Ancient writers speak of the Persian king Cyrus as a man of nobility and uprightness of character. He was mentioned 22 times in the OT. And he played a big role in the History of the nation of Israel. It was God’s will that the Jews return to their land after 70 years but Babylon was evidently unwilling to release them. God, therefore, raised up the Persians and made Cyrus His chosen instrument for the liberation of the Jews. When Cyrus overcame the Babylonian kingdom in 539 BC. He issued a decree in favor of the Jews:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and he also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, Jehovah, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:1-2).
The Hebrew historian Josephus stated that Cyrus learned that the prophecies of Isaiah (chapters 44 and 45) predicted, more than 150 years before, his very own name, role in releasing the Hebrews from captivity, and how he would help them in rebuilding the temple. Daniel was still living in the early years of Cyrus’ reign (Daniel 10:1), and it is probable that he is the one that told king Cyrus of Isaiah’s prophecy. Read the following verses:
“That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isaiah 44:28); “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:1-4).
There is archaeological evidence that supports this biblical record. Archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam discovered a small (ten inches), clay, barrel-shaped cylinder during excavations at Babylon (1879-82). This cylinder had an inscription from Cyrus. The cylinder reported the king’s activity of releasing the captive Jews:
“I [Cyrus] gathered all their [former] inhabitants and returned [to them] their habitations” (Pritchard, 1958, 1:208).
This cylinder is displayed in the British Museum. The famous scholar Jack Finegan wrote this about the cylinder: “The spirit of Cyrus’s decree of release which is quoted in the Old Testament (II Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2-4) is confirmed by the Cyrus cylinder…” (1946, p. 191).
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