(Isa. 44:28-45:1) How could Isaiah predict King Cyrus?

CLAIM: If Isaiah really wrote from Israel before the Exile (739-681 BC), then he would have predicted King Cyrus by name—over two hundred years in advance. Cyrus didn’t reign until roughly the 500’s BC (Ezra 1:1-5; 6:1-5). Critics claim that this is evidence against the single authorship of Isaiah, because a singular author could not predict such a thing in the 8th century BC. Rather, it makes more sense to conclude that a post-exilic prophet added chapters to Isaiah’s original work. Is this the case?

RESPONSE: There are several problems with denying this prediction of King Cyrus:

1. This is a PHILOSOPHICAL objection—not a HISTORICAL objection

If God exists, then he is able to predict the future. If God is omniscient (i.e. all-knowing), then knowing the name of a future king is no more difficult than knowing his shoe size or favorite color. Getting a 100% on a test is no more difficult than a 99% to an omniscient Being.

It is interesting that critical historians are merely assuming that God does not exist in order to make predictions like these. But when we read their commentaries, do they offer any evidence for this assumption? For instance, in the introduction to a critical commentary on Isaiah, do we have a section that philosophically argues that God cannot predict the future? Of course not. These historians just assume that inspiration of this sort is impossible. But why should we trust the philosophical and unjustified assumptions of a historian to guide our interpretation of Scripture? Philosophy of religion isn’t their area of expertise. This would be like asking a meteorologist what her professional opinion is of car transmissions; or asking an actor what his view of politics is. While they might be insightful (and even accurate) on these subjects, they are out of their area of expertise! If we are to listen to their claims, they would need to offer evidence to support them—just like anyone else. Yet critical commentaries abound with this assumption of anti-supernaturalism without any reasons to support it. If we are going to listen to their assertions, then we need to hear arguments.

2. Other cases of predictive prophecy abound throughout Scripture

The Bible is a book of history, theology, and morals. But it is also a book of predictive prophecy! If we are going to claim that predictive prophecy is bogus, then we need to be ready to gut the Bible across the board. Walter Kaiser writes, “So important is prediction to the very nature of the Bible that it is estimated that it involves approximately 27 percent of the Bible. God certainly is the Lord of the future.”[1] It is amazing how easy it is to skip over biblical prophecy, but it is all over the pages of Scripture. For instance, God predicted the first end of the world, during Noah’s time (Gen. 6:13). He predicted that the Jews would be enslaved for 400 hundred years under Pharaoh, and this was centuries before it took place (Gen. 15:13). Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection in front of his disciples on a number of occasions (Mt. 16:21; Mk. 8:31; Lk. 9:22; Jn. 2:18-22). Were these all “editorial glosses” or later fabrications of a later author? Additionally, the Bible accurately predicts:

(1) The crucifixion of Jesus, and also its date to AD 33 (see “Jesus and Messianic Prophecy”).

(2) The regathering of Israel at the end of human history (see “The Regathering of Israel”).

(3) The permanent destruction of specific ancient Near Eastern cities (see “Predictions of Ruined Cities”).

(4) The succession of world empires in the ancient Near East (see “Daniel and the End of Human History”).

(5) The global climate at the end of human history (see “Predictions of the End of Human History”).

(6) Other names of kings—hundreds of years in advance. During the reign of Jeroboam (10th century BC), God predicted that King Josiah would eventually take his place (which didn’t occur until the 7th century).

Finally, we might note that critics often claim that biblical prophecy is too vague to be considered good evidence for the divine inspiration of Scripture. But when prophecy is too specific, they call foul. They cannot have it both ways.

3. The entire argument of Isaiah 41 through 44 hinges on God predicting Cyrus in advance

In Isaiah 41:25, God alludes to a ruler “from the north,” who will rescue Israel. Then we see the repeated refrain that God knows the future, and God’s foreknowledge is the thing that separates him from false gods and idols:

(Isa. 41:21-29) “Present the case for your idols,” says the Lord. “Let them show what they can do,” says the King of Israel. 22 “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago so that we may consider the evidence. Or let them tell us what the future holds, so we can know what’s going to happen. 23 Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead. Then we will know you are gods. In fact, do anything—good or bad! Do something that will amaze and frighten us. 24 But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all. Those who choose you pollute themselves. 25 “But I have stirred up a leader who will come from the north. I have called him by name from the east. I will give him victory over kings and princes. He will trample them as a potter treads on clay. 26 “Who told you from the beginning that this would happen? Who predicted this, making you admit that he was right? No one said a word! 27 I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look! Help is on the way!’ I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news. 28 Not one of your idols told you this. Not one gave any answer when I asked. 29 See, they are all foolish, worthless things. All your idols are as empty as the wind.

(Isa. 42:8-9) I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols. 9 Everything I prophesied has come true, and now I will prophesy again. I will tell you the future before it happens.

(Isa. 44:7-8) Who is like me? Let him step forward and prove to you his power. Let him do as I have done since ancient times when I established a people and explained its future. 8 Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

(Isa. 44:24-25) This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer and Creator: “I am the Lord, who made all things. I alone stretched out the heavens. Who was with me when I made the earth? 25 I expose the false prophets as liars and make fools of fortune-tellers. I cause the wise to give bad advice, thus proving them to be fools.

We agree with John Oswalt, who notes that Isaiah’s prediction of King Cyrus is the culmination of Isaiah chapters 41-44:

The centerpiece of the whole argument against the idols is that they cannot declare the future. Nothing they have said in the past can explain the present, and nothing they say now is anything but a vague rehash of what has already happened. But God not only has done so in the past, he does so now, and evidence clearly supports both claims.[2]

We have already considered the arguments for Isaiah’s authorship elsewhere (see “Authorship of Isaiah”), and we believe that there is good evidence for affirming the fact that this prophecy of King Cyrus was authentic to the 8th century BC by Isaiah son of Amoz, as the text itself states (Isa. 1:1; 2:1).


[1] Kaiser, Walter C. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub., 1995. 235.

[2] Oswalt, John. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998. 196.