Phenomenon of Amazing Detail

Predictive prophecy and King Cyrus the Great

One of the truly amazing prophecies of the Bible is found in Isaiah 41, 44 and 45. It has to do with Cyrus, king of Persia. He came to the Persian throne in 559 B.C. Nine years later he conquered the Medes, Lydians and the Babylonians, thus unifying the Medo-Persian Empire. In the first year of his reign he was prompted by God to decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt and that such Jews as cared to might return to their land for this purpose. Isaiah foretold this in a prophecy roughly 140 years before it actually happened and the prophecy was fulfilled in full as recorded in 2Chronicles 36:22, 23 and Ezra 1:1-4, 7, 8; 3:7; and 4:3.

Isaiah 41
2"Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow.

Isaiah 44
24 “This is what the Lord says — your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself,
25 who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense,
26 who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’
27 who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,’
28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

Isaiah 45
1“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:
2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.
3 I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,

6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
8 “You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the Lord, have created it.
13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.”

The name Cyrus is mentioned some twenty-three times in the Old Testament. Isaiah refers to Cyrus as God’s “shepherd” (44:28), the Lord’s “anointed” (45:1), who was “appointed” to facilitate the divine plan. God would lead this monarch to “subdue nations” and “open doors” (45:1, an address to the Jews’ release from Babylonian captivity). He would ultimately be responsible for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the reconstruction of the temple (44:28).

Some people do not realize in reading Isaiah 44:28 that this powerful ruler was named by the prophet long before the monarch was even born. Isaiah prophesied in the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1). His ministry thus occurred in the latter portion of the eighth century B.C. (740-701 B.C.). This was some one hundred forty years before Cyrus came to the throne in 559 B.C.

Among the Jews deported from Judah and later placed under the rule of Cyrus include the prophet Daniel. In fact, we are told Daniel served until at least the third year of King Cyrus, approximately 536 BC (Daniel 10:1). That being the case, Daniel likely had some personal involvement in the decree that was made in support of the Jews. The historian Josephus stated that Cyrus was informed of the biblical prophecies written about him (Antiquities of the Jews, XI.1.2) and it was this circumstance that motivated the ruler “to fulfill what was written” , and thus to issue his edict permitting Israel’s return to her homeland. The natural person to have shown Cyrus the scrolls could have been Daniel, then a high-ranking official in Persia (Daniel 6:28).

Amazingly, the king accomplished these noble tasks even though he did not “know” Jehovah (45:4-5). In other words, though he was a pagan in heart and practice, yet, as an unconscious tool in the hands of the Lord, he would contribute mightily to the Jewish cause, and so, indirectly, to the coming of God’s greater Anointed, Jesus Christ. This also shows that God uses even unbelieving monarchs for His purpose (like so in all of history).

Importantly, it is written by the prophet in 44:23 that all of reality, from the heavens to the lower parts of the earth or hades, must rejoice. V.24-25 goes on to emphasize God’s ability to foretell the future unlike the omens of human diviners. On the other hand, without what had happened in restoring Israel, the first advent of Christ would not be possible.

Incredible declarations of this nature have led critics (who reject the possibility of predictive prophecy) to suggest that these portions of the book of Isaiah were added much later—after the fact, as it were, asserting that these material could not possibly have been written by the prophet Isaiah since he died long before the events transpired! Liberal scholars therefore insist that it is inserted in the text during the exile to encourage them on their homecoming. This seems unlikely for after 70 years of exile, synagogues are all well established, reading the Old Testament regularly and such insertion will surely be shamefully recognized. (The authenticity of the Book of Isaiah has also been affirmed more recently with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls). There are others who might suggest that the texts were inserted to induce King Cyrus into allowing the Jews to return. It is likely that was a time when Daniel was ministering (as detailed above), do we think that was the likely pursuit of a very close servant of God? And would King Cyrus, as a pagan god worshipper be so easily “tricked” into doing all these? Moreover, the fact that Cyrus did not know God is another supporting evidence on the truth of this prophecy, and not being contrived or edited, as otherwise the Rabbis or whoever at a later age will want to say that because Cyrus knows God, he has released the Jews from captivity.

It is a reflection of compromised faith to postulate a later date for these prophecies.

The reason for Cyrus’ call is further stated in v.4-7 and it is for the sake of Israel and in v.6-7, for all men to know Him. This is especially so with the coming of Christ and the preaching of His gospel to the entire world. It must be difficult for the Jews to envisage that God will use a gentile like Cyrus and this must be the reason for v.8-11. God first insists that His acts will result in righteousness and salvation (8). So the Jews are not to quarrel with God their Maker over His actions. In v11 (see NIV) God detests their questioning on these things to come for it amounts to ordering Him. He, the Mighty Creator will do it right and in v.12-13, God accurately predicts that Cyrus will rebuild Jerusalem and let the exiles home for nothing (no material gain).

Excavations at Babylon (1879–1882) led to the discovery of a barrel shaped clay cylinder, known as the Cyrus Cylinder, which contained a marvelous historical confirmation of the biblical narrative.

Declaration of King Cyrus dated 532 BC, discovered in 1879 in temple of Marduk in Babylon, 9” long clay cylinder, currently in the British Museum

In the declaration it was stated: "I am Cyrus, king of the world, ... progeny of an unending royal line, whose rule Bel and Nabu cherish, whose kingship they desire for their hearts' pleasures. When I, well-disposed, entered Babylon, I established the seat of government in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk, the great God, caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon to come to me. I sought daily to worship him. My troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. I did not allow any to terrorize the land. I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well being. The citizens of Babylon...... whose sanctuaries had been in ruins over a long period, the Gods whose abode is in the midst of them. I returned to the places and housed them in lasting abodes. I gathered together all their inhabitants and restored to them their dwellings.

Even the Encyclopedia Britannica, an unlikely source of endorsement, acknowledges that “in 538 B.C., Cyrus granted to the Jews, whom Nebuchadnezzar had transported to Babylonia, the return to Palestine and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple” (1958, 940).

Just to sum up there were in the prophecy, ten accurate details on Cyrus!

  1. He is from the east. 41:2
  2. Deliver nations and subdue kings. 41:2
  3. Calling him by name Cyrus (140 years before).44:28
  4. Knows that God has call him. 45:3
  5. Order rebuilding of Jerusalem. 44:28, 45:13
  6. Order rebuilding of the temple. 44:28, 45:13
  7. Give a title of honor – Cyrus the Great. 45:4
  8. He does not know God. 45:4,5
  9. Let exiles go free. 45:13
  10. No demand for payment or of known benefits. 45:13
We truly ought to marvel at this amazing prophecy of Cyrus the Great. Predictive prophecy is compelling evidence for the divine origin of the Scriptures.

At the same time, we should understand that God will use Kings and monarchs to complete His plan even though he is a non-believer. It is unnecessary to doubt the power and ways of the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”. – Isaiah 55:9.

Study this well as it will strengthen our faith. Share it with others as you can.