A Culture of Philanthropy (Ezra 1:1-6)
After 70 years of captivity, as God’s prophets predicted, the people of Israel were released from bondage to go and rebuild their temple (Isaiah 44:28). According to historical records, such as the Cyrus Cylinder, other pagan captives were also allowed to rebuild their pagan temples too. It is unique that King Cyrus, a pagan king, encouraged his enriched nation to fund this religious restoration project. Notice the text in Ezra 1:1-6,
“Now 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, saying, 2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia:
All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. 3 Who 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 build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. 4 And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem. 5 Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. 6 And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered.”
Although Cyrus was not from God’s chosen nation his decrees were an indication God was using Persia as a tool of providence. Cyrus and the Persian nation were the most powerful empire in western civilization during this time. The Persian people had prospered greatly. Though the Jews were slaves, many had prospered while being a part of this regime as well. So, what is the tone Cyrus sets for how the citizens and slaves of his nation should use their prosperity? They should help by giving “freewill offerings” of “silver and gold” so God’s house can be rebuilt (Ezra 1:4).
With this ruling, Cyrus did the opposite of many of the kings and emperors of ancient world powers. Other kings and emperors looked to take, loot, and benefit from the spoils of war. On the contrary, King Cyrus instilled a culture of philanthropy within the people of his nation. Though a pagan king, this is a culture every Christian should seek to duplicate as well. We ought to be known not for a thirst for greed and gain, but by what we can give for the good of God’s work and God’s people. Is your generous lifestyle, seen by your words and deeds, helping build a culture of philanthropy?