Monday, February 13, 2012

Cyrus



The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, oh God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Matt. 5:6

YHWH moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a royal proclamation throughout his realm and put it in writing:

"This is what Cyrus king of Persia says; YHWH, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you - may YHWH his God be with him, and let him go up." 2 Chron. 36:21-23


I once knew of a man. I used to teach about him in my World History class even though he was not on the regular curriculum because I found him rare & unique among men. He was not from the Chosen People of God. He was a pagan, an infidel...a Gentile. Yet the God of the bible decided to choose him anyway. Why?

This man was a very great leader of men. He was a unifier, then a conquerer, then a unifier again. Finally, he was a man of mercy & humility. Why?

When this man sent his armies to war, he forbade them to rape, loot and pillage. He would not destroy the temples, shrines and works of the people he conquered. Instead, he held them in honor. He would respect the religions and customs of the people whose lands he now held. In fact, he even guaranteed the rights of the various people now in his kingdom. Finally, he even allowed those who wished to go back to their ancient homelands, and sent them away with gifts. Why?


What does this say about the heart of this man?


God bestowed the title "Messiah/The Lord's Anointed" upon him. The very first use of that term in the bible.

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This was Cyrus the Great. He founded the Persian empire back in the 500s B.C. which lasted up until 1978/79. He unified the Persian tribes and overthrew the Babylonian empire. He even decreed that the Jews in exile should be allowed to go back to Israel and rebuild the temple of YHWH.

He also looked really sharp in a bronze helmet, as you can see.

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Many decades before Cyrus was born, the prophet Isaiah told of his coming. God had told Isaiah that after Judah was exiled and punished for 70 years, he would raise up Cyrus to be their liberator...this pagan.

God seemed to have a special place in his heart for Cyrus, and I've always wondered why that was the case. I mean, it's not too many people that God refers to with the title Messiah. (Only one other, near as I can tell.) The only hint I can get as to why God would look with such favor on Cyrus, is because of the position of his heart. And maybe that is WHY.



Back in the day, when a king would conquer a city, the invading army would use it as an excuse to make a frat house party look rather tame. Almost nothing was off-limits to the sword & torch. Never mind what would often happen to any women they could get their hands on. But not so with the armies of Cyrus.

He was an anomaly as far as ancient kings were concerned. He wouldn't let his armies leave a wake of destruction. He absolutely forbade such behavior! He also had the odd habit of heading into the local temples and worshipping there. I have no idea if he actually believed in any of the various gods of all these various temples he went in to, but it certainly won him the appreciation of the local people. But more than that, I think it showed that he was looking for something....something MORE.

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Is it possible that someone who has never heard of the God of the Bible could still search for this God? Is it possible that someone who has never had the chance to hear the Gospel might still feel a dissatisfaction in their heart that makes them hungry for that which is missing? Is it possible that a person with this type of dissatisfied, hungry heart could still find this God described in Scripture, who is the only one to fill that dissatisfied hole?


Allow me to be bold and say that the answer is "Yes!"

And I strongly believe that the bible implies just such a scenario.

"I am not ashamed of the power of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from the first to the last, just as it is written; "The righteous will live by faith."...Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Romans 1:16 & 17, 19 & 20



My Dad & I always end up in deep conversations when we are out fishing. Naturally, the bible and various theological topics always seem to pop up. We often talk about the people who do not know Jesus for various reasons. It's one thing to reject Jesus in our American culture. Often the gospel is presented as a bat for "Religious" people to hit others with. Often, you will see highly "Religious" people holding signs and screaming at people. Often, you will see some greedy preacher on the TV hawking his 7 steps to success. Often, I will want to reject that Jesus, and I generally do. Often, I think that Jesus throws up in his mouth when he watches all of this, and rejects it too.

But that is still not a legitimate reason for rejecting the gospel. (Just turn your TV off.) Instead, keep seeking the real one.


But what about people in other cultures who have never even had the chance to hear a faint whisper of the gospel? Is God so powerless that he cannot speak to these people?

I think Paul, writing in his letter to the tiny church body in Rome at the time, answered that perfectly.

I think that it comes down to the heart. What is it's position? Where have you, I, or another, placed it?

As sinful as it is, the human heart can still long for more. Generally, we will set our hearts on lesser things to fill the void we find there. But sometimes, some times...that heart can grow hungry & thirsty for more than creature comforts and base pleasures.

I am inclined to believe that this was the position of Cyrus' heart.


Jesus said that those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness...in other words, thirsty for MORE, would be filled. When I look at the life of Cyrus, it strongly appears to me that he was searching for MORE. And I believe that he found it. He had the whole world at his feet, yet I can't find any evidence that he grew arrogant or prideful. If anything, it only seemed to make him more hungry for things deep in the soul. He had all of the comforts that a man could want...except for an Ipod, but he seemed to be searching for God. (Why else would he spend so much time poking around shrines and temples?)

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The Psalmist says that a broken & contrite heart is the one thing that God will not despise. Another way of looking at that is to simply admit that you really aren't going to impress the God of the bible with all of yourself or your "Stuff," nor should you waste your time in the attempt.

You: "Check it out YHWH, I just souped up my Hummer with spoilers and gold rims!"

YHWH: "That's great, kid. Have you seen my Merkavah/Chariot? It goes from zero to infinity in half a second, and the 4 living creatures that pull it are all self-cleaning."

If you want to try and impress this God, then turn your heart over to him...and make sure it's all messy so he can go to work on it. (God has a scrubbing fetish.)



It appears to me that somewhere along the line, this is exactly what Cyrus did. This gentile pagan, who knew very little of the God of the Jews still had a hungry heart. Before he was born, God in his foreknowledge must have recognized this attribute. (I'm never sure how all of that foreknowledge & predestination stuff works, so I just let God do his thing and not get all worked up over it.) God honored Cyrus if for no other reason than the position of his heart. He called him his "Anointed one," his Messiah, and God did beautiful & glorious things through Cyrus.

Cyrus recognized this, he admitted it. That says a great deal about his heart. And his heart set the tone for his reign & rule. He not only allowed all of the exiled Jews who wished to, to go back to their homeland under his protection. Cyrus told them that YHWH wanted them to rebuild the temple, and he even returned all of the temple's gold and trappings that the Babylonians had stolen.

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Upon his death, Cyrus had ordered a small tomb to be built for him. It was pretty much the polar opposite of the massive & ostentatious tombs that kings & emperors would have built for themselves back in the day. It says a great deal about how Cyrus saw himself in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps his heart was very contrite after all.


<--- The tomb is still there in modern Iran. Someday I would like to visit it.

Upon the tomb are written these words; "Oh man, who ever you are, from where ever you have come, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who founded the empire of the Persians. Do not begrudge me this little earth that covers my body." (Personally, I think the wording of that implies a bit of a joke on the part of Cyrus.)


I am of the opinion that in his lifetime, Cyrus had his heart filled. He understood his circumstances. Despite all that he had, he was still searching for more. His conclusion was that he was not worthy by his power, wealth, fame and so on, so he offered the only thing he could... his broken & contrite heart, in faith to a God that he barely understood. I believe that the evidence shows that YHWH honored that offering. This Gentile infidel found the God of the universe and was finally filled. And both were very, very happy to embrace.

Someday I will meet Cyrus and will want to hear his story. If Ezekiel is correct that there will be fishing in the new heaven & earth (Ez. 47:6-12), then I will borrow a boat from YHWH and take Cyrus out for Walleye. I love good stories, so I will hopefully be there for a long, long time...and maybe even write about it. I will listen to his stories for as long as he wants to talk, because in one way or the other, it is about the Good News of the Gospel...so it is glorious.

I will also see if I can trade one of my ball caps for his bronze helmet. It will be glorious.



Peace

Joe

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