This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: The LORD God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the world. And he has ordered me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem (which is in Judah). May God be with all of you who are his people. You may go to Jerusalem (which is in Judah) and build a temple for the LORD God of Israel. He is the God who is in Jerusalem. All who choose to remain behind, wherever they may be living, should provide the people who are leaving with silver, gold, supplies, livestock, and freewill offerings to be used in God’s temple in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:2-4)
King Cyrus was on top of the world. From mountainous Persia he ruled a vast empire; he was secure enough to allow the Jews to return to their homeland. In doing so he was God’s instrument, doing his will.
But Cyrus had other choices to make, too. A man named Artembares had an idea: that the Persians abandon their mountainous homeland and settle in a richer part of their new empire, probably what is now Iraq. Cyrus told them that Artembares and his friends could do what they wanted, but that he wasn’t going anywhere: “’Soft countries,’ he said, ‘breed soft men. It is not the property of any one soil to produce fine fruits and good soldiers too.’ The Persians had to admit that this was true and that Cyrus was wiser than they; so they left him, and chose rather to live in a rugged land and rule than to cultivate rich plains and be subject to others.” (Herodotus, The Histories)
The Jews returned to their land and began to rebuild their temple. Cyrus’ descendants would rule from their rugged land for another two hundred years. And Cyrus’ decision still works: one reason why the U.S. attacked Iraq and not Iran (Persia) was because of the rugged terrain from whence Cyrus came.
We always want the “easy way” out, and our lives to always be smooth sailing. But rugged terrain—physically and in life—can build character and endurance in a way that nothing else can. Jesus Christ won us freedom on an old rugged cross: don’t throw it away for easy street!