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Cyrus was the king of Persia. Have you ever witnessed the amazing hoopla that occurs every time the president of the United States travels anywhere? His mere presence in a city can shut down an airport or a major highway for hours! Security teams often travel to the site weeks in advance to ensure that the most powerful person on earth will be safe while he is there.
This was the sort of awe that accompanied King Cyrus the Great of Persia (modern day Iran). After establishing the Persian Empire, Cyrus quickly expanded his territory both westward and eastward, eventually conquering even the great Babylonian Empire. Though there were certainly other kingdoms that he did not conquer, such as Greece, Cyrus had clearly established himself as the most powerful ruler in the known world—and it is understandable why he would say that he had been given….
“all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2 NRSV).
Yet even the great Cyrus was ultimately merely a tool in the hands of the Lord. The book of Isaiah tells how the Lord said to Cyrus,
“He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose” (Isaiah 44:28),
and it foretold that Cyrus would rebuild the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Just as God said, Cyrus conquered Babylon and decreed that all the Jews who had been exiled to that city could return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. The ancient historian Herodotus records how Cyrus captured the city of Babylon by diverting water from the mighty Euphrates River, which protected several gates of the city, until the river was low enough to be crossed on foot by Cyrus’s soldiers.