Friday, July 02, 2010

Isaiah 45: Unwitting Messiahs

Isaiah 45 begins with a remarkable prophecy concerning Cyrus, ruler of the Persian empire. In this prophecy, it is stated that the doings of Cyrus will be for “Jacob my servant’s sake”, and that Cyrus himself will be guided and prospered in performing this work, which will eventually lead to the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.  (Keep in mind that Cyrus was born about a century after the death of Isaiah.)    In these verses, Cyrus is referred to as a Messiah (anointed one).  This is unusual, as he is the only (as far as I can tell) non-spiritual figure in the scriptures referred to in this manner.  If we understand the term “messiah” as a type, however, we can understand why it was applied.  A Messiah is a Savior, a deliverer, and this is exactly what Cyrus was to the Jews in his time, restoring them to their homeland, and setting the foundation for the construction of the second temple under the reign of Darius.

What I pondered on the most from these verses is that they made it clear that the Lord is guiding a person who is not of the same religion as Isaiah- and as an emperor, a person likely possessed of serious moral hang-ups.  We see this pattern repeated in the story of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2).  I think this has relevance to the saints of this day.  While there is doctrine that is true and correct, and there is a true church, we can sometimes forget that all people are God’s children and the light of Christ is a gift to all of us.  God’s purposes are accomplished in a wide variety of ways, and often in a manner that does not seem logical to us.    Some people are kept from God’s truth for purposes known only to God.  Others are led to it quickly and directly, again for divine purposes.   Sometimes God blesses and guides wicked people while at the same time letting the righteous suffer and struggle through darkness.   All the more that we should be careful in judgment and be slow to discount others simply because they don’t fit the molds we have created. 

In verses 5-19, the Lord speaks through Isaiah to establish his supremacy and involvement both in the events that happen on the earth and in his thoughts and plans concerning his children.   This stands starkly against the widely held falsehood that God is a distant God, caring little about the affairs of humanity, which is supposedly too far beneath him to arouse His concerns. Many people attribute their beliefs to the day-to-day relief of physical challenges.  War, disease, and the absence of prosperity cause them to think that God is not there, or that he is angry, or that He doesn’t care.  Or as a friend of mine pointed out, when peace and prosperity come, we tend to attribute that to a present God, and in some cases so present that our God becomes the very materials that were involved in bringing us peace and prosperity. 

The passages here are very clear.   God has his hand in everything- light and darkness, peace and evil (v7).  This last bit about being the creator of evil is a little confusing to some.  I was reading Calvin’s commentaries and he pointed out that “evil” is from a Hebrew word that can simply mean “bad fortune”, and in this case “evil” is contrasted with “peace”, which lends to that interpretation.   We also know from modern revelation that God in not the author of any evil acts (Alma 5: 40, Moro. 7: 12). Therefore, we can understand that in terms of blessings and cursings, God performs both and since he is the only God, we should not attribute these happenings to anything else.   As was pointed out in the beginning of the chapter, this supremacy extends to everyone, including the heathen nations.  Whenever they accomplish great things, it is because it is within the confines of God’s will that they do so.  This is not to say that God controls them like puppets, but rather that they operate within the bounds that he has set for them.

Verses 20-25 present for us the natural conclusion of this discourse on the nature and power of God and they show us the kindly and merciful nature of God.  They are an invitation to come unto God, to abandon the worship of idols in favor of one (the only one) who is mighty to save.   Isaiah invites us to substitute the shame and remorse that will attend procrastination with the joy and gladness that come with making correct choices now.