Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 10 2019 - Isaiah 44:24-45:13 – Cyrus God's servant

Today's reading introduces us to another individual who is serving the Lord and fulfilling his purposes. Though not explicitly called "the servant of the Lord", he is described in some surprising terms. He is called the Lord's "shepherd" (44: 28) and the Lord's "anointed" (45:1) – literally his messiah. And yet this is none other than Cyrus, the military leader of the mighty Persian Empire.

The Lord is declaring that he is sovereign over all of history and is raising up Cyrus and the Persian empire to defeat Babylon and to become his instrument in setting his people free from their captivity. Cyrus is quite unaware of this calling and is simply pursuing his own agenda to secure power for himself. But, in reality, he is accomplishing the purposes of God at this particular moment. The Lord has determined that Jerusalem will again be inhabited and the ruins of Judah will be rebuilt (44:26), and Cyrus is the man he has raised up to accomplish his purposes:

He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please;
he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’
    and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid. (44:28)

God called the kings of his people to be shepherds to those they governed, to lead them with tender care reflecting that of God himself. But they had failed to live up to their calling (remember particularly Ezekiel 34). Now the Lord is going to use a pagan emperor to shepherd his people. Having defeated the power of their captors, Cyrus will allow God's people to return to Jerusalem and Judea (see Ezra 1), and to begin the work of reconstruction. The victory of Cyrus is not all his own work; the Lord had chosen him to fulfil his purposes (this is what is meant by him being called the Lord's anointed). Unbeknown to Cyrus himself, the Lord has taken hold of his fighting right hand:

to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour,
to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut (45:1)

The Lord has gone before him to give him victory, levelling mountains, breaking down gates of bronze and cutting through bars of iron (45:2). He has done all of this for the sake of his people:

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. (45:4)

By these acts, the Lord demonstrates that he is the great creator God who is sovereign over all of human history. Isaiah's words in 45:9-10 are later echoed by Paul in Romans 9:19-21 as part of his argument that God is at work through all the twists and turns of human history to accomplish his purpose of bringing salvation to all peoples on earth.

How do you respond to the assertion that God is in sovereign control of all of human history? This does not mean that we are nothing but puppets manipulated by God. In a mysterious way we, like Cyrus, remain free to pursue our own ends, even to rebel against God – as did those who so hated our Saviour that they handed him over to die upon a Roman cross. But God was at work even, and perhaps especially, through that wicked act (see Acts 2:23-24). And God is still at work for our good and our salvation through the daily events which impact our lives: "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Nothing can "separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39).

Almighty God, there are truths here that are beyond our understanding. But we thank you that you have not abandoned this world to the plans and power of evil people. We praise you that you are at work through all of human history to accomplish your purposes and to save for yourself a people from every nation on earth. Help us to serve your purposes with a willing and grateful heart.

Peter Misselbrook