I have.
Fear the LORD. And He’ll stir it up.
By His grace. For His glory.