Several times in these passages of Isaiah we encounter the name of Cyrus the Great (Kourosh, in Pharsee, 580-529 BC), the founder of the Aechemenid Dynasty over the Persian Empire, the largest empire the world had yet seen. t is amazing that Isaiah predicted his rise and his treatment of Judah, either before the Exile, or before Babylon’s predicted fall to the Medo-Persian Empire (Is. 47). Cyrus’ empire stretched from Turkey and Judah in the west to the deserts of western China in the east, from the current former Soviet central republics in the north to the plains of northern India to the south. It was also the most enlightened and best-organized empire of the time, being received by many of the peoples it conquered as liberators and restorers of order and commerce. I
That fits with the references to him in Isaiah, II Chronicles and Ezrah. His policy of respecting local religions and institutions, to the point that his governance often served them, explains the edict that he issued permitting the Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.
Twenty-five hundred years later, Cyrus still looms high in Persian history and identity, known to Iranians today as “Father.” Isaiah refers to him as “Shepherd” (44: 28) and even “anointed” (45:1, same word as “messiah”). Behind the scenes, according to Isaiah, is God, acting on behalf of his people and the nations. More information on Cyrus and his effect on the world, and on the Jews, is available at http://www.iranchamber.com/history/cyrus/cyrus.php
There is also humor in these passages, as God takes the idols and their worshipers to task. People burn firewood and bake bread from the same trees with which they make idols and bow down to them (44). They have to be carried around; they cannot move themselves (46). All this is to challenge the Jewish exiles who are tempted to worship the idols of their conquerors, to hold fast to their faith in YHWH God, who foretold their captivity, and brought it about, and who now foretells their liberation and restoration, and will bring that about.
Several of the Servant Songs appear in this section, such as Is. 42:1-7 (see the fulfillment in Luke 4), 49: 1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-15.
In Is. 49:15-16 comes a powerful and poignant female image for God, that of a mother. How can she forget the child of her womb, or the infant whom she nursed? In the same way, how could God forget his people? Not only will they be restored and returned to their homeland, they will be a light to the nations; kings, we hear multiple times, and their peoples will want to learn and submit to Judah’s God. Their return will be like a second Act of Creation (51: 3;) or another Exodus (51: 10-11;52:11-12).
A recurrent phrase in this section is “I alone am God; I will share my glory with none other…for the sake of My Name,” or “My honor.” The saint would do well to meditate on this, on how God and his honor are the worthy end of God’s efforts in creation, and therefore, the worthy end of our lives as well. If God’s care for his honor should strike us as vain or prideful, the problem with vanity and pride is that humans are trying to be God, and not that God is acting human. From the prophet’s point of view, and therefore that of God, God’s honor is our greatest good, our highest honor. Were God to share his honor or perfection with anyone else, there would then be another God, a monstrous thought.
…..combines elements of worship and prophecy. It opens the curtain of history a bit to give us a glimpse of worship in ancient Israel, how the worshipers’ words to God bracketed God’s words to the people, thus combining priest and prophet, worship and justice in a hymn or litany. As in the prophecy of Isaiah, the prophecy in Psalm 50 demands justice and integrity in company with worship and sacrifice. The root of so much false worship and injustice is identified in verse 21: “Did you think that I was [someone] like you?”