By Arlene Bridges Samuels, CBNIsrael—
During the Persian Empire and beyond, rulers, religions, and the well-being of the Jewish community shifted like the Middle Eastern desert sands.
When it comes to news about Iran, reports today are dominated by deadly threats to Israel from Iran’s Imams, whose goals are set on establishing a modern caliphate with nuclear capability. The Bible also records news about Iran, the Persia of yesteryear, in the ancient books of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Isaiah, and Nehemiah—and in mostly favorable interactions. The Jews lived in exile in Persia in the sixth century B.C., when Persia was the largest empire ever known. It stretched across three continents—Europe, Africa, and Asia—and was home to nearly half of the world’s population. Possibly 20% of its population was Jewish.
King Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, ruled from 559-530 B.C. Sometimes called the “world’s first Zionist,” he blessed the Jewish community described in Ezra 1:1-3: “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel.”
Cyrus committed to his proclamation and thus promoted the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. He also gave Jews permission to return to Israel if they wished, yet many remained in Persia. After Cyrus was killed in 529 B.C., his son stopped the construction. Then, under King Darius, the work began again. Queen Esther’s story dramatically takes a turn when Darius’ son Xerxes (Ahasuerus) chose her as his queen.
Both Jews and Christians regard Queen Esther as one of the most famous and important women in history. Yet when Haman rose as an official in Xerxes’ court, his nefarious plan to kill all the Jews was a deadly contrast to Jewish/Persian relationships under Cyrus and some of his successors. Queen Esther’s decision to walk bravely and prayerfully in a strategic consultation with God stopped Haman’s evil plot. Esther’s plea to her king resulted in the survival of God’s chosen people, the birth of our Jewish Savior, and the rebirth of the modern Jewish nation in 1948.
History reveals many more events in the relationship between ancient and modern Iran and Israel. When Arabs defeated the Persians in the seventh century, they instituted Islam as the main religion. Despite the invasion, the Persians managed to maintain their language and customs. Yet, from the founding of Islam to the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1299, Jewish persecution steadily grew worse in the Middle East and lasted for centuries. Continue Reading….