God is the sovereign ruler of every country. You can see this again and again in the Old Testament. When the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God and worshipped idols, He first raised up the Assyrians to capture the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Then when the Southern Kingdom didn’t get the message and they fell into idolatry, God raised up the Babylonians to burn the temple and tear down the walls of Jerusalem. They left only the poorest people of the land; the rest they hauled into captivity.
The prophet Jeremiah foretold that they would be in captivity for 70 years (Jer. 25:11). In the book of Daniel we see that God had led him to pray three times a day for Jerusalem. And just like clockwork God worked through that prayer to stir up Cyrus the King of Persia’s heart to issue a decree to let the Israelites return and rebuild their temple.
Ezra 1:1-3 Now in the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia, so that the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus the king of Persia; and he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and put it also in writing, saying,
Thus says Cyrus the king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth has Jehovah the God of heaven given to me; and He has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
Whoever there 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 let him build the house of Jehovah the God of Israel--He is God--who is in Jerusalem.
In verse 5 it says that God stirred up the leaders of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi to return to Jerusalem. It’s touching that the first thing the people did was rebuild the altar of God and offer burnt offerings like Moses had commanded the people in Exodus (Ezra 3:2-3). By keeping the Feast of Tabernacles and offering the daily burnt offerings, the worship of God which had been lost for 70 years was finally recovered!In chapter 3 of the Life-Study of Ezra Witness Lee talks about the difficulties the Israelites encountered rebuilding the house of God. Mostly they were frustrated by the people brought in to Samaria by the kings of Assyria and Babylon. These people even hired counselors to frustrate the rebuilding of God’s house throughout all the days when Cryus was king (Ezra 4:1-6). They even got King Artaxerxes to issue a decree that stopped the building work. But God wasn’t stopped; He raised up King Darius to support Cyrus’ decree that the house of God be rebuilt. Finally in the sixth year of his reign the house of God was dedicated (Ezra 6:15).
At the end of chapter 3 Witness Lee ties this in to the situation among believers today:
Today very few believers care for the building up of a proper local church in their locality as the house of God. This means that God is kept homeless. He does have a home in the heavens with the angels, but He needs a home with the humanity of His heart’s desire. God wants to have such a house. …through such a house God will have His kingdom (Lee, Witness. Life-Study of 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther. Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1995, Print).
It amazes me that the story of captivity and the return of the Jews to rebuild God’s house is a parallel of what God is doing among His believers today. What I see here is it's important for God's people to cooperate with God when He stirs up our spirit. What would have happened if Cyrus hadn't made a decree? What would have happened if none of the Israelites had responded?