18 January 2012

Isaiah 44:24 – 45:7

"He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose" (v. 28)


In today's passage, the prophecy reaches a pivotal and surprising moment. The identity of the one whom God will use to intervene to free those in exile, restore the holy city of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple as the centre of worship and devotion for Israel is revealed, and it's perhaps an unexpected choice. From general affirmations of what God is like, the prophecy now moves to a particular declaration of what God will do. The Eternal One forms and creates, stretches and spreads, frustrates and turns back (verses 24-25) and now Cyrus is named as the one who the Lord will use to fulfil the divine purpose for Israel.

The prophet hinted at the coming of "one from the North" earlier on (Isaiah 41:25), but the choice of Cyrus was not necessarily guaranteed to be received with unalloyed joy by Israel. The term "shepherd" denoted a king who cared for his subjects personally and would have had particular associations with the dignity of Saul (1 Samuel 9:16-17) and the divinely granted status of David (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Now God appears to be delegating the role of Israel's restoration to a foreigner since Cyrus is destined to be King of Persia! Yet he is referred to as God's anointed (verse 1) - a term later used to refer to the long expected Messiah who would deliver Israel at the end-time (in Greek 'the Christ'). It was also used to refer to the consecration of Israel's kings, priests and prophets, underlining the unlikely special status this pagan has under God. The expected fulfilment of God's plan through a king in the line of David will actually happen though a Gentile (non-Jew). In this task Cyrus will enjoy power and intimacy with God (verses 1-3) and although the method of its achievement may be unexpected, the divine purpose of the Eternal One remains the calling and empowering of Israel (verses 4-5).

To Ponder

"Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning, Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ" (Hymns & Psalms 236, verse 4). What helps you to hold on to the truth that God's good purposes in Christ are being carried out during times in your life when all the evidence seems to point to the contrary?

Today's passage is a reminder that God uses unexpected people to take us beyond our comfort zones in achieving the divine purpose. At the beginning of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, how might you be more open to insights from other, less comfortable Christian traditions than the one with which you are most familiar?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley is superintendent minister of the Hinckley Circuit in Leicestershire and an adjunct faculty member at Cliff College. Tim has a passion for Wesleyan theology and for fresh ways of being church and doing evangelism, and he is a vice chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together.