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Yahweh shockingly referred to Cyrus as His "anointed" (Heb. mashiah), a title normally reserved for Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings. One exception is Hazael whom Elijah was to anoint as King of Aram (cf. 1 Kings 19:15-16). Hazael was also the Lord’s anointed. It also refers to the Messiah. The Israelites thought of their anointed leaders as those whom God uniquely raised up to accomplish His purposes. By calling Cyrus His anointed, the Lord was teaching them that He was the Lord of all the earth, not just Israel. He could and would use whomever he chose to deliver His people.
"Sometimes we forget that God can use even unconverted world leaders for the good of His people and the progress of His work." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 51.]
"Traditionally, the ruler of Babylon took the hand of Bel in the New Year’s festival. Assyrian rulers coveted this affirmation of their authority. Here Yahweh claims that he has seized Cyrus by the hand (Isaiah 42:6) and strenghtened [sic] his hold on his realm." [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 156.]
Cyrus’ election for this task was not due to anything in himself (cf. Romans 9:16). The Lord had taken him by the right hand, as a parent does with a small child, and would enable him to conquer and subdue those nations and kings whom he would.
"Since Israel in exile had no king, Cyrus functioned in a sense as her king (the anointed one) to bring about blessing." [Note: J. Martin, p. 1099.]
"Cyrus is the only Gentile king who is called God’s ’anointed.’ Since this is the translation of the Hebrew word which we spell in English as Messiah, Cyrus is in a sense a type of the Anointed One, the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . The only intended resemblance is in the fact that Cyrus was the anointed one who delivered the people of Israel from their captivity. As such he points us to the greater Anointed One who saves His people from their sins." [Note: A. Martin, Isaiah . . ., pp. 77-78. See also Archer, p. 641.]
God’s promise to Cyrus 45:1-8
The promise to Cyrus was, of course, for the benefit of the Israelites who wondered how God would restore them to the land as He promised.
The instrument of redemption 45:1-13
This section begins with God’s promise to Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1-8; cf. Psalms 2; Psalms 110) and concludes with a vindication of God’s right to use whom He will (Isaiah 45:9-13).
God would precede and prepare the way for His conqueror. He would find it relatively easy to overcome his enemies, Lydia and Babylon, and to take even their hidden treasures, those kept in secret vaults. One reason God would do this was so Cyrus would learn that Yahweh, the God of Israel, had blessed him. This is not a promise that Cyrus would become a believer in Yahweh but that he would know that Yahweh was behind what had happened to him (cf. the Pharaoh of the Exodus). On the famous Cyrus Cylinder, Cyrus credited Marduk, a Babylonian idol, for his victories. [Note: See Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near . . ., pp. 315-16.] Yet, in 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Ezra 1:2, he gave Yahweh some credit. Probably Cyrus, being a polytheist, honored many gods-including Yahweh-for his victories.
Second, God chose to use Cyrus for the sake of the Israelites, so He might fulfill His promises to them. It was Yahweh’s choice of him that had resulted in Cyrus’ honorific titles (Shepherd, Isaiah 44:28, and Anointed, Isaiah 45:1). People do not have to be believers in Him for God to use them and bless them. The choice is His; He is sovereign.
The issue is who the Lord is, not who Cyrus is. Yahweh is the only true God, so He could choose whom He would, even though Cyrus did not know Him.
Third, God chose Cyrus so everyone would come to know that He is the only true God. Note the progression in the reasons for Yahweh’s choice of Cyrus: that he might know, that Israel might know, and that the world might know who is the only true God. This is important, not because God has a huge ego, but because it is true and because only as people recognize Yahweh for who He is, that they will stop ruining their own lives with idolatry. God’s use of Cyrus preserved the Israelites and thus made the Incarnation possible. That event, in turn, has made salvation available to the whole world.
The point is that Yahweh alone is ultimately responsible for everything in nature and history. Everything that is in the universe, exists because of the creative will of God. God was not claiming that He creates moral "evil" (AV), but both well-being (Heb. shalom) and calamity (Heb. ra’). He causes (allows) bad things to happen to people for His own reasons (cf. Job 1-2), as well as good things, but He does not cause people to make morally evil decisions (cf. James 1:13).
"Persian religion dealt in opposites of light and darkness. Yahweh claims not to be those conditions, but to create both, and thus to overcome the inherent dualism in his sovereign rule over them." [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 157.]
Since God is who He is, the earth can anticipate salvation. God’s transcendence and uniqueness are not just abstract truths to be believed. They have practical and positive ramifications. Since God created the earth, He can pour out blessings on it: fertility and salvation. Even though God is ultimately responsible for everything that happens, His creation can rejoice because He will only and always do what is right.
". . . the saving of his people is the clearest expression of God’s essential character, to do right [righteousness]." [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 206.]
In view of the Exodus, this announcement of a second exodus from Babylon would have been good news to Isaiah’s audience. But that God would reveal Himself to a pagan and use him to lead them out, rather than another Moses, must have come as an almost unbelievable shock. Truly God would do a new thing (cf. Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 48:6). Some of the Israelites would not believe that God would do such a thing. Thus the following section sought to convince them to believe God’s promises concerning Cyrus.
"Woe" is a funeral cry that, in this context, indicates the extreme folly of dictating to the Creator how He may work (cf. chs. 5; 28-33). The Israelites, and we, must let God be God. People are clay vessels that God has made for His own purposes (cf. Isaiah 29:16; Jeremiah 18:6; Romans 9:20-21). We have no right to dictate to our Maker how He should behave, any more than the works of our hands have a right to question how we make them.
God’s right to do as He pleases 45:9-13
The Creator can do anything He wishes that is consistent with His own character and stated purposes.
The same principle applies in the family realm. It is folly to tell parents that their children should not have been born or should look different. The parents are responsible for the birth of their children and the appearance of their children, and no other people have anything to do with it. Obviously grandparents and other ancestors play a part, but parents are the instruments God uses to bring children into the world. Likewise God is the Father of humanity, and He alone is ultimately responsible for His children. The use of "woman" instead of the more parallel "wife" in this verse may have been done to avoid identifying Yahweh with the mother goddesses of the ancient Near East.
Since Yahweh is Israel’s Lord, Holy One, and Creator, what right did the Israelites have to question His decision to use Cyrus to deliver them in the future? The question in this verse is probably ironic in meaning: go ahead and question my judgment concerning my sons (Israel and Cyrus), and command me concerning the work of my hands!
Again, God has the right to do with His creation what He chooses. If God created the universe, He certainly has the right to shape human history as He will.
God’s raising up of Cyrus was consistent with His righteousness. He would enable Cyrus to succeed. Cyrus would be responsible for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the release of the Israelites from Babylonian exile. The Almighty Yahweh would do this without even rewarding Cyrus. Cyrus’ action would not put him in the Lord’s debt because he would simply be carrying out the will of the sovereign God (cf. Luke 17:9-10).
"It is ironic, but typical, that Cyrus obeys without question, while Israel rebels." [Note: Watts, Isaiah 34-66, p. 157.]
The God of redemption 45:14-46:13
This section develops the ideas that preceded, by unfolding the characteristics of Yahweh that His people needed to appreciate, in view of the shocking news that their new Moses would be Cyrus. It opens with an emphasis on God as Savior (Isaiah 45:14-19), then contrasts Yahweh with idols (Isaiah 45:20 to Isaiah 46:7), and closes with an emphasis on God as righteous (Isaiah 46:8-13). The purpose of the unit was to strengthen the Israelites’ confidence in God.
Yahweh affirmed (cf. Isaiah 45:1) that because of what He would do in redeeming Israel from Babylonian captivity, Gentiles from the ends of the earth would submit to Israel, having learned of Israel’s great God (cf. Isaiah 43:3). The Sabeans probably lived in Upper Egypt between Egypt and Sudan. [Note: See Young, 3:207.] Perhaps one evidence of this happening was the Ethiopian eunuch’s reverence for Yahweh (cf. Acts 8:26-40). No matter how remote, wealthy, or regal they may be, Gentiles will voluntarily acknowledge Yahweh’s deity (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:24-25). One writer argued for the historic evangelical doctrine of exclusivism in salvation, and used it to argue against religious inclusivism (pluralism). He commented on many verses in Isaiah that support this belief. [Note: Wayne G. Strickland, "Isaiah, Jonah, and Religious Pluralism," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:609 (January-March 1996):31-32.]
God as Savior 45:14-19
The nations that will come to God, or perhaps Isaiah himself or Israel, observed that God hides His acts of salvation so they are not obviously apparent. They become clear to those who carefully observe what He has done, and whom God enlightens, but they do not inevitably impress every single individual. One might say the same thing about Jesus’ claims. They could have been clearer, but to those who really considered them, and whose eyes God opened, they were clear. This is essentially a testimony to God’s transcendence (cf. Romans 11:33).
The idols would humiliate their makers when it became clear that they have no power to save. But God’s ability to save His people forever will not result in His being put to shame. Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel to continued existence would impress the Gentiles after Cyrus’ decree (Isaiah 45:14-15). But God would provide an eternal salvation for His people that only Gentiles after the coming of Christ could appreciate (cf. Romans 9:33; Romans 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6).
Again the Lord affirmed (cf. Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:14) that He created the heavens, and there is no other God beside Him (cf. Exodus 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 6:4). These affirmations indicate that what follows substantiates what has gone before. God is trustworthy, and will not embarrass or humiliate His worshippers, because He is the almighty Creator. Isaiah’s elaboration on this statement stresses that God’s creative activity was for the welfare of His creatures.
Some readers of this verse have understood the statement that "God did not create the earth waste" (Heb. tohu) as clarifying the creation process. When God created the heavens and the earth, did He create them unformed and then form them, or does the waste condition of Genesis 1:2 describe the universe before Creation? I think this verse means that God’s intention in Creation was not to create something permanently without form but to create an environment for His creatures that He suitably formed for their habitation. Thus this verse says nothing about the steps God may have taken in creating the cosmos. It rather explains His purpose in creating the cosmos.
Since God made the world for human habitation, it is reasonable that He would communicate His plans and purposes to humans. This is what He has done. God made Himself known to the Israelites. What He has revealed is in harmony with how He created the world. He has done what is right and has not distorted the truth. He has not hidden Himself (cf. Isaiah 45:15; John 18:20).
". . . the point appears to be to contrast God’s method of revelation with the dark practices of the heathen soothsayers." [Note: Young, 3:212. Cf. Delitzsch, 2:227-28.]
God and idols 45:20-46:7
In the following segment (Isaiah 45:20-25), God contrasted His salvation with that of the Babylonian idols.
"Throughout chs. 40-55, the people of Israel are envisioned as being in bondage in Babylon. . . . Has not the God of Israel been thoroughly discredited? Should not Israel adopt the gods of her captors? . . . Instead, he [Isaiah] insists that it is the captors, the Babylonians, who need to look to their deliverance. Far from Israel being concerned over whether their God can deliver them from Babylon, it is the mighty Babylonians who should be worrying over whether the gods whom they have served can deliver them!" [Note: Oswalt, The Book . . . 40-66, p. 220.]
The Lord again summoned the people of the world, possibly after Cyrus’ judgments, for a debate (cf. Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 41:21; Isaiah 43:8-9). He claimed that pagan idol-worshippers were ignorant (cf. Isaiah 44:9). They carried their gods of wood, rather than being carried themselves by a personal God (cf. 1 Samuel 4-5). And they prayed to gods that could not save.
God challenged the idol-worshippers to consult together and to present a case in defense of their idols. Who was the challenger who claimed "this?" Evidently the prophecies about Cyrus are the "this" in view (cf. Isaiah 46:9-11)? He was Yahweh-the only true God-who does what is right and who saves.
Since Yahweh alone saves, people and nations around the world should turn to Him for salvation (cf. Numbers 21:8-9). In so doing they could experience the same salvation that Israel would enjoy. Yahweh is the saving God of the whole earth, not just Israel, so salvation is available to all, not just Israel. God used this verse to bring the light of salvation to the English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon when he was a youth.
God Himself swore (cf. Genesis 22:16) that everyone will eventually bow to His authority (some as condemned sinners and others as pardoned worshippers) and appeal to Him (cf. Romans 14:10-12; Philippians 2:9-11). In view of this, it is only reasonable to call on Him for salvation now. This word from God, confirmed with His oath, is as reliable as His promises to Abraham and His words predicting Cyrus’ activities.
The only hope of all humankind is in Yahweh. Pagans will turn to the Lord in repentance because of His power to deliver, His faithfulness to His promises, and His complete righteousness. The Israelites will also eventually bow in submission to the only true God, enjoying His salvation and glorifying Him. This will happen when Jesus Christ returns to the earth.
The emphasis now shifts from God as the true Savior (Isaiah 45:20-25) to the idols who cannot save (Isaiah 46:1-7). The following pericope sums up the argument that Yahweh is superior to pagan gods, and expands the idea introduced in Isaiah 45:20: that a god that people need to carry cannot save.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 45". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany