Basis for Reliance on Prophecy
IF YOU are a reader of the Bible, you cannot help but acknowledge that its prophecies, if true, are marvelous and of extraordinary importance. You will say that they deserve the most intensive study and attention. Jesus and his apostles had full faith in prophecy and believed equally in all the prophecies of the Scriptures. (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19, 20) Prophecy was a governing factor in their lives. But not all persons possess this faith. Such faith can be yours—not blind credulity, but faith with a sound basis. (Heb. 11:1) How can this assured reliance on prophecy be gained?
The best method of proof is to put a prophecy to the test of time and circumstances. The Bible invites such a test. (1 John 4:1; Isa. 45:11) To conduct such an examination, we must have a standard, a set of requirements. The Bible itself establishes the rules for testing a prophecy, at Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and De 13:1-3: (1) It must be spoken in Jehovah’s name and at his command; (2) it must come to pass; (3) it must be in harmony with God’s commandments and thus promote right worship.
In this brief article we shall consider a given prophecy, with the evidence supporting its reliability. We believe you will at first be amazed, then convinced of its accuracy and the evident inspiration behind it. It will provide incentive also for study of the other prophecies of the Bible, which you will find equally reliable and, in addition, refreshing and encouraging, a stabilizing force in these unstable times.
WORLD RULER APPOINTED BEFORE HIS BIRTH
Please turn, now, to Isaiah, chapter 44, verses 24 to 28. There you find Isaiah speaking in Jehovah’s name, at his command: “This is what Jehovah has said, . . . the One making the word of his servant come true, . . . the One saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be inhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They will be rebuilt, and her desolated places I shall raise up’; the One saying to the watery deep, ‘Be evaporated; and all your rivers I shall dry up’; the One saying of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and all that I delight in he will completely carry out’; even in my saying of Jerusalem, ‘She will be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘You will have your foundation laid.’”
What is remarkable about this prophecy? It was stated, mind you, when Jerusalem was still flourishing, a power to be reckoned with for any nation wanting world domination. Babylon was yet far from becoming the mighty Third World Power of sacred history. Assyria appeared at that time to be a much greater threat to Jerusalem’s existence. The prophecy foretold the rise of the Persian named Cyrus about 150 years before his birth, and also that his nation would become the Fourth World Power. It indicated that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed and the Jews be put in bondage by Babylon, the coming Third World Power, that Cyrus would later liberate the Jews by conquering Babylon, and that Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt under Cyrus’ authority.—See also Isaiah 39:3-7.
In the prophecy’s next verse, Cyrus is called God’s “anointed one.” (Isa. 45:1) Cyrus was born probably about 600 B.C.E. Before ever he was born, Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians and the priesthood had been taken into exile. How, then, could he be called “anointed one”? He was never actually anointed with the holy anointing oil by Jehovah’s high priest to serve in any capacity for Jehovah. An anointing indicated an appointing, an induction into office, and Jehovah’s appointment of Cyrus in advance could be spoken of as an anointing. For example, the appointment of the prophet Elisha and of King Hazael to perform certain work for Jehovah was spoken of as an anointing, though they were not anointed with holy oil.—1 Ki. 19:15, 16, 19; 2 Ki. 8:13.
Let us now read on into Isa chapter 45 of Isaiah’s prophecy, where he says: “This is what Jehovah has said to his anointed one, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have taken hold of, to subdue before him nations, so that I may ungird even the hips of kings; to open before him the two-leaved doors, so that even the gates will not be shut: ‘Before you I myself shall go, and the swells of land I shall straighten out. The copper doors I shall break in pieces, and the iron bars I shall cut down. And I will give you the treasures in the darkness and the hidden treasures in the concealment places, in order that you may know that I am Jehovah, the One calling you by your name, the God of Israel.’”
In these words of Isaiah 45:1-3 Jehovah God speaks to Cyrus the Persian as if he were already born and alive. This is in harmony with what is said in Romans 4:17, that God “calls the things that are not as though they were.” He promises to take hold of Cyrus’ right hand, to lead him or to strengthen him with irresistible military ability.
Certain nations had to be subdued first before Cyrus could turn his attention to the overthrow of Babylon as the Third World Power, which was God’s main objective for Cyrus. Cyrus first overthrew the Median Empire, which had held Persia in subjection. King Croesus of Lydia, seeing his ally Astyages of Media overthrown, hastily formed an alliance with Egypt, Babylon and Sparta against Cyrus; nonetheless, Cyrus proceeded to capture the Lydian capital, Sardis, in 546 B.C.E. and went on to complete the conquest of Asia Minor. Now Cyrus could turn his attention to Babylon. He defeated the first ruler of Babylonia, King Nabonidus, on the field of battle, then moved on toward Babylon.
BABYLON A MIGHTY STRONGHOLD
One of the remarkable features of the fulfillment of the prophecy about the fall of Babylon was the apparent impregnability of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar, its strongest king, spared no expense and effort to make it the most magnificent city of the world of that day. Babylon’s inhabitants felt that the city could not be taken. As Nebuchadnezzar boasted on an inscription: “A great wall, which like a mountain, cannot be moved, I made of mortar and brick. Its foundations on the bosom of the underworld I placed down deeply. Its top I raised mountain high.” But more than its walls, the Euphrates River formed its chief defense. Water from it was used to make a deep and broad moat. Along each bank of the river, which ran through the city, was a continuous quay that was separated from the city by a huge wall. This wall was pierced by gates with copper doors, from each of which a sloping descent led to the water’s edge. It is easy to see why captives of Babylon could despair of hope of liberation.—Isa. 14:17.
Contrastingly, the Jewish captives in Babylon had a bright hope, for the God of true prophecy had prophesied liberation. How easy for Jehovah to fulfill his prophecy! Babylon’s chief defense, the Euphrates, was diverted from its course by Cyrus’ armies, leaving the riverbed relatively dry. And Jehovah saw to it that the two-leaved doors along the Euphrates waterfront were left open on Babylon’s fatal night, while Belshazzar feasted in revelry with a thousand of his grandees, praising Babylon’s gods of wood and stone.—Dan. 5:1-4.
The copper doors were not literally broken in pieces nor the iron bars closing those gates literally cut off, but Jehovah’s invisible maneuvering regarding those gates and bars was the same as if he had done that. The walls of Babylon availed nothing. Cyrus’ troops did not have to scale these walls to get inside. Jehovah went before Cyrus, smoothing out the “swells of land,” the obstacles.
Cyrus’ army getting complete control of the city, the castle and the citadel, the treasures therein would naturally fall into the hands of Cyrus, even those treasures hidden in dark concealment places. Among these would be the treasures from the nations plundered by Babylon, such as the sacred vessels taken from Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem. Additionally, Babylon was indeed a rich prize because of being a commercial depot between the Eastern and Western worlds back there. The treasure piled up also included riches gained by the commercialized business of religion in the temples of her false gods. Herodotus relates that every native female, once in her life, was obliged to visit the temple of Mylitta (Ishtar), goddess of fertility, called “queen of heaven,” “mother of the gods,” the female principle of generation. There the girl would wait in the precinct of the goddess and receive the embraces of the first stranger who threw a silver coin into her lap—prostitution practiced in the name of religion.a
CREDIT FOR FULFILLMENT GOES TO JEHOVAH
Jehovah was specific as to the Persian he wanted, just as he said to Moses, in connection with building the tabernacle: “See, I do call by name Bezalel the son of Uri the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah.” (Ex. 31:1, 2) Jehovah did all this with Cyrus, not to exalt a man, but to glorify himself as the true God of prophecy and the Universal Sovereign and to carry out his purpose to liberate the nation of Israel. He went on to say to Cyrus: “For the sake of my servant Jacob and of Israel my chosen one, I even proceeded to call you by your name; I proceeded to give you a name of honor, although you did not know me. I am Jehovah, and there is no one else. With the exception of me there is no God [Elohimʹ]. I shall closely gird you, although you have not known me, in order that people may know from the rising of the sun and from its setting that there is none besides me. I am Jehovah, and there is no one else. Forming light and creating darkness, [likewise] making peace [for his exiled people] and creating calamity [for Babylon], I, Jehovah, am doing all these things.”—Isa. 45:4-7.
It was not the prowess of Cyrus, but it was Jehovah, who, as He says, unknown to Cyrus, strengthened him to carry out God’s delight against Babylon and for his people, giving Cyrus “a name of honor.” Only because Jehovah God selected and strengthened him could he say afterward, in the Cyrus Cylinder: “I am Cyrus, the king of totality, the great king, the mighty king, the king of Babylon, the king of Sumer and Akkad, the king of the four quarters (of the world).”b
By using his servant Cyrus in this way, Jehovah could call upon his heavens to shower down righteous influences or forces; he could call upon his earth to open up and produce righteous events and salvation for his exiled people. “O you heavens, cause a dripping from above; and let the cloudy skies themselves trickle with righteousness. Let the earth open up, and let it be fruitful with salvation, and let it cause righteousness itself to spring up at the same time. I myself, Jehovah, have created it.” (Isa. 45:8) In due time his heavens and his earth responded to this command, to fulfill the prophecy.
BENEFITS TO WORSHIPERS OF GOD OF PROPHECY
The Israelites, when they became captive to Babylon, were powerless to deliver themselves out of Babylon’s hand. The only one to whom they could turn was Jehovah. “Turn to me and be saved, all you at the ends of the earth; for I am God [El], and there is no one else. By my own self I have sworn—out of my own mouth in righteousness the word has gone forth, so that it will not return—that to me every knee will bend down, every tongue will swear, saying: ‘Surely in Jehovah there are full righteousness and strength. All those getting heated up against him will come straight to him and be ashamed. In Jehovah all the seed of Israel will prove to be right and will boast about themselves.”’ (Isa. 45:22-25) Israel could indeed boast, for in view of what Jehovah did for them, it proved that they were right in worshiping the right God and in trusting in his prophecy as reliable.
So the things that occurred in connection with Cyrus provide a strong basis for reliance on prophecy. It proves that we can benefit by listening to God’s prophecies. Prophecy surely benefited those faithful Jews who listened to it. It saved them from a spirit of utter despair and dejection. It did not merely tell them what was going to happen, but also served as a warning and a guide to those who relied on it, resulting in their well-being.
By heeding prophecy we can expect benefits and can avoid the fatal mistake of the Babylonians, who trusted in materialism and military might. This example shows us that the worship of God, looking to him for deliverance during this time of peril, is the wise, sensible and safe course and that protection does not come by military might, even though the defenses may seem, like Babylon’s walls, to reach up to the heavens, and may seem so strong that no earthly forces can overcome them.
We can also find encouragement in the fact that Cyrus was called the anointed one of Jehovah. As one anointed or appointed of Jehovah be would be a Messiah (in Hebrew) or a Christ (in Greek, LXX). In this he was used as a type or prophetic figure of the promised Messiah or Christ, the Seed of God’s “woman,” in the work that Cyrus would do for Jehovah God. Cyrus’ overthrow of Babylon as a world power was therefore prophetic of how Messiah or Christ would destroy the Great Babylon of our twentieth century, foretold in the Bible’s final book, Revelation, chapters 17 and 18.
This fight against ancient Babylon was not merely for the liberation of the Jews. It was also a battle between gods, as we shall see in our next issue.
a Herodotus, i, 199.
b See page 177 of Nabonidus and Belshazzar, by R. P. Dougherty.