Isaiah 45 – Promises of the Influences of the Holy Spirit & Cosmology in the Ancient Near East

We talked about faith the other day and it is only through faith that we can be saved, but this is where You get a bit confusing, not really confusing but let’s say complex, meaning that the reader really needs to read the entire Bible to understand You because the simple definition for “faith” in our world is “believe.”

Cyrus Cylinder
The Cyrus Cylinder, sixth century B.C.E. Clay, inscribed with cuneiform, British Museum, London, England.

The Cyrus Cylinder is a Mesopotamian royal inscription on a 10-inch-long clay barrel. It was discovered by the archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 1879.

The cylinder is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform. Cyrus, king of Persia (559-530 BC) tells of his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC and the capture of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king. Cyrus follows a classic Mesopotamian formula for legitimizing his new reign-he describes how Marduk, the Babylonian god, chose him to come liberate his people from an oppressive ruler. Cyrus goes on to describe the reforms he will establish and how he will improve the lives of the people.

But I know that just believing that Jesus was a man isn’t going to cut it.  There are some people, I don’t know how many, I can’t count that high, that don’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, so tomorrow I think we should talk about the virgin birth.

1 Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;

“Anointed” – “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew for this word.  Cyrus, a foreign emperor is called “his anointed” just as he is called “my shepherd” (44:28), because God has appointed him to carry out a divine commission in his role as king.

Nebuchadnezzar is similarly  called “my servant” (Jer 25:9, 27:6, 43:10).  The servant – Christ is called “the Messiah” (The Anointed One”) in Dan 9:25-26 (Christ in Greek means “the Anointed One,” just as Messiah does in Hebrew).

2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron:

“Gates of brass…bars of iron” – normally the doors of city gates were made of wood, and the bars were metal (see Jdg 16:3).

3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.

“That thou mayest know” – God’s actions reveal His power (cf Eze 6:7, 7:27).

“Call thee by thy name” – to indicate God’s control of Cyrus’s activities.

4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.

“I have surnamed thee” – the Lord gives Cyrus a title of honor.

Ur-Nammu
The Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest written code of law ever to be found. The tablets, written in Sumerian, were inscribed at some point between 2100 and 2500 BC.

To put that into perspective, these laws were written at a time when The Great Pyramid of Giza was shiny and new, and the last few mammoths still roamed free on Wrangel Island. The creation of these laws predates the hit TV series Judge Judy by a good 3,500 years.

“Though thou hast not known me” – Cyrus apparently worshiped the chief Babylonian deity, Marduk, whom he praised in his inscriptions.

5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:

“Rising of the sun…west” – the whole earth (see Mal 1:11).

6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.

7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

“Darkness” – such as the darkness that plagued the Egyptians (see Ex 10:21-23; Ps 105:28).

“Evil” – the word “evil” in Hebrew (“ra”) can also be translated “calamity”.  The passage is not teaching that God is responsible for the moral evil in the universe (cf Jas 1:13).

8 Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

“Drop down…pour down” – a picture of abundance (see Hos 10:12).

“Righteousness” – Cyrus is mentioned in connection with God’s righteousness.  God is “making things right’ through the Persian king.

“Bring forth salvation” – God will deliver His people.

“Righteousness spring up” – peace and justice will prevail.

9 Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!  Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth.  Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it,  What makest thou?  Or thy work, He hath no hands?

10 Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou?  Or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?

Tablets that Contain the Code of Ur-Nammu
The tablets containing the Code of Ur-Nammu were found at the site of the sacred city of Nippur, an ancient Sumerian habitation in modern-day IraqThe first (partially destroyed) copy of the Ur-Nammu was translated by Samuel Kramer in 1952; only parts were readable due to the extent of the damage to it.

However, over the years, other copies were unearthed. This has allowed a great deal of the ancient laws to be spelled out in full. To date 40 of the 57 laws have been reconstructed.Although the laws are attributed, in the inscription, to king Ur-Nammu, some believe it could actually have been his son Shulgi who ordered the laws to be written down after his father’s death in battle.

Shulgi reigned for 48 years in total, declaring himself a god in his 23rd year in power (well, you would if you thought you could get away with it, wouldn’t you?).

11 Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.

12 I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

13 I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts.

“Direct all his paths” – enabling him to reach his goals.

“Not for price nor reward” – since God had not received a payment when He sold them (see 52:3).

14 Thus saith the LORD, The labor of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God.

“Come over unto thee…fall down” – see Ps 68:31.  Israel’s future domination over her former enemies has been mentioned in 11:14, 14:1-2.  It is also the theme of 49:23; 54:3, 60:11-14.

“Surely God’s in thee” – one day the nations will acknowledge Israel’s God.

15 Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.

“Hidest thyself” – God’s plans and actions are a mystery to man.

16 They shall be ashamed, and also confounded, all of them: they shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols.

17 But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.

18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

Law Code of Eshnunna and Mad Dogs
In the ancient town of Eshnunna—a Sumerian (later Akkadian) town and city-state in Mesopotamia identified today as Tell Asmar in Iraq—people had a code of laws which governed them.  

Scholars believe that the Laws of Eshnunna pre-date the Code of Hammurabi, although they are not sure by how many years.  The likely date for the Eshnunna Code is sometime in the 20th Century B.C.

One of the laws explicitly deals with the subject of mad dogs, verifying that rabies was a problem thousands of years ago.  The law prescribes what the owner of a rabid dog must pay in compensation:

“If a dog is mad and the authorities have brought the fact to the knowledge of its owners; if he does not keep it in, it bites a man and caused his death, then the owner shall pay two thirds of a mina (40 shekels) in silver.  If it bites a slave and causes his death he shall pay fifteen shekels of silver.”

“In vain” – or “Without form” (see Gen 1:2) or “chaotic.”

“To be inhabited” – the Holy Land was now empty (see 6:11; Jer 4:23-26) and chaotic but would soon have inhabitants and be orderly again.

19 I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.

“In secret, in a dark place” – probably an allusion to the clandestine ways of mediums and spiritists.

20 Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.

21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time?  Who hath told it from that time?  Have not I the LORD?  And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior; there is none beside me.

22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

“I have sworn by myself” – explained in Heb 6:13.  See also 62:8.

“Word…shall not return” – God will not go back on his promises and His word will not fail to come true (see 55:10-11).

“Every knee…every tongue” Paul quotes this portion of Isaiah in Rom 14:11 and Phil 2:10-11 to describe Christ’s exalted position.

23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

24 Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed.

“All…shall be ashamed” – very similar to 41:11 except for “against thee” (Israel).

25 In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

          Cosmology in the Ancient Near East

Cosmology deals with the order and nature of the universe.  Observations of nature by ancient peoples were transformed into metaphors by which they understood their place in the world.

Many myths attempted to explain the origin and purpose of the human race.  In the most prominent Mesopotamian myth of creation, which was annually enacted at New Year’s religious festivals, the ordered universe emerged out of cosmic struggle of the gods.

Enûma Eliš
The Enûma Eliš, also spelled “Enuma Elish”), is the Babylonian creation myth (named after its opening words).

The Enûma Eliš has about a thousand lines and is recorded in Old Babylonian on seven clay tablets, each holding between 115 and 170 lines of Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform script. Most of Tablet V has never been recovered but, aside from this lacuna, the text is almost complete.

This epic is one of the most important sources for understanding the Babylonian world view. Over the seven tablets it describes the creation of the world, a battle between gods focused on supremacy of Marduk, the creation of man destined for the service of the Mesopotamian deities, and ends with a long passage praising Marduk.

Its primary original purpose is unknown, although a version is known to have been used for certain festivals, there may also have been a political element to the myth, centered on the legitimization or primacy of Mesopotomia over Assyria. Some later versions replace Marduk with the Assyrian primary god Ashur.

The Enuma Elish vividly imagines the origins of the universe as a struggle between chaos and order.  In this myth Marduk, the storm-god, defeated Tiamat, the sea dragon, and from her body created the universe .

He also killed her consort, the god Kingu, and from Kingu’s blood created humanity for the purpose of serving the gods.  The actual process of humanity’s creation is better described by another Mesopotamian myth, Atra-hasis.

In this myth, Mami, the birth goddess, and divine midwife, shaped clay moistened by the spittle of the gods and then pinched off pieces to deliver humans from the womb of the earth.

The role of humanity, again, was to serve the gods by constructing their temples, working their lands and giving ritual service to the deities.

In the Memphite Theology of Egypt, the god Ptah conceived the universe in his mind and brought it into being by his creative word.  The fashioning of humanity is ascribed to the potter god, Khnum, who molded people out of clay, crafting them on a potter’s wheel, and then placed the fetus in the mother’s womb.

Reliefs in Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple show Khnum sculpting her fetus and her ka or “spirit,” on the potter’s wheel.

Yet another myth explains the origins of humanity as the joyful tears of the sun god, Ra (or Re; in Egyptian, remut means “tears” and remet means “humanity”).  Although there is no clear Egyptian articulation of the purpose of humanity, there is an assertion that though human beings were created with equal opportunity to do good, they chose to devise evil in their hearts.

Biblical cosmology, treats natural phenomena from the standpoint of a monotheistic worldview.  The primary waters are neither vilified nor defied.  God commanded creation by the power of his word, shaping the cosmos in an orderly fashion and governing his world with wisdom (Gen 1; Prov 8:22-31).

A person is not a servile being meant to fulfill the gods’ need for food and worship; humanity is created in God’s image and destined for communion with God and for the purpose of blessing (Gen 1:27-28).