From Isaiah 45-48
In today’s passage the LORD raises up an unlikely authority to do his bidding. Cyrus, king of Babylon. Probably the greatest ruler of his time is called the LORD’s anointed. He was set apart for a specific purpose to free the LORD’s people. Can the LORD use foreign authorities to do his will?
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
In today’s passage Isaiah speaks about Cyrus, the king of Babylon. Remember the way Isaiah is divided up.
- 1–39 – Proto-Isaiah, containing the words of the original Isaiah;
- 40–55 – Deutero-Isaiah, the work of an anonymous Exilic author;
- 56–66 – Trito-Isaiah, an anthology of about twelve passages
In the context of the passage, Israel is in captivity. Cyrus is the King of Babylon who rules over them.
45 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: (Is 45:1)
Isaiah refers to Cyrus as his anointed.
Those who were anointed were typically kings. Sometimes the anointed were given a special task from the LORD.
“The “anointed of Jehovah” is elsewhere always either an Israelite king, or the expected Deliverer of the nation, “Messiah the Prince” (Dan. 9:25). This Deliverer, however, was to be of the line of David (ch. 11:1), and of the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), so that we can scarcely suppose Isaiah to have seen him in Cyrus. But he may have seen in Cyrus a type of the great Deliverer, as he saw in the release of Israel from the power of Babylon a type of their deliverance from sin.” (Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1910). Isaiah (Vol. 2, p. 173). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.)
He has also been appointed to ‘open doors’. What this alludes to may be hinted at in what follows.
2 “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. (Is 45:2-4)
The LORD says he will go before Cyrus and conquer the nations. ‘Level the exalted places’, ‘Break in pieces doors of bronze’, ‘Cut bars of Iron’. The imagery is similar to what is used in Daniel describing the power of other nations (cf. Dan 2.41-45).
Cyrus will profit from what the LORD does. He will be given ‘treasures’ and ‘hoards’. As a result he will know the LORD has called him. Quite often material prosperity and success was seen as a blessing from God.
The LORD has chosen Cyrus ‘for the sake of his servant Jacob and Israel his chosen’.
So whatever Cyrus does, the LORD has chosen him for Israel’s benefit.
The passage is intended to be read out to Israelites. Under captivity this would have been a comfort.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Is 45:5–7)
There is only one God. The God of Israel. Cyrus and the people are reminded of this. Which would have been quite important considering the polytheistic beliefs around them. God is clearly described as the creator. He is the only God, he is all powerful.
He bends all creation to his will and purpose. Good and bad. Even Cyrus.
8 “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. (Is 45:8)
If the LORD is controlling the Cyrus, the most powerful king of that time. Then we can expect good things to happen. The clouds will reign down righteousness. The earth will bear salvation and righteousness like fruit. The imagery associated with creation is wonderful. Isaiah has associated salvation and righteous to be like God working through nature. ‘Let the earth cause then both to sprout’.
Isaiah is of course referring to what will happen to Israel. They will be saved. Rescued from exile. The LORD will fulfill his covenant obligations and return them to the land. They will obey him. He will judge the wicked and save the righteous.
Isaiah doesn’t anticipate a favourable outcome for those who oppose the LORD.
9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’ ” (Is 45:9–10)
If Cyrus opposes the LORD, nothing good will happen to him. He is the LORD’s creation and has no right to question what the LORD will do with him (cf. Rom 9.19-21).
11 Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
12 I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.
13 I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the LORD of hosts. (Is 45:11–13)
Cyrus is unable to change what the LORD intends for his children (Israel).
He has no authority over the LORD. Isaiah refers to the LORD’s ‘work’. The LORD will go so far as to make Cyrus build his city (presumably Jerusalem) and ensure he sets his people free from exile.
“He will do so not for price or any outward advantage. In fact one cannot see what motive of policy, or of national economy or worldly motive of any kind could have determined Cyrus to restore the Israelitish nation and its religious worship.” (Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Nägelsbach, C. W. E., Lowrie, S. T., & Moore, D. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Isaiah (p. 495). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)
Story of Israel
Cyrus will indeed free the exiles from captivity. We have read about this in Ezra and Nehemiah. In this way he did become the LORD’s chosen instrument to deliver his people. He didn’t do it for a reward. He didn’t have a choice. Cyrus may have been the greatest ruler of his time, but he still has insignificant compared to the power and authority of the LORD.
Cyrus’ authority came from the LORD.
When Jesus was being tried before Pilate he recognised this truth.
19 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.
4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”
6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.
9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (Jn 19:1–11)
Pilates authority like Cyrus’ had been given to him from above. He was appointed his role and given authority for a set purpose. Cyrus was used by the LORD to free his people from exile. Pilate handed over Jesus to be crucified and in Jesus death on the cross he sets free those who believe in Him.
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