Cyrus the Messiah?
I’ve been struck these last few weeks with our Gospel Acclimation: Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? This phrase is prominent in our liturgy and much like a room full of British folk standing up to sing God Save the Queen, it’s a sign for us to stand and hear the good news of Jesus proclaimed. This is a song of the messiah, the one we look to as our hope and our salvation. It might surprise you to know that Jesus isn’t the only messiah we find in the Bible. We find another Messiah in Isaiah 45:
The Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whom I have grasped by the strong hand,
to conquer nations before him,
and opening doors before him,
so no gates will be shut:
I myself will go before you,
and I will level mountains.
I will shatter bronze doors;
I will cut through iron bars.
I will give you hidden treasures of secret riches,
so you will know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who calls you by name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob and Israel my chosen,
I called you by name.
I gave you an honored title,
though you didn’t know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no God.
I strengthen you—
though you don’t know me—
so all will know, from the rising of the sun to its setting,
that there is nothing apart from me.
I am the Lord; there’s no other.
I form light and create darkness,
make prosperity and create doom;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
The Israelites, particularly the people of Judah, were in exile in Babylon during the time this prophecy was given. The Babylonian Empire had conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE, destroyed the temple, and taken many of the Judeans into captivity in Babylon. The Persian Empire, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great, was on the rise and would eventually conquer the Babylonian Empire. A key point here is that Cyrus was not an Israelite; he was a Persian king and would have been considered a Gentile. The fact that the God of Israel is speaking directly to him and calling him "his anointed" is highly significant. The term "anointed" (Hebrew: "mashiach") is where we get the term "messiah." It typically referred to Israelite kings who were set apart for a divine purpose. By using this term for a foreign king, Isaiah underscores the idea that God's purposes can be achieved through unexpected means. Through Cyrus, God would bring about the liberation of the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity. In fact, historical records confirm that Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Israelites to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. By working through Cyrus, God demonstrates sovereignty over all nations, not just Israel. It's a powerful statement about God's universal reign and God’s ability to work through any individual or nation, regardless of their knowledge or acknowledgment. The anointing of Cyrus serves as a reminder that God will often defy our expectations. Just as the Israelites might have been surprised by God's choice of Cyrus, we too might be taken aback by the unexpected ways in which peace, reconciliation, and the opportunity to build and rebuild God’s Kin-dom can emerge.
In what ways have you seen unexpected instruments of peace and reconciliation in the world around you? How can you remain open to the unexpected ways God might be working in the world, even in situations that seem hopeless?
Grace and Peace,