October 17 is an historic day and not just because it’s the day Adventist Record is coming out. According to Wikipedia, on this day in 1964, then Australian prime minister Robert Menzies opened Lake Burley Griffin, a man-made lake in the centre of Canberra, the nation’s capital. If we go further back, things on this date aren’t quite as rosy. In 1943, the extermination camp Sobibor was closed. In 1941, a German submarine attacked an American ship for the first time during World War II. In 1917, the first British bombing of Germany took place and in 1905, Tsar Nicholas II issued the October manifesto.
But amidst all of these events, the first Wikipedia entry stood out—a Bible prophecy was fulfilled on this day. It was a prophecy about a shepherd king, the anointed one (messiah) who would liberate his people. His name was Cyrus.
God can use people who are not His children to influence us, turn us to Him and remind us of His sovereignty. We should allow ourselves to learn from those outside our faith more often.
According to Wikipedia, October 17, 539 BC was the day Cyrus the Great, king of the Persians, marched into Babylon to become emperor of the known world.
Snippets of the story come from the Bible, the archaeological record and ancient historians. Babylon was under siege but the situation had reached an impasse. During Belshazzar’s famous feast, when God wrote on the wall, Cyrus’s soldiers entered the city by damming up the Euphrates and walking down the river channel under the walls.
It is incredibly unusual that by all reports Cyrus was treated to a hero’s welcome. Usually foreign conquerors were greeted with fearful glares, uncertain stares or outright hostility and sabotage. But not Cyrus. What made this conqueror different?
Unlike others, Cyrus ruled with a high level of religious freedom and tolerance, he installed local administrators and freed many captive or exiled foreigners throughout his empire.
In a prophecy made more than 100 years prior, Isaiah 44 says: “I am the Lord who has made all things . . . (v24) who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple ‘Let its foundations be laid (v28).”
The passage about Cyrus continues in chapter 45: “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue the nations before him and to strip kings of their armour, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut (v1).”
Cyrus was the only non-Jew to be given the title of “messiah”. Usually it is reserved for Jesus, the Christ, who came to save His people from their sins. Cyrus saved the Jews from 70 years of exile and sent them back to Judah to rebuild the temple and the city.
So what relevance does this story about a long dead king have for us in the 21st century?
Firstly, it proves that God is in control. Even though around us the world seems sometimes to be spiralling out of control, with economies crashing and violence escalating against many Christians around the world, God still saves His people, often by unexpected methods. Isaiah even says in chapter 45:5: “I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name . . . though you have not acknowledged me.” Tradition says that Cyrus was shown the Isaiah scrolls and he liked the prophecies and sought to fulfil them.
Secondly, Cyrus gives us an example of how to treat other people. The religious freedoms he instituted were well ahead of their time. Even though he had ultimate power, he showed tolerance, respect and humility, stating in Ezra 1:2: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.” Not everything went perfectly during his reign. The temple work was held up and there is no record of him ever “converting”.
However, God can use people who are not His children to influence us, turn us to Him and remind us of His sovereignty. We should allow ourselves to learn from those outside our faith more often. God is at work throughout the world, even in the halls of power.
Finally, God loves His people. So much so that He sent Jesus to be the ultimate Messiah and save us all eternally.
So this day and every day, we should be comforted in knowing that if God can raise kings and take down empires for His people, we should more readily surrender our plans and our lives to Him and give Him complete control.
Jarrod Stackelroth is associate editor of Adventist Record.