God’s People, part 105: Cyrus

Read Isaiah 45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders of Israel replied, ‘You may have no part in this work. We alone will build the Temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded us.’” (Ezra 4:3 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Cyrus the GreatPart 105: Cyrus. If you are a student of ancient history (amateur or otherwise), you know that King Cyrus, or Cyrus the great was one of the greatest of the Persian kings. He and his successor, Darius the Great, were perhaps the two kings most responsible for the dramatic rise and expansion of the Persian Empire. Cyrus was known to have a policy of tolerance to the lands he conquered and their religious sensibility, so long as those lands submitted to his ultimate rule and authority. Darius, and subsequent kings, continued that policy onward.

Thus, Cyrus became not only known as the King of Persia, but also the King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon (which is most important for this devotion), King of Sumer, and King of Akkad. What’s more he was known as the Great King, as the King of kings, and as the King of the Four Corners of the World. Needless to say, King Cyrus’ name got around and those who were not under his rule, feared they might be next on his radar.

With that said, there is one more title that is missing from this list of titles that Cyrus readily claimed for himself. What title, you may be wondering? The Jewish title of Messiah, the anointed one of God and king of the Jews. It is here that you may be scratching your head and, provided you read the Scriptures for today (I suggest you do so if you haven’t), you are most certainly wondering where on earth one could possibly pull Messiah from the text.

In Isaiah 45:1, the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible reads as such, “This is what the LORD says to Cyrus, His anointed one, whose right hand He will empower. Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear. Their fortress gates will be opened, never to shut again” (emphasis added). The Hebrew word for “anointed one”, is מָשִׁיחַ (pronounced maw-shee’-akh). In English, מָשִׁיחַ translates to the word messiah. So, the author of Isaiah refers to Cyrus as the messiah, as the anointed one of God. Why, you may wonder?

It is because when King Cyrus invaded Babylon, or any kingdom for that matter, he had the policy of freeing all peoples who had been exiled to those lands. There are several reasons why, economic, diplomatic and otherwise; however, it was certainly good politics. It caused people who would otherwise be contentious and possibly rebellious to grow loyal to the new leader.

That, as is evidenced in the Bible, is exactly what happened. Cyrus came into Babylon and put an end to the exile of the Jews. As such, they saw Cyrus as a King anointed by God, sent to be their liberator and to return them to their rightful place as God’s people in the promised land. Cyrus, it must be noted, is one of the few foreign kings to be praised in the Bible and certainly the only foreign king to be given the title of messiah.

Of course, we Christians know that another Jewish person, later on, would come as THE MESSIAH. That person, named Jesus of Nazareth, would not only bring liberation to the Jewish people but, through his Apostles, he would extend that liberation to the world. The liberation that Messiah Jesus would bring was not just a liberation from earthly oppression, but from spiritual oppression as well. Messiah (aka Christ) Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension would mark the beginning of the end of sin, evil and death, as well as the adoption of all believers into kinship with God.

While Cyrus was not THE MESSIAH, he was worthy of being called one of God’s anointed for there is little doubt, whether he realized it or not, God worked the liberation of the Jews through him. Thus, Cyrus goes down as one of the only foreign rulers praised in the Bible by Jewish prophets and the Jewish people. This should be a reminder to us that God can, and often does, work through anyone who is open to the Spirit of God. While we judge, people based off their geographical location and their national affiliation, God does not. Let this challenge us to see all people, no matter their nationality or allegiance, as people created in God’s image. Let us recognize that all people of all places and races have the divine potential to be anointed by God for the glory of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“From [Babylon] to Aššur and (from) Susa, Agade, Ešnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there, to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.” – King Cyrus the Great, take from the Cyrus Cylinder (written circa 538 BCE as translated at Livius.org).

PRAYER
Lord, help me to recognize your handiwork in all people, no matter how different they are from me. Amen.

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