Last night I led the eighth of a series of ten on the kings of the Bible, at our church Bible study. These are my sanitized notes, which are intentionally cryptic as the study was meant to allow for members to contribute…
Tonight we focus on the great Persian King Cyrus, prophesied about in Isaiah 44:24 – 45:13 and spoken of in Ezra, 1:1-6 etc.
Reviewing Jewish history – from kingdom established under David and Solomon, a divided kingdom (Israel and Judah) with some good but more bad kings, and eventually into Babylon exile as a result of God’s judgment – check out last 4 (bad) kings after Josiah (the last good king). So it is into exile and then return from exile after 70 years, as foretold by Jeremiah. Read up about it in 2Chronicles 36, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; and the prophets Daniel, Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi, as the story continues where the Jewish people were subjects under control of the Persian empire.
The taking of the inhabitants of Judah into Babylonian exile took place over a period of time and included the brightest and best of its inhabitants, some of who became top government officials. There appears to be three waves of return, as recorded by Ezra and while the Persian kings were mainly sympathetic, there was a lot of opposition. It is helpful to first consider the story Daniel, who bridges the two great empires of the period.
- Ch1 Introducing Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel and his three friends (exiled under King Jehoiakim’s reign)
- Ch2 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – foretelling the kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome and what some see as a revived Roman Empire, all to be usurped by the coming of the King of kings (Jesus). (Compare with Daniel 7 prophecy)
- Ch3 Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold, which his subjects had to bow to. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused and were thrown into the fiery furnace. God delivered them and the king honored them recognising the hand of God.
- Ch4 Nebuchadnezzar’s dreamt of a tree, which Daniel interpreted. It predicted the humiliation of the king, which happened, but he came to his senses and recognized and honoured the true God.
- Ch5 Belshazzar’s feast and the writing on the wall “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin“. That same night he was conquered under Darius the Mede (not the same Darius in the Cyrus lineage).
Four kings over the Persian empire are mentioned in the Bible. The Persian empire was to continue for over 100 years after that – when Alexander the Great and the Greek empire took over. The Persian empire was the greatest up to that time. Both Darius and Xeres went to war with Greece, although not successful. The empire spread considerably (as the map shows). The empire was renowned for culture and learning and remarkable engineering feats. Besides much on the Internet, the British Museum is worth a visit, including the cylinder with writings enscribed praising King Cyrus. This is my understanding of the Persian kings of the Bible (in order) all used by God to accomplish his purposes, especially concerning Israel. Bear in mind that other empires followed: Greek (covered partly in the Apocrypha) and Rome (the background for the New Testament) and kingdoms come and go, until the final fulfillment of the Daniel 2 prophecy, and do not ignore Israel; still the apple of God’s eye.
- Cyrus – Isaiah 45, Ezra 1-3 (the Great and he was)
- Cambysses – not mentioned in the Bible (Cyrus’ son)
- Darius – Ezra 5-6
- Xerxes – Esther 1-10 – among other things, saved the Jew’s from annihilation
- Artixerxes – Nehemiah 1-13; he encouraged the restoration of Israel that had begun but had stalled
Isaiah 44:24-28; what does this say about God and about Cyrus? Given the prophecy was written 200 years before Cyrus came to power, how is this significant?
Isaiah 45:1-13; what else does this say about Cyrus and how God deal with individuals and nations?
Ezra 1:1-6; how was the prophecy fulfilled (note there were the hold ups, despite all Cyrus did)?
What followed was a lively discussion and wonderment at the greatness and grace of God, especially that he could use a man like Cyrus, who (at least to start with) did not acknowledge God, to carry out his purposes for Israel. One final observation was by one member pointing out that Mikhail Gorbachev had once been likened to Cyrus for his part in dismantling the evil Soviet empire. I had deliberately shut up up to then, having earlier expressed similar thoughts concerning Donald Trump, who has a challenge arguably every bit as great. Whatever our views on world leaders, who more often than not disappoint, we cannot deny that God is in control and it is to Him we owe our allegiance. He is able to raise up modern day Cyrus’s today to fulfill his purposes for the world.