Pagan Messiahs?

Unworthy. Ever felt that way? It seems there was an instructor to preachers who claimed that, “If God could speak through Balaam’s ass, He can speak through you.” Oddly, that never helped me much. It’s the challenge to believe that my worth is entirely founded on Jesus: dead, buried, and raised.

While I know that Jesus’ death atoned for my offenses toward my Creator, and I know His burial removed the safety of the enemy, and I know it is the power of His resurrection that empowers my walk with Him; I don’t always feel those things. This is no surprise to my Savior, so He preserves this odd poetic prophecy in Isaiah 45. It begins with this statement:

“This is what the LORD says to his chosen one,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I hold
in order to subdue nations before him,
and disarm kings,
to open doors before him,
so gates remain unclosed:
‘I will go before you
and level mountains.
Bronze doors I will shatter
and iron bars I will hack through. (Isaiah 45:1-2 NET)

In case you were curious, “chosen one” is actually the Hebrew word, messiah. You can see the Strong’s reference here. Notice that it has a special reference to “Cyrus”. That’s because this reference is weird. You might think that’s because God knows that Cyrus’ heart will change toward him, but those kings are Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, in Daniel. Cyrus’ heart is never said to have acknowledged the God of Israel.

As this poetic prophecy continues, Yahweh says He gives Cyrus a bunch of blessings to reveal Himself to him. Look at the following verses:

I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stashed away in secret places,
so you may recognize that I am the LORD,
the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
Israel, my chosen one,
I call you by name
and give you a title of respect, even though you do not submit to me.
I am the LORD, I have no peer,
there is no God but me.
I arm you for battle, even though you do not recognize me. (Isaiah 45:3-5 NET)

God gives this pagan king “hidden treasures”, “title of respect” and “arms him for battle”, all this even though “you do not submit to me” and “you do not recognize me”. Why? “For the sake of my servant, Jacob, Israel my chosen one”. Unfortunately, the NET translators chose “chosen one” for both the Hebrew adjective “chosen” in verse 4, and “messiah” in verse 1. That’s not really helpful, in my opinion. Even so, it’s clear God uses this pagan king in spite of his lack of acknowledgement of the God of Israel.

The prophecy concludes with these verses:

I do this so people will recognize from east to west
that there is no God but me;
I am the LORD, I have no peer.
I am the one who forms light
and creates darkness;
the one who brings about peace
and creates calamity.
I am the LORD, who accomplishes all these things. (Isaiah 45:6-7 NET)

So we’re clear about this, when there is only one God, even evil has its source in Him. Which is why the verse has the line, “the One making peace and creating evil”. It almost never is translated that way, but check out the King James Version. And that’s not embarrassing, it’s true, and should give us encouragement.

Don’t focus on God creating “evil”, focus on the whole point of these two verses: There is no god (no Elohim) but Yahweh, He has no peer, no equal, no true rival. All things, whether we like them or not, have their ultimate source in Him. Which means, they also can be destroyed by Him. And yet, that’s not even the best part.

Now go back and read all seven verses together. Our Creator uses this boastful pagan king to accomplish His plan. Cyrus can boast, conquer, posture, threaten, do whatever, but, in the end, remains a tool of his Creator. And, so it is today.

In our country, some have celebrated the new president, some have lamented. Some were sure the previous guy was the “antichrist”, others think it’s the new guy. I look at Isaiah 45, and I think, who cares? As long as our Creator remains on His throne (no worries there), any ruler, of any type, will merely be His pawn, for His purposes. That view of history can be really unsettling, considering the horrific leaders who have marred the history of this world.

Closer to home, though, if my Master can use such kings, then, even with my flaws, He can use me. He can use you. Perhaps, you might say, the more flaws, the more He shines. Why? So that people, from the east to the west, will recognize that our Creator has no competitor. 

Okay, if I have no other purpose than that, that’ll work.

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