Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—A Sovereign God Who Providentially Rules
Some of you are familiar with Henry Blackaby. He is a popular speaker in Southern Baptist circles and is the author of Experiencing God book and study course which has sold over 3-million copies. In Experiencing God, Blackaby confesses, “When I was first learning how to walk with God, I depended too much on other people. I would run to other people and say, ‘Do you think this is really God? Here is what I think. What do you think?’ I would unconsciously, depend on them rather than on the relationship I had with God.”
“Finally, I had to say, ‘I am going to go to the Lord and clarify what I am absolutely convinced He is saying to me. Then, I am going to proceed and watch to see how God affirms it. ... As He speaks to us, He reveals Himself so we can have faith to trust Him in the assignment He calls us to ... God reveals His ways so that He can accomplish His work through us in a way that He gets all the glory.” If you’ve never gone though Experiencing God I encourage you to do so.
Long ago, Israel had the same problem that Henry Blackaby confessed to. They could not understand what God was saying, and they were not sure He was even speaking to them. And if he was speaking to them, what was He trying to say, because whatever it was, they didn’t understand. How could the true God of the universe allow His people to lose their nation, their homeland, and their temple? How could He stand silently by while his people went into foreign exile? How could His promise of salvation and deliverance include a foreign king like Cyrus of Persia as his anointed one rather than a king from David’s line?
I suspect that as the Jews are being marched to Babylon to become slaves, that they see their world as having gone completely mad and out of control. Had God left them to their destruction at the hand of their enemies? Had God turned his back on them and forgotten that they were his chosen people? Had he forgotten his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? How could any good thing come of this captivity?
In today’s world our daily newspapers are filled with one catastrophe after another, and, each day brings news of greater tragedies around the world. It is easy for us to get caught up in the events of these last days and to wonder—like the Jews of the Captivity— if the world has gone completely mad and out of control. But in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty, we must rest assured in the immutable fact that God has the “chaos” under control.
What most of Israel didn’t understand, and what much of the church today has forgotten, is that God hasn’t forgotten his promises, and that he still has all things in his hand. Though the world seems to be falling apart at the seams, it is still under His providential control. He is bringing about a master plan that will fulfill every word that he has spoken and not one prophecy will fail!
This chapter reminds us that God is sovereign over this world and providentially brings His will to pass.
I. GOD’S POWER TO DIRECT HISTORY vv. 1-4
- “This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.” (Isaiah 45:1–4, NIV84)
- in the very first verse we find that God is going to anoint a man named Cyrus to accomplish His will for Israel and ultimately His redemptive plan for sinners
- it was God who appointed Babylon, and now Persia, to be both the rod of correction upon the backs of God’s wayward children, and to be the source of their deliverance as well
- God was going to put Cyrus in the right place at the just the right moment in history and upon the throne of the most powerful nation on earth, just to bring about God’s plan for his chosen people in bringing them home again
- that would lead eventually to a miraculous conception in Nazareth and the birth of Jesus
A. PROPHECY DECLARED, PROPHECY FULFILLED, PROPHECY DECLARED
- Isaiah began his prophetic ministry in about 740 B.C. in the year that King Uzziah died and he prophesied for fifty years
- the first thirty-nine chapters focus on Assyria and the geo-political events of Isaiah’s own day
- he repeatedly warns both Judah and Israel of Assyria’s growing political and military power
- Isaiah warns Israel that unless they repent of their idolatry, God is going to use Assyria to humble the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-6)
- they refused to listen and God did what He said He would do
- the Northern Kingdom of Israel was attacked and taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.
- “In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him. Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison. The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.” (2 Kings 17:1–6, NIV84)
- it would actually be another 136 years before Jerusalem would fall, but just as Isaiah had prophesied, Babylon came sweeping in like a flood, destroyed the nation, sacked its towns and cities and carried Judah’s citizen off into captivity
- Judah and Jerusalem would lay desolate for 70 years
- but God had made a promise through the Prophet Micah that the Savior would be born in the little town of Bethlehem
- so God had to bring His people back to the Promised Land and He would use the Persian king Cyrus to do it
B. PROPHECY PEEKING INTO THE FUTURE
- in verse 1, Isaiah is referring to a kingdom that does not yet exist and to a king who will not be born for another 176 years and it would be 210 years before the Persians, under Cyrus would conquer Babylon
- for this reason, many critical bible scholars are convinced that Isaiah could not have written chapters 40-66
- surely we can’t actually be expected to believe that the Bible would call a man by name almost 200 years before he was born!
- the theory is that the Book of Isaiah actually existed as two or even three separate documents that were eventually put together—
- that a Prophet named Isaiah who lived in the 8th century B.C. wrote the first thirty-nine chapters
- that a disciple of Isaiah who lived in the 6th century B.C. wrote chapters 40-55 some time toward the end of the Babylonian captivity
- that a an unknown group of authors wrote chapters 56-66 some time shortly after the end of the Babylonian captivity
- in the minds of critical scholars this is the only way to explain the name of Cyrus being found in the passage
- for over 100 years this view has been taught in all the major seminaries around the world
- there is, however, absolutely no manuscript evidence to support this view
- when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, among them was a complete scroll of the Prophet Isaiah that was dated to 100 B.C.—1,000 earlier than any other copy we had at the time
- it was nearly identical to our modern Isaiah and amazingly has no breaks between chapters 30 and 40 or between chapters 54 and 55
- so at least one hundred years before Christ, Isaiah existed as one book
- God’s ability to reveal future events through His prophets should be a comfort to our faith and not a hindrance to it
- listen to Jesus ...
- “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’ “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”” (John 13:16–20, NIV84)
C. A DIVINELY EMPOWERED KING
- God will anoint a heathen King as an instrument used to bring about His will
- v. 1 “This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of ... “
- He reminds Cyrus that it is the God of Israel who has given him the power to rule and reign
- that included restoring the Jews to their homeland
- Cyrus has power because he was to use this power to bless God’s people
- v. 1 “ ... whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: ... “
- the act of clasping the king by the hand suggests Cyrus will not fail, nor will any be able to thwart him
- Cyrus became King of Persia in 559 B.C. and twenty years later in 539 B.C. he conquered Babylon without a fight (Daniel 5)
- all of this is alluded to in vv. 2-3
- Babylon was a strong city
- ILLUS According to the Greek historian Herodotus, writing in 450 B.C., Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign had walls 300 feet high and 25 feet thick with foundations that extended 32 feet underground. Two four-horse chariots could pass each other on the parapets . There were 250 towers along the walls that were 450 feet high. The gates of those towers were made of bronze. Herodotus said: "Babylon surpasses in splendor any city of the known world.”
- the people felt extremely secure within the city, so that when Babylon came under the siege of the Medo-Persian army under Cyrus, it was almost a joke to those that were living in the city
- ILLUS. Just to sort of rub it in, the king of Babylon, Belshazzar, ordered a great feast there in the palace, several weeks duration. If you remember, during the midst of this debauchery, Belshazzar ordered that they should bring the gold and silver vessels, that his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had taken when he captured Jerusalem that they might drink their wine out of these vessels that had been consecrated to the service of God. As they were drinking their wine, and praising the gods of silver and gold, suddenly there came that handwriting on the wall—the finger of God—as it wrote out the words Your days are numbered and so is your kingdom.
- “ ... I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron ... “
- but those riches would be given to Cyrus
- ILLUS. I love how God fulfilled this promise. One of Babylon’s most famous kings was Nebuchadnezzar. During his conquests, he had gathered a tremendous amount of treasure from the peoples he subdued. Jewish rabbis say that as the king’s death drew near, he thought about what to do with all his wealth. He was unwilling to leave it to the next king. So, he ordered containers of brass to be built and filled them with gold and jewels. He dug a large pit near the Euphrates River and rerouted the river to cover over the containers, hopefully hiding them forever. The Jewish rabbis write that on the day that Cyrus ordered the temple to be rebuilt, he discovered the location of those wealth-filled containers, and that much of it went with the Jews back to Israel.
- “ ... I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places ... “
- in doing so God directs history to go in the direction He desires for it to go
II. GOD’S PROVISION FOR HIS PEOPLE vv. 4-8
- "For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. “You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it.” (Isaiah 45:4–8, NIV84)
- will Cyrus acknowledge that it is Jehovah God who has granted him his power and wealth?
- yes and no
- we appear to have some historical revisionism going on even among ancient historians
- according to the Bible, Cyrus acknowledges Jehovah God’s hand in all of this
- “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “ ‘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. Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’ ” (Ezra 1:1–4, NIV84)
- ILLUS. We have an archeological find discovered in 1879 that is referred to as the Cyrus cylinder. It was discovered in the ruins of Babylon and is a document in the form of a clay cylinder that portrays the victorious Cyrus as having been chosen by the chief Babylonian god Marduk to restore peace and order to the Babylonians. It goes on to describe how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, and repatriated displaced peoples and restored their destroyed temples.
- First, God would use this pagan king to bring about deliverance for Jacob my servant—which is a reference to the Jewish people
- Second, accomplishments of Cyrus—all predicted 200 years before they took place—was designed to convince all people that Yahweh alone is God
- “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,” (Isaiah 45:5, NIV84)
- He alone rules the universe
- “so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:6, NIV84)
- “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7, NIV84)
- God always deals with mankind in righteousness and pours out His blessing upon them that they might become righteous
- those who respond positively to His righteousness will have it take hold and grow in their life that it might bear fruit
III. GOD’S PROVIDENCE IN THE WORLD vv. 9-13
- “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’ “This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.”(Isaiah 45:9–13, NIV84)
- God’s plans cannot be thwarted
- He uses all events to accomplish His will
- “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7, NIV84)
- what proved to be prosperity for Cyrus was disaster for Belshazzar
- what proved to be darkness for Babylon was light for Persia
- like most Christians, I have wrestled greatly with this issue over the years
- there is no single statement that can fully bring together the different strands regarding God's sovereignty and human responsibility
- but let me give you something I jotted down a few years ago:
- God is in charge of what happens when it happens how it happens why it happens And even what happens after it happens This is true of all events in every place from the beginning of time. He does this for our good and his glory. He is not the author of sin, yet evil serves his purposes. He does not violate our free choices, yet all of our choices serve his purposes. We're not supposed to understand all this. We're simply supposed to believe it.
A. GOD PLANS OUR DAYS BEFORE WE ARE BORN
- David affirms this
- “your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16, NIV84)
- “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (Job 14:5, NIV84)
- “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5, NIV84)
- /“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased” (Galatians 1:15, NIV84)
B. GOD WORKS THROUGH ALL MEN TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PLANS
- “I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 45:13, NIV84)
- God works through righteous men and unrighteous men; He works through the Godly and the Heathen; He works through potentates and through peasants; He works through the obedient and the disobedient
C. GOD REBUKES THOSE WHO WOULD QUESTION HIS PLANS
- verse 9 discloses the clay’s rebellion against being clay
- “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?” (Isaiah 45:9, NIV84)
- woe is a funeral cry and emphasizes the seriousness of God’s complaint
- just as it would not make sense—and would even be folly—for a piece of pottery to challenge the potter that makes it, so would it be folly for man to challenge God’s plans for the world
- it is a reversal of roles—a refusal to let God be God
- a potsherd, a broken, discarded piece of pottery, has no right to question the potter
- to reinforce his thought, God also decrees that a child does not have the right to question why his parents brought him into the world
- God can be trusted because He is the craftsman of the earth and of man
- “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.” (Isaiah 45:12, NIV84)
- ILLUS. "I thank God for my handicaps, for through them, I have found myself, my work and my God." - Helen Keller
- Cyrus did not arise by accident nor by his own choice
- he would be divinely enabled to accomplish the purpose for which God made him
- God had formed Cyrus and raised him up according to His sovereign purposes to act according to His will or in righteousness
- He had done so that His exiled people might go free and that His city Jerusalem (44:28) might be rebuilt
IV. LESSONS: from Isaiah 45
- God anoints unexpected people to accomplish his saving purposes for his people and to introduce the world to the one true God
- God’s human creature have no right to question God’s ways and purposes as he works to create a righteous world.
- God, the eternal Savior, often works in hidden ways to accomplish his purpose of bringing the world to recognize and serve him
- God is the Lord and there is no other
Con. Be encouraged today that things are not out of control. If the Lord can call someone by name 176 years before he is born and map out what he will do during his life, the Lord knows you too. Scripture tells us that God is not a respecter of persons and that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Lord knows your situation, circumstances, and struggles. He is intimately acquainted with your life, moment by moment. He has a purpose and a plan for you. states, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)
Your ways are fully known to the Lord, and He knows your tomorrow. Continue to trust Him for He loves you, and His plans will unfold at just the right time.