Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 120

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 120

In yesterday's passage we saw the Lord call the idols into court to present their case, but they remained mute and useless as always, so the Lord's verdict was, "You are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless." 

Now the Lord compares Himself in all His omnipotence to these worthless idols, for He is the One who makes kingdoms rise and fall. "I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes---one from the rising sun who calls on My name." (Isaiah 41:25a) This "one" whom the Lord stirs up is thought to be the same man from verse 2 who has been "stirred up from the east", namely Cyrus of Persia. At its height of glory, the Persian Empire contained territories both north and east of Jerusalem and Babylon. There may also be a play on words here in referring to Cyrus as one who comes from the rising sun because his name was derived from the Persian khurvas which means "sun-like".

The Lord is telling this to the people of Judah long before it happens so that when it happens they will know that God is real and in command of all events in history. It is the Lord who incites Cyrus to become a great conqueror and it is the Lord who will move the heart of Cyrus to proclaim freedom for the captives. (2 Chronicles 26:22-23) What idol has the power to speak to a man's heart? What idol can decide whether one kingdom conquers another? What idol gives freedom to the captives? In contrast to the idols who stood woodenly behind the defense table in the Lord's courtroom yesterday, the Lord is able to do all these things and more. 

The Lord is going to give awesome power to the man He has chosen to help His people. "He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay." (Isaiah 41:25b) There is an interesting legend about Cyrus as a baby, that his maternal grandfather King Astyages (king of the Median Empire) had a dream that someday this child would grow up and take the throne from him, so he ordered the baby killed. But the official who was given the task of killing Cyrus instead gave him to a shepherd to raise. This deception was discovered when Cyrus was about ten years old and his grandfather allowed him to live. The dream came true when, as a grown man, Cyrus revolted against Astyages and overthrew him, with the Median Empire surrendering to Cyrus in 550BC. If this legend about the near-death of Cyrus as an infant is true, we see the similarity between this and the order Pharaoh gave the midwives in Egypt to kill all the baby boys of the Hebrews, leading the mother of Moses to place him in a basket on the river where he was found and raised by Pharaoh's daughter. We also see the similarity between this story and Herod's orders to kill all the baby boys of Bethlehem, causing Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus to flee into Egypt for safety until after Herod's death. In both those cases, Satan desired to remove deliverers from the earth. He wanted to kill the man who would deliver the Hebrews from Egypt and the Man who would deliver the human race from sin. It's not far-fetched to assume, if the story of Cyrus is true, that Satan also wanted to wipe out the man whom the Lord would choose to deliver His people from Babylon. 

Cyrus considered himself more of a liberator than a conqueror. The "Cyrus Cylinder" found in Babylon has been praised as the world's first declaration of human rights, for in it Cyrus speaks of removing the shameful yoke from the captives in Babylon, allowing all the citizens to have religious freedom, and permitting foreigners to return to their own lands. Though the religion of Cyrus was almost certainly Zoroastrianism and he did not worship the God of Israel, we can understand how the religion of Cyrus shaped his views on human rights. He believed in a supreme deity who required mercy and kindness to one's fellow man. He believed in a god who would judge mankind by his deeds. His book of the law would have stood up well in comparison to that of Moses. If he could have heard Jesus speak these words, he would have agreed with them, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:38-39) Cyrus would have been nodding his head if he could have heard Jesus say, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31) A man like this is one the Lord can work with, which is why He will say of Cyrus, "For the sake of Jacob My servant, of Israel My chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge Me." (Isaiah 45:4) 

When all these things come to pass, God's people will know that He ordained them. "Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, 'He was right'? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you." (Isaiah 41:26) No man, and certainly no graven image, predicted these things. The Mighty God is the One who gave this prophecy to Isaiah, who then gave the news to the people that, though defeat and captivity were in their future, deliverance was also there.

"I was the first to tell Zion, 'Look, here they are!' I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news. I look but there is no one---no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion." (Isaiah 41:28) The Judge has made His ruling. The gods sitting before Him in the courtroom are nothing but lies. They have no minds, no power, no strength. The Lord is saying to His people, "Why would you forsake Me, the Holy One, for these unprofitable images? Choose whom you will serve. Will it be these mute blocks of wood and gold-plated images who cannot hear your prayers or save you? Or will you serve Me, the One who loves you and is able to help you?" The Lord offers us this same choice today. Will we serve Him, the One who loved us and gave Himself for us? Or will we serve the idols of the world?

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