GEMS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
He is known to history as “Cyrus the Great”; born 590 B.C., died 529 B.C. A skilled military strategist, Cyrus united the tribes of Persia (modern-day Iran), defeated the Medes and Babylonians, extended the Persian Empire westward to Macedonia and eastward to India, and showed extraordinary compassion to the people he conquered. To this day, the Iranians celebrate Cyrus as the founder of their nation.
In Scripture, however, Cyrus is not known as “the great,” but as the “shepherd” and “anointed” of the Lord—appointed by God to free His people from Babylonian captivity, and to finance the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple.
More than a century before Cyrus was born, the Lord gave him his name and his assignment: “He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ and to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ” (Isaiah 44:28)
The historical fulfillment of this prophecy is recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23: “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judea. Who is among you of all His people? May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!’ ”
Cyrus was the greatest ruler of his time. Yet, the Lord used this powerful, pagan monarch to serve His purposes in history; just as He used the Egyptian pharaoh to display His glory, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar to punish the rebellious Israelites, and Caesar Augustus to schedule the census that led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where, according to Micah 5:2, the Savior was to be born.
In fact, as stated in Acts 4, God used even the unwitting Roman government and stubborn Jewish leaders to carry out His great plan of redemption in Jesus Christ: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” (27-28)
You and I live in a frightening age, the final age of the earth, of which Paul wrote to Timothy, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.” (2 Timothy 3:1) Courtesy of 24-hour news cycles, cable TV, and worldwide internet access, our days and nights are filled with worrisome news: wars, riots, racism, hatred, terrorism, crime, financial distress, natural disasters.
On the surface, things may seem to be out of control. We may be tempted to wonder, “Who’s in charge here, anyway?” Are ruthless world leaders and crazed dictators controlling our history—names like Vladimir Putin, Bashar Assad, Kim Jong Un; or organizations like Al Qaeda, Hamas, ISIS, and the Muslim Brotherhood? The world once thought the same of names like Cyrus the Great, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Caesar.
But rest assured, Christian friends—to quote Jesus, “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Almighty God is always controlling history, always working “behind the scenes” in infinite wisdom and power to fulfill His purposes, prosper His Gospel, and preserve His people.
Mark Weis is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Cape Coral, Florida.