Cyrus, the Lord’s Anointed

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus … ‘For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me” (vv. 1–4).

- Isaiah 45:1–13

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isa. 55:8). This is seen most clearly when God rescues His people in ways they have not expected because they have ignored His Word. Who would have thought, for example, that our Creator would save us via the death of an itinerant Jew? Very few, it turns out, for the cross remains a stumbling block for those who deny His Word.

Yet Jesus’ atonement, which secures the final salvation of His people, was not the first time the Lord rescued His children in an unexpected manner. About five hundred years before Christ was born, God delivered His people from their physical exile, sending them home through King Cyrus II of Persia. Cyrus took over what was left of Assyria in 547 BC and conquered Babylon eight years later, becoming lord of the Jewish exiles. In 538 BC, he decreed that they could go home (Ezra 1:1–4). Amazingly, the Lord took His people back to the Promised Land through a pagan king’s edict, not David’s line.

Isaiah foresaw these events almost two hundred years before they happened. Cyrus was not a son of David, so he was not the Messiah—the Anointed One—promised in Isaiah 9:1–7 and 11:1–16. Still, Isaiah uses the term mashiach or messiah for Cyrus, who is revealed as God’s “anointed” in 45:1. This is appropriate, writes John Calvin: “God deigns to call [Cyrus] his ‘Anointed,’ not by a perpetual title, but because he discharged for a time the office of Redeemer; for he … delivered [the church] from the Assyrians.”

Isaiah knew that the Jewish exiles would find it almost impossible to recognize Cyrus, who did not truly know the Lord, as a savior. Thus, the prophet spends much of today’s passage asserting God’s sovereign right to do with His creation as He pleases. Just as it would be foolish for clay to question the work of a potter, so would it be foolish for the Jews to question God’s use of Cyrus to redeem them from exile (vv. 9–10).

As noted, our God has the right to use the means of His choice to save His people because He is the sovereign Creator of all. That means all things—the darkness as well as the light, calamity as well as our well-being—come ultimately from His decree (v. 7). Some qualification, of course, is needed, for Scripture is clear that God is never morally responsible for evil (James 1:12–18). Nevertheless, the Lord is truly sovereign. Nothing happens that He has not foreordained, and He can do with His creation as He wills.

Coram Deo

It might be a clichè to say that we should “expect the unexpected.” Yet because God is fully sovereign, there is a real sense in which we should expect Him to act in ways we have not anticipated because His decree controls what happens, not what we think His decree should be. This truth is comforting, for it means that the Lord can do what we might consider impossible, not the least of which is to save His people without compromising His justice or mercy.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 5:21
Habakkuk 1:5–11
Luke 1:37; 18:27
1 Corinthians 1:18–31

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343