‘This is what the Lord says to his anointed, 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: I will go before you and level the mountains… 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.’
I wonder, who was that written about? It’s from the book of the great prophet Isaiah. Care to hazard a guess? I imagine most of us would guess ‘The Messiah’ or Jesus, maybe another prophet who was to come. In fact, it was King Cyrus of Persia – the most powerful human being in the world at the time, and ruler of a huge empire that included the conquered and humiliated nation of Israel. A sort of enemy, certainly not Jewish, and even more surely not identified as ‘one of God’s people’. Indeed, the prophecy (from Isaiah 45) continues: ‘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.’
It’s strange, isn’t it? That God would use a pagan emperor to achieve his purposes. And more than that, to call him God’s ‘anointed’ – that is the language of spirit-filled kingship. Given to a pagan emperor! And yet, in our reading for today, Ezra insists: it was God who ‘moved the heart of Cyrus’ to allow the exiled Israelites to return to the promised land; and even more, amazingly, to worship their God in the temple.
The Lord, as it has often been observed, moves in mysterious ways. And his Spirit can be at work in the most unlikely people. God took a Christian-murderer and made him the world’s greatest evangelist (Paul). A disgraced exile who had difficulty speaking in public and made him the rescuer of God’s enslaved people (Moses). A hated Roman soldier to be the first to recognise Jesus’ divinity on the cross, and another one to be the first non-Jew to be filled with the Spirit.
The Spirit, like the wind, blows where it pleases. Which is great news for us. And great news for our friends and family. And, we pray, for our world too. God can be at work, is at work, in ways we can’t predict. No-one is beyond His reach, and even when people still do not acknowledge Him, God is able to use them wonderfully for His purposes.
King Cyrus did more for God’s people than at least half of their actual kings. Let’s pray for our leaders, that God would do the same again today. And let’s also raise faith to pray for those we love, too.