It has been said: “Cyrus may justly be considered as the wisest conqueror, and the most accomplished  prince mentioned in profane history.”

Cyrus II The Great was the fourth ruler of the Achaemenian Dynasty to rule Persia. This dynasty  is represented by the following genealogical table.

Early Life and Elevation

Cyrus was born about 599 bc. In his early life he  gave promise of future greatness. His childhood  was spent in Persia with his parents, where he  was disciplined to endure fatigue and hardship.  When he was twelve years old he went on a visit  with his mother, Mandane, to his grandfather,  Astyages, King of the Medes, to whom he much  endeared himself. He soon gained the affection of  the Medes also, both small and great, by courteous  and charming behaviour. He distinguished himself  on the battlefield, when he went on an expedition  against the Babylonians led by Evil Merodach, son  of Nebuchadnezzar in 584 bc. The Babylonians  were repulsed largely by the valour of Cyrus and  this raised his fame still more among the Medes.

In 559 bc Cyrus succeeded his father to the  throne of Persia in Anshan. Accounts vary as to how  Cyrus became ruler of the Medes, but one version  of events says he began an insurrection against  Astyages, his grandfather, who was by now weak  and corrupt. Astyages sought the help of Nabonidus,  the new king of Babylonia, but his general,  Harpagus, whom he had previously wronged,  deserted his cause and brought his soldiers over  to the young Cyrus. The Median King was soon  seized by his men, and the Persians took the capital Ecbatana in 550 bc without a battle. From that time on the Persians and Medes fought together under the brilliant leadership of Cyrus.

The Conquests of Cyrus

Isaiah the prophet had much to say about Cyrus. By the power of inspiration he named him 140 years before he was born: “Thus saith Yahweh to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden…” (45:1; cp 44:28). He also defines the role he is to play in the Divine purpose: with God holding his hand, “he would subdue nations” and “the loins of kings would be loosed”, culminating in his final and most celebrated victory over Babylon: “I will… open before him the two leaved gates.” Cyrus would later acknowledge that his victories and career had been foretold: “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, Yahweh God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2). Challenging the idol-gods of the nations Yahweh says, “Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow” (Isa 41:2–3).

Early in the piece Cyrus had to move quickly to overthrow a confederacy of nations headed up by Evil Merodach, king of Babylon. Evil Merodach wanted to add Media to his empire, which already comprehended Syria, Assyria, Hycania, Bactria and Arabia. So he formed a powerful confederacy with the Lydians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Carians, Paphlagonians and Cicilians to the west, and to the east, with the Indians. Against these nations the Medes and Persians combined their forces, and Cyrus was their general. Cyrus anticipated an invasion, but rather than be attacked he took the initiative and marched forward with his hosts in search of the confederates. He deemed it more prudent that his army should eat up the enemy’s country than their own; and that so bold a step would strike terror in the forces of the enemy, and inspire confidence in his own. He came upon the confederates encamped in the open country of Assyria, where he attacked and routed them, and stormed their camp. In one account Evil Merodach, the king of Babylon, was slain in the engagement. The rest of the confederates, among whom was Croesus, king of Lydia, being greatly dispirited, fled homeward pursued by Cyrus.

Among the nations conquered in his illustrious career were the Armenians, Cappadocians, Lydians (546 bc), Phrygians, Assyrians and finally the Babylonians (539 bc). In fact he added all the nations between the Euxine and Caspian Seas on the north to the Red Sea on the south, including Egypt, to his empire. His own words were indeed true: “Yahweh God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth.”

Cyrus and the Fall of Babylon

Babylon was the nation Yahweh had used to bring retribution on Judah for their wicked ways. In a series of invasions the Babylonians had taken the Jews, including Daniel, into captivity in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign (bc 609). Finally they desecrated Jerusalem, and burnt and destroyed the Temple of Yahweh. For their harsh treatment of God’s people they, too, would suffer and be destroyed. Jeremiah in long and eloquent prophecies declared the ultimate doom of the greatest metropolis of antiquity.

“Declare among the nations,

And publish, and set up a standard;

Publish and conceal not:

Say, Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded,

Merodach is broken in pieces;

Her idols are confounded…

For out of the north there cometh a nation [the

Medes and Persians] against her,

Which shall make her land desolate,

And none shall dwell therein.”

(Refer Jer 50, 51; Isa 13; 14:1–4; 48:14–15; 47:6–11.)

Divine vengeance by the hand of the Medes  and Persians, the surprise attack, and the slaughter  of Babylon’s inhabitants are vividly described  in these chapters. Confirmation of the details of  these chapters can be fully appreciated by reading  the accounts of the ancient historians Herodotus,  Xenophon etc.

After Cyrus had consolidated his empire  following the defeat of Croesus, the fabulously  wealthy king of Lydia (546 bc), he prepared and  seven years later was ready to launch a great  assault against Babylon itself (539 bc). The Neo-Babylonian empire was ill-prepared to resist the Medo-Persian invasion. Nabonidus the Babylonian  king (556–539 bc) rarely visited the city. His  son, Belshazzar, whose mother was a daughter of  Nebuchadnezzar, was appointed co-regent in the  third year of his reign. He dwelt in Babylon and was slain by the Persians in the midst of his sacrilegious  orgy, as recorded in Daniel 5.

Nabonidus had conquered the city of Taima  in the third year of his reign. He adorned it with  the glory of Babylon and it became his residence. Contact across the desert was maintained with  camels. For reasons of health he preferred Taima  over the last fourteen years of his seventeen year  reign (bc 553–539). Because of the threat of Cyrus he retreated to Babylon.

The armies of Cyrus under the command of  Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, attacked Opis on the  River Tigris, and defeated the Babylonians. Sippor  was taken without a battle, and it was then that  Nabonidus fled to Babylon.

When Cyrus saw that the circumvallation  around Babylon his army had long worked on was  complete, and hearing that a great festival was to  be celebrated, he implemented his plans. Troops  were posted where the Euphrates entered and left  the city. They were commanded to enter the city by  marching along the channel of the river as soon as  they found it fordable.

Having given orders, and exhorting his troops  that he acted under the guidance of the gods, in the  evening he opened the receptacles he had prepared  on both sides of the city so that the water of the river  might flow into them. By this means the Euphrates  became fordable and the troops advanced up the  river and took the city in BC 539.

Incredibly, the troops found that the gates  leading to the river had been left open on the night  of the attack; so there was no difficulty gaining  entrance to the city. Even the gates of the palace  were carelessly opened during the tumult caused  by the invasion. Xenophon says those found in  the streets were put to the sword. Citizens were  commanded to surrender their arms and shut  themselves in their houses. The  garrison which kept the citadel  surrendered to Cyrus. Belshazzar,  completely oblivious of the doom  that awaited him, and engaged  in the riotous banquet within the  “impregnable” walls, was slain as  mentioned. Not long afterwards  Nabonidus was taken.

Cyrus himself entered Babylon  seventeen days after its fall (on  29th Oct 539 bc) as a gracious  liberator. He pursued a benevolent  policy towards various captive  peoples who had suffered under  the rule of Nebuchadnezzar and  his successors. The Jewish captives  were favoured with a special decree  calling upon them to return to Israel and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1). The circumstances that brought this about we shall consider later.

Darius the Mede

Gubaru, alias “Darius the Mede”, was appointed the new governor or Satrap of Babylon and the Region beyond the River, as recorded in Daniel chapter one. He appointed sub-governors to rule with him over the vast territories of the Fertile Crescent. (Refer to Darius the Mede, by John C Whitcomb.) Turning the administration of the huge satrapy of Babylonia over to Gubaru, Cyrus left for Ecbatana.

Cyrus and Daniel the Prophet

In Ezra 1:1–4 we have recorded the famous decree of Cyrus that put an end to the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, and encouraged them to return and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Their response was immediate: “Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of Yahweh which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5–11). Thus the Jews were “redeemed without money”, as Isaiah foretold (45:13; 52:3).

Daniel “prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (6:28). His last vision is dated in the third year of Cyrus, probably not long before his death (10:1). A profane historian says that Cyrus conversed much with Daniel, and honoured him above all his friends (cp Dan 6:28). It is reasonable to assume that it was as a result of the wise counsel of Daniel that the spirit of Cyrus was “stirred up” to fulfil the prophecy of Jeremiah, “For thus saith Yahweh, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (Jer 29:10–14). Notice that these words of Jeremiah were “sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away” (v1). Notice also these words of Jeremiah: “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (25:11). Daniel no doubt read all these words and they were referred to when he said, “In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” (9:2).

But there are other words of prophecy which were no doubt referred to Cyrus for his contemplation and to which he alludes in his proclamation. In that remarkable passage Cyrus says, “Yahweh God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem.” Here he reveals his acquaintance with Isaiah, for where else in the word of God is he charged to build Yahweh a house at Jerusalem, and where else is he named and promised the kingdoms of the earth? Consider these remarkable words:

“[Yahweh] that saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.”

“Thus saith Yahweh to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates… ” (Isa 44:28; 45:1–2).

Here the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus is plainly foretold, more details of which are found in Isaiah 21:1–10; 43:14; 46 and 47 etc.

Not only does Cyrus’ decree require the building of the Temple, but calls upon the Jewish captives to go up to Jerusalem to carry out the work. This likewise was specified by Yahweh as Cyrus’ commission:

“I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price or reward, saith Yahweh of hosts” (45:13).

Prior to going into battle Cyrus deferred to his gods for help, thus vindicating the truth repeated in Isaiah 45 that Yahweh girded and surnamed him, “though thou hast not known me” (v4,5). Remarkably in this chapter the unity of the God of Israel is stressed and this contrasts with the dualism of the Persians, where there was one god for darkness and evil, and another for light and peace. In verse 7 Yahweh proclaims Himself to be the source of both:

“I form the light, and I create darkness:

I make peace, and create evil:

I Yahweh do all these things” (v7).

It would therefore appear that on acquaintance with Isaiah’s words Cyrus arrived at the conviction, that in his great and successful undertakings, he had been but an instrument in the hand of the Almighty. As a result he could acknowledge the sublime declaration which is addressed to himself:

“I am Yahweh, and there is none else,

there is no God beside me:

I girded thee, though thou hast not known me” (v5).

“The Righteous Man from the East”

Cyrus was a prince eminently distinguished for  justice and a mild and kind administration of  his subjects. All the ancient writers celebrate his  humanity and benevolence. Hence the title of this  article: Cyrus, He is My Shepherd.

Examples of his temperance and wisdom  abound, among which are the following:

1  When addressed by a deputation of Persians  to remove from the rugged and scanty terrain  to a better and more fertile place so that they  might be respected and rule the nations, Cyrus  heard their speech and warned them to prepare  themselves no longer to rule but to be ruled, for  fertile countries produced effeminate men: it was  not usual for the same soil to bear both admirable  fruit and warlike men! They soon acquiesced and  went over to his opinion.

2  Cyrus was ever mindful of human vanity and  mortality. He had the following inscription  engraved on his tiara: “What avails a long life  spent in enjoyment and worldly grandeur, since  others, mortals like ourselves, will one day  trample underfoot our pride! This crown handed  down to me by my predecessors, must soon pass  in succession upon the heads of many others.”

3  Cyrus had immense wealth, but he distributed  it among those who served him. He said, “I have  prodigious riches which I own and I am glad the  world knows it, but you may assure yourselves  that they are as much yours as mine. For to what  end should I heap up wealth? For my own use?  And to consume it upon myself? That would  be impossible even if I desired it. No; the chief  end I aim at is to have it in my power to reward  those who serve me faithfully, and to succour and  relieve those that acquaint me with their wants  and necessities.” There are overtones of the  Lord’s teaching in these remarkable words.

4  When Croesus spoke to Cyrus about his continual  generous giving eventually making him poor,  whereas he might have amassed infinite treasure,  and have been the richest prince in the world,  Cyrus replied to Croesus, “Look, here are my  treasures; the chests I keep my riches in are the  hearts and affections of my subjects.”

“That saith of Cyrus, He is my Shepherd”

The care of Cyrus for his people was notable, but  he was also to show this care and consideration for  Yahweh’s people, the Jews depressed and in exile.  He would become Yahweh’s shepherd to guide  them to their land and re-establish their polity:  for this cause Yahweh calls him His Shepherd,  His Anointed (Messiah). Thus in so many ways  he typified the Messiah and his work (Ps 23, John  10, Rev 7).

Consider these words about shepherding.

“A prince”, said he to his courtiers, “ought to  consider himself as a shepherd, and have the  same vigilance, care, and goodness. It is his duty  to watch, that his people may live in safety and  quiet, to burden himself with anxiety and cares,  that they may be exempt from them; to choose  whatever is salutary for them, and to remove  what is hurtful and prejudicial: to place his  delight in seeing them increase and multiply; and  valiantly expose his own person in their defence  and protection [cp David, 1 Sam 17]. This is the  natural idea, and just image of a good king. It  is reasonable, at the same time that his subjects  should render him all the service that he stands  in need of; but it is still more reasonable, that he  should labour to make them happy; because it is  for that very end that he is their king, as much  as it is the end and office of a shepherd to take  care of his flock.”

Cyrus was temperate and enjoyed a vigorous  state of health right up to the close of his long life.  Another favourable trait in his character was his clemency and he spent much of his life procuring  pleasure and good for all, and ill to none.

Ancient conquerors acknowledged no right  but that of force and looked upon common rules of justice as laws from which they were exempt.  They set no bound upon their pretensions than their  inability to achieve them! They sacrificed the lives  of millions to their ambition, made glory consist in  spreading desolation and destruction. They reigned  as bears and lions would have done, if they were  masters!

Cyrus was the reverse of this. He might have  been actuated by ambition but he reverenced laws.  He knew there were unjust wars and that those  engaged in them were accountable for all the blood  shed and all the misery that ensued. In the beginning  of his wars he founded his hopes of success on  the justice of his cause. This he represented to his  soldiers to inspire them with courage, that they  were not the aggressors but it was the enemy who  attacked them; they must therefore fight in defence  of their friends and allies who were unjustly  oppressed.

Conclusion

Cyrus was raised up by Yahweh to do His will. He,  like the Messiah to come, overthrew Babylon, and  set God’s people free. Like a shepherd, he guided  them back to the Holy Land. There the Temple of  the God of heaven was built. With the passage of  time the remnant that returned multiplied and from  them came the true Messiah, the Saviour of the  world. Cyrus played a role in this development.