In the 6th century BC Cyrus, the King of Persia, conquered Babylon. At that stage the Jews were in captivity in Babylon, their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and they wept ‘by the rivers of Babylon’ (Psalm 137) to be restored to their homeland. This pagan king enters the scene and instead of becoming another oppressor of the Jews becomes their surprising champion and liberator. The Prophet Isaiah, or at least the writer of what is commonly known as Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55), is a fan of Cyrus and his name crops up numerous times.
He is celebrated, he is praised in words like this
Thus says the Lord .. who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall carry out all my purpose’;
and who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be rebuilt’,
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him—
and the gates shall not be closed.
The reason I mention all of this is that I, with lots of other ‘liberals’, have been ringing my hands in anguish as the Obama’s moved out of the White House and the Trumps moved in. But, I have to stop it, well, at least for a moment. The democratic process rolled into action and, with or without the help of Russia, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America. People saw in him something that they thought they needed, they heard something from him that they responded to and, in doing so, rejected what had gone before. That is their democratic right.
But re-reading Deutero-Isaiah has reminded me that God uses for good what is there. Cyrus is recorded, not just in the Bible but in contemporary records, as the liberator of the Jews and the one who allowed the Temple to be rebuilt. He also treated other captive peoples in a similar way. He was a much bigger and wiser man than people might have feared.
We sometimes sing the hymn ‘God moves..’ the first verse of which says
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
The author of the hymn was William Cowper and it was the last hymn he wrote. There is an unsubstantiated story that goes along with it. Cowper often struggled with depression and doubt. One night he decided to commit suicide by drowning himself. He called a cab and told the driver to take him to the River Thames. However, thick fog came down and prevented them from finding the river. After driving around for a while, the cabby finally stopped and let Cowper out. To Cowper’s surprise, he found himself on his own doorstep: God had sent the fog to keep him from killing himself.
Even in our darkest moments, God watches over us. Who knows what President Trump will actually do and actually achieve? Who knows what will emerge from the Brexit process that will be positive for us and for Europe? I just can’t wring my hands for the next however many years lie ahead of us. As a democrat and as a liberal I have to accept that not everything can go the way I would want it to go. I have to accept that there can be a Cyrus and that the fog can deliver me. But that is tough to accept.
What we do have to do however is to keep watchful. Isaiah goes on in Chapter 45 to write this
I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness,
and I will make all his paths straight;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,
says the Lord of hosts.
We look for the good works that show the hand of God and we look for the one who will act selflessly, ‘not for price or reward’. That will be a hard deal for Trump who knows ‘The Art of the Deal’, but that is the deal God offer’s, in God’s wonderful and mysterious way.
I must have the courage to pray the prayer I have used in this blog before, by former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld.
For all that has been,
To all that shall be,