Cyrus the Great[i]
“If you are looking at the greatest personages in History who have affected the World, 'Cyrus the Great' is one of the few who deserves that epithet, the one who deserves to be called 'the Great.' The empire over which Cyrus ruled was the largest the Ancient World had ever seen and may be to this day the largest empire ever.”
Cyrus is from Persia which is modern day Iran. Cyrus the Great is an influence for many of the thinkers and rulers of Classical Antiquity, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment era, even the forefathers of the United States. Much of what we know about Cyrus the Great is through the works such as Cyropaedia. The name in Greek means “The Education of Cyrus.” The source gives "an artist's portrait" of Cyrus as "the Ideal Ruler and the best form of Government."
The author of the eight-volume set of books begins by stating that the work is a reflection about what it is that makes people willingly obey some rulers and not others. It seems that throughout the earth, people do not always obey their rulers. However, there is one exception, and it is Cyrus, king of the Persians, who had “a vast number of men and cities and nations" in obedience to him.
Thomas Jefferson, for example, owned two copies of Cyropaedia, one with parallel Greek and Latin translations on facing pages showing substantial Jefferson markings that signify the amount of influence the book has had on drafting the United States Declaration of Independence.
We need not read Cyropaedia to know what makes Cyrus the Great so great. We only need to read a few sentences from the book of Isaiah to find the answer. What makes Cyrus the Great, great? God does!
Cyrus lived from 600–530 BC. His name is in the books of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Isaiah, and Daniel. Isaiah is the first to give us his name. What is interesting is Isaiah gives us the name of Cyrus and speaks of his conquests 100 years before Cyrus is born.
As we have seen in the book of Isaiah, God proves His divinity by prophesying the future. With each mention of Cyrus, within a verse or two of the mention, God speaks of Cyrus and how He will bring him to power 100 years before he is born.
The prophetic revelation of Cyrus is how God proves the Scriptures are divinely inspired by Him; He who sits outside of time and directs the events of history.
Our Creator and Redeemer Says
The message today begins at Isaiah 44:24. After speaking of the failure of idols and how those who trust idols are spiritually blind and deaf, God reveals His plans for the future. God’s plan includes a very prominent figure in human history, Cyrus the Great.
Isaiah writes about Cyrus in Isaiah 44:24. We will finish by looking at the beginning of Isaiah 45 (verses 1-7).
In this section of the Scripture, God is the subject. Over 30 times in the passage, He refers to Himself using words such as “I, Myself, the Lord, My,” and so forth. The passage is a proclamation of what He will do. The section begins with these words:
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb (Isaiah 44:24)
God is addressing His people. He wants them to know specific truths about Himself, and His purpose which He will accomplish. He lets them know who it is that is speaking to them.
Thus says the Lord, Jehovah, the national name of God for Israel. Listen. Our Redeemer is speaking to us. The One who purchases us and delivers us from captivity. He who forms us from the womb is speaking. He who gives us the color of our eyes and our unique fingerprints. He who put our heart in our chest and breaths air into our lungs.
The expression of these titles gives us pause to listen. There is great value in what we are about to hear.
I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out the earth all alone, (Isaiah 44:24)
God tells us what we already know. He is the creator of all things. This truth is a foundation of our faith. God works alone and needs no help. God reminds us that if we believe God can create all things with no help, we are to believe that He controls all that He makes.
If God can make the water, God can dry the water up. If God can build a mighty mountain one day, God can make the mountain small on the next. If God can form us from the womb and attach our muscles to our bones, He may easily direct our steps.
God is the sole Creator of the Universe and the sole director of the future. He proves that those who pretend to know the future, diviners and those who interpret omens, are nothing but fools. They call themselves wise, but God turns the knowledge of those who pretend to be God into foolishness. God makes the wisdom of this world foolishness by confirming the word of His servant, in this case, it is Isaiah. Those who read Isaiah’s words during Isaiah’s lifetime will mock Isaiah and declare him to be a fool. Just wait 100 years and discover who is wise and who are the fools. God vindicates Isaiah as His servant proclaiming His message. (Isaiah 44:25-26)
God’s servant Isaiah predicts an event over 100 years in the future. Isaiah prophecies before the Babylonian captivity and the ruination of Jerusalem, of how God will rebuild the nation of Israel.
It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’
And of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’
And I will raise up her ruins again. (Isaiah 44:26)
The Lord, our Redeemer, the one who forms us in the womb and creates the world by the power of His word will rebuild Jerusalem so that it becomes once again a thriving city of significance. He will rebuild Israel from its ruins. When the commander of Nebuchadnezzar’s royal guard conquers Jerusalem, he sets on fire the Lord’s temple, the royal palace, and all the houses in Jerusalem. He burns down every important building. The armies of Babylon brake down the walls around Jerusalem. Isaiah says the city will be rebuilt beforehand.
God prophecies He will bring His people back from captivity to inhabit the city. God will perform an Exodus.
“It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’
And I will make your rivers dry. (Isaiah 44:27)
The God who dries up the Red Sea, so His people may cross over into safety will dry up the great river Euphrates, so His people may journey back from Babylon into Jerusalem. God is all powerful and just needs to say the word, and the water is dried up. There is no need for boats or swimming lessons. God’s people may walk home to Jerusalem.
The chapter finishes with an amazing prophecy. God proclaims that a great king, Cyrus, will serve as His shepherd to lead the Jews home.
“It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd!
And he will perform all My desire.’
And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’
And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’” (Isaiah 44:28)
In Iran, gentile parents name a boy Cyrus. Cyrus grows up to become a mighty king. Cyrus does everything God desires for him to do. God uses this Gentile king as a shepherd to lead the Israelites from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Cyrus, an Iranian Gentile says, “Jerusalem will be built, and the temple of the foundation will be laid.”
The Lord Says to Cyrus:
After God speaks to His people, He speaks to the future Mr. Cyrus. God has Isaiah write ten verses for a man to read who has not even been born.
The first thing God tells Cyrus is that he is anointed by God. “Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed.” Then God says that He has taken Cyrus by the right hand and has subdued nations before him and that kings are in fear of Cyrus. (Isaiah 45:1)
Daniel tells us exactly how much fear Cyrus brings. Belshazzar, the king, hears of Cyrus approaching, and Daniel says, “the king’s face grew pale, and his thoughts alarmed him, and his hip joints went slack, and his knees began knocking together” (Daniel 5:6). God opens doors and gates for Cyrus and makes his advance remarkably easy.
God tells Cyrus that, “I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. God also tells Cyrus that He is going to give him treasures. As Cyrus conquers different nations, he uncovers the treasuries which are hidden. God tells Cyrus, the reason you find the treasure is because I give it to you.
We must wonder, did Cyrus read these words? The God of the Universe leaves Cyrus a note. Did Cyrus get the note from the Lord? Did the mighty king from Persia, have this word placed into his hands? The answer is yes. Cyrus received the personalized note from the Lord.
Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, reveals to us an incredible piece of information about Cyrus. Josephus reveals that Cyrus became aware of his destiny because the Jews in Babylon showed him the Isaiah scroll. Josephus writes[ii]:
… This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision: "My will is, that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build my temple." This was foretold by Isaiah one hundred and forty years before the temple was demolished.
Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the Divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfill what was so written…
God moves in the heart of Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple through His inspired word.
For the Sake of My Chosen Ones
God reveals to Cyrus why he is brought into power. God doesn’t raise up Cyrus for Cyrus’s sake. God raises up Cyrus for the sake of His people.
“For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. (Isaiah 47:4)
Cyrus, as he is growing up and going about conquering countries, does not know God. But, God anoints him and blesses him with honor. God calls Cyrus by name for the sake of Israel, God’s chosen.
Cyrus’s task of bringing the people of God back to Jerusalem is not the end of the story, it is the middle of the story. God brings His people back to Jerusalem, so He may send His Son to die on the cross and deliver all His chosen ones from captivity. Cyrus is one person among many in the chain of people who participate in God’s plan of redemption.
We need to understand that when the Bible refers to God’s chosen people, it refers to all those who God saves through all time. We know this because the New Testament often refers to the Saints of God as His chosen people. Here are some examples:
So, as those who have been chosen of God … (Col 3:12)
Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God … (Titus 1:1)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen (1Peter 1:1)
… He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful. (Rev. 17:14)
God raises up Cyrus the Great as one participant of redemptive history. The story of Cyrus the Great is just as exciting as the Exodus from Egypt (IMHO).
I am the Lord, and there is no other
God continues speaking to Cyrus. He tells Cyrus that He is the Lord. There is no other God. Cyrus gets the message. Cyrus believes in the God of Israel. God tells Cyrus that the reason he is girded (made strong for battle) is so that “men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other …”
From the rising of the sun to the setting of the sun is a geographic area of east to west. Another reason God raises up Cyrus is make Himself known. He wants the world to know that there is no God besides the God of Israel. He is the Lord, and there is no other.
Cyrus participates in this as well. Not only does Cyrus feel moved to send the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem, but he also makes a declaration of faith to all the world.
… for he stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write this throughout all Asia: "Thus saith Cyrus the king: Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the nation of the Israelites worship; for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea."
Cyrus the Great Evangelist! He is king over the inhabitable world – from where the sun rises to where the sun sets.
This is amazing. Glory be to God!!!!
God is Sovereign over all things
God wants the world to know that He is sovereign over all things. Verse 6 flows into verse 7.
“I am the Lord, and there is no other … The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.
Every event in human history comes directly from the hand of God.
God is the one who, in the beginning, forms the light out of the darkness. God makes them both. Does God make the darkest of the dark? Yes. God forms a place the Bible calls Hell. God creates Hell as a place of eternal punishment for the fallen angels. God forms the light and God creates the darkness.
What about causing well-being and calamity? Does God bring about both?
Let’s go back to the beginning. Who brings well-being to Noah and calamity to the rest of the world? God does.
Let’s look at the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph finds well-being and calamity in his life. Joseph is sold into slavery and brought to Egypt. Joseph finds well-being in the house of Potter. Joseph finds calamity in being thrown into prison and well-being at the right-hand of Pharaoh. How did Joseph interpret all these things? He says to his brothers:
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)
God brings calamity to the people of Israel as they are slaves in Egypt and well-being in the Exodus. God brings calamity in the wilderness and well-being in the Promised Land; calamity in the Babylonian captivity and well-being from the anointed shepherd named Cyrus.
There is one event of well-being and calamity in history that stands above them all. It is an event that is planned by God. It is the most tragic of all human events. And, it is counted as the greatest acts of bestowing well-being in human history. We are speaking about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
…this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. "But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:22-24)
Behold Your Great God
This message is not about Cyrus the Great, but the God who makes Cyrus great.
Behold your great God! He forms us from the womb, giving us eyes, ears, fingers, and toes and makes it so we may walk, chew, talk, and enjoy the fellowship of one another. God makes all things for us to enjoy. He makes beautiful flowers to smell and put in vases. He gives us landscapes to gaze upon, oceans to travel, and fields to run across. He lights the sky with stars and heats our day with the warmth of the sun and cools us with a summer breeze.
God holds every day of the future in His hand. He unfolds every minute as a new adventure. We enter into each day with amazement wondering what our God will reveal for us with each second of the clock ticking.
Nothing takes place without His approval. Every moment unfolding and every event taking place is a revelation of His purpose and plan. God is in the heavens and does all that He pleases.
God builds up all the cities of men. God raises up the temples of His place of worship. God makes the pathway straight for our deliverance from darkness. We need not lift a finger. God carries us from darkness to light.
God directs every king who ever lives. From the tribal king of the smallest nation to Cyrus the Great. God uses them to accomplish good for us,
And, God tells us what He is doing before it happens so we know it is Him behind all the events of history. How incredibly comforting and good to know that our God is our Redeemer and nothing stands in His way. He places us in His hand, and nothing will pluck us out. We may say, “I am His, and He is mine.”
In 500 BC, God is orchestrating world’s events to bring about the redemption of His people. Today, God is still bringing about the redemption of His people. Every morning that our feet hit the floor when we get out of our bed in the morning, we may know that God is working all things for good for those who love Him and are called by His name.
And, at the end of the age, we will stand before His throne exclaiming the glory of God’s amazing grace! For, we know, that there is nothing we have done to deserve every event of the world being orchestrated for our good. God’s grace is bigger and grander than our feeble minds may imagine!
To God be the glory.
[ii] Antiquities of the Jews 11.1.2