In exile it has happened time and again that Jews became administrators in the empires in which they were held captive. Jewish administrators used their gifts to help the rulers of empires enact just and wise decrees to the benefit of the diverse peoples of empires. They also used their influence to save their own people – the Jews in foreign lands.
Some of these administrators were the prophets of the Old Testament.
The first well-known story of an Israeli administrator was Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt (Genesis chapters 37, 39). Joseph becomes the second in command to Pharaoh in Egypt in about 1700 BC.
The book of Tobit is among the Apocryphal books. Tobit who was exiled in Nineveh became a purchaser for the Assyrian king who had taken him captive, King Shalmaneser. Tobit gets into trouble with the next king Sennacherib and is put in prison. Sennacherib is killed by his own sons, and one them Esarhaddon becomes king.
Tobit’s nephew Ahikar gets the top job in the administration of King Esarhaddon and uses his influence to get Tobit released from prison.
Tobit’s son Tobias marries and goes to live in Ecbatana. It is in this city that the Persian Empire archives are kept including the decree of Cyrus. Could a Jewish descendant of Tobit and Tobias have become an archivist there? At any rate, it is there that the decree for the release of the Jews from Babylon and Persia is unexpectedly found.
When Daniel was taken into exile in Babylon he at first worked for King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar witnesses extraordinary miracles, but ends up going mad and eating grass. Later Daniel worked for King Darius, the Persian king who took over the Babylonian Empire. Darius started to adopt belief in the God of the Jews after also witnessing miraculous rescues of Daniel from lions. But the ruler who reversed the fate of the exiled Jews was Cyrus the Great, King of Persia.
Cyrus ruled the Achaemenid Empire which stretched across the whole Middle East after conquering the Assyrians and the Babylonians. He started off as a polytheist pagan worshiping idols but became a monotheist. Why did Cyrus make the just decree that the Jews should be set free to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple?
I knew that things don’t just happen, and people don’t just make decisions like this. There is always a prophet who influences the course of events somehow. There is always a shadowing of kings. But for Cyrus II I could not locate the Old Testament prophet who influenced him.
That is not until I started to read the additional Apocryphal chapters of the book of the prophet Daniel. Chapters 13 and 14 show that Daniel served Cyrus the Great at the royal court in Persia – this occurred in between serving King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius.
From the chapters on Bel and the Dragon in the book of Daniel, we learn that the prophet Daniel became an advisor to Cyrus the Great. He influenced him to become a monotheist and abandon belief in idols. The first idol that Daniel proves to be a fake is called Bel. Daniel discredits the priests of the temple of Bel showing that the statue is not, in fact, eating the food offerings brought to it. Cyrus concedes, but immediately turns to a living idol which is a dragon with a ferocious appetite. This idol does eat food and appears invincible. Daniel feeds it burning tar wrapped up in barley cakes, its stomach burns through and bursts open, so this idol is also dead. After this Cyrus is convinced that there is only one God and it is the God of Daniel.
Without the additional part of the book of Daniel, it made no sense that Cyrus set the Jews free. These texts show that he too was shadowed by a prophet and this brought about God’s plans.
The foundations laid by Daniel are built upon by Ezra. Ezra works in conjunction with King Artaxerxes I who reigned the Achaemenid Empire from 465 – 424 BC. Under Ezra’s influence, Artaxerxes I sends him back to Jerusalem with silver and gold previously stolen from the First Temple.
Ezra builds on the influence of Queen Esther on Xerxes I – Xerxes the Great who ruled the Achaemenid Empire from 486 to 465 BC, and who was the father of Artaxerxes I.
The empires of the ancient world are very confusing, but when you start to see how God placed a prophet beside each ruler, the rise and fall of empires starts to make sense.
This post has fallen on the day of the coronation of King Charles III in England without me intending it!