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Stories of Lives Liberated

A Prophet Like No Other

Long before America – with its dreams and wars, before modern inventions and philosophies, and even before the Word of God became flesh, died on a cross, and rose again- there lived a man named Isaiah. Isaiah lived during the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. in Jerusalem of Judah. He was a man of conviction and faith. He ministered to many, kings and commoners alike, and he preached for perhaps the latter 60 years of his life. Isaiah’s ministry likely began in 740 B.C. (contemporaneously with the final years of King Uzziah’s reign) and lasted until shortly after 680 B.C.

As Isaiah preached throughout the course of his life, he also wrote and left for future generations an account of his message. These writings we now have in the Book of Isaiah. Translated directly from Hebrew to English, with the help of cross-referencing a Greek translation (the Septuagint) made in the 3rd century B.C., we have clear access to the message that Isaiah brought. The Book of Isaiah is as much a work of wonder and mystery 2700 years later as it was when it was first being written.

Isaiah lived during very turbulent times. Kingdoms were rising and falling, empires were making alliances and conquering those in the way of ‘more’ and the kingdom of Judah was very much in the middle of the unrest. Isaiah’s message was one telling forth of God’s sovereignty; he was convicted in his spirit that God was completely in control. He preached that those who opposed God and did not put their trust in Him, forsaking Him, would be judged and punished; whereas deliverance would come only from God’s hand, and it would be accomplished His way. Eternal prosperity and life would be given to the people of God; the message included multitudes that would be invited and called from the ends of the earth to enter into one holy nation.

What is remarkable about Isaiah’s message, however, other than the powerful hope and conviction of its contents, is that Isaiah’s account of His message seems to, very accurately, foretell the future.

In approximately 539 B.C. (140 years after Isaiah had died) there was a Persian king named Cyrus the Great who was ruling over a now captured nation of Judah. The Jews had been taken into exile by the Babylonians 60 years prior and forbidden to return to the war-desolated land of Judah. Cyrus had since conquered the Babylonians. It was this Persian king whom Isaiah addressed specifically in his writings, naming him personally as the one who would re-establish Judah and rebuild God’s destroyed temple in Jerusalem.

At the time of Isaiah’s ministry, and even by the time of his death, Cyrus the Great had not yet been born, and Judah had not yet been conquered by Babylon. It was close to 170 years in advance (give or take a few decades) that Isaiah wrote these words:

This is what the Lord, your Redeemer who formed you from the womb, says:
I am Yahweh, who made everything; who stretched out the heavens by Myself; who alone spread out the earth… who says to Cyrus, “My shepherd, he will fulfill all My pleasure’ and says to Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Its foundation will be laid.”
Isaiah 44:24, 28

In agreement with this prophecy, an artifact was unearthed and discovered in Babylon, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), in 1879. This artifact has since been dubbed the “Cyrus Cylinder.” Inscribed on the cylinder is an account of Cyrus the Great’s accomplishments in Babylon, including deposing the previous Babylonian king, restoring peace to the Babylonians and the repatriation of displaced people and the restoration of sanctuaries. One segment reads:

“…[I] made permanent sanctuaries for them. I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements, and the gods of the land of Sumer and Akkad which Nabonidus – to the fury of the lord of the gods – had brought into Shuanna… (Babylon)”

Cyrus the Great is also described on the cylinder as worshiping a Babylonian god named “marduk.” Of this god, Cyrus testifies in another segment:

“He took under his hand Cyrus, king of the city of Anshan, and called him by his name, proclaiming him aloud for the kingship over all of everything.”

And sure enough, all of this matches directly with Isaiah’s account of what would happen:

The Lord says this to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him, to disarm kings, to open the doors before him and the gates will not be shut: “I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two. I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I, Yahweh, the God of Israel call you by your name. I call you by your name, because of Jacob My servant and Israel My chosen one. I give a name to you, though you do not know Me. I am Yahweh, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me…
Isaiah 45:1-5

Isaiah perfectly predicted that though Cyrus would not know Yahweh the Lord, the God of Israel, he would know Yahweh’s specific call on his life to subdue the nations and to restore the nation of Judah.

 

Yet another occurrence of prophecy is Isaiah’s account of the atoning act of sacrifice that the Messiah (entitled the ‘Servant of the Lord’ or ‘My Servant’) would undergo. This account is notable in its description of how Christians now understand the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made on the cross during the first century A.D. Indeed, contained in Isaiah’s message is the very gospel that Jesus and the apostles would proclaim approximately 700 years later.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.   But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.   All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…

…Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:3-6, 11-12

Trusting the Word of God, given by the Holy Spirit, Isaiah knew the perfect purpose of the work that Jesus would accomplish centuries later: atonement for the sins of God’s people. The spoils of Christ’s victory would be divided with many, who would be “accounted righteous” because of Him. By faith in Him, we enter into the grace of forgiveness and restoration; “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

If Isaiah had been endowed by God with this power to proclaim the future in his writings, then this also implies the truthfulness of further prophetic claims that have not yet come to pass. Among these claims are vividly detailed descriptions of redemption and salvation for the repentant faithful, and also of judgment and wrath for the wicked. Central to Isaiah’s prophetic writing is his description of God’s coming kingdom of heaven on earth, after all of redemption and judgment is complete:

‘For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.   I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress…

They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.
Isaiah 65:17-19, 23-25

If you find the claims and conclusions being made here difficult to accept, consider this: if God is who He says He is, then the notion of His servant telling the future, which God knows, should not be unbelievable or even surprising. The power of the Lord of the universe is sovereign; His purposes are accomplished, and He is hindered by nothing. Nothing in all of His creation is comparable to Him; He sits outside of time and declares His will according His wisdom and righteousness – “The Lord has prepared everything for His purpose” (Proverbs 16:4).

Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.
Isaiah 44:7-8

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10-11

 

Sam Lamont, 24, has been a part of our movement for a year and a half. In this blog, he will be devoting his writings to explore God’s narrative as seen in world history, shining a light on how Christ’s church has developed throughout the ages. “Join me in reflecting on our past – as we peer through the lens of truth and freedom in the gospel; I pray we will grow all the more in our understanding of what Christ has called us to be.”

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