Cyrus the Great
In the first verse of the book of Ezra we are introduced to King Cyrus. His title was King Cyrus II, or Cyrus the Great. His timeline is as follows:
|600 BC||The birth of Cyrus|
|559 BC||Became King of Persia|
|549 BC||Became King of Media|
|547 BC||Became King of Lydia|
|538 BC||Became King of Babylon|
The father of Cyrus II was Cambyses I who was king of Anshan. When Cyrus took the throne of Anshan on his father’s death he then went to war against his grandfather and took over his province, and so became king of Persia. He then went on to conquer Media, Lydia and Babylon.
Ezra chapter 1 verse 1 mentions that it was the first year of Cyrus king of Persia. It was his first year as king of Babylon, but he had already reigned as king of Persia for 21 years. He was 62 years old.
What I love about this is that Cyrus is mentioned by name in Isaiah (Isaiah 44 v 28 – 45 v 4). Although Isaiah comes later in the Bible than Ezra, it comes chronologically before Ezra. Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, estimates that Isaiah was written about 140 years before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple in Jerusalem (Antiquities of the Jews, book 11, chapter 1), which means it was about 200 years earlier than Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon. Liberal theologians and secular historians claim that this part of Isaiah was inserted later after the exile, but this is wishful thinking.
The only other such prophecy I am aware of in the Bible where someone is actually named is in I Kings 13 v 2 where Josiah was born 2 centuries later than when the prophecy was given.
The Bible is an amazing book!
But there are questions. Why did God choose a Gentile king to do His work? Why did God call Cyrus His shepherd (Isaiah 44 v 28)? The answer to the first question is found in Isaiah 45 v 4, “for Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel My elect …” God was using Cyrus to rescue His purposes for Israel, so he was at this time a shepherd – God’s shepherd – to His people. God can use anyone or anything He wants to speak to us.
In verse 1 it says “Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” and he sent a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom – huge though it was. He says in verse 2 “All the kingdoms of the earth Yahweh God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah”. Cyrus has personally taken on the responsibility of building God’s temple, so whoever goes to build the temple will be accountable to him as well as to God. He even arranged for the articles which Nebuchadnezzar has stolen from the previous temple in Jerusalem to be returned, along with necessary finance.
Cyrus was a Gentile, not one of God’s chosen people, yet he was chosen by God, before he was even thought of. I wonder what his mother thought when she gave birth to him. Was she aware of the prophecy of Isaiah, or was it just a case of “we’ll name him after his granddad”. God knew when he was going to be born and what he was going to be named.
Sometimes we wonder what God is going to do and how He is going to do it. He is sovereign, and also knows the end from the beginning. So we can have absolute confidence that He will keep His promises.
Do you want God to use you? That should be the desire of us all. But if God does choose to use you, remember it is God using you and is not dependent on your gifts and abilities. The story of Balaam and his donkey comes to mind here. The last stanza of Don Francisco’s song about Balaam’s donkey says:
The Lord’s the one who makes the choice of the instrument He’s usin’
We don’t know the reasons and the plans behind His choosin’
So when the Lord starts usin’ you don’t you pay it any mind
He could have used the dog next door if He’d been so inclined