Sunday, July 1, 2012

Emperor v. Emperor

An ancient copy of the Cyrus decree

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed 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! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.'" Then the heads of fathers' households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem
A passage from an Ancient Hebrew History, otherwise known as Ezra 1:1-5

Dear Yakov:

            Thank you for your kind response.  But most of all, thank you for speaking to that monster, the terror of the poor, Shad.  I now know of my terrible mistake.  I did not know that he was not to be trusted.  As you have seen yourself, your offer of good will and partial payment of my debt has been coldly refused. 

But being the instrument of my horror is not sufficient for Shad.  Two more sorry souls have been thrown into our small box—Yudah and Yohann—and their tales are much like mine.  Yudah was involved in some poor business decisions, for his partner stole all of his goods, leaving him impoverished.  Shad had fronted him finances for the business, and when Yudah was unable to repay, then he became my companion.  Yohann, like me, had a couple of poor years in his field, had even sold his children to slavery to that evil creature, Shad, only to be captured himself when his children were said not to be “worth” what Shad had paid for them!  The three of us are closest companions, as you might imagine.  Sharing the same bucket, exposing our shame before each other draws us closer than brothers.

            Have you heard of the psalm that is circulating?  Of how the humble before Yahweh will be exalted before the wicked who cast them down?  Yudah told me of it, and it is exhilarating!  In it, I can see Yahweh looking down on my imprisonment and having a heart of compassion.  He looks at me, at my suffering wife, at the disaster that is my life and has tears in his eyes.  Then he glances over at oppressor, at his arrogance before the Creator of All, thinking that he can crush the poor under his thumb.  The Mighty One laughs at him in derision, mocking his supposed strength.  Then the Lord of all nations comes down and crushes the oppressor, granting to Yohann, Yudah and myself all the land that once belonged to him.  How I long for that day.  I seek our God daily for the redemption from slavery and a restoration of His mercy.  Adonai, hear our prayers of deliverance! 

            As to the other matter you mentioned, Yakov, yes I have heard some of King Cyrus’ great mercy.  His greatness on the earth cannot be excelled, except by the mercy of our One in Heaven!17  To allow our sorrowing people a release back to the land of our fathers is a gift unsurpassed by any other emperor.  I can feel the excitement of your letter to me of your preparations of return, of the gathering of your wealth to prepare for the journey to come.  It must be a hardship, indeed, to attempt to travel such a great distance with so many flocks and stored crops!  It will almost be like you at the head of a small army, only less manageable!  I rejoice with you in your fortune from the Most High!

            I can’t help but think of Cyrus’ true plan.  When he received the empire from the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s descendents, he took on the problems that the Great Emperor left.  A huge land, peppered with expensive refugee camps all over the world.  The Assyrians scattered among the speakers of Ugarit, the Sidonians at the Sea of Reeds and the Hebrews in Babylonia itself.  The whole world was as a cloth cut up and then reassembled.  Cyrus, however, is a man of order, as appointed to him by the Most High.  So he sends back all the refugees, and suddenly he is Savior of the world, the Anointed One of all the lowly peoples.  Then, instead of having to constantly put down rebellions throughout the world, half the world is indebted to him, ready to defend his name before all.

            Ah, Yakov!  This discussion of world politics reminds me of sitting at my grandfather’s knee, as he discussed with my father the machinations of Nebuchadnezzar, tearing apart the necessity of the Old Emperor to crush nations in order to be great!  I am so happy that you and yours are allowed to return to the old land and will be apportioned some of the land.  Glad that for you the psalm is being fulfilled in your own lifetime!

            But as for me, the salvation of Cyrus is still distant from me.  For as you are released from the refugee camps, I still sit in this cell.  Even as Yahweh has blessed you fully in your years of exile, so I have been forsaken.  I am without son, without land, without crops, without flocks.  All has been stolen from me.  And as you establish your houses and make ready to rebuild the temple with Zerubbabel and Yeshua where the prayers of our people can finally reach our God, praising Cyrus for his glory, I shall still be here in the dark, still smelling like shit, still sweating in the day and freezing in the night, still slowly starving, my only companions the forsaken and rejected. 

            Please do not think I remain in bitterness.  I truly rejoice at God’s blessing for you.  I speak so dramatically so that when the temple is rebuilt you will not forget your friend’s son, still remaining far distant in Babylon.  May my name be raised before Yahweh, and may He fulfill his promise to the poor.

Your dear friend,

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