Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings…
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:1-6, ESV)
Cyrus the Great presided over what was called the Achaemenid Empire (in the Bible, identified as the Persian Empire or simply “Persia”). His was a great, expansive, and cultured empire. While Cyrus conquered every nation he desired, expanding his grasp throughout the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and under his son, Egypt, he also respected the religions of the conquered territories and allowed them to keep their ethnic identity intact.
Here in Isaiah 45 God rhetorically speaks to Cyrus. However, Cyrus never learned the ways of Israel, nor is there any indication that he ever called upon the God of Israel. However, Cyrus made two decrees with respect to the Jews. The first ended the Babylonian captivity Nebuchadnezzar began, and the second encouraged the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. The Jews of Isaiah’s day revered Cyrus as a great and good king.
That’s the backstory. What I’d like to focus on is what God says to Cyrus. He says, “I have grasped your right hand.” This is a sign of friendship and of covenant. Basically, God made Cyrus an instrument for the good of the region. He also says, “I equip you, thought you do not know me.”
God will use those who do not know him in order to bring his purposes about. I don’t know what those purposes are, and I can’t predict how God will use a person who outright says he doesn’t want anything to do with God. But this passage is clear: that person is not immune from God enacting his will through them. This is easiest to see on the political stage. I wonder out loud what God is doing in the Middle East today in places like Syria and Turkey; places that once belonged to Cyrus’ empire.
Believer! If God can use kings to bring about his purposes, he can certainly use lesser officials. God can use governors, congressmen, mayors, assemblymen, even sanitation workers! What we need to do every day is to interact with them and discover how God is working his purpose out. By “interact”, I don’t mean that we picket or demonstrate only when we don’t like what they are doing. I mean that just as your neighbor in church needs to know you care about them personally, so do your officials.
The thing that strikes me about Cyrus is that he looked beyond the religious and cultural differences between him and his subjects and encouraged them in the pursuit of their God, even though he didn’t believe as they did. Without watering down anything we believe as Christians, we can demonstrate to our neighbors and our leaders that we see them as people first. Only after that will we gain an audience with the great and the small that from the rising of the sun and from the west, they may know that there is none besides God, the father of our Lord Jesus.
What do you suppose the staff down at town hall would do if you made them cupcakes and brought them coffee one afternoon… just so you could get to know them?