The opening verses of this morning’s Old Testament reading (Isaiah 41:5-17) caught my attention: “I gird you, though you do not know me, that men may know…” In this passage, God is speaking to Cyrus the Great. Cyrus was the Persian king who conquered Babylon while the people of Judah were imprisoned there in exile. He was the instrument by which God orchestrated the return of his people to Jerusalem. As such, he was the mighty warrior who fought for the Lord. Because of his exploits, he was named “God’s anointed servant.” And he did all of that even though he didn’t know it.
God’s providence is so pervasive that even Gentiles—those who worship other gods—can be used by God to accomplish his divine plan. To me, that says two things about the nature of God: 1) God’s will is so huge that nothing escapes it and 2) hindsight allows us to identify God’s will in circumstances that we might not originally attribute to God’s plan.
Cyrus was chosen by God even though he wasn’t consciously participating in God’s plan for the deliverance of his people. That’s because God didn’t wait for Cyrus to understand his place in the story of salvation before anointing him as his servant. Likewise, no one in Judah or Israel would have expected a Persian king to be their savior, but once the exile was over, after they had returned to Jerusalem, they were able to identify the unlikely hero as God’s chosen one.
If God can use an unwitting Persian king to save his beloved people, can’t he use me even though I have no idea how that might work? So much of my faith is trying to discern God’s will before I do something. The story of Cyrus reminds me that we’re often better off searching for God’s will after a situation is over. No matter what happens, regardless of who or what is involved, God’s will will be done. I don’t have to figure it out first. I can participate and then celebrate how God has acted in my life and in the world.