Monday, November 7, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 132

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 132

The Lord has more to say in our passage today about Cyrus of Persia, the man who, about two hundred years later, will set the captives of Judah free from Babylon.

Cyrus was so successful in his military campaigns that his people and the nations he conquered believed he had been especially blessed and anointed by "the gods". No one could explain his great achievements in human terms and so they resorted to crediting the gods for his achievements. But we learn from the book of Isaiah who is the power behind Cyrus' throne. The Lord specifically chose him for a particular time in history to do great things. "This is what the Lord says to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut." (Isaiah 45:1) The people of Israel and Judah were accustomed to thinking of the Lord's "anointed" as a king with the divine right to rule, such as those of the Davidic dynasty. They thought of the Lord's "anointed" as the coming King and Messiah of the line of David whose kingdom would last forever. A great prophet, such as Elijah or Elisha, would have been considered "anointed" by God. The last thing the people would expect is that God would anoint a pagan ruler to be their deliverer. But God is sovereign and He chooses whom He will. Cyrus worshiped his own god and did not know the God of Israel, but when the God of Israel spoke to him, Cyrus was compelled to act. He did not, and possibly could not, resist the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he felt a special calling on his life all along and then, according to the ancient historian Josephus, he was able to read the book of Isaiah which the captives had taken to Babylon. He saw his name written there and the great deeds the Lord commanded him to perform on behalf of God's people. Cyrus took this calling upon his life quite seriously.

The Lord says to his chosen man, "I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron." (Isaiah 45:2) On a night when King Belshazzar of Babylon partied drunkenly in the palace, Cyrus and his men were busy diverting the flow of the Euphrates into the swamp. Though the people of Babylon knew the Persians were nearby, when Cyrus reached the city gates they already stood open. Some sources state that the reason for the gates being open has no explanation; others state Belshazzar ordered them opened to see what was happening when he heard the noise of the advancing Persian army. Whatever the cause of the open gates, the Lord kept His word to Cyrus. He opened the way for him to take Babylon without having to batter down gates or cut through bars. The Lord took care of this for him.

"I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name." (Isaiah 45:3) The wealth of the nations Cyrus conquered became his. The treasuries and storehouses and hidden vaults and safes were discovered and opened by him, their contents his for the taking. But I think the Lord gave Cyrus greater riches than these, a treasure more valuable than gold or silver: the Lord gave Cyrus a calling upon his life, a purpose, a part to play in the grand drama of His people Israel. Is there anything more precious than having the assurance of what we are meant to do with our lives? Cyrus was able to say with confidence, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build a temple for Him at Jerusalem in Judah." (Ezra 1:2) Cyrus likely never fully understood the enormity of his calling or what a vital part he played in God's plans for His people. The captives, including the royal family, had to be allowed to go free so the Davidic royal line could continue on down to Jesus of Nazareth. The nation of Judah had to be revived, the walls of Jerusalem raised, and the temple rebuilt, in order to fulfill Messianic prophecy. Cyrus was probably proud of being called to action by such a great God, and I think he felt he performed a good deed on behalf of the people of Judah, but we simply don't know whether he understood the prophecies from the book of Isaiah about a coming King and an eternal kingdom. The main thing we know about Cyrus is that he had a teachable spirit. He had open ears to the voice of God, unlike the generation of Judah who went into captivity. He was willing to say to this God he did not know, "Here I am. Send me!" Pagan or not, this is a man God could use in a time when God's people were not making themselves available for His use. 

"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 45:5) It was important that God name this deliverer two centuries before he would set the captives free. When Cyrus comes on the scene, the people of Judah in Babylon will recognize his name from the book of Isaiah. They will know that God is the Lord and is true to His word. Furthermore, imagine the shock of Cyrus when he finds himself written about in the word of God! The religion of Cyrus was most likely Zoroastrianism and he was not familiar with Israel's God, which is why the Lord said "you do not acknowledge Me". Cyrus had spent his life praying to and making offerings to Ahura-Mazda, the god of the Persians. But upon finding his own name written in the Scriptures, Cyrus is compelled to call Israel's God "the Lord, the God of heaven". 

"I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged Me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things." (Isaiah 45:5-7) In the Persian religion there were two equally powerful gods. There was Ahura-Mazda, a god of light. and there was Angra-Mainya, a god of darkness. The Lord is saying to Cyrus, "I alone am God. The gods of light and darkness that you worship do not exist. I create the light and I create the darkness. There is no one besides Me."

God allows both the good and the evil according to His purposes. He allowed evil to come upon Judah in the form of the Babylonian captivity so the hearts of the people would turn back to Him. Then he allowed good to come upon Judah in the form of Cyrus the Great, who set them free. As Christians we often think God can only use those who belong to Him, but God's use of Cyrus proves that He also includes people in His plan who do not know Him. How many times has an unbeliever shown kindness to you or done something to help you? That person may not have known the Lord but that is no impediment. God calls whom He will. The people of Judah may have felt themselves above the pagan king who gave them their freedom, but the fact remains that God was able to use Cyrus when He could not use His own people. What glory this is to our God that He can use even those who do not know Him! How powerful He is! How sovereign He is over the world and all the events of past, present, and future. What a mighty God we serve!

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