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Strong leadership can be a great blessing – but also a curse. That’s a crucial lesson illustrated by the last chapter of Nehemiah. The early chapters of Ezra and Nehemiah document the stunning results of Nehemiah’s strong-arm tactics in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. After the city and its temple had been leveled by the Babylonians in 586/587 BCE, some 140 years passed before Humpty Dumpty was put back together again. Nehemiah did the honors, rebuilding the city walls (in 444 BCE) in just 52 days! (Neh 6:15).

But the first task of restoration was rebuilding the temple, and the early chapters of Ezra describe how the Lord made it happen: “The Lord stirred up the Spirit of King Cyrus of Persia” to issue a restoration edict “in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished” (Ezra 1:1[1]).

Cyrus - Credits - Inspiration - Priorities - Temple

Cyrus credits divine inspiration for his three priorities. Building the temple was first. Then he told the Jewish exiles to go back home and get the job done. Finally, he asked their non-Jewish neighbors to help them financially: “Let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:4). Furthermore, Cyrus himself primed the pump by returning to the exiles a total of 5,400 gold and silver vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had hauled off to Babylon when he destroyed Jerusalem (Ezra 1:11).

The effect of the king’s edict and example was magical: “All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered” (Ezra 1:6).

Wealth - Baggage - Exiles

With all that wealth tucked into their baggage, the returned exiles were eager to get started....
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