I’ll be honest: I had an incredibly hard time coming to terms with this passage. It’s one that is hard to fathom, hard to grasp, and hard to understand. I flat out avoided inking the words before you, because to be honest, at first glance I didn’t like this passage. I didn’t like this passage because it goes against the very fabric of human nature where we can never root for the enemy. We live in a world that is divided along political, racial, ethnic, tribal, and economic lines, as well as just about any other line that people could possibly choose to divide themselves. It’s so easy to choose sides in our world, and automatically place people in the ‘other’ category. When we do this, we assume that God could never utilize someone from that group to accomplish good things for God. And that is why I didn’t like this passage. But as I sit here and think on that confession, in some ways it puts my heart at ease, because we serve a God who is at times hard to fathom, hard to grasp, and hard to understand. We serve a God who mixes together things we never thought could possibly become united.
In this passage, God utilizes the power of a mighty ruler named Cyrus to return the throne of Judah to God’s people. But Cyrus didn’t look or talk like the people of God would expect their savior to behave. He was someone from outside of the people of Israel, someone who was a pagan. It was this Pagan who would be the one to accomplish God’s purposes for God’s people! At the onset of this passage, God calls this man his anointed king, a title typically reserved for those of Israelite decent. As God’s king, Cyrus would do things you would expect from David, but not from an outsider, a gentile, someone from the other political party. Through Cyrus, the exiles of God would be allowed to return, and Cyrus himself would help to finance and rebuild their temple.
A perplexing thing about Cyrus is that we are told that through him, people beyond the boundaries of Israel would come to a knowledge of Yahweh. Yet, at the time of his anointing, Cyrus did not have knowledge of the Yahweh whose plans he will bring to completion. We aren’t told for sure if Cyrus ever did come into a relationship with Yahweh. But perhaps that is just what God wants us to comprehend. What’s important for us to see through this action is that God uses all for God’s purposes, not just those we think God’s will should be lived out through. This is what real grace and mercy is all about!
This passage tells us that firstly, God does indeed work in mysterious ways. The things that would make sense on a human level are often so far beneath the way that God chooses to work. At the close of this passage, God reminds us that God chooses to create both light and darkness. In this creation is a deep sense of mysterious awe. Secondly, no one is outside of God’s grasp. Who are we to try and comprehend a boundary to where God’s love should be? His résumé would not be at the top of our candidate pile as Israelites, yet through this president, I mean king, that we thought unlovable, God shows the world Godself! Thirdly, God is working in whom God chooses long before we could imagine. This is seen through God’s prevenient grace that went before Cyrus was utilized. In the previous chapter, the Lord says of Cyrus: ‘He is my Shepherd’, and that was before he was commissioned and sent out to fight the battles for God’s people.
So perhaps, in a world of division, our role is to take this passage and consider who of our enemies God is raising up to be a shepherd? Who of our enemies is God utilizing to bring about God’s purposes? It could be that even the ones we love to hate are the ones that God is willing to utilize. In this passage, God brought about knowledge of Godself through a person that you can bet the Israelites never thought God would use; and perhaps today, God is working to bring about knowledge of God through people we deem unusable. Now that’s an upside-down Kingdom!