I mentioned a few days ago that many consider the second half of this book a collection of visions from Isaiah’s prophetic successors. One reason for this is that the past five chapters have served as a 150-year bridge between the stories of Hezekiah and Judah and those of Cyrus and Persia… Just six decades after Hezekiah, Babylon earned its first defeat of Assyria’s army. In 612 B.C., Nineveh fell, and three years later, the Assyrian empire was no more.
From reading 2 Kings you know that Judah had chafed under Babylon’s dominance, even allying, again, with Egypt, in an attempt to withstand them. In 2 Kings 25 we read that Jerusalem, under Zedekiah, withheld tribute, was besieged, and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. But less than fifty years later, Isaiah’s promises about Babylon’s demise would be fulfilled. Cyrus, commander of the Medes and the Persians, would make Babylon’s expansive rule a brief one.
Today’s oracles are addressed to Cyrus himself, to Babylon, and to Israel, the house of Jacob. The LORD calls Cyrus “His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him, and to loose the belt of king… I will go before you,” the LORD promises, “and level the exalted places… I will give you treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places…” This seems an odd promise – though not an unprecedented one – for the LORD to make to the ruler of Persia.
The LORD’s twofold purpose is soon made clear, however. This gift to Cyrus is given first “that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” Second, Cyrus is lifted up “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen…” The LORD asserts both that the Israel story is not over, and Cyrus did not accomplish this either by his own hand or with the help of other gods.
To Babylon, the LORD is equally clear about both their successes and their eventual demise: “I was angry with my people; I profaned my heritage; I gave them into your hand; you showed them no mercy.” He first reminds Babylon, and Israel, that Babylon’s gods “stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity.” He then tells Babylon that its security is fleeting, ill-placed: “But evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing.”
This is important: Babylon was simply the tool with which the LORD punished Israel. They say in their heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me” (which is exactly how the LORD had described Himself), and, however useful at one time, they will be delivered up for their sins. They hold no special place in the LORD’s heart; that is reserved specially for Israel.
Our verse for this week is 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Isaiah 45 through 48. Now let’s read it!
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.