Isaiah 45 – “Look to Me and Be Saved”
A. Looking to the God who chose Cyrus.
1. (1-3) God’s calling and mission for Cyrus.
“Thus says the LORD to His anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—
To subdue nations before him
And loose the armor of kings,
To open before him the double doors,
So that the gates will not be shut:
‘I will go before you
And make the crooked places straight;
I will break in pieces the gates of bronze
And cut the bars of iron.
I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the LORD,
Who call you by your name,
Am the God of Israel.
a. Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus: Isaiah carries on this remarkable prophecy from the previous chapter. In it, God announces – by name – the deliverer for His people from a coming captivity, and He does it 200 years before the man Cyrus is born.
i. His anointed means that Cyrus had a particular anointing from God for his work. God poured out His Spirit on a pagan king because God wanted to use that man to bless and deliver His people.
ii. “There is precedent for the divine anointing of a non-Israelite king, though in one passage only (1 Kings 19:15-16). Although the living God normally employed Israelites for such purposes, he is sovereign and may use whom he will.” (Grogan)
iii. Thus says the LORD to His anointed means that this word was particularly directed to Cyrus. This was God’s message to him, and Cyrus apparently listened. “These things Cyrus knew from reading the book of prophecy which Isaiah had left behind two hundred and ten years earlier.” (Josephus, Antiquities XI, 5 [i.2], cited in Grogan)
b. Whose right hand I have held: Like many of us, Cyrus could look back on his life and career and see how the LORD held his hand the entire time. To subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings: Cyrus had a remarkable military career.
i. “To his appointed and enabled one, to subdue many nations. Xenophon, in his first book…gives us a list of them. Cyrus subdued, saith he, the Syrians, Assyrians, Arabians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, the Lydians, Carians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, the Bactrians, Indians, Cilicians, Sacians, Paphloagonians, Maryandines, and many other nations. He also had a dominion over the Asiatics, Greeks, Cyprians, Egyptians…. He vanquished, saith Herodotus, whatever country soever he invaded.” (Trapp)
c. To open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut… I will break in pieces the gates of bronze: The armies of the Medes and Persians, under Cyrus, conquered the city of Babylon in a remarkable raid described in Daniel 5. According to the ancient historian Herodotus, while King Belshazzar of Babylon held a reckless party, Cyrus conquered the city by diverting the flow of the Euphrates into a nearby swamp; thus, lowering the level of the river so his troops could march through the water and under the river-gates. But they still would not have been able to enter, had not the bronze gates of the inner walls been left inexplicably unlocked. God opened the gates of the city of Babylon for Cyrus and put it in writing 200 years before it happened.
i. “In October 539 B.C., Cyrus advanced into lower Mesopotamia and, leaving Babylon till last, conquered and occupied the surrounding territory. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, Nabonidus of Babylon deserted his city, leaving it in the charge of his son Belshazzar…the taking of Babylon was as bloodless and effortless as Daniel 5 implies.” (Motyer)
d. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places: The night they conquered the city, Cyrus and his armies took all the staggering treasures of Babylon – and it was important that Cyrus know that the LORD had given it to him.
i. On the night Babylon fell, Cyrus probably had no great sense of the LORD’s guidance or presence. He probably thought himself both brilliant and lucky. Often, we succeed in something only by the blessing and pleasure of God, and never see the miraculous hand of God behind it all.
ii. God certainly gave Cyrus treasures. Clarke cites Pliny: “When Cyrus conquered Asia, he found thirty-four thousand pounds weight of gold, besides golden vessels and articles in gold.”
e. That you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel: God announced all of this 200 years before its fulfillment so that Cyrus would know and glorify the LORD. But the LORD also did it so Cyrus would show kindness to the people of God, granting them permission to return to the Promised Land from the captivity imposed on them by the Babylonians.
i. The royal proclamations of Cyrus fulfilling this prophecy are found in Ezra 1:2 and 2 Chronicles 36:23.
2. (4-7) The purpose behind God’s calling and mission for Cyrus.
For Jacob My servant’s sake,
And Israel My elect,
I have even called you by your name;
I have named you, though you have not known Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
There is no God besides Me.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me,
That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
That there is none besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the LORD, do all these things.’
a. For Jacob My servant’s sake: Cyrus would like to think that God picked him because he was the smartest or most talented or strongest man available. Really, God’s focus was on His people. It wasn’t Cyrus that moved God to act, but the condition and cry of His people. It was for their sake.
i. “That all these victories were for the sake of little Israel is one of the ironies of God’s control of history.” (Grogan)
ii. “Cyrus is preferred in order that Israel might be released. Cyrus shall have a kingdom, but only in order that God’s people may have their liberty. The Lord raises up one, and He puts down another. Behind all the drama of human events today there is a God who is planning for His church – through affliction and persecution, chastening and tribulation – to be perfected and prepared to inherit the Kingdom of God.” (Redpath)
b. I have named you, though you have not known Me…. I will gird you, though you have not known Me: Cyrus didn’t even know the LORD, yet God could anoint him, guide him, bless him, and use him. How much more should God be able to do through those who have at least a mustard seed’s worth of faith in Him.
i. Proverbs 21:1 says, The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. God can work in and through others in very unexpected ways.
c. That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me: This was wonderfully fulfilled in Ezra 1:1-3. That passage shows how when Cyrus made his proclamation allowing the people of God to return to the Promised Land, that he acknowledged to the whole world the greatness and uniqueness of the LORD God of Israel.
i. Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem.”
d. I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things: Simply put, Isaiah knows, Cyrus would know and declare to the whole world, and we should know today, that God is in control. Since this prophecy was given long before God’s people went into the captivity Isaiah now announces deliverance from, they could be comforted through the captivity by knowing God is in control.
i. Isaiah’s point is that there are not two gods or forces in heaven, one good and one bad, as in a dualistic “yin and yang” sense. “Cyrus was a Persian, and Persians had a dualistic concept of God and the world. Their good god they called Ahura-mazda and the evil god Angra-mainya. The former had created the light, the second the darkness.” (Bultema)
ii. But God has no opposite. Satan is not and has never been God’s opposite. There is one God. He is not the author of evil; evil is never “original,” but always a perversion of an existing good. Yet God is the allower of evil, and He uses it to accomplish His eternal purpose of bringing together all things in Jesus (Ephesians 3:8-11 and 1:9-10). If God could further His eternal purpose by allowing His Son to die a wicked, unjust death on a cross, then He knows how to use what He allows for His eternal purpose.
iii. “Undoubtedly the Lord is no representative of evil as such, but He does make use of evil so that it may bring forth good.” (Calvin, cited in Bultema)
iv. When God does great, miraculous things, it is easy to believe that He is in control. When times are hard and the trials heavy, we need to believe it all the more.
B. Looking to the God who created everything.
1. (8) God calls to the creation.
“Rain down, you heavens, from above,
And let the skies pour down righteousness;
Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation,
And let righteousness spring up together.
I, the LORD, have created it.
a. Rain down, you heavens: The great God described in the previous passage can speak to the heavens and bring rain. It is true in the literal, natural sense; but it is also true in a literal spiritual sense. God can send a flood from heaven, and let the skies pour down righteousness.
b. Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation: God can send His blessing from every direction. It comes down from the heavens, it comes up from the earth.
c. Let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together: It is important to see that salvation and righteousness always spring up together. When God brings salvation to a life, He also brings righteousness to that life. They spring up together.
d. I, the LORD, have created it: What is God speaking of here? That He created the natural, physical world? Or that He created the invisible, spiritual world? Both are true, so both may be in mind here.
2. (9-10) The foolishness of resisting our Creator.
“Woe to him who strives with his Maker!
Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth!
Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?
Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What are you begetting?’
Or to the woman, ‘What have you brought forth?’”
a. Woe to him who strives with his Maker: Knowing that God is the Creator of all things should make us hesitant to oppose Him in any way. It is as foolish as for the clay to say to him who forms it, “What are you making?”
i. It is foolish to oppose our Creator because since He made us, He can break us. If it is foolish to oppose our Creator because since He made us, He knows what is best for us. It is foolish to oppose our Creator because we owe the greatest obligation to Him.
ii. “The idea is quite commonly held that the Jews murmured about God’s decree that a heathen would deliver them, and that these words are a rebuke.” (Bultema)
b. Or shall your handiwork say, “He has no hands”: The only thing more foolish than the creature resisting and opposing the Creator is for the creature to believe there is no Creator! Isaiah pictures a clay pot, the handiwork of the potter saying, “My potter has no hands. I have no Creator!”
c. Woe to him who says to his father, “What are you begetting”? The begotten has no say in his coming to be. It is simply foolish and counter-productive for us to question and accuse God over how He made us. Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses, and we each have our triumphs and challenges. We simply need to accept what we are before God and look for His redeeming, transforming power to conform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).
3. (11-13) The God of all creation will raise up Cyrus and deliver His people.
Thus says 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, you command Me.
I have made the earth,
And created man on it.
I—My hands—stretched out the heavens,
And all their host I have commanded.
I have raised him up in righteousness,
And I will direct all his ways;
He shall build My city
And let My exiles go free,
Not for price nor reward,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
a. I have made the earth, and created man on it: Repeatedly through this extended section of Isaiah, God emphasizes His place as Creator. The importance put on this idea here shows us that knowing God as Creator isn’t an option, or just a matter of text-book fights in the courts and public schools. When we reject God as Creator, we reject the God of the Bible, and serve a God of our own imagination. He really did make us, and it really does matter.
i. “In the Old Testament the Creator is not only the One who began everything, but also the One who maintains everything in existence, controls and guides everything.” (Motyer)
b. I will direct all his ways; he shall build My city and let My exiles go free: The God of all power and creation uses that power on behalf of His people. He will direct the ways of the announced deliverer – Cyrus – and cause him to rebuild Jerusalem and release the people of God captive in a foreign land. And Cyrus would do it not for price or reward, but out of a conviction from God that he must do it (Ezra 1:1-3).
C. Looking to the LORD who is above all gods.
1. (14-17) When the LORD is revealed as the true God, idolaters submit, and God’s people are saved.
Thus says the LORD:
“The labor of Egypt and merchandise of Cush
And of the Sabeans, men of stature,
Shall come over to you, and they shall be yours;
They shall walk behind you,
They shall come over in chains;
And they shall bow down to you.
They will make supplication to you, saying, ‘Surely God is in you,
And there is no other;
There is no other God.’”
Truly You are God, who hide Yourself,
O God of Israel, the Savior!
They shall be ashamed
And also disgraced, all of them;
They shall go in confusion together,
Who are makers of idols.
But Israel shall be saved by the LORD
With an everlasting salvation;
You shall not be ashamed or disgraced
Forever and ever.
a. They shall walk behind you, they shall come over in chains: Even as Israel was led away into captivity by means of a forced relocation, so one day Israel will be supreme among the nations and lead them as they and the LORD please.
b. And they shall bow down to you…. saying, “Surely God is in you…there is no other God”: The submission of the nations to Israel is not so much to Israel itself, as it is to the God of Israel.
c. Truly You are God: Isaiah here pours out an inspired flood of praise, describing God, exalting God, declaring confidence in God, receiving from God.
i. Truly You are God, who hide Yourself: It isn’t that God hides Himself from the seeking sinner. Isaiah simply declares what Paul would later say in 1 Timothy 1:17: Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
ii. Bultema on Truly You are God, who hide Yourself, O God of Israel, the Savior: “When he sees how God for many centuries hides His face from Israel, he cries out these words, overcome by rapture and emotion. The LORD hides Himself from Israel during the times of the Gentiles (Isaiah 18:4, 40:27, 49:14; Hosea 3:3-5)…. So it is clear that we may not apply these words to a seeking sinner. From such God does not hide Himself. But when in the last days Israel will seek Him, she will find Him.”
2. (18-21) The LORD declares His greatness and the foolishness of idolatry.
For thus says the LORD,
Who created the heavens,
Who is God,
Who formed the earth and made it,
Who has established it,
Who did not create it in vain,
Who formed it to be inhabited:
“I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I have not spoken in secret,
In a dark place of the earth;
I did not say to the seed of Jacob,
‘Seek Me in vain’;
I, the LORD, speak righteousness,
I declare things that are right.
Assemble yourselves and come;
Draw near together,
You who have escaped from the nations.
They have no knowledge,
Who carry the wood of their carved image,
And pray to a god that cannot save.
Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the LORD?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.
a. For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens: By sheer repetition, Isaiah virtually pounds it into our awareness – that God is our Creator, and we have obligations to Him as our Creator.
b. Who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: This brief statement – who did not create it in vain – is the Scriptural basis for a speculative doctrine known as the “Gap Theory.”
i. The Gap Theory is based on a comparison between Isaiah 45:18 and Genesis 1:2, which they translate as the earth became without form and void. Here in Isaiah 45:18, God says that He did not create it in vain, and vain is the same Hebrew word for void found in Genesis 1:2. The idea is that God did not create it in vain (void), but that it became without form and void through Satanic attack and ages of desolation, which explains the vast geological ages and fossil remains which seem to date far beyond the history of the Bible. According to the Gap Theory, Genesis 1:3 and the following verses describe the re-creation of a world that was made void by Satan.
ii. The first thing to be said against the Gap Theory is that while to translate Genesis 1:2 (The earth was without form, and void) as the earth became without form and void doesn’t follow the plainest understanding of the Hebrew grammar here. It is permissible, but a bit of a stretch. The most natural way to translate the passage is to say the earth was without form and void instead of the earth became without form and void.
iii. The other thing to be said against the Gap Theory is its use as an answer to interpretations of the fossil record. Those who believe in the Gap Theory assign old and extinct fossils to this long and indefinite “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. But whatever merit the Gap Theory may have, it cannot explain the extinction and fossilization of ancient animals. The Bible says plainly death came by Adam (Romans 5:12), and since fossils are the result of death, they could not have happened before Adam’s time.
iv. Bultema on this verse and the Gap Theory: “We wish only to state that this text alone is not sufficient proof for it. In any case it is clear that the ultimate purpose of the earth is not to be void but to be inhabited by converted Israel and the converted nations.”
c. I did not say to the seed of Jacob, “Seek Me in vain”: It is a wicked thing to think God ever says to His people, “Seek Me in vain.” When we seek for God with all of our heart, we will find Him. Jeremiah 29:13 says, and you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. Hebrews 11:6 says, he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
d. They have no knowledge, who carry the wood of their carved image, and pray to a god that cannot save: As the LORD declares His own greatness, faithfulness, and saving power, it naturally contrasts with the foolish idols of the nation – which must be carried, instead of being able to carry the one who worships them.
e. Who has declared this from ancient time? The amazing phenomenon of predictive prophecy shows that God is who He says He is, and that there is no other God besides Him.
f. A just God and a Savior: As much as anything else, this shows the amazing power, wisdom, and love of God. At first glance, it is impossible to see how a just God can be a Savior when justice demands that sinners be damned. But prompted by His great love, God fulfilled the righteous demands of His justice at the cross, so He could extend Himself to us as Savior, yet still remain a just God.
i. As Paul put it in Romans 3:26: That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
3. (22-25) Looking to the LORD and finding salvation in surrender.
“Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
I have sworn by Myself;
The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,
And shall not return,
That to Me every knee shall bow,
Every tongue shall take an oath.
He shall say,
‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength.
To Him men shall come,
And all shall be ashamed
Who are incensed against Him.
In the LORD all the descendants of Israel
Shall be justified, and shall glory.’”
a. Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth: This simple but powerful statement shows the plan of salvation.
i. It shows the simplicity of salvation: all we must do is look. “One can read many books on theology which expound all kinds of things in an attempt to show how man can reach God, but these theories are far from the truth. The Holy Spirit needs exactly four letters, two of them the same, to tell us what to do: l-o-o-k. That is all. It is the simplest, basic thing any person can do, yet the most difficult to do in daily living.” (Redpath)
ii. It shows the focus of salvation: we must look to God, and never to ourselves or to anything else of man. “Look unto ME, is His Word, which means looking away from the church because that will save nobody; away from the preacher because he can disappoint and disillusion you; away from all outward form and ceremony. You must look off from all this to the throne and there, in your heart, see the risen, reigning Lord Jesus Christ.” (Redpath)
iii. It shows the love behind salvation: God pleads with man, “Look to Me.”
iv. It shows the assurance of salvation: and be saved.
v. It shows the extent of God’s saving love: all you ends of the earth!
b. Look to Me: In Numbers 21, the people of Israel were stricken by deadly snake bites, and Moses lifted up the image of a bronze serpent, raised on a pole, and the people who looked to it lived. The people were saved not by doing anything, but by simply looking to the bronze serpent. They had to trust that something as seemingly foolish as looking at such a thing would be sufficient to save them, and surely, some perished because they thought it too foolish to do such a thing.
i. So it says here in Isaiah: Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! We might be willing to do a hundred things to earn our salvation, but God commands us to only trust in Him – to look to Him.
ii. “Wherever I am, however far off, it just says ‘Look!’ It does not say I am to see; it only says ‘Look!’ If we look on a thing in the dark we cannot see it, but we have done what we were told. So if a sinner only looks to Jesus, he will save him; for Jesus in the dark is as good as Jesus in the light, and Jesus when you cannot see him is as good as Jesus when you can. It is only ‘look!’ ‘Ah!’ says one, ‘I have been trying to see Jesus this year, but I have not seen him.’ It does not say see him, but ‘look unto him!’” (Spurgeon)
c. Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth: On Sunday, January 6, 1850, a young man not quite sixteen years of age walked through a village street in a little town some fifty miles from London, England. On the bitterly cold day the snow fell heavily; but he was more concerned to find a church, because he was deeply conscious of his need of God, and of the breakdown, sin, and failure of his life even at that young age. As he made his way through the street with the snow falling, he felt it was too far to go to the church which he had intended to visit, so he walked down a back lane and entered a little Methodist chapel. He sat down on a seat near the back, and it was as cold inside as it was out! There were only about thirteen people there.
Five minutes after the service was due to begin at eleven o’clock, the regular preacher for the morning hadn’t come. He had been delayed by the weather. So one of the deacons came to the rescue and began conducting the service, and after a little while announced his text: ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.’ The deacon didn’t know much, so he only spoke for about ten minutes.
Charles Spurgeon himself tells what happened: “I had been wandering about, seeking rest, and finding none, till a plain, unlettered, lay preacher among the Primitive Methodists stood up in the pulpit, and gave out this passage as his text: ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.’ He had not much to say, thank God, for that compelled him to keep on repeating his text, and there was nothing needed – by me, at any rate, – except his text. I remember how he said, ‘It is Christ that speaks. “I am in the garden in an agony, pouring out my soul unto death; I am on the tree, dying for sinners; look unto me! Look unto me!” That is all you have to do. A child can look. One who is almost an idiot can look. However weak, or however poor, a man may be, he can look; and if he looks, the promise is that he shall live.’ Then, stopping, he pointed to where I was sitting under the gallery, and he said, ‘That young man there looks very miserable.’ I expect I did, for that is how I felt. Then he said, ‘There is no hope for you, young man, or any chance of getting rid of your sin, but by looking to Jesus;’ and he shouted, as I think only a Primitive Methodist can, ‘Look! Look, young man! Look now!’ And I did look; and when they sang a hallelujah before they went home, in their own earnest way, I am sure I joined in it. It happened to be a day when the snow was lying deep and more was falling; so, as I went home, those words of David kept ringing through my heart, ‘Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow;’ and it seemed as if all nature was in accord with that blessed deliverance from sin which I had found in a single moment by looking to Jesus Christ.”
Somehow in a very strange and amazing way that young man looked from the depths of his soul into the very heart of God. He went out from the church, and he tells that as he walked through the streets, his burden had been lifted, never to return again. He walked with a new spring in his step, a new joy in his face, a new sense of peace in his heart. He had looked and lived.
d. For I am God, and there is no other: This is why we must look to the LORD, and to the LORD alone. Only He is God. Institutions are not God. The Church is not God. Pastors are not God. Brothers and sisters in Christ are not God. We don’t look to them; we look to the LORD, for He alone is God.
e. I have sworn by Myself: When God confirms an oath, who does He swear by? He swears by Himself. There is no one greater, so He swears by His own holy name and character.
i. As Hebrews 6:13 says, For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.
f. That to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath: The LORD here declares there will come a day when every knee shall bow to Him, and every tongue will swear by His greatness. Paul obviously quoted this passage in Philippians 2:10-11.
i. Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 45:23 in Philippians 2:10-11 is overwhelming evidence of the deity of Jesus Christ. Clearly, in Isaiah 45:23 it is the LORD God speaking (I, the LORD, speak, Isaiah 45:19). Now, Paul clearly puts these high words and this high praise towards Jesus: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Additionally, the confession is made that Jesus Christ is Lord – and the word Lord is the same word used in Paul’s ancient Bible for “LORD” in the Old Testament.
g. Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength: This is the declaration of every believer. Righteousness and strength are found in the LORD, not in ourselves or anywhere else. Indeed, in the LORD all the descendants of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – email@example.com