Leaders from the families of Judah and Benjamin took the initiative. The priests and Levites were also among the first to head back to Zion. When God inspired Cyrus to proclaim freedom, the same divine influence moved both the political and pastoral leaders among the people of Israel to seize the opportunity (Zechariah 4:6). Despite tempting reasons to stay in Babylon (familiarity, connections, and the challenging journey) some overcame these obstacles. Their spirits, uplifted by God, were fueled by a desire for freedom and love for their homeland – a love for their heritage. In order to achieve the rebuilding of Israel’s heritage, God not only stirred up the heart of a foreign king (Cyrus – likely an unbeliever), but he also divinely inspired a native leader of Israel, one who had despised Babylon from his youth (Zerubbabel – a believer).
“Judah had a prince, even in captivity. Sheshbazzar, supposed to be the same with Zerubbabel, is here called prince of Judah; the Chaldeans called him Sheshbazzar, which signifies JOY IN TRIBULATION; but among his own people he went by the name of Zerubbabel—A STRANGER IN BABYLON; so he looked upon himself, and considered Jerusalem his home.” -Matthew Henry