Many, many years ago, God’s people were second class citizens in a place called
. They had been brought there as slaves by evil King Nebuchadnezzar who had taken over their country, burned their homes, looted their temple and destroyed their way of life. There was a time when God’s people lived in Babylon against their will and were desperately unhappy. Psalm 137 describes it like this, "By the rivers of Babylon Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered ." God’s people wept because they did not know if they would ever return home. They did not know if they would ever worship God again in his temple. They did not know if they would ever again be free. Surely they called out to God, praying for freedom, praying to have their own country and their own king, praying for a future. But two generations passed and they were still far from home. This dark time was known as the Babylonian Captivity. Zion
But there was a word. There was a word from the prophet Isaiah. It was a word addressed to a man named Cyrus. Now you might ask, “who in the world is Cyrus?” History tells us that Cyrus was the king of a people named the Persians who lived to the east of
. History tells us that the Persians came up against Babylon , took the city by force and destroyed the Babylonian Empire. History tells us that for centuries the Persians were a very powerful empire. They are perhaps best known to us as the mighty army who attacked the Greece of Socrates, who battled the Spartans at Thermopylae and were defeated, in part thanks to the sacrifice of 300 foot soldiers, a story that is told in a film from a few years back called “300.” What we know about these Persians from history would lead us to believe that they were bad news, bad news for God’s people. History would seem to say that Cyrus was much like Nebuchadnezzar, just another brutal king of just another brutal empire. Babylon
But let us return to the word from Isaiah, for in it, God says something unexpected, something contrary to all that we might expect. God reveals that he has chosen Cyrus, anointed him and blessed him to do something special. King Cyrus, it seems, is going to serve God's people by liberating them from their captivity. In this word from Isaiah, God is revealing that the slavery imposed by evil King Nebuchadnezzar will be undone by King Cyrus. It is actually for the sake of God's people, that God will bless Cyrus, open doors for him, make his path level. It is for the sake of God’s people that Cyrus will be made mighty.
Now for the people who were captive in
, this wasn’t entirely good news. Certainly it was great that they would soon be free to return home. But it wasn’t exactly what they had been hoping for. They had lost their freedom at the hands of a brutal foreign king. And now they were to regain their freedom from the hands of a brutal foreign king. Their weakness and inability to control their own world, these things weren’t changing. Their dearest desire was to regain the days of their own powerful kingdom, when David and Solomon had been mighty kings, kings anointed by God. But God was not giving them that. God was not giving them what they wanted. Instead, he was anointing a foreign king who would be strong and powerful, while they would remain weak and dependent. Babylon
I guess you could say that God answered their prayers. But God didn’t answer their prayers in quite the way that they had hoped. And we might find that this touches a nerve in us. God answered their prayers. But God didn’t answer their prayers in quite the way that they had hoped. Here is the basic fact of the matter, God does not always act like we would like him to act. He does things differently than we would do them. God is beyond our control.
And that is what this passage from Isaiah is really all about. There is good news here. God is answering their prayers. God is appointing a king so that they might go home. But God isn’t answering prayer on their terms. God is just a little wild. He has plans that they can’t quite understand. God is unapologetically doing what he wants to do, and the result seems like it is good and bad at the same time.
God is saying words to Cyrus, but it seems like it is really his own people that he is addressing: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that you may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.” “Look here,” God is saying, “You are going home soon. I am responsible for this. These things aren’t accidents or coincidences.”
So what are they to make of this? Their fate is beyond their control, but it isn’t random. The events that swirl around them aren’t meaningless chaos. It isn’t a matter of “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.” No, God is claiming responsibility for all of it.
These are God’s words to us too. God is saying, “I make the good and I make the bad.” God is claiming responsibility for all of it. And that means that we don’t control our lives as much as we’d like to think. We don’t control God. Good and bad will arrive. God will work in ways that confuse us and even hurt us. And I don’t have to tell you that. You know it perfectly well. I was riding in the combine this week, talking with one of you, and what was the topic of conversation? How little we can control. The market goes up and it goes down. The rain falls or it doesn’t. The tornado rips up our field or it passes us by. You all know this better than I do. And God says, “I make weal and create woe. I make the good and the bad.” God is telling trying to tell us something here. Life isn’t random; it has purpose. We’re not the pawns of fate; we are in the hands of the living God.
Now this can make for an awfully uncomfortable life. When we can’t control what happens, when we don’t know what is around the next corner, when we don’t know how God is going to work, that can be tough. But as it has pointed out to me, it can also be very reassuring. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen. I can’t control it. All I can do is trust. All I can do is trust.
I want to make one more connection. Those ancient Jews who were captives in
, they wanted God to give them back their own king, their own anointed one. But God anointed another, he anointed Cyrus. He chose Cyrus to give them back their freedom. But this was really only a temporary thing, a half-measure. For God had decided to give them another anointed one altogether. You see, “anointed one” means Messiah; it means Christ. Those ancient Jews wanted a king. Well, God gave them a king of sorts, a foreign king and he let them go back to their home. But then God did something completely different. He did something much different than we would have done, something that we couldn’t have seen coming. He did something absolutely out of our control. He sent his son to be our anointed one, our Messiah, our Christ. We couldn’t control that. It has just burst into our lives. And all we can do is trust. All we can do is trust. Babylon