Thursday, March 6, 2008

Isaiah, Chapter 45

Chapter 45 of Isaiah is quite interesting. It is here that the author mentions Cyrus the Great by name and outlines his deeds in regards to freeing the people of Israel from Babylon's control. What make it so interesting is that Cyrus the Great lived from either 590 of 576 B.C. to about 529 B.C. Isaiah was born in the 8th century B.C. and is believed to have died in 698 B.C. Since the Babylonian Exile ended in 537, B.C. we are presented with an interesting dilemma here. Obviously Isaiah could not personally witness an event that occurred 161 years after his own death. Still, this chapter is written almost like a historical account after the fact. This means either one of two things: either this part of the book of Isaiah was written by someone else, or it was written by Isaiah in a very specifically detailed prophetic vision. Both are clearly within God's power.

We do know that there was one prophet (Ezekiel) who wrote during the actual exile, but we have no indication that he had any input on this part of Isaiah's book. Ezra and Nehemiah also wrote their books around the time the Exile ended as well, but there is no indication they had input here. There are clearly two schools of thought in terms of the authorship of this second part of Isaiah's book, but because of the style of writing, I tend to believe this is a clearly prophetic vision revealed to Isaiah and written down. In that case, one can view it as a message of hope for those Israelites that were faithful to God during the time of the exile. They knew they were going to be delivered based on God's promises, so they had something to maintain their faith. It is clear that Isaiah wrote several prophecies about the life of Jesus in the first part of this book that we know were definitely written by him, so why wouldn't God clearly outline the role of Cyrus the Great?

1 "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:

 2 I will go before you
       and will level the mountains;
       I will break down gates of bronze
       and cut through bars of iron.

 3 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 Israel, who summons you by name.

 4 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.

 5 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, -- Isaiah 45:1-5

To me, this sounds more like prophetic writing that sets up the reign of Cyrus the Great before he even came to power. Though Cyrus did not follow God per se, he was still anointed by God for the purpose of freeing the exiles from Babylon. We know that when he conquered Babylon he also released the treasure of Israel back to the Israelites. When the Babylonians originally conquered Jerusalem, they also looted and destroyed the temple. In a magnanimous gesture, Cyrus chose not to horde these treasures for himself and the large empire he had built. He released them to the Israelites and allowed them to return home and rebuild the temple.

There is also an important lesson here in the area of works. Clearly Cyrus the Great accomplished great works by releasing the captives, allowing them to go home, and returning their treasures. Still, these works were not enough for his personal salvation. Verse four states this, as God and Israel honored him for his works though Cyrus did not acknowledge God. In this, we learn that it is important to do good works, but it is more important still to acknowledge that Jesus is the only way to salvation since he intervenes with God on our behalf.


  1. How is this still a message of hope today?
  2. How does this allow us to overcome doubt in our own lives?
  3. What signs do you see throughout this chapter that make it a a prophetic vision rather than a historical account?

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