Cyrus, the “Shepherd” of God

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall never pass away” (Matt. 24:35). What God said would happen, did. What God promised will happen, will. God’s word is true and righteous altogether!

Isaiah is a prophet whose name is well known to Bible students. He lived 750 years before Christ and is commonly called the Messianic prophet because he spoke so many prophecies about Jesus. But, Isaiah’s prophecies were not confined to Jesus. Consider a remarkable prophecy that related to a Gentile king named Cyrus. Cyrus was the ruler of the massive Medo-Persian Empire. In Isaiah 44:26-28 and 45:4 are these words: “… that saith of Jerusalem, she shall be inhabited: and of the cities of Judah, they shall be built … that saith of Cyrus, he is shepherd … even saying of Jerusalem, she shall be built: of the temple, thy foundation shall be laid … I have called thee by name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.”

Notice this startling prediction. A man who would not be born for another 100+ years is called by his name: Cyrus. That man would set free people from a captivity they were not yet subject to. He would lay the foundation to a temple that had not yet been destroyed. When Isaiah wrote, the city of Jerusalem was still intact; its people still settled in their own country; their temple still standing. Is there any wonder that skeptics have tried repeatedly through the ages to discredit the writings of this prophet because of the astonishing nature of the predictions he made? Yet Isaiah did live, and in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls about 70 years ago of ancient manuscripts that existed in the first century there were copies of the book of Isaiah and his prophecies. These copies showed no evidence of being anything but what the book of Isaiah declared them to be.

Isaiah lived before any Jew was carried into captivity by Babylon, and  among the many prophecies is his prophecy that Judah would be made captive by Babylon (Isaiah 39:5-8). When Isaiah prophesied, it was at least 75 years before the first of three different groups of Jews were taken to Babylon. The power that was the real threat to Judah in Isaiah’s day was Assyria. This nation removed the ten northern tribes and dispersed them. In Isaiah’s day Babylon was no threat to Judah. That nation would have to rise and fall before the Medo-Persian kingdom came into arise in power.

Babylon carried Judah into captivity about 587 BC and destroyed both Jerusalem and the temple Solomon had built. Jeremiah had prophesied Judah’s captivity would last seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12) and it did. But Babylon fell, defeated by the Medes and Persians. And when the seventy years of captivity for Judah was drawing to a close, Daniel, familiar with Jeremiah’s prophecy, prayed for Judah’s release. And it came about through the authority of a man who, beyond all rhyme and reason, was named Cyrus. Just as Isaiah had prophesied, Cyrus allowed all Judaean exiles who wished to return to Judah to do so. He also made provisions for the rebuilding of the temple there.

Some dismiss all this either by saying that the prophecy was fake or by coincidence. But it was neither. It happened because Isaiah said it would, and Isaiah said it would because he was God’s prophet. It happened as God had said. It demonstrated forcefully the truth that God keeps His word. It also teaches us that just as Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar the “most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men,” that He does (Dan. 4:17). God is still the Ruler of our world and He still sets men into authority. There are many things which are said and/or written in which one can have no confidence, but there is one book in which one can place explicit confidence. That book is called the Bible.

Jim McDonald