July 28, 2017

The Cyrus Cylinder

By Kevin Maxey

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations!” (Lam. 1:1). The Babylonian Empire has crushed, broken, and defeated God’s chosen people before the eyes of the world. Could this humiliated nation actually be the same descendants of Abraham, Moses, and David? What about all those glorious messianic prophecies? While Jerusalem lies in rubble, her inhabitants are exiled prisoners in a foreign land.  Satan and the pagan world rejoice as they profane the “so-called” people of God (Ezek. 36:20). Where is the Lord of Judah now? Is there any hope for redemption? Where is the Messiah?

This is one of numerous occasions where Jehovah confidently establishes that he indeed “rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 4:17), “removes kings and raises up kings” (Dan. 2:21), and employs nations to carry out his will. The divine King is not slumbering on his throne. He has a flawless plan of restoration that involves a certain man named Cyrus, who will conquer the Babylonian Empire, and not only release the Jews, but help them rebuild their temple (Isa. 44:24-45:7; 2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11; 6:1-12). This will ensure the survival of the Jewish remnant and prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

A 2500-year-old clay cylinder was discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in Neneveh, Iraq, in 1879 that validates the biblical description of this king Cyrus who did in fact have a political policy of releasing captives to their homelands and rebuilding their religious sanctuaries. The informative cuneiform message on this broken cylinder, 23 cm long and 11 cm wide consists of approximately 40 lines inscribed around 538 B.C. in the Akkadian (Babylonian) language. The cyrus Cylinder, currently locate in the British Museum, is a key archaeological proof that validates yet another biblical account as true.

 Why is the Cyrus Cylinder Important

1. The Cyrus Cylinder verifies Cyrus as an authentic historical figure. In his cylinder Cyrus asserts, “I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims (of the earth), son of Cambyses” (All italicized Cyrus Cylinder quotes come from The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, edited by James B. Pritchard [1958] 206-208). When Isaiah named, over a century in advance, Cyrus as the king who would restore the people of God to their homeland (Isa. 44:28), he did not resort to a random selection of chance. The Scriptures contain nineteen direct references to this Cyrus. The Cyrus Cylinder, along with several other historical records, attests to the accuracy of the Biblical account. The Bible is neither fairy tale nor fable; rather, it is an inspired and correct record of the lives of authentic people, cities, and events (2 Pet. 1:20-21). 

2. The Cyrus Cylinder confirms the biblical prophecy of Cyrus’ defeat of Babylon. The cylinder describes how the Babylonian god, “Marduk, the great lord . . . ordered him to march against his city Babylon” (Ibid. 206). Cyrus continues to explain how he “entered Babylon” and “established the seat of government in the palace of the ruler” (Ibid. 207). Even before Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, God foretold the very one whom he would use to defeat Babylon. The Lord identified this as Cyrus, whom he appointed “to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings,” (Isa. 45:1). God predicted the dethroning of Babylon and the clearly implied instrument he would use for their collapse was Cyrus (Isa. 47:1; 45:1). 

Daniel 5:30-31 speaks of the fall of Babylon and makes mention of the ensuing reign of Darius the Mede. Other references in both the Scriptures and secular history identify Cyrus as the one responsible for conquering Babylon. This is not a contradiction because it very well could be that Darius the Mede was left in rule of Babylon while serving under the imperial reign of Cyrus.

3. The Cyrus Cylinder affirms the biblical prophecy of Cyrus’ release of captives. God not only used Cyrus as a tool to punish Babylon for their iniquities (Isa. 47:10-11), but once Cyrus gained power, the Lord used him to return his people to Jerusalem. After pronouncing judgment on Judah by the hands of Babylon (Isa. 43:14), God looks past the captivity and “says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited’” (Isa. 44:26). Even before the Babylonian captivity, Jehovah gave hope to the faithful remnant by promising a return. The one ruler whom God would providentially use to make this happen would be, “Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall perform all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 44:28).

The Holy Spirit not only foretells the coming Babylonian destruction, he also specifies the length of their captivity. “For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place” (Jer. 29:10). Both Chronicles and Ezra refer to Jeremiah’s prophecy. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” (2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1). Cyrus allows the captive Jew to return home saying, “May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!” (2 Chron. 36:23).

The Cyrus Cylinder verifies that Cyrus did in fact have a policy of returning captives to their homeland. He says, “I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations” (Ibid. 208). Nearly 150 years prior to the event, the Holy Spirit accurately prophesied the return of the Jewish captives. Liberal scholars, try as they might, cannot adequately explain away this prophecy.

4. The Cyrus Cylinder verifies Cyrus’ sanctuary rebuilding policy. Speaking of Cyrus, Jehovah said, “He is my shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ and to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’” (Isa. 44:28).  Cyrus proclaimed, God “has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2). The Persian king even goes as far as to command his people to contribute “silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:4). Years later as Darius the king of Persia (not to be confused with Darius the Mede) researches this edict of Cyrus, he discovers that Cyrus financed the Jerusalem reconstruction with Persian funds. “Let the expenses be paid from the king’s treasury” (Ezra 6:4).

Again, this is consistent with Cyrus’ behavior as described on his cylinder. “I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries” (Ibid. 208). Though there is no reference on the cylinder of king Cyrus specifically doing such for the Jewish nation, this quote clearly establishes the fact that the actions of Cyrus, as recorded by the Scriptures, are consistent with his dealings with conquered nations.

Final Lessons

The events surrounding Judah, Cyrus, and this cylinder affirm the following fundamental lessons:

1. God performs works beyond our imagination. While a dejected Judah sat captive in a foreign land, God was performing a grand work beyond their finite comprehension. About these events, the Lord explained to Habakkuk, “Look among the nations and watch — be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you” (Hab. 1:5; 2:3). Though we may not understand the discouraging events of our day, we can rest assured that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).

2. God does rule in the kingdoms of men. The Creator of this world is not indifferent towards or uninvolved with his creation. Just as God used Cyrus as an instrument to “perform all My pleasure” (Isa. 44:28), we can be confident that even among the worldly and political turmoil of our day, “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 4:25).

 Why is the Cyrus Cylinder Important

1. The Cyrus Cylinder verifies Cyrus as an authentic historical figure. In his cylinder Cyrus asserts, “I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims (of the earth), son of Cambyses” (All italicized Cyrus Cylinder quotes come from The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, edited by James B. Pritchard [1958] 206-208). When Isaiah named, over a century in advance, Cyrus as the king who would restore the people of God to their homeland (Isa. 44:28), he did not resort to a random selection of chance. The Scriptures contain nineteen direct references to this Cyrus. The Cyrus Cylinder, along with several other historical records, attests to the accuracy of the Biblical account. The Bible is neither fairy tale nor fable; rather, it is an inspired and correct record of the lives of authentic people, cities, and events (2 Pet. 1:20-21). 

2. The Cyrus Cylinder confirms the biblical prophecy of Cyrus’ defeat of Babylon. The cylinder describes how the Babylonian god, “Marduk, the great lord . . . ordered him to march against his city Babylon” (Ibid. 206). Cyrus continues to explain how he “entered Babylon” and “established the seat of government in the palace of the ruler” (Ibid. 207). Even before Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, God foretold the very one whom he would use to defeat Babylon. The Lord identified this as Cyrus, whom he appointed “to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings,” (Isa. 45:1). God predicted the dethroning of Babylon and the clearly implied instrument he would use for their collapse was Cyrus (Isa. 47:1; 45:1). 

Daniel 5:30-31 speaks of the fall of Babylon and makes mention of the ensuing reign of Darius the Mede. Other references in both the Scriptures and secular history identify Cyrus as the one responsible for conquering Babylon. This is not a contradiction because it very well could be that Darius the Mede was left in rule of Babylon while serving under the imperial reign of Cyrus.

3. The Cyrus Cylinder affirms the biblical prophecy of Cyrus’ release of captives. God not only used Cyrus as a tool to punish Babylon for their iniquities (Isa. 47:10-11), but once Cyrus gained power, the Lord used him to return his people to Jerusalem. After pronouncing judgment on Judah by the hands of Babylon (Isa. 43:14), God looks past the captivity and “says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited’” (Isa. 44:26). Even before the Babylonian captivity, Jehovah gave hope to the faithful remnant by promising a return. The one ruler whom God would providentially use to make this happen would be, “Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall perform all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 44:28).

The Holy Spirit not only foretells the coming Babylonian destruction, he also specifies the length of their captivity. “For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform my good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place” (Jer. 29:10). Both Chronicles and Ezra refer to Jeremiah’s prophecy. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom” (2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1). Cyrus allows the captive Jew to return home saying, “May the Lord his God be with him, and let him go up!” (2 Chron. 36:23).

The Cyrus Cylinder verifies that Cyrus did in fact have a policy of returning captives to their homeland. He says, “I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations” (Ibid. 208). Nearly 150 years prior to the event, the Holy Spirit accurately prophesied the return of the Jewish captives. Liberal scholars, try as they might, cannot adequately explain away this prophecy.

4. The Cyrus Cylinder verifies Cyrus’ sanctuary rebuilding policy. Speaking of Cyrus, Jehovah said, “He is my shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, even saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built,’ and to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid’” (Isa. 44:28).  Cyrus proclaimed, God “has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2). The Persian king even goes as far as to command his people to contribute “silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:4). Years later as Darius the king of Persia (not to be confused with Darius the Mede) researches this edict of Cyrus, he discovers that Cyrus financed the Jerusalem reconstruction with Persian funds. “Let the expenses be paid from the king’s treasury” (Ezra 6:4).

Again, this is consistent with Cyrus’ behavior as described on his cylinder. “I returned to (these) sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries” (Ibid. 208). Though there is no reference on the cylinder of king Cyrus specifically doing such for the Jewish nation, this quote clearly establishes the fact that the actions of Cyrus, as recorded by the Scriptures, are consistent with his dealings with conquered nations.

Final Lessons

The events surrounding Judah, Cyrus, and this cylinder affirm the following fundamental lessons:

1. God performs works beyond our imagination. While a dejected Judah sat captive in a foreign land, God was performing a grand work beyond their finite comprehension. About these events, the Lord explained to Habakkuk, “Look among the nations and watch — be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you” (Hab. 1:5; 2:3). Though we may not understand the discouraging events of our day, we can rest assured that God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).

2. God does rule in the kingdoms of men. The Creator of this world is not indifferent towards or uninvolved with his creation. Just as God used Cyrus as an instrument to “perform all My pleasure” (Isa. 44:28), we can be confident that even among the worldly and political turmoil of our day, “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 4:25).

3. God’s word is true. Despite the persistent effort of unbelievers to disprove the Bible, the Cyrus Cylinder is yet another historical find that affirms the Scriptures as accurate. Just prior to the Cyrus prophecy, Jehovah asserts, “I am the Lord . . . who confirms the word of His servant, and performs the counsel of His messengers” (Isa. 44:24-26). God kept his word in Cyrus’ day and he will keep his word in our day (2 Pet. 3:1-9).

Eichenring 4a, 66877 Ramstein, Germany Maxey5998@aol.com

Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 1  p18  January 4, 2001
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