PRE-NOTE: We have posted Pope Francis’ "A Prayer for our Earth." It could be our daily prayer during these times of environmental distress. Go tohttps://preacherexchange.com/ and click on "Quotable."
Also: Below are the names of three female inmates on Death Row. Would you drop them a line and wish them well during these pandemic days? Thanks.
They probably did not have private investigators in Isaiah’s time. But suppose they did and we could hire him or her to get the low down on this Cyrus character. What might they write about him in their report? First they would tell us of the time of Cyrus’ appearance. He arrived towards the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon, around 553 BCE.
Israel had been unfaithful to God and so, according to the prophets, God had used the Babylonians to punish and take them into exile. As they had been slaves in Egypt, now they are once again slaves in a foreign land. They can do nothing to help themselves. When they were slaves in Egypt God raised up Moses, one of their own, to deliver and lead them to the Promise Land. But we would ask our investigator, "Who is this Cyrus?" His name doesn’t sound Jewish. But it is clear that whoever he is, he is going to be God’s instrument to bring the people back to their homeland.
It is as if our investigator has brought us a recording of God speaking to Cyrus. Imagine Israel’s surprise when Cyrus is called God’s "anointed." That’s messianic language, usually reserved for one God has chosen from among the Israelites. God tells Cyrus that he will serve God’s purpose, even though Cyrus doesn’t know God – "though you knew me not."
God grasps the hand of Cyrus; another indication God is conferring royal power and authority on Cyrus. As a consequence, he is now part of Israel’s history; even though he did not know the God of Israel. God will precede Cyrus and open doors for him to help him achieve military success. Cyrus led the Persian army that conquered Babylon and when he did, this pagan ruler allowed the exiles to return home. He even helped them rebuild their homeland and Temple.
People may not know or profess faith in God, but still God can use them to accomplish God’s purpose. How could God favor this Persian king from another nation? The Persians were not "God’s chosen." Isaiah was taking a chance preaching his message of God’s wide embrace. The Israelites may have betrayed God and incurred God’s punishment but still, they considered themselves God’s special ones, morally superior to all the pagans and their gods.
Have you ever missed something that was happening before your eyes and have someone tell you, "Wake up and smell the roses"? That’s what Isaiah is telling the people, "Wake up and see what God is doing for you: a foreigner is the agent God is using to release you from slavery. This story repeats what God says in one way or another throughout the scriptures, "I am the Lord, there is no other." (E,g, Deuteronomy 4:35; Isaiah 45:5; 46:9)
Have you heard this story told by the author Anne Lamott? A man in an Alaskan bar tells the bartender, "My snowmobile broke down in a blizzard. I was sure I was going to die. I prayed and prayed to God for help, but he didn’t answer me." The surprised bartender said, "But you are here and alive!" "Sure," the man responded, "thanks to two Eskimos who happened to come by."
Is that what the Israelites would have said? "We prayed and prayed for deliverance from our exile, but God did not answer us. If it weren’t for that pagan king Cyrus, we would still be there."
For ancient believers the God they worshiped had localized power. For example, the god of the Babylonians was Marduk. When they were slaves in Egypt the supreme God there was Ra. The gods ruled withing the geography on the nation. So, the temptation for the Israelites, enslaved in Babylon, was to think that their Yahweh was back in the land they had been dragged from.
What Israel learned through Isaiah was that their God had not stayed behind, but had come into exile with them. When we suffer trials it can feel like God is somewhere "back there," not "here" where we are in pain. Israel learned that God was not "back there," or "back then," but supreme and universal, more powerful than the other gods. They would also come to believe that there is no other God but Yahweh.
Do we have our eyes closed to God’s delivering hand? All the news has been filled with poignant stories of exhausted medical staffs laboring away in emergency wards; delivery people bringing medicine to the elderly and sick confined to their homes; clerks stacking food on supermarket shelves; volunteers gathering and distributing food boxes to the recently unemployed, etc. Are they our modern Cyrus, sent by God to nurse us and bring us home to safety from this exile? Are they like the two Eskimos saving us from the pandemic blizzard that threatens so many of us?
We in our religious communities have been given eyes to see. Or, are we blind to what we confess about our God? We believe there is but one God, no matter the name our faiths and cultures call God. Cyrus may not have confessed faith in the God of Israel, but that does not mean God wasn’t with him using him to lead the people to freedom.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/101820.cfm