Sunday 27 January 2013 11.00am

Blog 15: Isaiah 44:23-48:22

Cyrus – the unlikely anointed of the Lord

The eighth Act takes us to a totally new era. In 739BC Cyrus appeared outside the gates of Babylon and they were opened to him. The short-lived empire of Babylon is over and the empire of the Medes and Persians has begun.

In Scene One (44:24-45:13) Israel is introduced to Cyrus as the LORD’s Servant[1] – and Cyrus exploits of world domination[2]are the instruments of God in restoring his people to Jerusalem. The remainder of the scene sets out The LORD’s plans, the universal Lord. Note how many times the ‘I’ pronoun is used of the LORD’s intentions.

Scene Two (45:14-25) expands the description of the LORD and his purposes in all the events about to unfold. There are two key words here – salvation and right(eousness). These are key words for the whole Isaianic prophecy. The LORD[3] and he alone is the source of both. The concept of a ‘God who hides himself’ for his own purposes is a strong concept in Christian theology, lying behind the Book of Job, Psalm 22 and the ‘My God, my God …’ cry on the cross. Here it implies that only now can they truly see what God has been doing in secret all along.

Scene Three (46:1-13) is inspired by the sight of the Babylonian Gods being in ox carts to escape their conqueror. In contrast the LORD is the one who has carried Israel from the beginning and will carry them to the end. If the Israelites would simply remember their own history they would see that God has never deserted them – why are they refusing to see that God is behind Cyrus[4], their stubbornness is holding them back from their planned and purposed deliverance. How often we are so tied to our own concepts and plans for our futures that we do not see the new thing that God in love is opening up before us.

Scene Four is a Lament over the fate of Babylon – more a taunt of the once proud empire. Babylon has been the absolute model of the rich, successful, powerful and to be envied empire and lifestyle – and it now lies conquered and ignored. Is there a lesson for the empire we live in today?

Scene Five is a call to the Jewish exiles to take up the plan of God and prepare to move back to Jerusalem. The background would appear to be the first[5] expedition back to Jerusalem led by Sheshbazzar in the reign of Cyrus/Cambyses. Sheshbazzar was a prince of the Royal House of Judah and when he set out for Jerusalem around 525BC he had with him the edict of Cyrus and the vessels from the temple that had been taken into captivity by Babylon. But although the plea to hear and respond is addressed to both the remnants of the Northern Kingdom, which fell and was deported in 722BC, and to Judah, whose downfall was in 587BC, it seems that few Jews responded and the expedition was a small and pathetic one. They were too comfortable in their new land, reluctant to embrace the salvation and the call of God. Sounds familiar!!

God is on the move – and as so often the people do not want to be disturbed – leave them to practice their religion but do not ask them to walk out in faith.

[1] Actually first in 44:28 as the LORD’s Shepherd carrying out his purpose

[2] In conquering Babylon he inherited the mastery of the whole Babylonian Empire which stretched to the Mediterranean Sea, though Cyrus himself never travelled there with his armies but his son Cambyses did and on into Egypt.

[3] LORD in capitals here and throughout the NRSV indicates the YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah) in the original text as the name of God.

[4] Here in verse 11, the eagle or bird of prey from the east.

[5] The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which are the history of the return, indicate four separate expeditions from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Led in turn by Sheshbazzar, Zerubabbal, Ezra and Nehemiah.