The Cyrus Cylinder

“Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ‘ (Isa. 44:28)

I often say that every passage has a context; the greater context of our passage here, Isaiah 40-48, addresses the incomparable greatness of  YAHWEH. This is especially seen in these chapters as the true God is contrasted with the idols made by human hands. The gods created in the imaginations of men cannot see anything, or say anything, or do anything (cf. Isa. 44:9-20). But the God of Israel says,  “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them.” (Isa. 44:6-7).

One manifestation of the true God’s great power is that only He can foretell the future. So while the Assyrians were still the world power, God foretold through Isaiah (8th century BC) that it would be Babylon who would take Judah captive (Isa. 39). Then God foretold the return from Babylonian captivity (Isa. 48:20). But through Isaiah (prophetic work spanned 740-ca.690 BC) God called the future deliverer by name: it would be Cyrus, king of the Persians (r. 559-530 BC). Approximately two centuries before Cyrus ascended the throne, God called him by name, and foretold that he would be the one who would allow the Jews to return from captivity and rebuild their temple! 

The Cyrus Cylinder. British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

In addressing the significance of the Cyrus Cylinder, the Lexham Bible Dictionary notes:

The Cyrus Cylinder is an important piece of external evidence for the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Written in Akkadian, the Cylinder is a building inscription celebrating the restoration of Babylon, which Cyrus king of Persia conquered. The Bible records that Cyrus’ conquest brought an end to the Babylonian exile and allowed for the exiled Judahites to return to their homeland (Ezra 1:3; 2:1–67). The Cyrus Cylinder does not explicitly mention the Judahites, but the book of Ezra opens with a decree from Cyrus that allows the Judahites to return from exile and promises Persian patronage for the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Krijgsman, M. (2016). Cyrus Cylinder. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Note how this ties in with Ezra’s opening verses that tell of the decree of King Cyrus:

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, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May 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 God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.

Ezra 1:1-4

Indeed, the true God proclaimed “the things that are coming and shall come”!

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