-by Pastor Ashley Brown
An Unanswered Question
This Sunday, due to time constraints, I was unable to address one of the most curious and potentially confusing questions from Isaiah 41-48. This particular question comes at the end of chapter 44 and beginning of chapter 45.
[The LORD…] says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: (Isaiah 44:28-45:1)
The unanswered question in these verses relates to the LORD referring to Cyrus as “my shepherd” and as His “anointed”. Why would the LORD refer to an idolatrous pagan in these terms? After all, for a Jew of Isaiah’s days, applying these terms to someone like Cyrus would be on the verge of blaspheme.
The Scandalous Nature of the Terms
When a Jewish reader came to Isaiah 44:28, it would have been a heart-stopping phrase to read, “my shepherd”. The LORD refers to a pagan in a manner typically reserved for Jewish kings of the Davidic line or even for the LORD Himself. (For example, cross reference 2Samuel 5:2; 1Kings 22:17; or Ezekiel 34:11-24.) It would be unthinkable, in the Judean mindset, for God to designate someone like Cyrus as a “shepherd” of His people.
Of course, the LORD doesn’t stop there. In the very next verse the scandal of Cyrus increases tenfold when Isaiah calls Cyrus the “anointed” of the LORD. That is the term “Messiah”, the “Anointed One”! Elsewhere this title only refers to kings, prophets, and priests of the LORD! It never refers to everyday Israelites, much less idolatrous pagans, like Cyrus! The use of these two terms, “Shepherd” and “Anointed/Messiah”, would rock the bedrock assumptions of everyone who read or heard Isaiah’s prophecy.
Why Would God Use These Terms?
The terms the LORD uses fit quite naturally into the themes of this entire book. The LORD has already declared He will work in new ways, completely unexpected by the Jews (Isaiah 43:19). And God’s unexpected use of these terms demonstrates He will even burst all the bounds of their expectations in order to save His people. This is because He is not just Israel’s God. Rather, He alone is God, and there is no other. He is the LORD of all Creation… and of all nations! He will work His purposes with whomever He desires and in whatever way He wills. He is sovereign! We are simply His creation. And, to use the imagery of Isaiah 45:9, we have no more right to question how God chooses to fulfill His promises than a clay pot has to critique the potter’s work.
The Bottom Line
The LORD will deliver His people. And He will do it in His own, sovereign way. He will keep His promises to the Patriarchs and to David… even if it means doing so in completely new ways unforeseen by the Jews of Isaiah’s day.