This important passage about Cyrus bursts upon us rather surprisingly and shockingly at this point. The surprise is that he should be spoken of as the Lord’s shepherd (v. 44:28 and His anointed (v. 45:1), directly after a passage in which idolatry has been so comprehensively condemned. For Cyrus himself was a pagan idolater. As we shall see in verses 45:8-13, the Lord’s choice of such a person was to cause Israel considerable bewilderment. But surely there is an important lesson here which the very placement of this passage serves to drive home. God may disapprove of idolatry but use an idolater for some good purpose. The fact that He uses someone in a specific way does not mean that He approves of that person’s total lifestyle. We should neither stand in judgment on God’s actions nor draw wrong conclusions from them, but praise Him for His sovereignty (v. 45:8). His use of Cyrus to shepherd His people home was a stunning demonstration of that sovereignty.
There has been constant reference to creation and redemption in the preceding chapters. Now these two great themes are woven together in a powerful statement by the Lord of His total mastery of the historical process (vv. 44:24-28). In a sense nothing new is said here; it is more like a summary of all that is already “on the record”, so to speak. But the concentration and power of it are impressive, building to the climactic announcement of verse 28. That this pagan emperor, identified by name, will fulfill so exactly what the Lord has announced beforehand will be the final proof that the Lord is indeed who He claims to be. The fact that Cyrus did in fact do just that is a matter of historical record. The Lord’s claims have been vindicated; He is indeed the Creator and Redeemer, not just for Israel, but of the whole earth.
While Cyrus himself is addressed in verses 45:1-7, the words are not primarily intended for him, but for those who were to wait anxiously for his arrival in Babylon. These verses disclose exactly what is in God’s mind concerning him: how God regards him, what help He will give him and why. Three things are said about Cyrus’ mission in these verses: It would be accomplished by God’s help (vv. 1-3a); it would be accomplished for the sake of God’s people (v. 4); and it would be accomplished so that all (v. 6), including Cyrus himself (v. 3a) might know that the Lord alone is God. In short, God was going to use Cyrus to put His people back in Jerusalem, so that from there, the place He had chosen to be the center of His kingdom on earth, the truth about Him might become known everywhere. In the longer plan of God, of course, it was to Jerusalem that Israel’s true Messiah, the Son of David, eventually came to fulfill His mission, and it was from there that the gospel went out to the whole world.
What an appropriate response verse 8 is to the announcement of Cyrus’s mission. God commands the heavens and the earth to respond by bringing forth righteousness and salvation. This echoes the original creation commands of Genesis 1, but what is in view now is the new creation – the new heavens and the new earth – that will eventually emerge from what Cyrus will accomplish. The restoration of Jerusalem would be only the first step, of course, but God can see what it will lead to. No wonder He is enthusiastic!
Sadly though, God’s people do not share His enthusiasm. They cannot see past the fact that Cyrus is a pagan, and because God’s chosen way of working does not fit their own notions of what is proper, they cannot rejoice in it. They are trapped in small-mindedness, like the Pharisees of later times. And God, we sense, can scarcely contain His exasperation with them in verses 9-10. It is often hard to move beyond theologizing to trusting, but we must do so if we are to exercise the kind of faith which God requires of us and without which we cannot please Him. Theological insolence is the blight of religion in every age, and God is rightly angered by it. But He is not deterred by it. He stoutly defends His sovereign freedom as Creator to use anyone He pleases, and the rightness of His choice of Cyrus (vv. 11-13). But how sad that He has to press on with His good plans for His people in the face of their complaints instead of to the joyful strains of their praise!
Isaiah 44:24-45:13 Reflection Questions:
Have you lost your enthusiasm about God’s ultimate plan? Why or why not?
What does this study say to you about being judgmental of others?
Are you trapped in small-mindedness or are open to the sovereignty of God?
Are you working with or against God’s plan? In what ways will you improve on this?