Many Christians are familiar with Isaiah’s prophecy, written around 700 BC, which describes and names Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who would come to the throne 140 years later. There was more to this prophecy than just the name, but we’ll start with the name.
The Setting of the Prophecy
Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, had just invaded Judah, the land of Hezekiah and Isaiah, and dealt crushing defeats to Hezekiah. Forty six of the walled cities of Judah had fallen, including Lachish, the second city of the kingdom. But God intervened, and in one night destroyed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s men. After this, Hezekiah became proud, with the result being a prophecy from Isaiah that Judah would go into captivity in Babylon. You can read the story in Isaiah 36-39.
But the story didn’t end there, for Isaiah went on to prophesy the return from exile (Isaiah 40:1-2 and following). He tells God’s people that a time of restoration is coming.
1 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.
The following chapters elaborate on this message of comfort. The primary focus of the next eight chapters is on the fact that their “warfare is accomplished” — God is going to deliver them from the wars they have been experiencing because of their sin. Then, the focus turns to “her iniquity is pardoned,” reaching a pinnacle in Isaiah 53, which is sometimes known as “the Gospel according to Isaiah.”
Did Isaiah Really Write This?
The details of the Cyrus prophecy (including but not limited to the name Cyrus) are so precise that some have tried to claim that Isaiah could not have written it. They claim that it was history, written after Cyrus came to power. Their idea is that Isaiah wrote the first 39 chapters, and that someone else came along later and wrote the next 27 chapters. They call it “Deutero-Isaiah” (Second Isaiah) and say it was written after the time of Cyrus.
Yet, anyone who studies the book will find a tremendous unity in its message. There are consistent themes throughout the book, with references in the early parts of the books to things discussed later, and references in later parts to things mentioned earlier.
For those who believe the Bible is the true and inspired Word of God, there is no question. Both the early and later chapters are clearly attested in the New Testament and clearly attributed to Isaiah himself, who lived 150 years before the Cyrus he named. The Cyrus prophecy is truly prophecy.
|Isaiah’s Prophecy||New Testament Affirmation|
|Isaiah 40:3||Matthew 3:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23|
|Isaiah 9:1-2||Matthew 4:14|
|Isaiah 53:4||Matthew 8:17|
|Isaiah 42:1-3||Matthew 12:17-20|
|Isaiah 6:9-10||Matthew 13:14-15; John 12:39-41; Acts 28:25-27|
|Isaiah 29:13||Matthew 15:7-9; Mark 7:6|
|Isaiah 61:1-2||Luke 4:17-19|
|Isaiah 53:1||John 12:38; Romans 10:16|
|Isaiah 53:7-8||Acts 8:28-33|
|Isaiah 10:22-23||Romans 9:27-28|
|Isaiah 1:9||Romans 9:29|
|Isaiah 65:1-2||Romans 10:20-21|
|Isaiah 11:1, 10||Romans 15:12|
The passages above are all directly attributed to Isaiah himself. They are listed in the order in which they appear in the New Testament. Note that there are seven passages from the last 27 chapters of Isaiah and six from the first 39 chapters — all of Isaiah is heavily attested in the New Testament. Matthew cites the first 39 chapters three times, and the last 27 chapters three times, with Paul (in Romans) having three and two citations.
There is much more that could be said about the evidence for Isaiah’s authorship of the whole, but those who don’t want to believe that God gave this prophecy aren’t going to believe it, and those who believe the Scriptures are true will believe it.
“I Have Even Called Thee By Thy Name”
In Isaiah 44, Isaiah returns to the subject of the conqueror from the east, and in one of the most amazing prophecies in all of Scripture, names the future Persian emperor, and tells what he is going to do, 150 years before the events.
Isaiah 44:13-45:7, 45:13
24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
25 That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;
26 That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
27 That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:
28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
45:1 Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron:
3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:
6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.
7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
In this amazing prophecy, written around 700 BC, the Lord names Cyrus of Persia. It was 140 years later before Cyrus came to power, and about 160 years before the events described. Cyrus came to power, invaded and conquered the Babylonians (45:1-2), and sent the Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (44:28), just as Isaiah prophesied. You can read the decree of Cyrus in Ezra 1. The Biblical account fits in well with archaeological evidence which can be seen in the British Museum.
Why Did God Name Cyrus?
In the article I just linked, I mentioned the (unproven) idea that Daniel may have told Cyrus of this prophecy, and that the Lord may have used that to influence Cyrus to do exactly what God had promised He would do. But that’s just speculation, and we can’t know if it is true or not.
The passage above, however, gives us a very clear and true reason — for Israel’s sake. God’s people had gone into idolatry — there are several references to that in the passages around this prophecy. God repeatedly emphasises that He, Jehovah, is the only true God. Idols are made of wood and stone, but God can tell right now what He is going to do in the future — and that is exactly what He did.
The Isaiah prophecy of Cyrus, then, was not primarily for the people of Isaiah’s day — they never saw the fulfillment, so it never provided the evidence that God said it was going to provide. The prophecy was primarily for the Jews of Cyrus’ day. They would see, just as God had prophesied their captivity in Babylon, that God was the one true God, the Lord who could name His human instruments 150 years into the future. He was the one true God.
Those Jews, of Cyrus’ day, might have been tempted to go along with the people around them, and worship their idols. That is what the children of Israel had been doing for 1000 years, except for relatively short periods of time.
The Babylonian captivity taught them a lesson, one which the Cyrus prophecy must have starkly reinforced, as did the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years of captivity followed by deliverance. After the Jews returned from Babylon, there is no evidence that idolatry ever took hold again. There were many other problems, as seen in the Book of Malachi and in the New Testament, but not idolatry. That lesson, at least, had been learned — and the Cyrus prophecy was a significant part of their education.
Series Summary: Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy