In this article which covers the first eight verses of Isaiah 45, the role that Cyrus would play is foretold. Great profit can be gained by deeply thinking about Yahweh’s power to foretell in detail such great events, and to see how He rules in the kingdoms of men and accomplishes His will. Our faith in the promises He has made to send one greater than Cyrus should be increased.

45:1–8 That Yahweh is God Alone is Proved by His Detailed Prophecy of Cyrus’ Work. Such Control and Power Gives Assurance that He will Bring forth Righteousness and Salvation upon Earth.

Verse 1 “Thus saith Yahweh to his anointed, to Cyrus whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose (ungird, rsv, roth) the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut.”

Besides being named long before he was born, and being designated “my shepherd” by Yahweh, Cyrus is also called “his anointed” (Heb messiah), lxx “tō christō mou kurō”, that is “to Cyrus my Christ”). Messiah was a title given kings in Israel because they were consecrated to their office by being anointed with oil, a symbol of God’s Spirit (1 Sam 10:1; 16:13). These titles were appropriate for Cyrus as he would play a role in the purpose of God which would foreshadow that of the true Messiah, Jesus the Anointed. Jesus will overthrow Babylon the Great, set free God’s saints from the captivity of sin, build Jerusalem and the Temple of Yahweh (Zech 6:12–13): the significant difference between them being that Cyrus will perform these things without realising that he has been a “tool” in Yahweh’s hand, whereas Jesus the Anointed will do His Father’s will knowing full well what it is.

“whose right hand I have holden” (‘firmly grasped’ roth)

The phrase signifies the idea of choosing, imparting strength and directing the person out onto the stage of history. The remaining words of this verse, “subdue nations … loose the loins … open … the two leaved gates … not be shut” describe Cyrus’ swift career of unbroken conquest, renowned and marvelled at in the ancient world (see notes 41:2).

“open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut”

While this is part of the general description of Cyrus’ conquests of many nations, the words may well have specific reference to the fall of the greatest of the ancient kingdoms, Babylon. Apparently in the midst of the revelry which prevailed in Babylon on the night it was taken (Dan 5), the gates within the city which led from the streets to the river were left open, contrary to the usual custom. This provided Cyrus’ troops easy access within the walls and so facilitated the city’s doom (cp Jer 51:31, 57–58).

Verse 2 “I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight [‘level the mountains’ rsv]: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.”

The general idea is that God would remove all obstructions out of his way.

“I will break in pieces the gates of brass”…

Ancient cities were surrounded by walls and secured by strong gates, which were often made of brass. Herodotus describes the gates of Babylon as being made of brass and the “hinges and frames were of the same metal”. Thick plates of iron were used to cover gates in order to secure them.

Notice all the things God says He will do to make Cyrus’ conquests successful. This remarkable success was observed by his contemporaries and attributed to the favour of Heaven. Harpages said in a letter to Cyrus, “Son of Cambyses, Heaven evidently favours you, or you could never have thus risen superior to fortune.”

Verse 3 “And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches [‘hoards’ roth, rsv] of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, Yahweh, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.”

As a consequence of conquest Cyrus would plunder the treasures that kings had hoarded, amassed and laid up in dark and secure places. Alexander found vast quantities of treasures thus hidden by the Persians. The immense wealth of Croesus, King of Lydia, was plundered by the victor, Cyrus. That Babylon abounded with treasure is affirmed by Jeremiah, “O thou that dwellest upon many waters, abundant in treasures …” (51:13; 50:37). Specifically, Pliny says that “Cyrus, in the conquest of Asia, obtained in his conquests 34,000 pounds weight of gold, besides golden vases, and gold that was wrought with leaves, and the palm tree, and the vine.”

The latter part of this verse expresses the fact that such unmistakable Divine favour should have led Cyrus to know the God of Israel. It would appear that Cyrus was acquainted with these words of Isaiah and that they were shown him by the prophet Daniel when Babylon fell. His words in Ezra 1:1–4, which effectively cite these words, can only lead to this conclusion. Tragedy lies in the fact that, though Cyrus recognized the blessing and superintendence of his career by the God of Israel, he failed to draw the conclusion that He was “Yahweh, that there is none else, there is no God beside him” (v5), for in the Cyrus Cylinder in which he records his deeds, he attributes all to Marduk, his god.

Verse 4 “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name:I have surnamed thee [roth ‘I give thee a title’], though thou hast not known me.”

Yahweh’s main concern is His own people—Cyrus is but an accessory to the fact. The mention of “Jacob” and “Israel” is also a reminder of the need for transformation from one who trusts in the flesh to one who looks to God and trusts in Him. “Servant” is the status of His people, and “elect” shows that it is His will that Israel enjoys privilege (Exod 19:5–6). To facilitate the interests of His people, Yahweh raises up men, even calling them by name and crowning them with distinction! Such is His power that they may not even know that they are being so used: Cyrus “has not known [‘acknowledged’] me!” This was particularly the case when Cyrus began his conquests. He stepped onto the stage of world events without any idea that he was only a tool in the hand of Israel’s God (cp the Assyrian, Isaiah 10:15)!

Verses 5–6 “I am Yahweh, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am Yahweh, and there is none else.”

There is a fascinating conjunction of thoughts in these two verses. Cyrus was plainly girded by God to carry out His will, but he was totally unaware in the midst of his career that he was being so used! Had he come to know the God of Israel then universal knowledge of Him may have been the result—“from the rising of the sun unto the place of its setting” (niv). Compare also Malachi 1:11, “From the rising of the sun even to the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles.”

The spread of the knowledge of God over all the earth belongs to Messiah’s reign (Gen 22:18; Psa 72:8–17; Isa 2:2–3; Hab 2:14). Cyrus’ reign, though it fell short of this, portrayed shades and aspects of this.

Verse 7 “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil [Heb ra]. I Yahweh do all these things.”

Light and darkness are opposites and were part of Yahweh’s physical creation in the beginning. Likewise peace and evil are opposites, and God creates both conditions as a consequence of man’s ways. Peace He will give through Jesus Christ to those who love and obey Him (Isa 57:19; John 14:27; Rom 5:2), but “evil” (trouble, calamity, disaster) He will bring upon the sinner. Sin and evil are cause and effect, according to God’s rule (cp Gen 2:17; 3:17-19; Rom 6:23; Amos 3:6). The God of Israel is in total control of all that happens. He is sovereign, and carries out His will and none can question Him. He made all and sustains all. He is the Holy One, the Fashioner and the Redeemer of Israel (44:24). In Persian and other religions there is “dualism”, that is, two gods, one god responsible for darkness and evil, and another responsible for light and peace. This is not the right explanation for these opposites. They are all in the control of the one God of Israel!

Verse 8 “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I Yahweh have created it.”

This is an earnest prayer for the world’s immediate transformation in view of Yahweh’s absolute power over all things. It amounts to the words of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

The “heavens” are called upon to drop down, as refreshing rain, righteousness and justice (cp Psa 72:6-7, ‘He [Christ] shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish [roth ‘blossom forth’] Acts 3:19). “The earth” is called upon to receive this “rain” and so “bring forth” (RSV ‘spread forth’, like a germinating seed) salvation and righteousness. It is a picture of “the earth” responding to “Heaven’s” benevolence, and producing the idyllic conditions of the Kingdom. It is an emotional, earnest and “impatient” request!

On another level it has been partially fulfilled in Christ’s work among men. As a consequence of his coming “from heaven” and his perfect life, righteousness and forgiveness have been made available to men on earth, and so believers rejoice in “his righteousness” and salvation. This shall be the case on a grander scale when the whole of mankind is embraced in his kingdom, and when he shall judge the earth in righteousness (Acts 17:31; Psa 96:13).