Septuagint Isaiah 45
Septuagint Isaiah 45 really begins with Isaiah 44:28, God’s first announcement of the name “Cyrus.” Cyrus is the Persian who defeated the Babylonians and wrote the edict sending the Jewish peoples back to their homeland to resettle there and rebuild their temple. Isaiah, of course, wrote before these events occurred. What an exciting time, to be Jewish and to live in those days!
God Is the Focal Point
The voice of God very much dominates Septuagint Isaiah 45. God makes himself the focal point of the chapter. The chapter contains much direct speech by God. God prophesies in advance to Cyrus through Isaiah in order to demonstrate to Cyrus, to his own people, and to Gentiles the world over that he is God.
5 For I am the Lord God, and there is no other God beside me; I strengthened thee, and thou hast not known me. 6 That they that come from the east and they that come from the west may know that there is no God but me. I am the Lord God, and there is none beside. (Isaiah 45:5-6 LXE)
What Does God Tell Cyrus?
Before considering the content, that God even speaks to Cyrus directly in such a favorable manner is amazing. Cyrus is, after all, a Gentile. Two times, God tells Cyrus, “You have not known me” (Isaiah 45:4, 5 LXE). The point to notice here is that God’s method of delivering his people from bondage is out-of-the-norm. Their soon-to-be deliverer, unlike Moses and David, is someone from outside their own camp.
GENTILES WILL BE INCLUDED
God directs his message throughout the entirety of Septuagint Isaiah 45 to Cyrus and to other Gentiles, both believing and unbelieving. (This includes verse 14–more on this verse below.) The Masoretic text does not represent as clearly as the Septuagint what appears to be a continuous stream of conversation concerning Cyrus and Gentiles. Even in the Masoretic, however, readers can sort the text to perceive that this is likely so. In both traditions, however, Isaiah at this point is building toward a direct, pointed, and clear invitation to the Gentiles to be included in God’s salvation to Israel. That invitation occurs elsewhere in Isaiah as a promise to Messiah. Messiah himself in direct speech relates the promise made to him by God.
Isaiah 49:5 And now, thus says the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his own servant, to gather Jacob to him and Israel. I shall be gathered and glorified before the Lord, and my God shall be my strength. 6 And he said to me, It is a great thing for you to be called my servant, to establish the tribes of Jacob, and to recover the dispersion of Israel: behold, I have given you for the covenant of a race, for a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the end of the earth. (Septuagint LXE)
Since God presents a full, clear, and complete prophecy concerning inclusion of Gentiles in chapter 49, then it is not unreasonable to see a text concerning inclusion of Gentiles in chapter 45.
The Flow of Conversation in Septuagint Isaiah 45
In Septuagint Isaiah 45, God does not appear to address Israel directly. How then, does God’s speech flow?
Certain aspects of the role Cyrus plays cause many students of Scripture, present and past, to view him as a type of Christ. Readers can hold this in mind as they read through the chapter.
- God calls him “My anointed,” (vs 1).
- He speaks to Cyrus in great hyperbole (overstatement) that applies better to God’s divine Son than to a pagan human. God says to Cyrus, “I will go before you and level mountains” (verse 2 LXE). He states, “I raised him up to be a king with righteousness, and all his ways are right” (verse 13 LXE).
- Just as Cyrus “delivers” the Israelite people from Babylon, so Christ delivers his people from their bondage to sin.
To Cyrus and About Cyrus
God’s address to Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1 is clear. He speaks directly to him.
Thus says the Lord God to my anointed Cyrus, whose right hand I have held, that nations might be obedient before him; and I will break through the strength of kings; I will open doors before him, and cities shall not be closed. (LXE)
Notice that God also speaks about Cyrus. This first verse uses the pronoun “him” two times with reference to Cyrus. This is an important fact to store up for later.
Use of the second person singular, direct address pronoun “you” begins in verse 2. God’s use of “you,” with reference to Cyrus, continues in each verse from 2 through 6, then jumps to verse 8. Although the Masoretic text uses “it” in verse 8, the Septuagint text uses “you.” It seems best to consider verses 1 through 8 as a unit in which God speaks to Cyrus. Indeed, some Bibles begin a new paragraph after verse 8 (New English Translation Septuagint, Tanakh, Saint Athanasius Academy Septuaginta, and Rahlf’s Septuaginta).
In agreement with Rahlf’s Septuaginta (LXX), the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint (SAAS) groups verses 9-13 together. In this set of verses, God appears likely to be talking to an unspecified group of nonbelievers. The two commands in verse 11, “ask me” and “command Me” are both 2nd person plural. God’s rhetorical point in this section is that he, as sovereign creator, can do whatever he likes. He created everything (verse 12). However, God’s purpose is righteousness (verse 13).
Verse 13 is critical. The meaning one assigns for verse 14 highly depends upon verse 13.
Septuagint: I have raised him up to be a king with righteousness, and all his ways are right: he shall build my city, and shall turn the captivity of my people, not for ransoms, nor for rewards, says the Lord of hosts. (Brenton, LXE)(NETS is very similar.)
Masoretic: I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 45:13 ESV)
The “him” in this verse would be Cyrus from verses 1-8 and his antitype, Christ, God’s anointed.
VERSES 14 AND 15
Septuagint: Thus says the Lord of hosts, Egypt has laboured for you; and the merchandise of the Ethiopians, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall pass over to you, and shall be your servants; and they shall follow after you bound in fetters, and shall pass over to you, and shall do obeisance to you, and make supplication to you: because God is in you; and there is no God beside you, O Lord. 15 For you are God, yet we knew it not, the God of Israel, the Saviour. (Brenton, LXE)(NETS is very similar.)
Masoretic: Thus says the LORD: “The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours; they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you. They will plead with you, saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him.'” 15 Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. (Isaiah 45:14-15 ESV)
Bow Down to Israel or Bow Down to God?
The question is, who is the “you” whom the Lord addresses in verse 14? And, based upon the answer to that question, what does this verse teach?
There are two major replies to this question.
- One, the “you” in verse 14 refers to Cyrus and more essentially, to his antitype Christ.
- Two, the “you” refers to Israel.
Example statements for each interpretation, taken from the study notes supplied with Bibles, are given below.
One, verse 14 refers to Cyrus and his antitype Christ.
14-17: Cyrus’s reward. God again addresses Cyrus (so Ibn Ezra), describing the vast territories he will receive for restoring Zion. Cf. 43-3. The Jewish Study Bible, Tanakh translation (1).
Two, verse 14 refers to Israel.
41) sn Restored Israel is depicted here in typical ancient Near Eastern fashion as an imperial power that receives riches and slaves as tribute.
42) sn Israel’s vassals are portrayed as so intimidated and awed that they treat Israel as an intermediary to God or sub-deity. NET2 Study Notes. (2)
45:14 Egypt…Cush…Sabeans. Three countries to the S (cf. 43:3) illustrate the worldwide submission to Israel that will prevail during the messianic kingdom age. MacArthur Study Bible Notes. (3)
ARGUMENT THAT FAVORS VERSE 14 AS SPEAK ING TO CYRUS
I. GRAMMAR IN CONTEXT VERSES 13-15
- Nearly everyone agrees that the “him” and “he” of verse 13 refers to God’s anointed, either Cyrus or Christ.
- It therefore seems highly likely and reasonable that God would address Cyrus in the very next breath in verse 14.
- The Sabeans express their supplication (verse 14) to their conqueror, Cyrus, and realize that the God of Israel is behind all this. They worship Israel’s God in verse 15.
- God previously addresses Cyrus directly in verses 1-6 and verse 8 of the Septuagint.
- No one addresses Israel anywhere else in chapter 45, and verse 14 is contested.
II. THE PERSIANS DID CONQUER EGYPT, INCLUDING WHERE ETHIOPIANS AND SABEANS LIVED
Maps of Persia’s extended kingdom include Egypt. (See persian-empire-1950x920x300.jpg (1950×920) (jesuswalk.com).) Persia is the kingdom that fulfilled this prophecy. Cyrus was Persia’s leader. There is, however, no historical record of Israel’s having subdued Egypt at any time after their captivity. Christ has also fulfilled this prophecy. In Christ’s kingdom, many from the region of Egypt did bow down to him as Lord. One example given in the New Testament is the occasion between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).
III. THE THEMES OF CHAPTER 45 FAVOR THE INTERPRETATION THAT VERSE 14 REFERS TO CYRUS AND HIS ANTITYPE CHRIST
There are many reasons not to take verse 14 out of the context of the chapter as a whole. Septuagint Isaiah 45 is 1) a defense by God of his godhead, 2) a prophecy concerning Israel’s deliverer Cyrus and his antitype Christ, and 3) the beginning of an open invitation to the Gentiles to draw near and believe, and 4) Israel is the recipient of God’s blessing through Cyrus. But Israel is not the focus of chapter 45. God’s announcement to Cyrus (not to Israel) that he will return Israel to their homeland is the means by which God gives evidence of his sovereign power. God is the point, not Israel.
1. The main theme of chapter 45 is God defending his godhead. God the Lord states, “I am…” nine times in the twenty-five verses of chapter 45 (Septuagint Isaiah 45:3, 5, 6, 8, 18, twice in 19, 21, and 22). That is an overwhelming density of occurrences. Add to this the many references by God to himself as creator. God further states in a later chapter the following about himself.
Isaiah 48:11 For mine own sake I will do this for thee, because my name is profaned; and I will not give my glory to another. (LXE)
Why then, in view of all this, would a biblical text include obeisance to Israel in a favorable light, even as a “sub-deity”? (see NET quotation above). God teaches the bowing down of people to absolutely no one but himself. In the Septuagint translation, the Sabeans bow and make supplication to “you”, i.e., to Cyrus, as intermediary to God. They do this because they realize that “God is with you.” God is with Cyrus. Then they speak to God directly, confessing him, in the latter portion of verse 14 and 15. Cyrus’s victory led to the Sabeans worshiping God. Cyrus achieves the witness to Gentiles that Israel in all her long history had failed to achieve. Likewise, Christ’s victory over death achieves the witness to Gentiles that Israel in all her long history failed to achieve.
14… and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall pass over to you [Cyrus], and shall be your servants [servants of Cyrus, which became an historical reality]; and they shall follow after you [Cyrus] bound in fetters, and shall pass over to you [Cyrus], and shall do obeisance to you [Cyrus], and make supplication to you [Cyrus]: because God is in you [Cyrus]; and there is no God beside you, O Lord. 15 For you are God, yet we knew it not, the God of Israel, the Saviour. (LXE)
Then immediately after this text, God begins his appeal to the world. That appeal continues to the end of the chapter. Based on the awesome deliverance God gave Israel through Cyrus (who represents Christ as antitype), God appeals to the “coastlands” (verse 16), “you who are saved from among the nations” (verse 20), “you who are from the ends of the earth” (verse 22), “every knee… and every tongue” (verse 23), and “all the seed of the children of Israel (verse 25, and see below). The entire text from the Septuagint is available at these two links: LXX2012 and NETS.
2. Isaiah’s purpose in this and previous chapters is to prophesy the victory of Cyrus over the Babylonians and his sending the people of Israel back to their homeland. This is a main theme. It is therefore likely that verse 14 refers to Cyrus.
3. God in chapter 45 invites Gentiles to himself. Verse 6 alludes to the turning of Gentiles to the Lord, “That they that come from the east and they that come from the west may know that there is no God but me.” Verse 22 is very direct, “Turn you to me, and you shall be saved, you that come from the end of the earth: I am God, and there is none other.” Verse 14 therefore prophesies in context that certain Gentiles from Egypt will recognize the saving works of God in his dealings with Cyrus and the Israelites.
4. Israel is not the focus of chapter 45. Isaiah 45 does mention Israel six times. In three of these occurrences, Israel is a way of identifying God (Isaiah 45:3, 11, and 15). God is the topic in these verses, not Israel. Verse 4 does indeed favor Israel, “my servant Jacob, and Israel mine elect.” Verse 17 also speaks of God’s great favor to Israel, “Israel is saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation: they shall not be ashamed nor confounded for evermore.” It is God’s great care of Israel which he uses to make his appeal to the world.
The Crux of the Matter
But here is the crux of the matter. Does God favor the people of Israel because he wants the rest of the world to submit to them and even bow down to them as to a “sub-deity”? Or, does God favor the people of Israel because he wants to use them as evidence of his own power, glory, might, and overwhelmingly amazing love? God wants the world to worship himself as they consider his dealings with the people of Israel. God wants the people of the world, including the Israelite people, to be amazed at how he blesses the people of Israel, in spite of themselves. God shows that he is God, worthy of the world’s and Israel’s worship, because he blesses, against all odds and against all obstacles, a people whom no false god would ever be able to bless. (Only God…)
Did God send his own Son, the Son of his love, his beloved Son, to the cross, to earth and back, because he wants every nation of the world to submit to Israel, or because he wants to give every people group in the world the wonderful opportunity of submitting to himself? Clearly, for Christians, this should be clear. God wants people everywhere to worship his Son, one who is far, far greater than Cyrus his type and far, far greater than Israel, another type. Why then would he teach and prophesy in Scripture that the Sabeans would one day bow down to the people of Israel? God wouldn’t do that. That is not what God’s Bible teaches. God’s word teaches that Israel will bow down to his anointed, his Christ, and so will every people group in the whole wide world. Together, as one, all people groups will bow down to Christ.
Isaiah 45:23 By myself I swear, righteousness shall surely proceed out of my mouth; my words shall not be frustrated; that to me every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall swear by God, 24 saying, Righteousness and glory shall come to him: and all that remove them from their borders shall be ashamed. (LXE)
Isaiah 45:23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’ 24 “Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. (ESV)
Romans 14:11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” (ESV)
Philippians 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)
Scripture nowhere teaches that anyone at any time will or should be bowing down to a “sub-deity” Israel.
Sidebar: Biblical Presuppositions
God’s love for Israel never ceases. Yet God will not be placed into boxes of human design. Only God in his holy sovereignty can be faithful to his own righteousness and faithful to his rebellious creation at one and the same time. As the Apostle Paul states so clearly in Romans, God promises to save those who have faith in him (Romans 4:12-13; 9:6, 27, 31-32, 30-33; 10:8-13) . In the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4-5), faith in God came to mean faith in the Son of his love, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13).
The New Testament sheds the greatest light upon the Old. It was from the hindsight of his resurrection from death by the cross that Christ expounded for his disciples his own hermeneutical key to the Old Testament (Luke 24:25-27). Therefore, it is by the light of the New Testament that we also must interpret the Old. If conclusions we may draw from Old Testament prophecies considered in isolation are not compatible with the clear teaching of the New Testament, then we must hesitate and put those conclusions on hold until greater clarity arrives.
Verse 25 is another verse in which the Septuagint differs from the Masoretic.
Septuagint: By the Lord shall they be justified, and in God shall all the seed [σπέρμα] of the children of Israel be glorified. (Isaiah 45:25, LXX)
Masoretic: In the LORD all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.” (ESV)
The Septuagint Scripture contains a phrase not present in the Masoretic text, “the seed of“. The word for “seed” is “sperma” or σπέρμα in Greek. The Orthodox Study Bible makes a note to point this out.
The Apostle Paul writes at length about the “seed of Israel”. This phrase forms the basis of one of Paul’s major points of Christological theology. The Orthodox Study Bible notes that, “The children are the blood descendants of Israel, but the apostles and the Church are their seed. It is the seed who shall be made righteous and glorified” (4). I don’t necessarily care for that wording. I much prefer Paul’s presentation.
Galatians 3:16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring [σπέρματί dative singular, same lemma (root) as in Isaiah]. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (ESV)
Galatians 3:7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” (NIV)
Paul’s teaching coincides with Septuagint Isaiah 45:25. The “seed” of the children of Israel shall be made righteous by the Lord, and glorified in God through Christ. This “seed” are those who by faith turn to God and to his Christ. These are Israel and Gentiles together. Israel’s purpose has been fulfilled in Christ. This is the lesson of Septuagint Isaiah 45.
1 The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition. Berlin, Adele and Brettler, Marc Zvi, Editors. Published by the Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh Translation, Oxford University Press USA: New York, 2014, page 858.
2 The NET Bible, Version 2.0 – Copyright © 2019.
3 MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, page 1004.
4 Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008, page 1094.