Friday, January 7, 2011

Why the Incarnation Matters: "Whom You Knew Not"

After prophesying of the future universal Kingdom of Israel, Isaiah then gives a bit of insight as to how this Kingdom will come about. Ironically (or so it would seem!), some of these foundations are laid by a man outside of the nation of Israel. Isaiah declares:

Thus saith the Lord to my anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I have taken hold of, to subdue nations before his face, and to turn the backs of kings, and to open the doors before him, and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, and will humble the great ones of the earth: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and will burst the bars of iron. And I will give thee hidden treasures, and the concealed riches of secret places: that thou mayest know that I am the Lord who call thee by thy name, the God of Israel. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have made a likeness of thee, and thou hast not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else: there is no God, besides me: I girded thee, and thou hast not known me:
The Cyrus mentioned is Cyrus the Great. He was the great Persian King who conquered the Babylonians, along with countless other Kingdoms. In doing so, he freed the Israelis from their exile, and sent them back to their native land to rebuild their temple. In Jewish Culture, he is the only gentile to be referred to as a Christ, an anointed one who delivers God’s people. What he did is not in dispute. Yet how did he pave the way for that future Kingdom. Most importantly, why should we care?

In the culture surrounding Israel at the time, the King was portrayed as divine, or at least the personal messenger of a divinity. The Persians practiced proskynesis. This was a system of submission as a way of placing the King above everyone else. Varying social ranks had to perform different acts of submission. The lower you got, the more one humbled themselves. For the lowest on the ladder, they were required to be completely prostrate before the King. The full title of Cyrus was King of Aryavrata, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the four corners of the World. In shorthand, the Persian King was referred to as the King of Kings.

Even with all of this claimed authority, Yahweh claims that such a man is His anointed. In the choosing of these words, God is claiming authority over the reign of even foreign kingdoms. He is establishing Himself as the source of all ruling authority here. The idea that such a King would be pressed into the service of a foreign god would have seemed absurd. Yet Yahweh is proclaiming precisely this.

We can also gain much insight when we ponder the type of kingdom that Cyrus ruled over. To put it mildly, it was quite different than most Kingdoms of the past and future. Though an absolute monarch, he rarely dealt in the affairs of his subject. Instead, he relied on satraps, those who had pledged their service to him. They had a considerable amount of autonomy to run things as they saw fit. This was in remarkable contrast to the Babylonians, who ruled with an iron fist frequently their vassals.

On religious matters as well, Cyrus’ approach was far different than the previous great rulers of the region. Though divinity was inseparable from kingly authority, Cyrus followed a policy of religious tolerance. He frequently portrayed himself as the servant of local gods in propaganda to establish his rule. He allowed people to worship as they pleased, provided they kept in their prayers the Emperor (a shadow of this is seen in the book of Ezra). Most famously, he is known for the Edict of Restoration, the proclamation which gave the Jews the order to rebuild their temple and places of worship.

These policies gave the Jews a new lease on life. Returning from their exile (of which we will speak more of later), they were in a sense a purified remnant. They were allowed to practice their faith and develop their traditions in almost complete and total safety during Persian rule. The governor of Jerusalem was even the grandson of the last legitimate King of Judah. Without the actions of Cyrus, there would have been no Israel. We see God working behind the scenes, slowly laying the landscape for the Incarnation. The Incarnation literally was an act millennia in the making.

No comments:

Post a Comment

At this current time due to time constraints comments are moderated. Avoid flaming, chest-thumping and stick on topic and your comments will be quickly approved. Do the opposite and they stay in never never land.