Cyrus, ‘My Shepherd’
Bible scholar Harold Willmington once wrote, “Bible prophecy is simply history written in advance!” In the case of Cyrus, king of ancient Medo-Persia, God wrote the history 100 years before Cyrus was born and approximately 150 years before Cyrus conquered Babylon and let the Jewish people return to their land.
In Isaiah 45:1, God declared, “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut.”
Cyrus is the only Gentile ever called God’s “anointed,” which in Hebrew means “messiah.” As Israel’s deliverer, Cyrus is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will be Israel’s future Deliverer at His return to Earth. The word anointed is a Hebrew expression tagging Cyrus as God’s divinely appointed agent to subdue nations from Egypt all the way up the Mediterranean coast.
The phrase to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held (v. 1) expresses God’s total control over the king. It also suggests Cyrus would not be defeated and would accomplish everything God had chosen him to do.
Though history calls him “Cyrus the Great,” Cyrus was still a frail mortal. Yet with God’s help, he swept across nations as God’s instrument “to loose the armor of kings, to open . . . the double doors so that the gates will not be shut” (v. 1). This was especially true of the ease with which Cyrus defeated Babylon:
Cyrus dried up the Euphrates, so that it was only one foot deep, by diverting its waters into the basin of Sepharvaim. In this way the Persian army was able to enter unexpectedly the supposedly impenetrable city of Babylon.1
The Lord preceded Cyrus to clear away all impediments: “I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron” (v. 2). God made Babylon’s defenses useless against Cyrus, including its enormous walls. Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the walls were so thick chariots raced on top of them.2
God did all these things to pave the way for the Jewish people’s physical deliverance.
He added, “I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel” (v. 3). The word treasures refers to the wealth of gold and silver that pagan cities stored in underground vaults to protect it from invaders. Upon Babylon’s defeat, God enabled Cyrus to find the buried wealth, a portion of which the king gave back to Israel (cf. Ezra 1:1–4).
God named Cyrus so the world would know that He alone is God. But He also named Cyrus for Israel’s sake: “For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me” (Isa. 45:4).
The Jewish captives had this prophecy 150 years in advance. In later years, they would be able to see how God called Cyrus (who did not know the Lord), anointed him, bestowed titles of honor on him, and used him as His servant to help Israel.
- Herodotus, History 1, 187–193, Penguin; cited in Victor Buksbazen, The Prophet Isaiah (reprint, Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 2008), 360.
- History.com editors, “Babylonia,” history.com, August 20, 2019 (tinyurl.com/BWalls-1).