Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy — The One True God Against “the gods”

Sometime around the year 700 BC, the prophet Isaiah gave an amazing prophecy, in which he stated that God would use someone named Cyrus to deliver His people from captivity.  This was fulfilled in 536 BC, perhaps 150-160 years later, when Cyrus the Great of Persia invaded Babylon, took the city, and released the Jews who had been taken captive by the Babylonians, with instructions to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

I’ve been writing on this prophecy for a couple of weeks (and the series of articles is already longer than I’d planned), but I’d like to take time for two more articles.  This one isn’t so much about the fulfillment but just to emphasise why this prophecy was given.

A Time of Idolatry

Because of his ministry during the time of Hezekiah, who was a godly king, Isaiah is perhaps most often connected in people’s minds with Hezekiah.  In the historical section of Isaiah, chapters 36-39, Hezekiah is indeed the king.  However, much of Isaiah’s ministry was in the reign of Ahaz (the father of Hezekiah), who was king when Isaiah gave the famous prophecy of our Lord’s virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14).

Hezekiah was followed on the throne by his son, Manasseh.  According to the Jewish Talmud, Isaiah prophesied into Manasseh’s reign and was  martyred when Manasseh ordered him sawn in half.  The Scriptures do not tell us this, but they do tell us that Manasseh “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood” (II Kings 24:4), and Hebrews 11:37 says of the people of faith, “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword.”  Perhaps that was indeed a reference to Isaiah.

Ahaz and Manasseh were probably the two most idolatrous kings to ever sit on the throne of Judah.  The Cyrus prophecy was written sometime in the years soon after the reign of Ahaz, and either during or just before the reign of Manasseh.

God vs the Idols

I made reference to this in the initial article in this series:

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.

I thought it would be good, now that I’ve looked at different aspects of the prophecy, spread over several chapters, to show the actual Scriptures that show clearly that this was God’s purpose for the prophecy.  Over and over again, the Lord says that He is giving these prophecies to show that He is the one true God, that He can tell in advance what He is going to do.  Let’s look at them.  I’ll use colour coding, red for statements of God’s uniqueness, and blue for statements of His telling things in advance.

Isaiah 44

In Isaiah 44:28, God gave the name of Cyrus.  Earlier in Isaiah 44, there’s an extended discussion of the folly of idolatry, preceded by this:

Isaiah 44:6-8

6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
7 And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.
8 Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.

Isaiah 45

In Isaiah 45, God again names Cyrus, and gives many of the details of which I’ve been writing in this series.  Then, Isaiah wrote this:

Isaiah 45:3-6

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.

Later in Isaiah 45:13, God declares that Cyrus will not require a ransom to let the Jews return to their land (I’ll look at that in the next and final article in this series).  Then, He says:

Isaiah 45:18-23

18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.
22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

That last verse, of course, is cited in Philippians 2:11 and applied to Jesus, which would be impossible if Jesus were not God the Son.

These two themes, the uniqueness of God, and the fact that He alone can pre-declare history, thus occur both before and after the naming of Cyrus, which is at the end of chapter 44 and the beginning of chapter 45.  But as we’ve seen in this series, there are other passages in this part of Isaiah that prophesy of Cyrus, and those same themes are connected to those prophecies as well.

Isaiah 41

In verse 2, God says He will raise up a deliverer from the east, and Persia is east of Babylon.  He also makes reference in verse 5 to “the ends of the earth,” perhaps a reference to one of the titles Cyrus used.  Then, He said this:

Isaiah 41:4

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.

Later, in verse 25, God says He will bring one from the north and from the east.  I discussed in an earlier article two possible ways in which this was fulfilled.  This prophecy was both immediately preceded and followed by statements that, unlike God, idols could not pre-declare history.

Isaiah 41:22-26

22 Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
24 Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.
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.
26 Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words.

Isaiah 46

In Isaiah 46:11, God speaks of “calling a ravenous bird from the east,” probably a reference to the battle flag of Cyrus.  In the immediately preceding verses, God speaks of the folly of idolatry and then says:

Isaiah 46:9-10

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:

It’s possible that there are other prophecies in this section of Isaiah with direct reference to Cyrus, which I’ve overlooked.  But for every one that I’ve found, there are verses either just before them or just after them that affirm the uniqueness of God, and specifically the fact that He alone can declare beforehand what He is going to do.  We see it in chapters 41, 44, 45, and 46.

As I said in the first article in this series, the refutation of idolatry was particularly relevant to Judah.  It was a nation which had been led into idolatry by many of their kings, most notably by Ahaz, and was now being led (or about to be) into even more depravity by Manasseh.

It’s still relevant today.  We may not worship idols of wood and stone, of gold and silver.  Instead, we are led astray by bank notes and savings accounts, by immoral pleasures, by gluttony, by entertainment and entertainers, by intelligence and cleverness, by all the things that this world values and God does not.

But none of those things can tell us what will happen, or direct the future.  There is still only one God, just as there always has been.  He is God, and there is none else, a just God but also a Saviour.

Isaiah 45:21-22

21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.
22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

Series Summary:  Isaiah’s Amazing Cyrus Prophecy

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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