These are some of my notes for Sunday, April 19, 2009, in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series
Books referenced in these notes are:
1.) IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament by Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas
2.) The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary by Alec Motyer
3) Wycliffe Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology by Charles Pfeiffer
The poem actually starts at 44:24.
Cyrus: called “the Great”, he is in fact a fellow Alexander the Great wanted to emulate, one of the world’s great conquerors. He inherited the throne of Persia from his father in 559. In 556 he made a treaty with Nabonidus, king of Babylon, which effectively left the Medes (ruled by Cyrus’ grandfather) isolated. Cyrus conquered the Medes in 550, forming the Medo-Persian empire. By 546 he added the kingdoms of Lydia and Ionia to his vassals. He spent five more years strengthening his control of these conquests, then in 539 he conquered (without battle) Babylon itself. When Cyrus died in battle in 530 the whole of the Middle East, except for the other “superpower”, Egypt, was under Persian control.(BBCOT)
His anointed: To say God endorsed Cyrus is typical of the ANE awe of kings, but is also designates Cyrus as a special agent of God, since Israel’s anointed were normally her own kings and prophets.(Motyer)
to subdue nations: This compares to David’s role. Subdue, unloose, open, not be shut makes a good sketch of Cyrus’ rapid, unbroken rise to power (Motyer)
Open doors before him: This is typically related to the Nabonidus Chronicles report that Cyrus conquered Babylon simply by walking through gates that were left open.(Motyer)
I: emphatic. God will do these things.(Motyer)
level the uneven places: This is a metaphor for making a smooth road, making things easy for someone.
Shatter bronze doors and cut iron bars in two: Greek historian Herodotus said Babylon had one hundred bronze gates, which were secured by bars across the gateway. So again the imagery seems to speak of the conquest of Babylon.(BBCOT)
treasures of darkness: Presumably these are the hidden treasuries of the nations Cyrus is to conquer.
That you may know I, the LORD…call you by your name: This prophecy and the swift climb to empire Cyrus enjoys point Cyrus to God as his benefactor, if he chose to look.(Motyer)
Jacob- Israel: This shows that His people are God’s chief concern. Servant is the role of God’s people, and is how Jesus is described in Scripture and post-biblical prayer (Didache). Chosen shows that this special status come from divine will.
I give a name to you: God names Cyrus in this prophecy, even though Cyrus is not a worshiper of God.
Though you do not know me: First, God’s sovereignty is such that he uses even those who don’t know or don’t believe in him to accomplish his purposes.
Second, Cyrus was no believer in Israel’s God. His inscriptions ask all gods to pray for him to Nabu and Marduk, this last being his apparent patron god. There is however some evidence of Cyrus being a follower of Zoroaster:
1.He set up a fire stand (fire a big part of Zoroastrian ritual) as part of the king’s daily rites
2.Cyrus’ children have Zoroastrian names.
3.Interestingly, evidence doesn’t support widespread Zoroastrianism until Cyrus’ successors’ reigns.(BBCOT)
One wonders given these multiple gods in Cyrus’ reign if he was not primarily a good politician?
There is no God but Me: This begins a new stanza, the chief point of which is God’s uniqueness.
I will strengthen you, though you do not know me: Another statement of sovereignty, where God uses a nonbeliever to achieve His ends.
from the rising of the sun to its setting: poetic expression for the whole world.
Light and darkness: First in a series of antitheses. The terms here stand for good things and bad, or perhaps express the natural order, day and night. (Motyer)
Peace and disaster: Peace is actually Hebrew shalom, “well-being, fulfillment, wholeness”. Ra’ah, traditionally translated “evil”, has a range of meaning from a bad taste to moral evil. In context the meaning must be disaster, calamity, things like war, natural disaster, famine, and so on. Thus this verse too is a statement of God’s sovereignty. (Motyer)
Skipped in our lesson because it is textually problematic and metaphorical, making interpretation difficult. Some have interpreted it as a prayer from Isaiah that what has come before will happen. More likely, though, it is the prophet speaking for God, commanding that the Exile end, and good things come to Israel.
Rain down righteousness: a weather image for God sending good things, blessing, to men.
Let the earth open and salvation grow, and righteousness spring up with it: now a botanical metaphor, that salvation and righteousness grow from the rain/blessing from Heaven.
I, the LORD create it: A statement and a promise, that God is the one who makes this happen, and he will indeed see it happen.(Motyer)
Apparently some Jews found the notion of a Gentile liberator too much. What is promised here is not the hoped-for Jewish kingdom revival, nor the expected glorious messiah, even though Cyrus is termed a messiah. In fact it sounds like just the same sort of thing that gives Israel her problems: foreign overlordship. This new section deals with these protesters.
First this verse says “woe” to those who would argue with God’s plan. The it points out the illegitimacy of Israelites objecting to God’s plan. It is like a pot complaining what a potter will do with it. The pot, is in fact, the creation of the potte, and thus his to do with as he pleases. “What are you making” impugns the potter’s ideas, while “he has no hands” impugns the potter’s abilities. Both are illegitimate statements coming from a pot.(Motyer)
Just as wrong, as “absurd”, is an unborn child questioning its parents.
Thus God has now compared himself and Israel to a potter and his pot, and a parent and a child. He continues these metaphors in the following verse.
Here God asserts his creative rights, as “Maker” of Israel and father of the “sons” of Israel. It is not, as traditionally interpreted, God telling Israel that if they are puzzled at His plans they should ask him about them, but rather an ironic rebuke, after asserting His rights to mold and direct Israel as He sees fit. “You ask Me what is to happen at my command? You correct how I direct history?” (Motyer)
Now God repeats his sovereignty claims by stating he created Earth and man, and made the universe, and yes commands the “hosts of heaven”, which is a double metaphor, describing both the interstellar universe, and the angelic orders, which are often compared to stars.(Motyer)
And again God asserts He has chosen Cyrus, and He will arrange that Cyrus achieves the empire that will allow him to free the exiled Israelites and even finance the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Cyrus in fact as a political policy reversed a long time Assyrian/Babylonian policy of exiling rebellious nations and leveling their traditional cities, sending back numerous exiled peoples. The Cyrus Cylinder, discovered by Horumzd Rassam in excavations at Babylon 1879-82, describes Cyrus’ conquest of the Babylonian empire under the patronage of the god Marduk, and his returning exiled populations, temples, and sacred vessels to places like Asshur, Susa, and Akade.(Motyer, Pfeiffer)