This is What the LORD says to Cyrus His Anointed

45: 1-8

   DIG: In the past, only Israelite kings were called God’s anointed. What is the significance of the LORD’s using this title for a pagan king? Why does ADONAI give victory after victory to Cyrus? Since no other deported people ever maintained their ethnic and religious heritage, how will the re-establishment of the Jews fulfill these purposes in 45:6-8? Several times in this section the LORD repeats that there is no God but Him. Does ADONAI’s deliverance of the Jews from Babylon by the hand of a Persian prove this claim? How so? What does this communicate to the Jews? What does 45:6 communicate to the Gentile nations? Persian religion taught that a god of light and a god of darkness were in perpetual warfare with each other. What light does this shed on 45:7? What are the implications of 45:7 (Job 2:10, Amos 3:6 and Romans 11:36)?

   REFLECT: Do you think that the LORD still shapes all of history around the purpose of saving His people? How might the purpose of God be traced in some recent world event? From this passage, what should be your response to that event? Think about the continued existence of the Jews, despite their long history of persecution and oppression, even today – what does that show us of ADONAI? In what ways are the actions of Cyrus like the work of Messiah? What other Christ-like figures today do you think God might be using to accomplish His purpose?

    This chapter begins with Cyrus as the last chapter ended with him. Here, ADONAI talks directly to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of (45:1b); however, this message is not really addressed to the Persian king. It was meant for the downtrodden Israelites who could not see how God’s promise of restoration could possibly happen. The issue was convincing the LORD’s people that He could rescue them.

    From the famous Cyrus Cylinder, discovered by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in 1879, we have learned that Marduk, the chief god of Babylon, was highly displeased with the Babylonian king Nabonidus’ cruelties. Therefore, he called upon Cyrus to conquer Babylon, and restore the proper devotion to himself. So there was a dramatic difference between Marduk’s supposedly calling Cyrus and ADONAI’s calling of him. Marduk supposedly chose him because of his admirable qualities, strength and leadership skills. But with God those traits did not matter. What really mattered was the God of Isra'el had summoned him by name (45:3), even though Cyrus did not acknowledge Him (45:4), so that men and women everywhere would know the LORD (45:6). As a result, Cyrus’ mission was solely dependent on the nature and character of ADONAI, not the calling of Marduk. It is not the perfect man that would save the world, but a holy God.

    Cyrus was named almost two hundred years before he was born. I believe there are three reasons. First, primarily for identification. When Cyrus did appear on the scene, there would be no misunderstanding about whom Isaiah had spoken about. Secondly, Cyrus would be the man responsible for a decree that would return the Israelites to the Land. Thirdly, it would prepare the Israelites for the coming of Messiah. If in two hundred years Isaiah’s near historical prophecy about Cyrus was accurate, then he could also be trusted that his future prophecy about the One born of a virgin, Immanuel (see Cb – The LORD Himself Will Give You a Sign), would also be accurate.

    This is what the LORD says to His anointed (45:1a). If Isaiah’s hearers were shocked earlier at Cyrus’ being called God’s shepherd (44:28), they must have been even more so at his now being called My anointed. This title had previously been reserved only for priests, prophets, and kings of Isra'el. Could ADONAI possibly use a Gentile to accomplish His purposes? Yes! That is exactly the point that Isaiah is making. ADONAI is not the LORD of Isra'el alone; He is the God of the whole world. Israel’s election is not for itself, and thus neither is its deliverance necessarily to be effected by itself. It is this sense in which anointed is used here; Cyrus has been especially chosen and empowered to carry out the purposes of God. In that sense he is the LORD's chosen instrument through whom God’s gracious purposes will be accomplished, especially that through him ADONAI will be revealed to the world. To subdue the nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut (45:1c). The true Messiah will bring spiritual deliverance to Isra'el, but Cyrus, pointing us to the true Messiah, would bring physical deliverance to Isra'el.170

    Isaiah describes God’s work on behalf of Cyrus. I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron (45:2). It is the LORD who will go before the conqueror and prepare the way for him. It is ADONAI who declares that He will ensure his victories over impregnable cities. We have many extra-biblical records to support this. When Cyrus began his conquest he was unstoppable, and supposedly unconquerable cities like Sardis were captured easily. Isaiah describes the victory Cyrus will have over Babylon because He talks about the gates of bronze and the bars of iron. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Babylon had 100 gates around the city all made of bronze. Yet, God declares that these bronze gates will be powerless to stop Cyrus and he will be given Babylon as part of his conquest. In addition, ADONAI says He will give him victory over the nations before him, which included Croesus and the Lydian Empire. As reported by Herodotus, the thing Croesus was famous for was his wealth. In fact, the legend of the king with the golden touch actually comes from Croesus. Midis was another name for him, but Croesus was actually his Greek name. Croesus had his headquarters in the city of Sardis (see my commentary on Revelation Bd - The Church at Sardis). There he hid his gold in underground tunnels. That is why the LORD says: I will give you treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places. Yet, Cyrus was able to defeat Lydia with ease, and all the wealth of Croesus, in the billions of dollars by today standards, went into the pockets of Cyrus the Great. So God declared that he would conquer Babylon and Lydia. These were the two major empires that Cyrus conquered to establish the Medo-Persian Empire.

    In Matthew Jesus tells us that: The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (Matthew 13:44). The possession of wealth often becomes a problem in the east, because of its insecurity. With every man being his own banker, ingenuity is taxed to devise some plan of concealment, or to find some place where money, jewels, and other valuables may remain free from molestation or suspicion. Sometimes these treasures are hidden in secret closets in the house, or in vaults under the house; sometimes they are buried in the field, in a spot unknown to all save the owner. It frequently happens that the owner goes away and dies before the time of his intended return, his secret dying with him. Times of war and pestilence carry off great numbers, who leave treasures concealed; no one knows where. There are, no doubt, deposits of immense value thus buried in different parts of the east. These facts illustrate the text. Other references of a similar character are made in different parts of the Bible, showing how ancient and how widespread is the custom of hiding treasures (Joshua 7:21; Job 3:21-22; Proverbs 2:4; Ecclesiastes 5:12).171

    Then ADONAI gives three reasons why He will use Cyrus to free the Jews from Babylon and bring them back to the Land. First, He used Cyrus for Cyrus’ sake. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Isra'el, who calls you by name (45:3). ADONAI was giving Cyrus, a Gentile monarch, an opportunity to know the LORD. To some extent, Cyrus did recognize that the God of Isra'el was aiding him. But he did not submit himself to Him; in other words, he was never a true believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Cyrus was polytheistic; he simply included the God of Isra'el with all his other gods. He gave ADONAI credit for victory, but he also gave Marduk, the god of Babylon, credit for victory. So he did not make the LORD his only God, the one true God. He had the opportunity to know the LORD in a personal way, but he didn’t take it.

    The second reason why the LORD was going to use Cyrus was for Isra'el’s sake. For the sake of Jacob My servant, of Isra'el My chosen, I call you by name and bestow on you a title of honor. But even though Cyrus would enjoy a special relationship with God (43:1), and was honored by the LORD, he still was not a believer for he did not acknowledge ADONAI as the true God (45:4). Because of ADONAI's covenantial relationship with Isra'el, He promised that Cyrus would be His human instrument to end the Babylonian rule after 70 years (see my commentary on Jeremiah Gu - Seventy Years of Imperial Babylonian Rule).

    The third reason was for the world’s sake. 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 men may know there is none besides Me. I Am the LORD, and there is no other (45:5-6). I will, so that all nations may know ADONAI. Here Isra'el is regathered in belief (27:12-13) with the key purpose that the entire world would know Him. However, in the days of Cyrus that never happened. Yet, God says that He is going to use Cyrus for the ultimate accomplishment of this third purpose; that all nations would know Him. Cyrus has long been dead, and the day when all nations will know the LORD is still in the future. So how will God use Cyrus for this? ADONAI is going to bring the Babylonian captivity to an end so that the Jews can go back to the Land. Then the Messiah can be born in Bethlehem. After the Messiah is born, and leaves after His First Coming, He will come back a second time. At that time, all nations will know the LORD. So in that sense, God is using Cyrus to accomplish the ultimate goal that all nations will know Him. Someday, because of Cyrus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

    The climax of this section speaks to the fact that nothing and no one compares to ADONAI. Here Isaiah spells out exactly what he means when he says that there is no other God. If any questions still remained in the minds of the Israelites of the uniqueness of the LORD, he would put them to rest. He chose two polar opposites in the realm of nature and history to make His case. Here, Isaiah declares that ADONAI, as creator, is ultimately responsible for everything in nature, from light to darkness, and for everything in history, from good fortune to misfortune. No other gods or forces can effect anything.

    First, Isaiah addresses nature and speaks against the very religion of Persia, of which Cyrus is a part. Zoroastrianism was their religion and was a religion of dualism. It said there are two independent forces, the god of light and peace and the god of darkness and calamity. There was a duel between good and evil, with no god ever having complete control. But here the LORD speaks directly against this dualism. He says that He is the God of both light and darkness. ADONAI says: I form the light and create darkness (45:7a). He was answering Zoroastrianism that worshiped the god of light. It was as if God was saying to those devotees, “I want you to know that light is no god. I created it!”

    Secondly, He addresses history by saying: I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things (45:7b). The Bible here says that ADONAI created disaster. Some have interpreted this as God creating evil. But there is a basic misunderstanding as to the usage of the Hebrew word ra (short a). It is used in classical Hebrew in two different senses. It could mean evil in the sense of sin, but it can also mean evil in the sense of disaster or calamity. That is the way it is used in reference to YHVH. The Bible makes it clear that God is not the author of sin and James argues that in detail. God does not create sin, nor does He tempt anyone to commit an act of sin (James 1:13-15).

    However, ADONAI certainly does cause disaster such as the flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and other physical judgments. That is the meaning of the text in reference to God. It is also true that Satan’s ability to do evil is within the permissive will of the LORD. What Satan could or could not do to Job, his family, and his property was based on what God permitted him to do. As God, He can do anything, even use the schemes of Satan, to fulfill His near historical purposes and desires. And His desire was to use Cyrus to free the Jews from Babylon and bring them back to the Land.

    But there was also a far eschatological purpose for ADONAI's calling of Cyrus. When the messianic Kingdom is established on the earth (see my commentary on Revelation Fh – The Dispensation of the Messianic Kingdom), the heavens above will figuratively rain down righteousness on the earth (45:8a). God’s holy standard of righteousness will be followed. The inspired prophet declares: Let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up like a great harvest, and let righteousness grow with it. I, the LORD, have created it (45:8). For this to happen the Israelites needed to be sent home to Judah; to be sent home to Judah, Babylon had to be defeated; for Babylon to be defeated, Cyrus needed to become the LORD’s anointed. That was the big picture.

    In the prospect of this ultimate and saving purpose of the mission of Cyrus, in other words, the redemption of Isra'el and the conversion of the Gentiles, heavens and earth will then be summoned to pour down spiritual blessings according to the will and in the power of the LORD.172 Isaiah says it is the work of God. This verse is actually a prayer that interrupts the flow of the prophecy and serves to highlight an important feature of Chapters 40 through 48, the people’s unbelief. Isaiah is praying that the prophecies given in 44:24 through 45:7 might begin the process of delivering every person from the consequences of his or her own sin, if only he or she will allow Him to do it. When that happens, people everywhere will know ADONAI, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

 

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