The prophets saw the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem, with God raising up Cyrus for just that purpose. It’s easy to imagine that most Israelites and Judeans of the day would have asked why God would use a Gentile to do something like that. Here’s God’s answer:
Isaiah 45:4-13 It is for the sake of Jacob my servant,
Israel my chosen one.
I am the Lord;
there is no other God.
I have equipped you [Cyrus] for battle,
though you don’t even know me,
so all the world from east to west
will know there is no other God.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I create the light and make the darkness.
I send good times and bad times.
I, the Lord, am the one who does these things.
Open up, O heavens,
and pour out your righteousness.
Let the earth open wide
so salvation and righteousness can sprout up together.
I, the Lord, created them.
What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
‘How clumsy can you be?’
How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father,
‘Why was I born?’
or if it said to its mother,
‘Why did you make me this way?’
This is what the Lord says—
the Holy One of Israel and your Creator:
‘Do you question what I do for my children?
Do you give me orders about the work of my hands?
I am the one who made the earth
and created people to live on it.
With my hands I stretched out the heavens.
All the stars are at my command.
I will raise up Cyrus to fulfill my righteous purpose,
and I will guide his actions.
He will restore my city and free my captive people—
without seeking a reward!
I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!’
Why are these chapters of Isaiah here, at the end of the Babylonian exile?
There are two ways of looking at Isaiah’s prophecies from about chapter 40 onwards
- prophecy only as foretelling the future: the man called Isaiah saw the coming of Cyrus long before Cyrus was even born
- prophecy as God speaking to us: a later prophet in the ‘school’ of Isaiah saw how a rising king called Cyrus would be used by God to overthrow the Babylonians and restore Israel.
Both give glory to God’s word and His capacity to speak to his people ahead of time and on time. For the sake of the overall narrative, I’ve gone with the second view. Even if it was written earlier, by Isaiah himself, it would have been only after the ascension of Cyrus that the prophecies became relevant. The text is also more consistent with what God was saying through other prophets towards the end of the Babylonian exile.