What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
By all accounts, even those of his enemies, Cyrus was a model—and to the Greeks, an ideal—king. Though Cyrus built his empire primarily by conquest, local peoples often greeted him as a savior after his impressive victories over their rulers. He is remembered as being even-handed, humane, and respectful of indigenous cultures and religions. Modern scholars sometimes credit him as being the founder of multiculturalism and the first to publish a declaration of human rights (in the Cyrus Cylinder, c. 538 BC).
Cyrus (born c. 600 BC) was the son of Cambyses I, king of Anshan, the western part of Persia, which at the time was a vassal kingdom of Media. His maternal grandfather was Astyages, king of Media. Legend says that Astyages, warned in a dream that Cyrus would grow up to slay him, sought to kill his grandson, but Harpagus, the official entrusted with the task, spared the boy's life and gave him to a shepherd and his wife to raise. This last point has an echo in Isaiah 44:28, where God calls him "My shepherd."
Herodotus, the Greek historian, writes that Cyrus next came to Astyages' attention at the age of 10 or 12, when he again tried to kill him. His councilors, who saw great potential in the child, stayed his hand. Soon, Astyages himself became enamored of Cyrus' temperament, deportment, and abilities, keeping him at his court for about five years.
He returned to Cambyses in Anshan at 17. His father gradually associated Cyrus with him on the throne, especially as commander of his armies, which were always victorious, owing to his emphasis on discipline in the ranks and his easy grasp of strategy and tactics. Even as a young general, he was known throughout the region to be a generous and merciful conqueror and ruler.
This state of affairs remained static until he was 40, when his father died (c. 560 BC). Soon thereafter, he mounted a revolt against his grandfather's kingdom of Media, defeated and deposed Astyages, and proclaimed himself king of the Medes and the Persians. Because Cyrus respected Median culture, made its capital, Ecbatana, one of his residences, and appointed Medes to high positions, the Medes quickly accepted him as their king. With the conquest of Media also came its former provinces of Assyria, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia, and Cappadocia. In one grand stroke, Cyrus became master from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iranian plateau.
To the west of his territory lay the wealthy and powerful kingdom of Lydia, which soon attempted to take some of these new Persian provinces for itself. In 547 BC, Cyrus launched a campaign against Lydia, forcing its king, Croesus, back to his capital, Sardis, in Asia Minor. He swiftly besieged and captured Sardis, and Croesus committed suicide. All of Asia Minor quickly fell under Persian rule.
Cyrus then turned his attention to the Iranian tribes in the eastern part of his empire. Parthia soon became a Persian satrapy, as did Sogdia, Bactria, and even western parts of India. By about 540 BC, his empire stretched from the Aegean Sea to the Hindu Kush. Of all his ambitions, only the conquest of Babylon remained to be fulfilled.
Nabonidus and Belshazzar, the last of the Neo-Babylonian kings, had alienated their subjects in a number of ways, not the least of which was their neglect of Babylonian gods. Evidently, Belshazzar had the same disregard for Marduk, Bel, and Nebo as he had for the true God of Israel (see Daniel 5:1-4, 23). Many in Babylon hoped Cyrus would send an army to liberate them.
In October 539 BC, it was clear nothing would stop the great Persian king and his army. Several smaller cities fell with barely any resistance, and by October 12, Cyrus' troops entered Babylon almost unopposed.
Herodotus writes of Cyrus' ingenious stratagem to enter the city:
. . . drawing off the river [Euphrates] by a canal into the lake, which was till now a marsh, he made the stream to sink till its former channel could be forded. When this happened, the Persians who were posted with this intent made their way into Babylon by the channel of the Euphrates, which had now sunk to about the height of the middle of a man's thigh.
These details fulfill Isaiah's prophecy to the letter! He writes that God would "dry up" the rivers for Cyrus so that he could subdue nations (Isaiah 44:27). Fifth-column members, possibly closely connected to the city's religious powers, "open[ed] before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut" (Isaiah 45:1). Because Belshazzar and his court were celebrating a public festival that night, they were unaware of the Persian assault on Babylon until Cyrus' troops were already in control.
The Cyrus Cylinder reports, "All the inhabitants of Babylon . . . bowed to [Cyrus] and kissed his feet, jubilant that he [had received] the kingship." The king, as was his policy, allowed his vassal states to retain their cultural and religious identities. He advanced funds for the repair or restoration of public buildings, particularly temples and shrines, and he reversed the Babylonian policy of forced relocation of conquered peoples, allowing their descendants to return to their ancestral homelands.
Thus, Cyrus' decree in 538 BC, returning the Jews to Judea and authorizing the rebuilding of the Temple, was nothing out of the ordinary for this unusual monarch (II Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11; 6:2-5). Since the Jews had no idols to restore to their Temple, he restored to them the Temple articles that Nebuchadnezzar had removed to Babylon after Jerusalem's fall. These acts completely fulfill Isaiah's prophecy that Cyrus, "not for price nor reward," would rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, as well as allow the exiles to return to their land (Isaiah 44:28; 45:13).
After conquering Babylon, Cyrus continued his conquests, attempting to expand his empire beyond the northeastern frontier. Here he met the nomadic Massagetae, led by their queen, Tomyris. At first he was successful, but in 530 BC, he was defeated and killed in battle. His son Cambyses succeeded him on the throne.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cyrus: God's Anointed
This says clearly that God was able to stir the spirit of Cyrus. There is no indication that Cyrus was aware that God was stirring him up. He just somehow was motivated to issue this proclamation. He may have thought the idea really came from him or from one of his advisors. But for some reason, all of a sudden, he had an inclination to give the Jews the opportunity to go back to their own homeland.
This verse also suggests that our spirit can be communicated with without our being aware of it happening. Understand, however, that we will not always be blind to this or insensitive to it. It is God's intention that we become very sensitive to the fact that something or someone is trying to communicate with us on a level that is not discernable by the eye or the ear. Nonetheless, our spirit can be stirred to go in a certain direction for good or for bad. We need to begin to realize that we may or may not be aware that our spirit is being communicated with.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 3)
God is superintending or managing events on this earth. When He wants something done through a man, He interfaces with him. Perhaps without the person even being aware of it, God can insert thoughts into the person's mind to do what He wants him to do.
The event related here is Jeremiah's Seventy Years Prophecy. This verse does not tell us what political, military, social, or economic events God may have manipulated to get Cyrus to consider and finally to choose to issue this edict. It would be beyond belief to think that Cyrus thought of it on his own, out of the blue. Nations act in their national interest. Somehow, Cyrus concluded that it was in the national interest of Medo-Persia to relocate a small portion of the Jews, and he also gave them the opportunity to restore the Temple in Jerusalem. This particular occasion was not unique: Cyrus did this for other peoples that the Medo-Persians had conquered, perhaps to curry the favor of their gods or as a carrot to dissuade them from rebelling.
However it occurred, God inspired it without removing Cyrus' free moral agency. Some modern translations translate the phrase "stirred up the spirit of Cyrus" as "God moved Cyrus' heart."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Three)
Ezra 1:1-2 states that Cyrus issued a decree to free the Jews in the first year of his reign over Babylon. Since Cyrus conquered Babylon on October 12, 539 BC, the first year of this reign was 539-538 BC. God through Isaiah, then, named him at least 143 years earlier. What God did through Cyrus also fulfills a prophecy made through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11-14) sometime during the century following Isaiah's death. Ezra distinctly says that God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to perform this and that Cyrus claimed that God commanded him. Ezra 1:5 states that God also stirred the spirit of the Jews, Levites, and Benjamites to return to Jerusalem to build the Temple, confirming His sovereignty over the whole affair.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five
It should immediately be apparent from the context that God's use of "His anointed" is not as restricted as commonly assumed. The Hebrew word is mashiah, which has come down to us as "messiah" and translated as christos in Greek. Because we now use this term exclusively for Jesus Christ, the Messiah, many have failed to realize the breadth of its meaning.
Mashiah simply means "anointed" or "anointed one." The Old Testament writers use it and its verb form, mashah, to describe kings (David, Saul, even Gentile kings like Hazael—II Samuel 1:14; 12:7; I Kings 19:15); priests, including the high priest (Leviticus 4:3, 5); and prophets (I Kings 19:16; Isaiah 61:1). Normally, these people were anointed with oil in a ritual as a sign of being set apart for the office that they were about to fulfill. Thus, at its most basic, mashiah indicates a person God authorizes and sets apart for His service.
The type of service he renders can vary. Obviously, kings, priests, and prophets fill very different roles, though some "anointed ones" have fulfilled more than one. David, for example, was both king and prophet, while Samuel and Jeremiah were priests and prophets. Jesus Christ is the only Anointed One to fulfill all three roles, as well as that of Apostle.
One aspect of these roles begins to stand out as God's revelation unfolds throughout the Bible: deliverance. We can see this most clearly in the text Jesus recites to inaugurate His ministry (Isaiah 61:1-3; see Luke 4:16-21). Jesus explicitly confirms in Luke 4:21 that He fulfilled these verses, at least up to the first part of verse 2, for indeed He is the ultimate Messiah. He will fulfill the remainder of these deliverances upon His return as King of kings and Lord of lords. Even His name, Joshua or Jesus, means "savior" or "deliverer," and God frequently calls things and people what they are and/or do.
In short, then, mashiah has three primary facets:
1. It describes a person whom God sets apart for His service.
2. Such a person may fill one or more roles in His service.
3. His primary function is to cause deliverance.
Strange as it may seem, Cyrus, King of Persia, qualifies as a messiah!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cyrus: God's Anointed
God raised Cyrus up to do His bidding to prove to him and all the world who is the true God! God went before Cyrus (verse 2), paving the way for his victories and policies so that His will and His plan would move forward. We should be able to look back at history and see how God worked to bring all the necessary elements into place for His purpose to be fulfilled.
After God used Nebuchadnezzar to punish His people, He raised Cyrus to deliver them from their captivity in Babylon and return them to their land. For the real Christ to be born in Bethlehem as the prophecy states, Jews had to be living in Judea. He also inspired Cyrus to institute his conciliatory policy toward foreign religions so that a Temple could be built to which His Son could come. And among other points, Jerusalem had to be rebuilt so Jesus could die outside the city for our sins.
No other "god" can do these things! Only the Most High God, the Almighty Sovereign of the universe can work out events over such long periods of time. He can take sinful men who have never even desired a relationship with Him and cause them to do His will and bring about His purpose.
God is in control. Light, darkness, peace, or calamity—none of these things happen without His permission. "I, the LORD, do all these things," He says.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Cyrus: God's Anointed
Notice that God gives examples of things He does from behind the scenes that people are unaware He is doing. By this, He is revealing a principle. He is doing similar things all the time, and people are just as unaware today as the ancients. He is manipulating events to cause people to react. In these verses, God is speaking to Cyrus, who is totally unaware that God has made it possible for him to be in the position to carry out what God wants him to do. He also informs Cyrus that he will do this job for Jacob's benefit, in this case for the Jews living under the Persian Empire.
In addition, we discover in verse 6 that the Jews do not know this either. The time will come, however, when they will know that God worked these things for their benefit and His purpose, and they will give God glory as the one and only Almighty God. A small-scale fulfillment of this occurred under Ezra and Nehemiah, but the greater fulfillment will not take place until the Great White Throne Judgment. Isaiah 45 gives the impression He is actively working, but that we are aware of only a tiny portion of His activity even in our own lives. Yet, as His children, we should be intently looking for His hand in our affairs.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Sovereignty and the Church's Condition (Part One)
God refers to both kingdoms here—the descendants of the northern kingdom of Israel as well as the southern kingdom of Judah. The return of Israel will be the larger migration because, aside from the 70-year captivity in Babylon, some of the descendants of Judah have always resided in the Promised Land. Today, the State of Israel is predominately made up of the descendants of Judah.
However, neither Israel nor Judah has truly possessed the land since the time of their respective captivities. Despite some of Judah having returned to the land, ever since the Babylonian captivity, she has only rarely and intermittently held sovereignty over it.
After Judah was taken into captivity, Babylon ruled the Promised Land under Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon later fell to the Medo-Persian Empire, which then became sovereign over Jerusalem and the Promised Land. Because of their vassal status, the Jewish captives that returned from Babylon had to ask permission from Cyrus and Darius, the Persian kings, to rebuild the wall and the Temple. The Jews enjoyed a measure of peace, but their freedom depended on the favor of the ruling Persian emperor.
After Alexander the Great conquered Medo-Persia, the Greeks became the new overseers of the Land of Promise. Jews under the Maccabees gained a measure of independence until Rome took control of the area. Thus, during the time of Christ, Jews lived in the land and even worshipped in the Second Temple, but they did not really possess the land because it was under Roman jurisdiction. Since the collapse of the Roman Empire, notwithstanding some temporary Crusader holdings, the Promised Land has been under the sway of various Arab and Muslim nations—notably the Ottoman Empire—down to modern times.
Even now, the state of Israel does not control all of the land. Jerusalem is a divided city, and the Israelis have not dared claim all of the Temple Mount for themselves, because they know that it would result in an all-out war with the Muslims. Even though the Jews regained a considerable amount of land when it declared statehood in 1948, gaining even more during the Six Day War, the ownership is endlessly argued. Judah is not truly sovereign yet. It does not yet "possess" the land in the fullest sense of the word.
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part One)
The idea of inferiority seems to pass to the succeeding empires as well. But in what way was Medo-Persia inferior?
Medo-Persia controlled a larger territory than did Babylon, so it was certainly not inferior in political or military might. Even before the fall of Babylon, Cyrus had defeated the wealthy Croesus, king of Lydia in Asia Minor (546 BC). After victories in central Iran and in Phoenicia, he conquered Babylon in 539 BC, and his son Cambyses overthrew Egypt and Libya in 525 BC. At its height the Persian Empire was nearly double the size of Babylon.
It did, however, have a problem with internal unity. Cyrus, a Persian, initiated the growth of the empire by usurping the Median throne with the help of the Median nobility. The empire, from this point on, was dominated by Persians, or as the Bible says, the "bear . . . was raised up on one side" (Daniel 7:5). The two arms of the image symbolize this division.
Also, each time an emperor died, severe struggles erupted over succession to the throne. Fortunately, mostly strong and capable rulers won these struggles, especially during its first century, and kept the empire whole for over two hundred years. Only the superior might of Alexander's Macedonian army spelled its downfall.
Another factor of its inferiority was, oddly, its rulers. Cyrus, regaled in the Bible as God's "shepherd" and "His anointed" (Isaiah 44:28-45:13), was not the same caliber of man as Nebuchadnezzar. Though he was a humane and conciliatory ruler for his time, he neither lived long enough to stamp his character on his realm (d. 529 BC), nor did he acknowledge God's sovereignty as did his predecessor (Daniel 4:28-37).
In relation to this, the word inferior itself ('ara') means "earth, world, ground." Persia was literally more "earthly" or "worldly" than Babylon in God's eyes. The aims and drives of its kings were, as a whole, of a lower nature than Babylon's, though the latter's were certainly misguided as well. However, the trajectory of this factor in all these kingdoms is, according to the prophecy, downward, and it sinks further with each new empire.
On the other hand, it must be injected here that Cyrus was the instrument that God used to reestablish the Temple in Jerusalem (II Chronicles 36:22-23). The Persians had a general policy to honor the gods of all their defeated enemies by repairing or rebuilding temples and giving offerings to them. This was mainly done to appease the gods "just in case" they had been offended by the subjugation of their peoples, as well as to smooth relations between the Persians and their vassals. Scholars are still divided over whether Cyrus actually meant that the God of Israel was indeed the true God and thus his sovereign Lord. Most think he did not because decrees to other nations have been found in which similar language is used.
Unlike the Babylonians, the Persian Empire centered squarely on its military and political bases rather than its religious, cultural, or economic life. Historians consider the Persian imperial political structure and administrative forms to be the finest example of government before the Roman period. In fact, they think that the Romans borrowed Persian ideas in forming their own. This meant that the real basis of power in the empire was the army, even above that of the king, although the king supposedly controlled the army.
The religion of the Persians was Zoroastrianism, a dualistic belief in good and evil and man's struggle between them. Although it was less bloody, warlike, idolatrous, and superstitious than other polytheistic religions of the region, it retained vestiges of ancient beliefs that eventually supplanted it. The cults of Mithra, the sun god, and Anaita, the goddess of fertility—similar to Nimrod/Tammuz and Semiramis, the old Babylonian Mystery Religion—grew in popularity until Zoroastrianism faded into obscurity. But its principle of dualism lived on in Gnosticism and the mystery religions of the Roman Empire. Some of these beliefs and practices (such as Mithra's birthday, December 25; Sunday as a holy day; All Soul's Day; and heaven, hell and purgatory) were later embraced by Catholicism to counter the popularity of these cults.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Two): Chest and Arms of Silver
The prophet Daniel was by this time an old man. He had been taken as a captive to Babylon when he was a young teenager, probably made a eunuch, and trained to serve in Nebuchadnezzar's court. Now, with the defeat of the Babylonians by the Medo-Persians, Daniel was in service to a new king and a new empire, Darius the Mede of the Persian Empire. If the prophet was removed from Jerusalem in 604 BC, the year of Nebuchadnezzer's first invasion, and assuming he was, say, 12 years old at the time, he was now approaching 80 years old (Darius' first year would be c. 537 BC).
And the 70 years of the prophecy were just about up—in fact, they would expire in the next year or so. The prophecy, which Daniel found in "the books" (more correctly, "letters"), had been penned many years before by Jeremiah the prophet. It is found in Jeremiah 29:10: "For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place."
Daniel 9:2 can be read as if Daniel was just coming to the understanding of the seventy years, but that may not be the case. He had probably had access to the letter from Jeremiah for several decades, and he had probably understood that the Jews' exile in Babylon would be only seventy years. However, he may not have known when to commence the count of years, since the Babylonian invasions had been successive and had not finished until about 586 BC. Should he count from 604 BC, from 586 BC, or one of the other incursions?
It is likely that, with his access to the halls of power, Daniel had come to know that Cyrus planned to announce that the Jews could return to the land of their fathers in the next year or two. A little simple math told him that the 604 BC date was the one to begin with. The seventy years was almost complete.
But that brought him up short. He realized that the Jews in Babylon were little better for their captivity than when they left Judah in chains. They were still full of sin. They had not repented of their idolatrous ways. So he falls on his knees to utter his great prayer of confession, of which Daniel 9:10-11 is a sample:
We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against Him.
He ends with the well-known supplication: "O LORD, hear! O LORD, forgive! O LORD, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name" (Daniel 9:19).
The obvious lesson for us is that we know that the return of Jesus Christ is not far off. Do we have a similar repentant attitude as Daniel had?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What is so amazing about the often neglected Seventy Weeks Prophecy is that, not only does it give us a clue to the day of Christ's death, it indicates the year of His death as well! Of course, it is not as simple as looking up a fact in an almanac, but enough information is available to discover the year very accurately.
From what Gabriel says in verse 25, the ending point is fairly plain: the revealing of the Messiah. But what is the starting point?
Historians know of at least four decrees made by the Persian emperors "to restore and build Jerusalem." Cyrus made one in 538 BC, Darius I made one in 520 BC and Artaxerxes I made two, one in 457 BC and one in 444 BC. Which one is the correct command?
All of them could fit the description in verse 25. All of them are concerned with restoring Jerusalem to its former function as the Jewish religious capital and trade center. But only one of them fits the time constraints, and this becomes clear when we work out the puzzle of the seventy weeks.
We have to do a little arithmetic to find the terminus for each of these decrees. The expression "seventy weeks" literally means "seventy sevens," and the year-for-a-day principle applies here (Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:4-6). We must multiply seventy weeks times the seven years in a week of years, which equals 490 years. Gabriel, however, says it is only sixty-nine sevens "until Messiah the Prince." Thus, 69 x 7 = 483 years.
If we add 483 years to each of the dates of the decrees, what do we find? (Remember to add one year for crossing the non-existent year 0.)
- 538 BC + 483 years = 55 BC. No significant biblical event.
- 520 BC + 483 years = 37 BC. No significant biblical event.
- 457 BC + 483 years = AD 27. Jesus is baptized and begins His ministry.
- 444 BC + 483 years = AD 40. No significant biblical event.
God made it easy! We have only one choice!
Verses 26-27 are very specific that the Messiah would work for three and a half years, half of a week, before being "cut off." When we add three and a half years to AD 27, we find that Christ's ministry ended in AD 31, the year of His crucifixion and resurrection.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'After Three Days'
The starting point of the seventy weeks is stated in verse 25: a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. "The command" should be "a command." The Persian emperors made four decrees in all, so we have a choice of which one fits best with the facts. The only viable decree is the one made by Artaxerxes I in 457 BC. This is the return under Ezra the scribe (Ezra 7:1-10).
Gabriel splits the first sixty-nine weeks into seven weeks (forty-nine years) and sixty-two weeks (434 years). During the forty-nine years from 457 to 408 BC, Jerusalem was being rebuilt. After this time Jerusalem was a fully functioning trade center and fortress. This fulfills the prophecy exactly.
Adding the 434 years to 408 BC brings us to AD 27 (adding one year for passing over the non-existent year 0). During this year, John baptized Jesus and His ministry began. Luke records that "Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23). Taking Luke at his word, if Jesus was within a few months of His thirtieth birthday, His birth must have occurred in 4 BC.
Many Protestants, using a 360-day "prophetic" year and quite a bit of calculation, begin on Nisan 1, 444 BC, and end up on March 30, AD 33, the day (they say) of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem before His crucifixion. This fits neatly into their scheme, as the Passover in AD 33 occurred on a Friday, but they are two years off! Jeremiah's seventy years of captivity were seventy literal years, not 360-day years. Why should Gabriel's seventy weeks of years be anything else? Their method of calculation is contrived and confusing. They have forced the prophecy into conforming to their beliefs rather than following the simple sense of the Bible's words.
Besides, Christ was not proclaimed as the Messiah for the first time during His triumphal entry, but at His baptism. God the Father, not the people, publicly proclaimed Him to be the Messiah, "My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Seventy Weeks Are Determined...'
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