You can imagine the scene: Israel is exiled in Babylon, and they have been there for seven decades. Seven decades of waiting and wondering. Seven decades for any lingering hopes of deliverance to dwindle. Seven decades asking whether God would rescue them from exile, or not. Seven decades of desperately crying out to God, only to hear nothing in return. Two generations have come and gone, but Israel is still in Babylon, beleaguered by years of disappointment.
Hanging in the background of every Israelite’s mind is the promise God made to His people before being captured and stolen away to Babylon. The promise made by the prophet Jeremiah that the exile would only be 70 years, then the people of God would return to the Promised Land (Jer 25:8-14, 29:10-14). After so many years, it would be all too easy to question whether this is true or not. But then, suddenly, the Persian empire arises and quickly sweeps through the Ancient Near East, seizing control of Babylon and its vassal territories. There’s a new king in town, but would he care about the promises made by an obscure prophet to an obscure people so long ago?
Here we see the workings of God in history come to full display. The new Persian king, Cyrus, has no reason to offer the Israelites any favors, and keeping them in exile seems like a perfectly reasonable option. However, he decrees that the people of Israel be set free to return to their homeland after God stirs up his spirit (Ezra 1:1-4). Not only that, he amply supplies them to return and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, even returning the wealth that was first plundered by Babylon (1:4; 6:5). God has answered His promise. He has not forsaken His people, but they have been in His mind all along.
This is one of the truths we must hold dearly as followers of Christ; we serve a God who always keeps His promises. He is unwavering, steadfast, and absolute. The Israelites had plenty of reasons to assume God had abandoned them, but He was always working to bring about their deliverance. In their most trying season, where Israel had every opportunity to theologically unravel, God was still there. These same people were promised a Messiah as well. However, He would not come for another 500 years, and when He did come, He did so in such a manner that only a few could believe He was the true fulfillment of the promise. We have been promised this same Messiah’s return, but here we sit 2,000 years later still longing for that promise to be fulfilled. Will we continue waiting?
During this season, we must remember that our God is a God who keeps His promises. He does not delay, and He does not forget. Just as Israel had to remember the promises God had made to deliver them, so too must we remember that our God has promised us the same. We already experience His deliverance in part by the power of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, and we will see God’s deliverance fully realized when our Messiah comes again. But, we must continue to wait in the meantime. We continue to hope and to trust, and we do so knowing that our God is always present to us in the promises He has made.