Saturday, 18 October 2014

Another Messiah

Isa 45: 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: I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

A text full of wonder and opportunity this is.

Tho last verses remind me of those words of Rose Tyler as she destroyed the ultimately final, never-again-repeated-until-next-time attack of thee Daleks. Rose, you may remember, has looked into the Time Vortex at the heart of the Tardis, and is suddenly aware of all time and space. And this happens.....

ROSE: I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words, I scatter them in time and space. A message to lead myself here........ Everything must come to dust. All things. Everything dies. The Time War ends. 

(The Daleks crumble.) 

DOCTOR: Rose, you've done it. Now stop. Just let go.

ROSE: How can I let go of this? I bring life. 

(Jack breaths again.) 

DOCTOR: But this is wrong! You can't control life and death. 

ROSE: But I can. The sun and the moon, the day and night. But why do they hurt? 

DOCTOR: The power's going to kill you and it's my fault.

ROSE: I can see everything. All that is, all that was, all that ever could be. 

DOCTOR: That's what I see. All the time. And doesn't it drive you mad? 

ROSE: My head. 

DOCTOR: Come here. 

ROSE: It's killing me. 

DOCTOR: I think you need a Doctor.

Some truth in this tale from the Doctor- in a strange kind of way, the truth that God is directing to Cyrus.

But I see I've gone ahead too far. Let's go back, from the end of the Universe, to the 6th century BC. To, as chance has it, Babylon - which is where the Jews were in exile - carried off 70 years previously by Nebuchadnezzar. Babylon being part of what is now Iraq - in the news again for much the same reasons.

Cyrus is the King of the Persians. A powerful local king, in the country next door. Persia is, broadly, modern-day Iran.

And this prophecy is maybe the equivalent of the Kurds of Iraq looking at Barack Obama. In fact, if Cyrus were the sort of emperor who was going to stand at a distance, lobbing rocks at the Babylonians while trying to persuade the people of Asia Minor to attack Babylon, then he would be just like Obama. As it happens, he ain't. He's already joined the Medes and Persians into one small empire, and now he wants to build himself a proper empire. Cyrus wants - you  might say - to put sandals on the ground. Cyrus, as it happens, is going to make the largest empire the world has known up to this time.

Now, I'm reckoning that Cyrus was probably not a gentle man. To survive in a royal court of that time, to lead the rebellion that led to the Persians taking over the Medes,  He seems to have been a resourceful and brilliant warrior. But he seems to have been a tolerant man. When the prophecy was fulfilled, he sent the various conquered races that the Babylonians had exiled back home. Among them, those Jews. He let them go back to Jerusalem.

In amongst the things God promises to Cyrus: the powers, the strength, the divine aid, there is one extra-special thing he grants. We don't pick it up in English because the clue's not there. But it's there, OK..... "to his anointed, to Cyrus,"

Cyrus is one who is anointed. The Old Testament has a few anointed ones - Elishah, David, most of the kings, in general. But among them stands that one who doesn't quite fit. Not a Jewish king. Not a Hebrew prophet. A Gentile. Awkward, God picking a Gentile as his chosen - his anointed - his messiah.  Which is the word we're looking at here.

But having raised him up as his anointed, God puts Cyrus in his place. He's a man, not a god. "From the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things."

Other kings in that time thought themselves to be more like gods. The Egyptian Pharaohs, in particular. Must be easy to think you're a god when, you've got power over human life and death like that. Herod Agrippa, we're told in the Acts, was greeted as a god and as a result was eaten by worms. Never nice.

And Cyrus gets a reminder of how things are. Even when lifted up to be God's anointed, he's still a man. There's only one God who gives life as well as takes it away. One God who divides day from night. Cyrus will do great things for God - without even knowing him as the Lord - but he will do them only through God's power.

 Cyrus the anointed one was a great liberator. Most importantly for the Biblical story, he freed the Jews from Babylon - gave them the chance to go home and make sacrifices.  As such he looks forward to another anointed one - another Messiah. Where Cyrus freed the bodies of men and women, this later Messiah would free their hearts and spirits.Where Cyrus the Gentile let the Jews worship the Lord in Jerusalem - this new Messiah would let Jews and Gentiles worship the Lord wherever they were. Where Cyrus let them leave Babylon for Judah, this one lets them leave death for life.

 This mention of Cyrus is one of both great might - and yet fallibility. Cyrus was only a man, and died. God makes it quite clear who's in charge. The Messiah who came after him - there are other stories about him. Though truly a man, he wasn't only human. Though he died, he conquered death. He was the one, says John, through whom the light and darkness was made. He is the Light of the World. He holds the keys to Death and Hades - that is, he saves from death.

There's only one human that can see the beginning and the end. Only one whose hands hold life and death.

It's not Rose Tyler. But no wonder her head hurt.

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