Although Cyrus the Great’s decree fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 44:28-45:1), making it possible for the captive Jews to return from the Babylonian captivity, those who chose to return faced a number of challenges. They were going home, but to a home devastated and destroyed by war and years of neglect. They were going home, but they faced opposition in their own homeland. They were going home, but the work to which they returned would require much of them. Nevertheless, Ezra records how more than forty thousand chose to leave the life they knew in Babylon and return to rebuild the temple of the LORD (Ezra 2:1-58, 64-67). But despite the pressing need and their comparatively small numbers, they refused to compromise just to enjoy additional help, remembering the lessons of the past (Ezra 2:59-63). But the most extraordinary action taken by these people faithful to God may be their decision, after returning home and seeing the need, was their giving to the cause. For, “Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses, when they came to the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, offered freely for the house of God, to erect it in its place: According to their ability, they gave to the treasury for the work sixty-one thousand gold drachmas, five thousand minas of silver, and one hundred priestly garments” (Ezra 2:68-69). Having first given to the LORD, they sought a place for themselves in their homeland (Ezra 2:70).
Not unsurprisingly, the principles of giving found in Ezra 2 foreshadow Paul’s later exhortations to the Corinthians. However, rather than seeing these as a series designed to pressure people into opening their pocketbook, we should realize from the context in Ezra that the appeal God makes always begins with opening the heart. The most important gift you can give to God does not have a price tag, though it does have a name. God wishes first for people to give themselves to Him for His cause without any reservations (2 Cor. 8:5). The sacrifices we make in life and living will always precede as well as encourage any other giving that matters (Rom. 12:1). As a result, we will then give with purpose (1 Cor. 16:1-2). We will recognize the needs of the church, the needs of the work, and the needs of others and therefore give. But this does not stem from an external sense of obligation but rather from a heart that has grown to love God, love the brethren, and love all, so much that giving freely to help becomes, if you will pardon the pun, a given. But, as with the Israelites, the greatest comfort in anything we give is knowing that God asks only that we give according to our ability, though He certainly encourages us to examine ourselves for what is possible rather than just what is easy (2 Cor. 8:13-15). These principle of giving help to propel the work forward today just as they did in the days of Ezra. But they do more than open doors for the work; they help keep our hearts open, and that always makes giving more beneficial to the giver by far (Acts 20:35).