King Cyrus the Great
“…. I am Cyrus, king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king, the king of Babylon…..As for the population of Babylon who as if without divine intention had endured a yoke not decreed for them, I soothed their weariness, I freed them from their bonds.” From Cyrus Cylinder
This is the record inscribed in the Cyrus cylinder which was written in a cuneiform to celebrate the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. Cyrus the Great was the king of Persia, who later conquered the kingdom of Babylon in 539 BC. After completing the conquest of Babylon, the very first thing he did was to free the exiles and let the expatriated peoples return to their own land and nations. In this time of Cyrus, Jews were among those who repatriated from Babylon to the land of Israel. What is more amazing in this part of history is that this event was also recorded in the bible.
Biblical Description Of The Emancipation By Cyrus the Great
Ezra 1:2 The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. 4 And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.
This is the declaration made by Cyrus the Great to the Jews who had been expatriated around 605 BC by Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon when he conquered the city of Jerusalem. In this declaration, he basically set all the Jews free from the exile. And he let them go back to their own land. What is unusual in this decree is that he allowed them to rebuild the Jerusalem temple, which once was burnt down by the Babylonians. Moreover, he commanded his people living with Jews to provide them the materials the Jews asked for the reconstruction of the temple.
Enigmatic Messages In the Decree
Due to the decree of the king, the Jews could gather many valuable offerings among the Babylonians and could come back to their own land. This was one of the most important events in the history of the Jews. What is interesting about this event is the reason why Cyrus the Great made this seemingly improbable decree. He could simply make the exiles stay in the places where they were at the moment and use them for various purposes as the Babylonians did. More than anything else, what is inexplicable in this decree is the reason he allowed the Jews to build the temple for God and even provided materials for the purpose.
Originally, the state religion of the kingdom of Persia was the Mithraism. And the people of Persia worshiped the sun-god Mitra. And this was true to Cyrus the Great. Even though he was a sun-god worshiper who did not believe in the God in the bible, he praises God for the authority given to him. He attributes his power and authority to God Jehovah, not Mitra and in return for the favor of God Jehovah, he allowed the Jews to go back to their land and build God’s temple in Jerusalem. Then how could this happen? There was one thing that moved the heart of King Cyrus.
The Prophecy Of Cyrus the Great
After he conquered the kingdom of Babylon, he could know a prophecy through God’s people who had been living in the land as exiles. The prophecy was precisely concerned about him. Let us take look at the prophecy of Cyrus in the bible.
Isaiah 45:1 “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountain; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. 3 I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.
This prophecy was from Prophet Isaiah about 700 BC, which means this prophecy was recorded about 170 years before Cyrus actually became the king and conquered Babylon in 539 BC. After the conquest of Babylon, he became acquainted in this prophecy and he was moved in his heart. He realized that the God of Israel is the true God. God was the one who named him even before his birth and gave him all the power and authority to establish his vast kingdom.
God’s Will For Cyrus
In realizing this Cyrus wanted to do the will of God. He eagerly wanted to obey the mission entrusted to him by God by faithfully fulfilling the will of God. Then what was the will of God He had prepared for Cyrus?
Isaiah 45:13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.”
According to this prophecy, God reveals the reason he has chosen Cyrus as his prophet. The mission given to Cyrus was first, to set God’s people free from the Babylon exile. Second, He had chosen Cyrus to entrust the work of rebuilding the temple of God which had been burnt down by the Babylonians. When Cyrus realized the mission God gave him, he had done everything according to the words of God obediently.
The Message Hidden In the Prophecy Of Cyrus
Then what kind of message is hidden in the story of Cyrus? Is the account of Cyrus just a part of the history of Israel? Definitely not. The bible says God bring up the past to teach the future.
Isaiah 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
Roman 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
The words of God in the bible is not just a record of what had happened in the past. But rather through the things of the past, God teaches about what is going to happen in the future. In other words, the history of the past is actually working as the prophecy about the future. In this sense, the story of Cyrus is not just a history of Israel, but it contains a prophecy which would be completed by the appearance of a spiritual Cyrus, a man summoned by God to fulfill the prophecy in the bible.
Then who is the spiritual Cyrus and what is the work that God entrusted him to complete?