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Cyrus the Persian

I will raise him up in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight.

He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free,

but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.

(Isa 45:13)

In March 1879 an Assyrian British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam made the most incredible find. Whilst excavating the remains of the Ésagila temple in what was the ancient city of Babylon, he recovered a barrel- shaped clay cylinder covered with lines of cuneiform text. Cuneiform was an ancient form of writing created by pressing a triangular shaped stylus into soft clay. The text on the cylinder was written in Akkadian cuneiform which when translated was found to outline

the victorious deeds of Cyrus the Great of Persia. The artifact is now on display in the British Museum and is now known as the Cyrus Cylinder.

Cyrus was the Median King and founder of the Archaemenid Persian empire who amongst his many military exploits brought an end to the Babylonian empire in 539 BC. Cyrus and his forces routed the Babylonian army in battle

near Opis after which the Babylonian King Nabonidus fled and the victorious Medes were welcomed by the citizens of Sippa without further resistance. The remainder of Nabonidus’ forces capitulated a fortnight later.

The text of the Cyrus Cylinder accuses Nabonidus of having been an evil King who had oppressed his own people and had neglected their national god Marduk.

Furthermore Cyrus claims that it was Marduk himself who instructed him to liberate Babylon from their godless King. Verse 23 of the cylinder states:

Marduk, the great lord, bestowed on me as my destiny the great magnanimity of one who loves Babylon, and I every day sought him out in awe.”

What is of interest is that Marduk was not a Persian deity and yet Cyrus is proclaiming to the Babylonian people that he has been divinely appointed by Marduk himself.

Early Persian religion which gave rise to Zoroastrianism in the 6th Century BC was founded by a Persian mystic Zarathustra. He preached of the high god, Ahura Mazda as being the true and unique deity.

Zarathustra exhorted his followers to seek goodness through ethical actions and good works. Zoroastrianism is properly known as Mazdaism in which Ahura Mazda representing “Virtue, Love, Life and Light” is eternally opposed by Wickedness, Hate, Death and Darkness represented by the arch

demon Angra Mainyav.

It could be that verse 7 of Isaiah 45 identifies the dualism of Persian theology and proclaims that the LORD God who was to call Cyrus as liberator was the Creator of Light and Darkness and of Prosperity and Disaster.

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isa 45:7)

For we who like to focus on the benevolence of our Creator such concepts seem alien, but if we are to believe that God is Sovereign over all He must be sovereign over these things too.

Even more remarkably are verses 31-32 on the cylinder which outline his decision to restore foreign captives and their deities to the settlements and sanctuaries:

as far as the border of the land of Guti – the sanctuaries across the river Tigris – whose shrines had earlier become dilapidated, the gods who lived therein, and made permanent sanctuaries for them. I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements.”

This fully corroborates Isaiah’s earlier prophecy written 200 years earlier foretelling the return of the exiles and naming Cyrus as their benefactor:

I will raise him up in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.”

(Isa 45:13).

Cyrus may have thought it was Marduk who called and anointed him, but Isaiah foresaw it differently:

For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name

and bestow on you a title of honour, though you do not acknowledge me.” (Isa 45:4)

That title of honour is stated in verse 1, “His anointed”, Messiah.  Cyrus was a non-Jewish foreign pagan ruler, but he has bestowed upon him the highest honour of all Jewish titles, “Messiah.” Not the Messiah, but a “Messiah.”

Cyrus was clearly a godly and good man. The cylinder is determined to be the earliest known declaration of the preservation of human rights and religious tolerance. Because of his openness to God and his wise domestic and foreign policy, Cyrus has truly earned the title in history, “Cyrus the Great.”

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the sovereign King of the universe who chooses and uses whoever and whatever He wills.

To fulfill His purposes God uses the people and even circumstances we least expect.

Isaiah 45 encourages us to recognize that God is Sovereign. Nothing happens by mistake and He is not surprised by anything.

The tough times we are going through can be as a result of us making the wrong choices, but they could equally be part of His plan.

That is hard to accept, but it gives us reason to fear God with loving awe and respect as indeed Cyrus did.

It seems highly likely that Cyrus discerned a divine call to liberate Babylon and its captives. He may have couched his vocation in terms of Babylonian culture and religion on the Cyrus Cylinder, but Isaiah 45 confirms that he was to be used in the service of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The shocking revelation that God creates disaster is actually enlightening. For us to love God freely there must also be a choice to reject God freely too. In order to act out of love there must be the option to hate. Christians do not believe in dualism. God and Satan are not equal and opposing forces in constant conflict. Satan has chosen rebellion and hate and by the influences of his demons inspires us to make the same choices, but the choice is ours. Satan is as much a created being as we and his days are numbered and eventual defeat assured.

Isaiah 45 is a wonderful body of scripture. Skeptics choose to deny the prophetic authenticity of Isaiah suggesting that Isaiah 45 was written later by another author as part of a document called Deutero-Isaiah written as either a contemporary or retrospective reflection on the events which led to the release of the exiles.

I would almost certainly not win a debate with such academics, but what is undeniable from the Cyrus Cylinder and the historical events which unfolded in 539 BC and which are recorded in the Book of Ezra, is that God raised Cyrus as a deliverer of his people. He was bestowed with the title “Messiah”, but he

was not “THE” “Messiah.” The Messiah would come 2000 years later answering the call of His Father to deliver the entire world from sin.

Amen

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