The prophets of Israel whose writings we have in the Bible are not always easy to understand, but once we put them in their historical background they have immense lessons to teach us about God and the way he deals with nations. For that reason the prophets are especially important for us today as we view the increasingly chaotic scenes among the nations in our own current generation. None of the prophets give a greater sweep of vision and understanding to these national affairs than Isaiah who, hearing God prophetically, scanned the nations that made up his own chaotic world of the Middle East and revealed the power and reality of the Living God directing the convulsive events of those times. The over-riding lesson he conveys is that God is not absent but actually directing and controlling both those events and the earthly rulers behind them who blindly think they are in control. We learn that God is always working out his own purpose in the historical flow.
A prophesy in Isaiah 45 shows us this truth very plainly. The broad historical sweep underlying this prophecy is clear. Over a period of about 100 years first the northern part of the Jewish nation was destroyed and depopulated by the Assyrians and then the southern part (Judah) was later destroyed and exiled by the Babylonians who conquered the Assyrians. Some seven or eight decades later the Babylonians in turn were destroyed by the Persians who released the Jews to go back to Jerusalem. It is with this huge historical canvas that the prophets are concerned. The prophecy in Isaiah 45 concerns the destruction of the Babylonians by the Persians under their king, Cyrus. It takes the form of a message to Cyrus the future conquering king of Persia:
1“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 armour, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.3 I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honour, though you do not acknowledge me….
7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
The prophecy makes three things clear:
1 The success of Cyrus in his conquests is entirely due to the LORD (i.e. Jehovah, the God of Israel, the Living God). The Lord has “anointed” Cyrus (given him all the inner strength he needs) to defeat the other kings of his day. It is the Lord that will remove all the difficulties he may face, and it is the Lord who will give him the booty of conquest. All this will be given to Cyrus even though Cyrus in no way acknowledges the Lord or worships Him (v.4). Whatever motives Cyrus may have and however much he may think success is due to his own clever planning or his own power and strength as king, the campaigns he undertakes will be at God’s prompting and the outcome will be decided by the Lord. It is God who gives to him his “title of honour” among the nations. He is God’s instrument for God’s purposes.
2 In his use of Cyrus the purpose of God is made clear; it is to bring blessing to his own people, the Jews (Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen). God had promised through Jeremiah that Judah would be in captivity for 70 years and now those years were up. The Jews had been conquered and taken into captivity by Babylon as a chastening judgement by God. Now the time was coming for their release and a pagan king, Cyrus, was to have all the power needed to make that release happen. The ebb and flow of the fortunes of all nations are in the hands of God
3 The absolute authority and power of God among the nations and in the world is underlined by the stark prophetic reminder that God “forms the light and creates darkness, brings prosperity and creates disaster” and that “he does all these things”. Prosperity and favour come from God’s blessing; disaster, war and destructions come from his judgements.
A further prophecy of Isaiah’s runs along exactly the same lines:
5 “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! 6 I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch and plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 But this is not what he intends, this is not what in his mind; his purpose is to put an end to many nations.” Is. 10: 5-7
This refers to an earlier historical period when the Jewish northern kingdom and Samaria were ravaged and deported by the Assyrians. The Assyrians in this instance, however, were the “rod of God’s anger” and were being used for chastising the Jews, and not for deliverance. The Assyrians, of course, did not see it quite like that – they were simply bent on conquest and the riches that would bring.
But the message is the same; in the affairs of nations God rules supreme. In this way he rules with judgment, he rules with mercy and he rules with justice.
It is important for intercession that we grasp clearly this prophetic message that God does have complete sovereignty over all that happens to the nations in this world. The biblical revelation is uncompromising on this matter and we should have the same mind-set. This is the value of these Isaiah passages. Grasping this truth in faith breeds confidence in our praying and enables us to take a right direction in our prayer. The vast majority of the rulers of our present world are very much like the kings of Assyria, Babylon and Persia; they believe they are making history; they plan to extend their power and to gain the riches of the world by force of some sort or another. The very power they have corrupts and releases every kind of arrogance and pride. This is sadly all too evident. BUT God is supreme! We need to remember the fact that in prayer we have an audience with that Living God! Moreover we have a biblical injunction to make prayers and intercession “for kings and all in authority, that we might lead peaceable lives in all godliness”. (1 Tim 2:1-2).