Cyrus was a king of Persia who ruled between 539—530 BC. He is also sometimes called Cyrus II or Cyrus the Elder. Though he was a pagan king, he was important to Jewish history because during his reign, the Jews were allowed to return to Israel after 70 years of captivity. Cyrus is mentioned in several books of the Bible, including Isaiah, Ezra, Daniel, and 2 Chronicles.
There is a notable prophecy about Cyrus in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah's prophecy, which is from one hundred fifty years before Cyrus was alive, mentioned Cyrus by name and provided information of the generosity he would show the Jews: "Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him … 'For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things'" (Isaiah 45:1, 4–7). God confirmed that Cyrus would fit into His sovereign plan when He said, "He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose" (Isaiah 44:28).
Cyrus made a decree allowing the Jewish people to leave, which fulfilled the prophecy by Isaiah. Second Chronicles 36:22–23 describes it: "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 'Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, "The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up."'"
Cyrus was a crucial asset in helping the Jews rebuild the temple in Jerusalem upon their return to Israel. Operations on the ground in Israel were led by Zerubbabel and the high priest, Joshua. King Cyrus funded the expense needed to rebuild the temple out of the royal treasury, and he restored the treasures that had been stolen from the temple (Ezra 1:4–11; 6:1–5). Work on the temple stopped under King Artaxerxes, but resumed under king Darius (Ezra 4—6). Because of Cyrus' decree and generosity, the Jews were able to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, and reinstate their worship practices that had laid dormant during their years of captivity. Some commentators have used this moment in time as the true start of Judaism.
The prophet Daniel, a Jew, was a part of the group of Jews who had been taken out of Judah and ended up under the rule of Cyrus while in exile (Daniel 10:1). Daniel may have had a level of personal involvement in King Cyrus' decree in favor of the Jews. According to the historian Josephus, Cyrus had been made aware of the prophecies written about him, and due to his prestigious position in Persia, Daniel certainly could have been the person to have told Cyrus about the prophecies (Daniel 6:28).
King Cyrus was also known for his cultural competence, human rights advancement, and strategic military operations. He was an influential pagan leader who was used by God to fulfill the prophecy that had been spoken (see Proverbs 21:1).
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