Monday, March 3, 2008

Isaiah, Chapters 41 and 42

There are two primary characters that are referenced in the prophesies of Isaiah 41 and 42: Cyrus the Great, and Jesus. We all know who Jesus was, but Cyrus the Great is a bit more of an obscure character. Cyrus the Great was a Persian ruler from 559 B.C. to 529 B.C. During his reign, he expanded the borders of the Persian Empire and helped build it to one of its greatest heights in history. He also took on several other empires of the time, including Babylon. It is because of his actions against the Babylonian Empire that he is held in such high regard in both Jewish and Christian history. Cyrus the Great is one of very few people outside of the Israelites that is held in incredibly high esteem because it is through him that the Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem from Babylon after the exile. We see this return referenced in chapter 41, and it is important to remember here that Isaiah is talking about an event more than 200 years in the future.

 2 "Who has stirred up one from the east,
       calling him in righteousness to his service?
       He hands nations over to him
       and subdues kings before him.
       He turns them to dust with his sword,
       to windblown chaff with his bow.

 3 He pursues them and moves on unscathed,
       by a path his feet have not traveled before.

 4 Who has done this and carried it through,
       calling forth the generations from the beginning?
       I, the LORD -with the first of them
       and with the last—I am he." – Isaiah 41:2-4

Even though Cyrus the Great was an outsider the Lord was still working in him. We see in later verses, specifically verse 25, that Cyrus would be a ruler that would conquer many lands. Historically, Cyrus conquered Babylon, Central Asia, Southwest Asia, and even Egypt. He created the largest empire the world had ever seen, and in doing so he honored the gods of all the people he conquered. The people of Israel viewed him as a liberator since he allowed them to return to their homeland and worship their own God.

This brings us to chapter 42 and another set of prophecies that can be linked to either Cyrus the Great or Jesus. While Jesus could certainly fulfill many of the prophecies in chapter 41, they are meant for Cyrus. The reverse is true in chapter 42, as now Isaiah has knowledge of events almost 800 years in the future.

1 "Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
       my chosen one in whom I delight;
       I will put my Spirit on him
       and he will bring justice to the nations.

 2 He will not shout or cry out,
       or raise his voice in the streets.

 3 A bruised reed he will not break,
       and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
       In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

 4 he will not falter or be discouraged
       till he establishes justice on earth.
       In his law the islands will put their hope." – Isaiah 42:1-4

Both Cyrus and Jesus were servants of the Lord, but here we see Isaiah take on an almost reverential tone. As great as Cyrus was, he was still a mere man. Jesus, however, was the chosen one. In Matthew 3:17, Jesus hears a divine voice as he is baptized, and it references Isaiah 41:1. Part of the beauty of Christ is that, even with his power, he taught an attitude and a posture of servanthood. We discussed this in many areas throughout the New Testament, but it was one of the most important lessons Jesus had for us.

Personally, this lesson was brought to the forefront yesterday in a lesson on Revelation 3 and the church at Sardis. Though they felt they were serving the Lord, they were guilty of merely completing busy work and forgetting the true purpose of serving the Lord: creating disciples. It is a lesson that much of the church today is guilty of because its definition of service is service to the church, not to the Lord. If we do not truly serve the Lord, we don't truly know Him. I have thought long and hard about this over the last 24 hours and wondered how much of my life is spent in this service. I like to think that much of what I write here is part of that service and I think it is because of my attitude going into it. I think we are each given specific things we are supposed to do as part of that service without fully knowing why. It is then up to God to do the rest. I don't know why I am supposed to write here, I just know I am and I trust God to fill in the gaps I don't understand.


  1. What do think it means to serve?

  2. How was Isaiah treated in his day with these prophecies?

  3. What else can we take from Isaiah 41 and 42?

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