The prayers found in the book of Ezra take place during a unique time in the history of Israel: the King of Persia sends Ezra to lead a large group of Jews back to their homeland after decades of exile. They are to rebuild the Temple and restore their religious practices and worship.
In such a unique period, we might think the prayer would be so specific that they would offer us little to learn for our own prayers. But, like so many other prayers in the Bible, there are always new perspective and insights.
Do you fast as a spiritual exercise? For ancient Jews and Christians, fasting was almost exclusively used in conjunction with prayer—petition, to be precise. This story of Ezra, fasting, and prayer demonstrate why fasting and prayer go together.
The separation of Church and State is written into the U.S. Constitution, a result of modern historical realities. But for believers, the separation—and connections—is found even in the ancient book of Ezra. This prayer gives us some insights into how prayer plays a part in the interaction between the State and our faith.
Just as God used King Cyrus of Persia to further his plans for the Jews, and Cyrus offered a prayer to him, King Darius of Persia did the same, many years later. What do these prayers by unbelievers teach us about prayer and the work of God? How should a believer live under a State that does not share that faith?
The book of Ezra opens with a proclamation from the King of Persia, Cyrus. The first words of the book tell us that it was Cyrus’ first year as king, and that God caused Cyrus to issue this proclamation throughout the land. The proclamation says that any Jews who are still alive in his lands may now go to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. More surprisingly, Cyrus prays that God will be with the Jews. What can we learn from this prayer of a pagan King?