Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Babylon's Purpose

"Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory." (Isaiah 46:8-13)

Israel and all of mankind is challenged to consider the vanity of idolatry. Any man of intelligence can see the folly of idol worship. Through His conquest of the Babylonian Empire, God would demonstrate that there is none like Him. Marduk, Nebo and the remainder of Babylon's idols would fall. Through the declaration of such things long before they took place, the Lord declared to His people the end from the beginning. When Israel's liberation under Cyrus took place, the people would know that God is God alone.


The icon of the Persian standard was a golden eagle. This ravenous bird symbolizes Cyrus and his kingdom. From the eastern country of Media-Persia, God would bring Babylon's conqueror; but in Israel would be found the salvation of God. The Lord declares the state of every man. Each is far from righteousness. One does not have to be an idolater to be in this condition; he simply has to be outside of God's merit. On the other hand, God's righteousness brings deliverance. Through the Person of Christ, God has brought it near to mankind. Israel tasted of God's righteousness when the Jews were delivered from Babylon's captivity; and someday each Israelite will personally partake of Christ's righteousness in the millennial kingdom.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Babylon's Idols

"Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity. Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you." (Isaiah 46:1-4)

As Cyrus, Babylon and her kings were instruments in the hand of the Lord to deal with Israel and the world as God saw fit. Unaware of her servitude, Babylon continued proudly in her idolatry only to be cast down by the Persians whom God had stirred.

Bel and Nebo were Babylonian deities. Isaiah presents them as being carried off by the enemy. Crafted of silver and gold and being of great weight, they were a wearisome load for the animals which carried them on carts. There is no need to pinpoint the exact time in history at which these events took place. Whether under the hands of the Persians or of some other people, all of Babylon's idols eventually came to nothing. On the night of his blasphemy, Belshazzar rested in the power of his gods to deliver him, but they too fell.

In opposition to Babylon's powerless idols stands the God of Israel. He is not presented as being carried off by the enemy but rather as carrying His people through the countless attacks of the enemy. The Lord's care is from conception to death. Even over faithless Israel, God presided; and one can hear in His declarations a call for repentant faith in His saving power. Ultimately, the Lord's ability to carry Israel through all hardships will manifest itself fully in Christ's kingdom.

"To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like? They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble." (Isaiah 46:5-7)

The Lord presents His incomparable nature. God cannot be duplicated. He has no "beginning of days nor end of life (Hebrews 7:3)." The word lavish means to provide abundantly. The idolater is not afraid to spend great wealth on his idol. His god lacks no physical beauty or monetary value, yet it is worthless. It is spiritually destitute, and its physical beauty and worth only serve to distract further the unwise man.


Isaiah continues to emphasize the fact that man's gods cannot carry but must be carried. Their physical helplessness reflects their spiritual helplessness. Over against them stands the true God Who graciously carries mankind and is "the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe (I Timothy 4:10)."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Cyrus' Creator (Part IV)

"Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory." (Isaiah 45:20-25)

The Lord presents an even broader invitation, and encourages all of humanity to come. Zechariah makes it clear that many will escape death at Christ's return (Zechariah 14:16). These and all others are commanded to flee idolatry and to seek refuge in the Lord.

Verse 22 reflects the grace of God which is so clearly seen in the New Testament dispensation. The word look has the idea of turning about and looking. God is commanding lost humanity to stop walking in its current direction and to turn about and look in faith to the Lamb of God. The command encourages both repentance and faith. John reflected the heart of this Old Testament command when he exhorted the multitudes to "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)." The invitation is open, but it cannot be accepted unless one is willing to turn about and to look in respect.

God promises that every knee will bow to Him in respect. The promise is indisputably millennial in nature. The divine oath parallels the promise of God found in Philippians 2:10-11.

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In his admonitions concerning appropriate Christian conduct, Paul quoted verse 23 (Romans 14:11). Even though Isaiah was speaking primarily of world-wide submission to God and not of the judgment seat of Christ for Christianity, Paul used this passage to demonstrate the sober nature of the Christian's accountability to God. The flesh can easily abuse the grace of God and forget that each and every Christian will give an account of how he has conducted himself in the Christian life.

Only in God is righteousness found. It cannot be obtained through law-keeping. It cannot be accomplished by doing what each man deems to be right in his own eyes. Good Christian living cannot impart it. Righteousness is found only in Christ, and it is imparted to the believer only through faith. The Jews will rest in this reality when they accept Jesus as their righteous Messiah.

After declaring His call upon Cyrus' life, God displayed His singularity, grace and sufficiency. The power of God was responsible for all of Cyrus' victories. Although the fingerprints of God were present on Cyrus' life, the king went to the grave uncircumcised in heart. The epitaph on his tomb reflects the sad end of the godless man, regardless of his former greatness. Although there is disagreement over the exact reading, the inscription read something like this:


O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know that you will come, I am Cyrus who won for the Persians their empire. Do not therefore begrudge me this bit of earth which covers my bones.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Cyrus' Creator (Part III)

"Thus saith the LORD, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God. Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols. But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end. For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right." (Isaiah 45:18-19)

Isaiah speaks now of the conversion of the nations in the messianic period. He recognizes that the national deliverance of Israel at Christ's return will result in the salvation of many Gentiles. Paul spoke of this truth when he said,

I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness (Romans 11:11-12)?

The tone of the prophecies recall Isaiah's previous prediction of Egypt's deliverance in the future kingdom of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 19:23-25). Whether the chains are literal or symbolic of a submitted people, it is difficult to say. One thing is certain, the people of Egypt and Cush will recognize the singularity and worth of Israel's God as they acknowledge His supremacy.

In contrast to those who submit themselves to the righteousness of God, the resistor of God's authority will be destroyed by the Lord, because "...God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble (James 4:6)."

In the righteous blood of Jesus the Messiah, Israel shall be saved. This event will take place in all of its fullness at the second coming of the Lord. As John so aptly put it, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20)." The phrase world without end is literally as far as eternity. God's salvation knows no end. Whether Jew or Gentile, the penitent believer finds in Christ everlasting security.

As a token of His gracious intentions, God reminds Israel and the world that He did not create the earth to be a desolate heap of lifeless confusion. In the aftermath of Jerusalem's destruction in 586 BC and again in 70 AD, it would be easy to think that God would never again restore His chosen people. Here, He reminds mankind that He delights in fellowship with His creation. After the tribulation has taken its toll on human life, Christ's kingdom will provide the perfect environment for the production and nurture of human life. Resurrected saints and glorified saints will be in the kingdom, but they will also be accompanied by the humanity which God has seen fit to preserve from the seven years of horror.


God makes it clear that He has not taunted Israel. The Lord would not command a man to seek Him if He could not be found. As the personification of wisdom, Jesus Christ "crieth without; [He] uttereth [His] voice in the streets: [He] crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city [He] uttereth [His] words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you (Proverbs 1:20-23)." The righteousness of God as seen in the Law clearly points a man to the saving grace of God. Man's rebellion, not God's distance, has blinded his spiritual eyes. As Paul said in Athens, "...He be not far from every one of us (Acts 17:27)."

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cyrus' Creator (Part II)

Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth? Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded. I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 45:9-13)

The Lord is rebuking those who would question or scorn His dealings with man. A potsherd is an earthen vessel. It is one thing for a lump of clay to strive or contend with a lump of clay but quite another for a lump of clay to contend with a master potter! God allowed the defective vessel of Israel to be shattered by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 19:10-11); yet, He retained the power to make Him another vessel, one which would serve His purposes. The humble and weak pot is foolish to contend with the wisdom and skill of the potter who retains all power over the clay.

The second illustration reinforces the first. The child has no right or authority to question the product of his parents' union. Even so, mankind should not question the purposes of God in dealing with that which He has created. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Israel may have been tempted to doubt God's wisdom in allowing them to be a people. They may have doubted God's desire to restore them. Perhaps they could not believe that God would eventually deliver them from such a horrific event. God assuages such fears by assuring Israel that they are His sons. God will not forsake them.

In righteousness God raised up Cyrus the deliverer of the Jews. This righteousness is not in reference to that on the part of Cyrus but to that on the part of God. To fulfill one's promises is a righteous thing. To have compassion on the helpless is a righteous thing. God showed mercy upon helpless Israel and fulfilled His promise of restoration through Cyrus' decree. This was all done through God's righteousness.

Contrary to the normal ways of mankind, God would move Cyrus to permit the return of the Jews apart from any ransom being paid. In fact, the king funded many aspects of the work (Ezra 3:7, 6:1-5). History attests to the fact that Cyrus was more humane than most monarchs. Rather than force any one religion upon the provinces of his empire, he permitted the worship and customs of individual nations. He considered this to be a wise political move since man's religion is linked inseparably to his political loyalties. Cyrus' policies freed those who had been confined in and around Babylon. Early in his reign, the Jews were permitted to leave and to return home. Ezra 1:1-4 gives the account of Cyrus' decree concerning the Jews.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.


It must be remembered that this was not the decree of a man converted to saving faith in the God of Israel, but rather it was the decree of a man who sought to pacify as many deities as possible. He spoke similarly of Marduk, the chief god of Babylon; therefore, one must not think that Cyrus was a true worshiper of the Lord.   

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Cyrus' Creator

"I am the LORD, 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 the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. 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 the LORD have created it." (Isaiah 45:5-8)

God protected Cyrus and guarded his path which led to the throne of world domination. The life of young Cyrus is clothed with mystery. Many accounts will never be verified this side of eternity; yet, one thing is certain, God protected this young man and gave him all the riches of the earth in preparation for the release of the Jews. Through the testimony of Israel's release, the world would be faced with the evidence that there is none like God.


By saying that the Lord creates evil, the text is not inferring that God approves of evil. This passage teaches that God is supreme over all things. He alone has the power to permit or to restrain the forces of darkness. When Israel incurred the wrath of God, the Lord permitted Satan to spiritually attack David thus resulting in Israel's punishment (II Samuel 24:1, I Chronicles 21:1). God is not threatened by wickedness. He has it under control, and He uses it for the accomplishment of His ultimate will.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Cyrus' Call

"Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me." (Isaiah 45:1-4)

The Lord names Cyrus His anointed or messiah. As an instrument in God's hand, Cyrus would liberate the Jewish captives of Babylon in 539 BC.

While God was preparing the Babylonians to bring punishment upon Judah, He was also preparing Judah's deliverer. As the grandson of the Median king Astyages, Cyrus came to the throne in 559 BC. His father, Cambyses I, married the daughter of Astyages. At the time, the country of Media ruled over the Persians, and Cambyses I was employed as a vassal king. Upon the death of his father, Cyrus took over the position as vassal king under Astyages; however, rebellion soon broke out, and Astyages sent his commander to attack Cyrus and his troops. Rather than carry out his orders, Astyages' general defected with much of his army and encouraged Cyrus to attack his own grandfather. This he did, marching against the capital of Ecbatana and seizing the Median throne in 550 BC.

Now king of the entire empire of the Medes and Persians which resided in the northern part of present day Iran, Cyrus soon commenced expanding his kingdom. God had promised to hold Cyrus' hand and to subdue nations before him. The Lord carried out this promise as Cyrus marched west and attacked the Lydians in Asia Minor (Anatolia). Croesus, the leader of the Lydians, was defeated and the Lydian empire along with its subjected provinces was added to the Persian kingdom.

Cyrus' attention was then turned upon the lowlands of Babylon. By this time, the Babylonians had become estranged from their king Nabonidus who spent more time away from Babylon than he did ruling it. Nabonidus' son, Belshazzar, presided over Babylon under his father who had offended many of Babylon's citizens including the priesthood by his disregard for major religious festivals. In 539 BC, the Babylonian army was defeated at Opis which resided along the Tigris River north of Babylon. The remaining troops fled to the highly fortified Babylon where Belshazzar carelessly resided according to the testimony of Daniel. While drinking himself drunk and blaspheming the God of Israel, Belshazzar was unaware that the Persians were redirecting the waters of the Euphrates River which ran through the city. By diverting some of the river into a nearby canal, the Persians were able to penetrate the city successfully through the main water gate. Daniel records, "In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old (Daniel 5:30-31)." Darius the Mede ruled as king of Babylon under the hand of Cyrus to whom God gave the hidden riches of Babylon.


In all of this, the Almighty profited Cyrus' path; yet, the text plainly declares, "...Thou hast not known me."