Read Jeremiah 25:11, 12
and Daniel 9:1, 2
. When did the first return of the exiles happen? What prophecy was the return fulfilling?
The Lord influenced Cyrus to allow the first return, in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy. Jeremiah had written that the land of Judah would lie desolate for 70 years under Babylon (this happened, from 606/605 B.C. to 537/536 B.C.), but then God would open the doors for the captives’ return. As Daniel studied the writings of Jeremiah, he realized that the time had come for that promised return.
In Daniel 9, Daniel is distraught because the 70 years were nearly up with no apparent change, and the new Persian empire had now risen to power. He mourned and turned to God, pleading for mercy and the fulfillment of His promises. In the same chapter (Dan. 9:24-27
), God assured Daniel that He watches over everything and has a future planned, with a Deliverer who will die for the people to atone for their sins, bring righteousness, and fulfill the sacrificial system. In effect, God was saying, “Daniel, don’t worry. Since the true Deliverer (Jesus) will surely come, I will also send a deliver for you now”
. Shortly afterward, God moved Cyrus, the king of Persia, to give the command to release the captives. God is always true to His promises (See Daniel 10
for how God intervened in order to secure the prosperity of His people in their homeland.) Ezra 1
records King Cyrus’s proclamation that the nation of Israel was free to return to Jerusalem and to build the house of the Lord. The command was given sometime between the years 539–537 B.C. Not only does Cyrus let them go, but he also makes sure that they return with gifts and offerings, including the original vessels from the temple, which had been stolen by Nebuchadnezzar. This event reminds us of the Israelites leaving Egypt many years before, when God also moved the hearts of the people to present them with parting gifts. This first group to return to Judah was composed of about 50,000 people, which most likely included women and children from other territories.