Sunday, September 11, 2005

God's Hands On (Part One)

I've been hanging on to a scripture passage for several months, and I can’t say I even know why. But I'm led to share the following, perhaps it's for someone out there to read.

Isaiah is one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, who foretold great events in the history of Israel, and prophesized as well about the coming of Messiah in great detail, fully confirmed in the gospels of Jesus and his ministry.

Cyrus was one of the great kings of his age, and God, speaking through Isaiah, makes it clear that it is by God and His purposes that Cyrus holds the fate of the Hebrews in his hands.

Part 1: In Which God warns Cyrus he is being used of God, but because the Lord God chooses to, not due to the righteousness of Cyrus. (Isaiah 45:1-8)

Cyrus, God’s Instrument

1 “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:
2 ‘ 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other;
There is no God besides Me.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me,
6 That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
That there is none besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
7 I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the LORD, do all these things.’
8 “ Rain down, you heavens, from above,
And let the skies pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation,
And let righteousness spring up together.
I, the LORD, have created it.
God used Cyrus as His instrument. There’s no mention of any quality of Cyrus’s that warranted God’s favor, and indeed, Cyrus may simply be the most ambitious or best suited man to rise to the throne of Empire. In those days, the Man was the Empire, perhaps difficult to a modern mind to fully comprehend unless one has lived under the toke of a total Tyrant. Just as He used Babylon during the days of captivity, God chose to use Persia to effect a rebuilding of the Temple in Israel.

God’s purpose in so doing could easily have been mistaken for favor. But note how God speaks about Cyrus and Persia in terms almost entirely about what God will do in power and might, and how little actually refers to the Persians, their power or lack thereof. They are passive recipients of God’s favor, and the benefits that accrue to Persia are only meant to underscore how thoroughly God will “make the crooked places straight,” “break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron.”

God through Isaiah himself confirms that he calls Cyrus by name, and girds him for his battles with his neighbors. God does a mighty work, and He uses Cyrus, but only as He might be exalted for Jacob His servant’s sake.

Cyrus has been lifted up as an instrument in God’s purpose, and equipped and fortified by God to ensure he can achieve what God has given his hand for his children Israel. God intends Cyrus to demonstrate His power. He seeks to demonstrate that “There is no God besides Me.” Cyrus will be God’s wrath and vengeance upon the people’s he vanquishes, and God will preserve His people under the protection of Cyrus.

We can know that God will oftentimes use worldly men and women, people who have not known the Lord, to achieve His purposes. We can be assured that God moves in this world, and while with our limited perspective, we may see the evil succeed and the good falter, yet He will make all things work for good.

When Cyrus ruled his empire, it might not have seemed to the Hebrews that God was in control, or that God still looked out for them. They saw His calamity, but not His peace. Thus Isaiah carried the message, to both Persian and Jew, that God was working through this earthly king, and Israel would come to know His favor through Cyrus.

As David proclaims in Psalm 102:
12 But You, O LORD, shall endure forever,
And the remembrance of Your name to all generations.
13 You will arise and have mercy on Zion;
For the time to favor her,
Yes, the set time, has come.
14 For Your servants take pleasure in her stones,
And show favor to her dust.
15 So the nations shall fear the name of the LORD,
And all the kings of the earth Your glory. (Psalm 102:12-15)
God has been working His purposes on earth since time began. He has used the kingdoms and principalities of the earth as His instruments, always so that the Nations might come to know the God of Israel, and His glory. And more than that, as a witness to those future generations such as we, who look upon the unfolding of history, in the plan of salvation revealed in the fullness of time. The story of Exodus, the story of Israel’s captivity, the story of their release, the rebuilding of the Temple, all these stories resonate with the love of God for His people, not a timid love that spares correction, but a fierce and determined love, and unconditional Love that yet demands obedience, discipline, and repentance of sin and departures from His ways.

David continues in Psalm 102:
18 This will be written for the generation to come,
That a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.
19 For He looked down from the height of His sanctuary;
From heaven the LORD viewed the earth,
20 To hear the groaning of the prisoner,
To release those appointed to death,
21 To declare the name of the LORD in Zion,
And His praise in Jerusalem,
22 When the peoples are gathered together,
And the kingdoms, to serve the LORD. (Psalm 102:18-22)
God carried the Israelites through their heroic journey in history, and His perfect legacy carried throughout the Nations in reputation and honor and fear of the Lord of the Jews. The Prophet Malachi declares how completely God affirmed His glory through His people:
11 For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down,
My name shall be great among the Gentiles;
In every place incense shall be offered to My name,
And a pure offering;
For My name shall be great among the nations,”
Says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 1:11)
And His name has been great among the Nations, and ever shall be.

Coming next in Part 2: In Which God instructs Israel that it is God who raises up Cyrus to rule them, so that he may rebuild God’s Temple, and in Which God warns of the folly of Man’s Hubris (Isaiah 45:9-16)


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