THE RICHES OF ISAIAH 45 cannot be summarized in brief compass. It ends with a stunning missionary passage (Isa. 45:14-25), with echoes reverberating into the New Testament (e.g., Isa. 45:23; cf. Phil. 2:10-11). It begins in the closing verses of chapter 44 and the opening lines of chapter 45, where the Persian king Cyrus is introduced by name. Here God calls him "my shepherd" (Isa. 44:28), and Isaiah labels him the Lord's "anointed" (i.e., "messiah," a title usually restricted in the Old Testament to Saul or to one of the Davidic kings).
This is not the only place in the Old Testament where God identifies someone by name long before that person is born (cf. 1 Kings 13:1-3). What is striking is that, after the blistering denunciation of idolatry in Isaiah 44 (see meditation for June 12), God should refer to a pagan idolater as his anointed. Yet the point is important. God denounces idolatry, but his providential rule may use an idolater, or anyone else, for his own good purposes. It is always wrong to argue from providence to ethics, or to establish who is "right" by who wins in a particular context, or to doubt that God may sovereignly use an evil person to accomplish a great good without thereby exonerating or justifying all the evil in his or her life.
Transparently, Israel herself found this word of God hard to accept. One can imagine the exiles torn by doubt and troubled by fear. If God calls the pagan Cyrus his "messiah," does that mean he has rejected the Davidic dynasty? Can the prophet's word be accepted when it says such daft things? Anticipating the skepticism, God responds with a robust defense of his sovereignty and righteousness (Isa. 45:8-13). "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker" (Isa. 45:9). The people who had so persistently defied God that they landed in exile now wish to defy his chosen means of getting them home. But they have no more right to question God's ways than clay has to question the potter, or a newborn has to question his or her parents (Isa. 45:9-10). "This is what the LORD says---the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: 'Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?' " (Isa. 45:11). God is the sovereign Creator, and in the perfection of his righteousness he will raise up Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 45:13---itself evidence that the Davidic line was not being supplanted) and set his exiles free. All this comes as a step to the glorious invitation: "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other" (Isa. 45:22). Reflect on Revelation 15:3-4.