Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — “A Ravenous Bird from the East”

I’ve been writing on Isaiah’s prophecy of Cyrus the Great, the Persian emperor who God used to restore the Jews to the Promised Land.  In Isaiah chapters 40-48, there are a series of prophecies which would not have been understood in Isaiah’s time (around BC 700) but find remarkable fulfilment in the actual invasion of Cyrus more than 150 years later.  In this article we’ll look at a little bit of geography and (intriguingly) Cyrus’ battle flag.

Previous articles:

Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — Cyrus Named — Some 150 years before he rose to power, God through Isaiah named Cyrus as the conqueror of Babylon who would free the Jews from captivity.

Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — The Context in Isaiah — The deliverance from Babylon is actually the focus of 9 chapters in Isaiah, from 40-48, and thus we should not be surprised other references to Cyrus in these chapters.

Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — “The Gates Shall Not Be Shut” — Isaiah 44 and 45 prophesied several fascinating details about way Cyrus’ army was able to take Babylon.

The Righteous Man from the East

Isaiah 41:1-5

1 Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.
2 Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.
3 He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.
4 Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
5 The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.

Cyrus was originally from Anshan.  As the map shows, Anshan is in the southeast of Elam, while Babylon is below the “Babylonia” label.  Cyrus was indeed “from the east.”

It may be surprising to see a pagan called “righteous,” but in may ways Cyrus ruled rightly.  He treated the Jews well, and the Cyrus Cylinder shows that was not unique.  He was known as “The Father” by most of his empire, “The Liberator” by the Babylonians.  He seems to have been a mostly benevolent conqueror who ruled “righteously.”

Some have viewed this passage as referring to Jesus.  Certainly Isaiah 42 prophesies of the Saviour, as the New Testament affirms.  But Cyrus (and the man in Isaiah 41) came from the east as a feared conqueror, not at all as Messiah is described in Isaiah 42.

“The Ends of the Earth”

Isaiah 41:5

5 The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.

The title “King of the Four Corners of the Earth” was attributed to many great Mesopotamian rulers.  The last man to ever use the title, as far as we know, was Cyrus the Great of Persia.

“From the North”

Isaiah 41:25

I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter, and as the potter treadeth clay.

“From the north”?  Cyrus was from the east, and this verse even says, “from the rising of the sun.”  “The north” might have two meanings.  I’ll give both and you can choose one or both of them.

Meaning #1:  Before the fall of Babylon, Cyrus won a victory at Sippar (see map) and he came down upon Babylon from the north.

Meaning #2: Babylon fell to the “Medes and the Persians” and “Darius the Mede” took the kingdom (Daniel 5).  The Median empire was northeast of Babylon (see map).  This could refer to the Medes (from the north) who fought with Cyrus (from the rising of the sun) against Babylon, and also to the first ruler in Babylon itself, a Mede.  (Dr Steven Anderson suggests Darius was Cyrus’ Median uncle — see his blog summary, Darius the Mede: a solution to his identity, or download his excellent (and free!) book.)

We can’t be sure which of those was in view in this verse, but there was both a northern and eastern component to this invasion and both directions are mentioned in Isaiah.

“A Ravenous Bird from the East”

Isaiah 46:9-11

9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Cyrus’ Battle Flag https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Standard_of_Cyrus_the_Great_(Achaemenid_Empire).svg

The battle standard of Cyrus the Great, as described by the historian Xenophon, was an eagle with spread wings, a “ravenous bird” — from the east, of course.

In my last post, I said this:

But suppose you are a Jew in captivity in Babylon, 536 B.C.  You have been reading Isaiah’s prophecy.  You watched in fascination as the army of a mighty conqueror named Cyrus  defeated the Babylonians in battle but is held outside the city.  Now, stunningly, that same army is coming into the city, through gates that should have been shut, from a river bed that should have had water!  And suppose you heard afterwards about Belshazzar’s knee-knocking experience on his final night.

Suppose, in addition to all that, you saw the battle standard of this invading army coming through those open gates — a “ravenous bird from the east”!  There’s no supposing.  It actually happened — as if it were planned.

Isaiah 46:11

11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

More to come….

Series Summary: Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
This entry was posted in Biblical Prophecy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — “A Ravenous Bird from the East”

  1. David says:

    I am thoroughly loving these posts. Not just some head knowledge, but a buttressing of the faith. A sort of “See! Look at what God has done in the past. He is the same today!”

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