Not all commentators accept that Isaiah 45 was written as prophecy. Some hold this part of Isaiah was written much later, more as confirmation of what Cyrus did, not as a prediction of what Cyrus would do. I have decided to treat this passage as prophecy because that is the way it is written.
The history of what happened is well-documented in the scriptures.
Early in Daniel’s chronicle, he recorded Darius the Mede – who was allied with the Persian emperor Cyrus – capturing Babylon.
“… this is the writing that was inscribed: mene, tekel, and parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter:
- mene: God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end;
- tekel: you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting;
- peres: your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
… That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.Daniel 5:25-28, 30-31 (NRSV, modification added)
In his devotional time, Daniel had been reading from the scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecies when he suddenly realized the capture of Babylon was signaling the time of exile had come to a close.
This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.
Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.Jeremiah 25:11-12 (NRSV, modifications added)
Exile had indeed come about, and Daniel had been among those taken captive.
[Nebuchadnezzar] took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its Sabbaths.
All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.2 Chronicles 36:20-21 (NRSV)
But now, Daniel knew that time period was completed. The stolen Sabbaths had been returned to the land. So, Daniel began to pray about what should come next, asking God to move events toward the freeing of God’s people.
Right away came spiritual opposition in the form of a decree that forbade prayer to anyone but Darius. Daniel refused to stop praying to the Lord God, which forced Darius’s hand into having to throw his favorite administrator into a pit filled with hungry lions.
God prevailed against this opposition, protecting Daniel, which brought about Darius’ decree to reverence the God of Daniel.
King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: “May you have abundant prosperity!
I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people shall tremble and fear before the God of Daniel:
For he is the living God,
His kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion has no end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth;
he has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.Daniel 6:25-28 (NRSV, modifications added)
It is possible that through this series of events Cyrus may have learned about the Lord. For soon after, Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s prophecies became reality.
Jeremiah’s Prophecy Fulfilled
In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also in writing, saying:
“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Let any of those among you who are of his people—may the Lord their God be with them!—go up.”2 Chronicles 36:22-23 (NRSV, modifications added)
Ezra added a few more details to Cyrus’s royal edict.
“… go up to Jerusalem in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let all survivors in whatever place they reside be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods, and with livestock, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”Ezra 1:2-4 (NRSV)
In God’s sovereignty over all things, the Lord moves through circumstances, events, and people as God deems best, sometimes through methods and means that make little sense to you and me.
I form light and create darkness,Isaiah 45:7 (NRSV)
I make weal and create woe;
I the Lord do all these things.
God is never defeated or thwarted by what happens in the real world. The Lord is actually able to work through everything to move forward with God’s plan, and all events have one ultimate goal of redemption and restoration.
Answers to the Big Questions
If God, for instance, were simply a local deity, then life would be simpler. If you and I pray and things do not get better, it just means God is getting overwhelmed by some other force—let us say the force of evil in the world, or maybe human choices, or the convergence of events too large and complicated to coordinate.
But if God is truly sovereign over everything, then the bigger questions in life get easier to answer, even if the more immediate questions get harder.
- Does my life have meaning?
- Is there hope to endure?
- Will God do the right thing?
- Does this suffering have a point?
- Ultimately will life have been worth it?
God answers all those as “yes” in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But the questions that come close to home get harder. Why do I have this debilitating disease? Will there be enough money to pay the bills? Will my marriage get better? Will my children have saving faith? Why did God let this tragedy happen in my life?
These are the questions God asks us not to take offense over, but to trust the Lord and roll with what God is doing. Because this is what God is doing:
Shower, O heavens, from above,Isaiah 45:8 (NRSV, modification added)
and let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,
and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also;
I the Lord have created it.
The Lord acts in every event of history to demonstrate that God alone is God
Evil is not outside God’s control. The Lord works through even the most horrifically evil choices and circumstances without becoming corrupted or undone by it. Therefore, nothing, however bad it is, can keep God from bringing about the good the Lord intends.
What unusual means might God be using to build you and me up spiritually? How willing are we to trust God, even when the way the Lord is answering our prayers does not match at all the story line we would like God to write?