Part 2: “May the Lord their God be with them!”
When Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon, he discovered Jews living there who had been taken captive and deported to Babylon 70 years earlier. The noble king issued a famous edict, releasing the first wave of Jews to return to Jerusalem, declaring: “May the Lord their God be with them!” (2 Chronicles 36:23, CEB).
Unlike previous super-powers, Cyrus was not interested in the wholesale slaughter of captives or deporting them to his Persian homeland. Instead, he encouraged and allowed them to continue to live in their own land and maintain their cultural practices, including religion. He sat in motion a policy that was still followed nearly 100 years later when his successor, Artaxerxes, not only allowed another group of Jews to return to Jerusalem, but financed the operation and guaranteed their safe-conduct (see Nehemiah 2).
The epoch of Cyrus reaffirms God’s sovereignty over history, nations, and kings. God said to Cyrus: “I called you by name; I gave you an honored title, though you didn’t know me” (Isa. 45:4 CEB). The stories of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah are all set in the period of Persian dominance. Its kings are referenced in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Wittingly or not, ancient Iran had a critical role in the history of Israel and in Judaism, from which would emerge Jesus, the Messiah.
Read the concluding segment of “An Iranian King” in Part 3: “Paying it Forward,” which follows.