It is often hard to correlate historical descriptions contained in the Old Testament with other scholarly knowledge of the ancient world. “Why would Cyrus not only give permission for the Israelites to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, but also shower them with resources of wealth to achieve it?” This is a fair question but there are a couple of points here that are relevant. Firstly, Cyrus did not capture the Israelites in the first place but came to be in charge of them after conquering the Babylonian empire. Secondly, Cyrus pursued a policy of supporting and nurturing local culture in the countries across his vast kingdom stretching from India in the East to much of the Middle East. (After his death his son extended the empire into Egypt and North Africa). It was politically successful to allow local administrations to continue with their customs even though they had been conquered and dominated by the Persians who were renowned as great administrators.
So, it is quite in keeping with secular, historical knowledge of Cyrus that he may have allowed the Jews to return to their home lands and rebuild the temple. Interesting that the writer of Ezra here says this whole episode occurred “in order to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah”. It is just so hard to get the big picture that God is completely sovereign when so many things have to gel over centuries to arrive at a particular point in history.
Matt 14: 13 – 36
Here we have another pair of historical descriptions which can in no way be explained by any natural phenomenon, historical sequence, coincidence or interpretation of the facts. These two miracles defy the laws of physics as we know them. This passage is one of those that will divide readers of the Bible into those that accept the supernatural and those that do not. The critical verse however is v 31. Matthew does not tell us directly that it is faith that allows the miracle to occur but there seems to be a hint that it is so. But wait! If faith causes Peter to walk on water then it is not a pure miracle. It could be said that we could command all sorts of miracles if only we had enough faith. Not so. We have seen already in Ezra, that God is sovereign and acts over centuries to bring His plans to fruition. Similarly here, the miracles occur to demonstrate the power of Jesus as the Son of God. Yes, we are required to have faith in Jesus and his redemptive sacrifice, but we will be disappointed and confused if we think that faith can allow us to do things like walk on water. Have faith in God and let him work things out. He worked thought Cyrus, one of the most powerful kings to ever reign and He is still sovereign today.