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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Isaiah 46:11

 

 

Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.

Adam Clarke Commentary

Calling a ravenous bird from the east "Calling from the east the eagle" - A very proper emblem for Cyrus, as in other respects, so particularly because the ensign of Cyrus was a golden eagle, ΑΕΤΟΣ χρυσους, the very word עיט ayit, which the prophet uses here, expressed as near as may be in Greek letters. Xenoph. Cyrop. lib. 7 sub. init. Kimchi says his father understood this, not of Cyrus, but of the Messiah.

From a far country "From a land far distant" - Two MSS. add the conjunction ו vau, ומארץ umeerets ; and so the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate.


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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/isaiah-46.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Calling a ravenous bird from the east - There can be no doubt that Cyrus is intended here (see the notes at Isaiah 41:2, Isaiah 41:25). The east here means Persia. The word rendered ‹ravenous bird‘ (עיט ‛ayiṭ ) is rendered ‹fowl‘ in Job 28:7; ‹bird‘ or ‹birds‘ in Jeremiah 12:9; ‹fowls‘ in Genesis 15:11; Isaiah 18:6; and ‹ravenous birds‘ in Ezekiel 39:4. It does not occur elsewhere in the Bible. It is used here as an emblem of a warlike king, and the emblem may either denote the rapidity of his movements - moving with the flight of an eagle; or it may denote the devastation which he would spread - an emblem in either sense especially applicable to Cyrus. It is not uncommon in the Bible to compare a warlike prince to an eagle Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3; and the idea here is, probably, that Cyrus would come with great power and velocity upon nations, like the king of birds, and would pounce suddenly and unexpectedly upon his prey. Perhaps also there may be here allusion to the standard or banner of Cyrus. Xenophon (Cyrop. vii.) says that it was a golden eagle affixed to a long spear; and it is well remarked by Lowth, that Xenophon has used the very word which the prophet uses here, as near as could be, expressing it in Greek letters. The word of the prophet is עיט ‛ayiṭ the Greek word used by Xenophon is ἀετὸς aetos The Chaldee has, however, given a different rendering to this passage: ‹I, who say that I will gather my captivity from the east, and will lead publicly like a swift bird from a distant land the sons of Abraham, my friend.‘

The man that executeth my counsel - Margin, as Hebrew, ‹Of my counsel.‘ It may either mean the man whom he had designated by his counsel; or it may mean the man who should execute his purpose.

Yea, I have spoken - He spake it by the prophets; and the idea is, that all that he had spoken should be certainly accomplished.


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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/isaiah-46.html. 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator


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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 46:11". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/isaiah-46.html. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Calling a ravenous bird from the east,.... Or "a flying fowl", or "swift winged bird"F21עיט "avem, a velocitate", Munster; so Vatablus; ab עוט "in volando celeriter et cum impetu", Forerius; so Ben Melech says, Cyrus is surnamed a fowl, because of his great swiftness and haste to come to Babylon; though he observes that some say, that a ravenous fowl is called עיט; the singular may be put for the plural; so Cocceius renders it, "volucres", birds, and may design the whole army of Cyrus. ; for the word used does not so much denote rapaciousness as swiftness; which well agrees with Cyrus, who is here meant, and not Abraham, as Jarchi, nor Nebuchadnezzar, as others; and who was always swift in all his expeditions, and always recommended celerity and dispatch of business to his soldiers and others, as XenophonF23Cyropaedia, l. 1. c. 17. and l. 3. c. 6. and l. 6. c. 17. often observes; and very remarkable is that speech of Tigranes to him, in which he tells himF24Cyropaedia, l. 3. c. 2. , that he so far exceeded the king of Armenia in swiftness, that he came upon him with a great army, from a far country, before he could get his army together, which was just by him. And very observable are the words of Cyrus himself, who was desirous of being a thorough horseman, that he might seem to be ανθρωπος πτηνος, "a winged" or "flying man"F25Ib. l. 4. c. 17. So the Targum here renders it, a swift bird. Aben Ezra, who interprets it of Cyrus, says he is so called, as if he flew to do the will of God; and Kimchi observes of Cyrus, that he has this name because he came swiftly, and in haste, as a bird that flies: and it is no unusual thing for a mighty monarch, or a general, marching with his army, to be compared to a flying bird, particularly an eagle, Jeremiah 48:40 and may be the bird intended here, which well suits with Cyrus, who had, as PlutarchF26In Apothegm. reports, an aquiline nose; hence men that have such noses, among the Persians, are highly esteemed: and XenophonF1Cyropaedia, l. 7. c. 1. says, that the standard of Cyrus was a golden eagle upon the top of a high spear, and which is retained by the kings of Persia. Cyrus is said to be called from the east, because, as Kimchi observes, his country lay to the east of Babylon:

the man that executeth my counsel from afar country; as Persia was from Babylon, Assyria and other provinces lying between; but though he lived in a far country, and knew nothing of the affairs of the people of God in Babylon, or what work he was to do, yet God called him, and brought him to do his will, which he was ignorant of: so God sometimes puts into the hearts of men to fulfil his will, which they are strangers to, Revelation 17:17. It is in the Hebrew text, "the man of my counsel"F2איש עצתי "virum mei consilii", Munster, Pagninus, Montanus; so according to the Keri: but the Cetib is איש עצתו, "the man of his counsel". ; not with whom the Lord consulted, for none are of his counsel in this sense; but whom in his counsels, decrees, and purposes, he appointed to such service, and whom he made use of as an instrument to do his pleasure; see Isaiah 44:8.

yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass: I have purposed, I will also do it; the counsel of the Lord, concerning the deliverance of his people from Babylon, by the hand of Cyrus; this he had purposed in his own breast, had spoken of in prophecy, and would certainly perform. R. Joseph Kimchi interprets this verse of the Messiah, and so does Jerom, of whom, no doubt, Cyrus was a type; and what is here said agrees with him: he may be compared to a flying bird for his swiftness in coming at the appointed time; he came from the east, as the rising sun of righteousness; he was the man of God's counsel in the highest sense, and came, being called, to execute it; the work of redemption was according to the eternal purpose of God, and spoke of by all the holy prophets, and now accomplished; and his righteousness and salvation are made mention of in the following verses.


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Bibliography
Gill, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-46.html. 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Calling a ravenous i bird from the east, the man that executeth my k counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken [it], I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed [it], I will also perform it.

(i) That is, Cyrus, who will come as swift as a bird and fight against Babylon.

(k) Him by whom I have appointed to execute that which I have determined.


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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/gsb/isaiah-46.html. 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

ravenous bird — Cyrus so called on account of the rapidity of his marches from the distant regions of Persia to pounce on his prey (see on Isaiah 41:2; see on Isaiah 41:25; see on Jeremiah 49:22; see on Ezekiel 17:3). The standard of Cyrus, too, was a golden eagle on a spear (see the heathen historian, Xenophon, 7, where almost the same word is used, aetos, as here, ayit).

executeth my counsel — (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:13). Babylon represents, mystically, the apostate faction: the destruction of its idols symbolizes the future general extirpation of all idolatry and unbelief.

purposed … also do it — (Isaiah 43:13).


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Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/isaiah-46.html. 1871-8.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

A bird — Cyrus, called a bird for his swiftness, and ravenous for his fierceness, and victoriousness over his enemies.


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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/isaiah-46.html. 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

11.Calling a bird or a thought from the east. After having spoken of God’s foreknowledge and power, the Prophet applies to his own purpose the general statement which he had made. He intended to comfort the Jews, and to shew that they were not led into captivity in such a manner as to leave no hope of deliverance; and therefore he adds a specific instance, and promises that Cyrus shall come, though it appeared to be incredible.

The word עיט (ait,) which I have translated thought, is translated by the greater part of interpreters a bird; and this is the true signification of the word. But as we may learn from Daniel 2:14, that it sometimes denotes counsel, (for the insertion of a letter in the noun עיט is customary among the Chaldee writers,) I choose rather to follow this interpretation, which is approved by some Hebrew writers. Yet it is possible that he alludes to a bird, (220) as if he had said that his purpose would be sudden; and I do not deny that he alludes to the swiftness of the approach of Cyrus.

The man of my counsel. When he again calls Cyrus “the man of his counsel,” this is a repetition very frequent among Hebrew writers; and hence also it is evident that, in the former clause, the noun עית (ait) is put for “thought” or “decree.” Now, he calls him “the man of counsel,” because he executes the Lord’s decree.

Yet if it be thought preferable to translate it bird, I do not debate about it. The metaphor is beautiful; for the approach of Cyrus was so sudden and unexpected, that he seemed to fly like “a bird.” He suddenly invaded Babylon and took it by storm, even when the Babylonians imagined that every entrance was closed against him. It may also be said, if this interpretation of the word be approved, that Isaiah alludes to auguries, to which the Babylonians were greatly addicted. Accustomed to practice judicial astrology, they observed the flight and chattering of birds, and looked upon this as a certain knowledge of future events; but the Lord threatens that he will send “a bird” which they had not foreseen. But I prefer the former exposition, namely, that he alludes to the swiftness of Cyrus, and declares that no roads shall be shut against him, and that no fortresses shall hinder him from entering immediately into Babylon.

When he says from the east, this not only relates to the certainty of the promise, but is intended to inform us that no distance or length of time can retard the work of God; and accordingly, in the second clause, it is added by way of explanation, from a distant country Let us learn from this what is the purpose to which we ought to apply all that we read in Scripture concerning the foreknowledge and power of God; for those statements are not made in order to keep us in suspense, but that we may apply them to our own use. Now, he makes an implied contrast between the counsel of God and our thoughts; for he delivers his people in such a manner that the reason of the deliverance cannot be comprehended by men. Thus, although that which God promises appears to be incredible, yet he says that he will easily open up a way, that we may not measure by our capacity his unsearchable counsels.

I have thought. Others render itI have formed; but in this passage it appears to be more appropriate to view יצר (yatzar) as signifying “to think.” He confirms what he formerly said, that this hath been determined by him, and therefore shall be steadfast and unalterable.

I have spoken, and will accomplish. These words mean, that he has predicted nothing in vain, and that this prediction, which he has commanded to be published, ought to be regarded as fulfilled. To establish our faith in himself was the object of the one clause, and in the other he connects his thoughts with the preached word. This ought to be carefully observed; for we are distracted by a variety of thoughts, and we doubt if God has spoken sincerely, and suspect that he is like us, that is, that he is a hypocrite or dissembler. But he declares that nothing proceeds from him but what he formerly determined in his counsel. (221) so that the preaching of the word is nothing else than a sure testimony of his hidden counsel, which he commands to be revealed to us. As soon therefore as the Lord hath spoken any word, we ought; to be certain of its accomplishment.


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Bibliography
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/isaiah-46.html. 1840-57.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Isaiah 46:11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken [it], I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed [it], I will also do it.

Ver. 11. Calling a ravenous bird,] i.e., Cyrus, who was ‘hawk-nosed,’ and came swiftly to seize upon Babylon like a falcon, or some such ravenous bird. So Nebuchadnezzar is called an "eagle"; [Jeremiah 48:40] Xenophone testifieth that Cyrus had in his standard a golden spread eagle, as had after him the Persian kings, and likewise the Romans. See Matthew 24:28. {See Trapp on "Matthew 24:28"}


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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/isaiah-46.html. 1865-1868.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Calling a ravenous bird; Cyrus, called a bird for his swiftness and great expedition, and ravenous for his fierceness and victoriousness over his enemies.

From the east; from Persia, as Isaiah 41:2.

That executeth my counsel, concerning the deliverance of my people, and the destruction of their cruel oppressors, the Babylonians.

From a far country; from Persia, which was far from Babylon, but much farther from Judea.


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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/isaiah-46.html. 1685.

Expositor's Bible Commentary

CHAPTER X

CYRUS

Isaiah 41:2;, Isaiah 44:28-28;, Isaiah 46:11;, Isaiah 48:14

CYRUS, the Persian, is the only man outside the covenant and people of Israel, who is yet entitled the Lord’s Shepherd, and the Lord’s Messiah or Christ. He is, besides, the only great personality of whom both the Bible and Greek literature treat at length and with sympathy. Did we know nothing more of him than this, the heathen who received the most sacred titles of Revelation, the one man in history who was the cynosure of both Greece and Judah, could not fail to be of the greatest interest to us. But apart from the way in which he impressed the Greek imagination and was interpreted by the Hebrew conscience, we have an amount of historical evidence about Cyrus, which, if it dissipates the beautiful legends told of his origin and his end, confirms most of what is written of his character by Herodotus and Xenophon, and all of what is described as his career by the prophet whom we are studying. Whether of his own virtue, or as being the leader of a new race of men at the fortunate moment of their call, Cyrus lifted himself, from the lowest of royal stations, to a conquest and an empire achieved by only two or three others in the history of the world. Originally but the prince of Anshan, or Anzan, -a territory of uncertain size at the head of the Persian Gulf, -he brought under his sway, by policy or war, the large and vigorous nations of the Medes and Persians; he overthrew the Lydian kingdom, and subjugated Asia Minor; he so impressed the beginnings of Greek life, that, with all their own great men, the Greeks never ceased to regard this Persian as the ideal king; he captured Babylon, the throne of the ancient East, and thus effected the transfer of empire from the Semitic to the Aryan stock. He also satisfied the peoples, whom he had beaten, with his rule, and organised his realms with a thoroughness unequalled over so vast an extent till the rise of the Roman Empire.

We have scarcely any contemporary or nearly contemporary evidence about his personality. But his achievements testify to extraordinary genius, and his character was the admiration of all antiquity. To Greek literature Cyrus was the Prince pre-eminent, -set forth as the model for education in childhood, self-restraint in youth, just and powerful government in manhood. Most of what we read of him in Xenophon’s "Cyropaedia" is, of course, romance; but the very fact, that, like our own King Arthur, Cyrus was used as a mirror to flash great ideals down the ages, proves that there was with him native brilliance and width of surface as well as fortunate eminence of position. He owed much to the virtue of his race. Rotten as the later Persians have become, the nation in those days impressed its enemies with its truthfulness, purity, and vigour. But the man who not only led such a nation, and was their darling, but combined under his sceptre, in equal discipline and contentment, so many other and diverse peoples, so many powerful and ambitious rulers, cannot have been merely the best specimen of his own nation’s virtue, but must have added to this, at least much of the original qualities-humanity, breadth of mind, sweetness, patience, and genius for managing men-which his sympathetic biographer imputes to him in so heroic a degree. It is evident that the "Cyropaedia" is ignorant of many facts about Cyrus, and must have taken conscious liberties with many more, but nobody-who, on the one hand, is aware of what Cyrus effected upon the world, and who, on the other, can appreciate that it was possible for a foreigner (who, nevertheless, had travelled through most of the scenes of Cyrus’ career) to form this rich conception of him more than a century after his death-can doubt that the Persian’s character (due allowance being made for hero-worship) must have been in the main as Xenophon describes it.

Yet it is very remarkable that our Scripture states not one moral or religious virtue as the qualification of this Gentile to the title of "Jehovah’s Messiah." We search here in vain for any gleam of appreciation of that character, which drew the admiring eyes of Greece. In the whole range of our prophecy there is not a single adjective, expressing a moral virtue, applied to Cyrus. The "righteousness," which so many passages associate with his name, is attributed, not to him, but to God’s calling of him, and does not imply justice or any similar quality, but is, as we shall afterwards see when we examine the remarkable use of this word in Second Isaiah, a mixture of good faith and thoroughness, -all-rightness. The one passage of our prophet, in which it has been supposed by some that Jehovah makes a religious claim to Cyrus, as if the Persian were a monotheist-"he calleth on My name"-is, as we have seen, too uncertain, both in text and rendering, to have anything built upon it. Indeed, no Hebrew could have justly praised this Persian’s faith, who called himself the "servant of Merodach," and in his public proclamations to Babylonia ascribed to the Babylonian gods his power to enter their city. Cyrus was very probably the pious ruler described by Xenophon, but he was no monotheist. And our prophet denies all religious sympathy between him and Jehovah, in words too strong to be misunderstood: "I woo thee, though thou hast not known Me I gird thee, though thou hast not known Me". [Isaiah 45:4-5] On what, then, is the Divine election of Cyrus grounded by our prophet, if not upon his character and his faith? Simply and barely upon God’s sovereignty and will. That is the impressive lesson of the passage: "I am Jehovah, Maker of everything; that stretch forth the heavens alone, and spread the earth by Myself that say of Koresh, My shepherd, and all My pleasure he shall accomplish." [Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 44:28] Cyrus is Jehovah’s because all things are Jehovah’s; of whatsoever character or faith they be, they are His and for His uses. "I am Jehovah, and there is none else: Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace and Creator of evil; I, Jehovah, Maker of all these." God’s sovereignty could not be more broadly stated. All things, irrespective of their character, are from Him and for His ends. But what end is dearer to the Almighty, what has He more plainly declared, than that His people shall be settled again in their own land? For this He will use the fittest force. The return of Israel to Palestine is a political event, requiring political power; and the greatest political power of the day is Cyrus. Therefore, by His prophet, the Almighty declares Cyrus to be His people’s deliverer, His own anointed. "Thus saith Jehovah to His Messiah, to Koresh:…That thou mayest know that I am Jehovah, Caller of thee by thy name, God of Israel, for the sake of My servant Jacob and Israel My chosen. And I have called thee by thy name. I have wooed thee, though thou hast not known Me". [Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 45:3-4]

Now to this designation of Cyrus, as the Messiah, great objections rose from Israel. We can understand them. People who have fallen from a glorious past, cling passionately to its precedents. All the ancient promises of a deliverer for Israel represented him as springing from the house of David. The deliverance, too, was to have come by miracle, or by the impression of the people’s own holiness upon their oppressors. The Lord was to have made bare His arm and Israel to go forth in the pride of His favour, as in the days of Egypt and the Red Sea. But this deliverer, who was announced, was alien to the commonwealth of Israel; and not by some miracle was the people’s exodus promised, but as the effect of his imperial word-a minor incident in his policy! The precedents and the pride of Israel called out against such a scheme of salvation, and the murmurs of the people rose against the word of God.

Sternly replies the Almighty: "Woe to him that striveth with his Moulder, a potsherd among the potsherds of the ground! Saith clay to its moulder, What doest thou? or thy work" of thee, "No hands hath he? Woe to him that saith to a father, What begettest thou? or to a woman, With what travailest thou? Thus saith Jehovah, Holy of Israel and his Moulder: The things that are coming ask of Me; concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me! I have made Earth, and created man upon her: I, My hands, have stretched Heaven, and all its hosts have I ordered." In that universal providence, this Cyrus is but an incident. "I have stirred him up in righteousness, and all his ways shall I make level. He"-emphatic-"shall build My City, and My Captivity he shall send off-not for price and not for reward, saith Jehovah of Hosts." [Isaiah 45:9-13]

To this bare fiat, the passages referring to Cyrus in chapter 46 and chapter 48, add scarcely anything. "I am God, and there is none like Me Who say, My counsel shall stand, and all My pleasure will I perform. Who call from the sunrise a Bird-of-prey, from a land far-off the Man of My counsel. Yea, I have spoken, yea, I will bring it to pass. I have formed, yea, will do it." [Isaiah 46:9-11] "Bird-of-prey" here has been thought to have reference to the eagle, which was the standard of Cyrus. But it refers to Cyrus himself. What God sees in this man to fulfil His purpose is swift, resistless force. Not his character, but his swoop is useful for the Almighty’s end. Again: "Be gathered, all of you, and hearken; who among them hath published these things? Jehovah hath loved him: he will do His pleasure on Babel, and his arm" shall be on "the Chaldeans. I, I have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and will cause his way to prosper," or, "I will pioneer his way". [Isaiah 48:14-15] This verb "to cause to prosper" is one often used by our prophet, but nowhere more appropriately to its original meaning than here, where it is used of "a way." The word signifies "to cut through"; then "to ford a river"-there is no word for bridge in Hebrew; then "to go on well, prosper."

In all these passages, then, there is no word about character. Cyrus is neither chosen for his character nor said to be endowed with one. But that he is there, and that he does so much, is due simply to this, that God has chosen him. And what he is endowed with is force, push, swiftness, irresistibleness. He is, in short, not a character, but a tool; and God makes no apology for using him but this, that he has the qualities of a tool.

Now we cannot help being struck with the contrast of all this, the Hebrew view of Cyrus, with the well-known Greek views of him. To the Greeks he is first and foremost a character. Xenophon, and Herodotus almost as much as Xenophon, are less concerned with what Cyrus did than with what he was. He is the King, the ideal ruler. It is his simplicity, his purity, his health, his wisdom, his generosity, his moral influence upon men, that attract the Greeks, and they conceive that he cannot be too brightly painted in his virtues, if so he may serve for an example to following generations. But bring Cyrus out of the light of the eyes of this hero-worshipping people, that light that has so gilded his native virtues, into the shadow of the austere Hebrew faith, and the brilliance is quenched. He still moves forcibly, but his character is neutral. Scripture emphasises only his strength, his serviceableness, his success. "Whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loosen the loins of kings; to open doors before him, and gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, and make the rugged places plain. I will shiver doors of brass, and bars of iron will I sunder". That Cyrus is doing a work in God’s hand and for God’s end, and therefore forcibly, and sure of success-that is all the interest Scripture takes in Cyrus.

Observe the difference. It is characteristic of the two nations. The Greek views Cyrus as an example; therefore cannot too abundantly multiply his morality. The Hebrew views him as a tool; but with a tool you are not anxious about its moral character, you only desire to be convinced of its force and its fitness. The Greek mind is careful to unfold the noble humanity of the man, -a humanity universally and eternally noble. By the side of that imperishable picture of him, how meagre to Greek eyes would have seemed the temporary occasion, for which the Hebrew claimed Cyrus had been raised up-to lead the petty Jewish tribe back to their own obscure corner of the earth. Herodotus and Xenophon, had you told them that this was the chief commission of Cyrus from God, to restore the Jews to Palestine, would have laughed. "Identify him, forsooth, with those provincial interests!" they would have said. "He was meant, we lift him up, for mankind!"

What judgment are we to pass on these two characteristic pictures of Cyrus? What lessons are we to draw from their contrast?

They do not contradict, but in many particulars they corroborate one another. Cyrus would not have been the efficient weapon in the Almighty’s hand, which our prophet panegyrises, but for that thoughtfulness in preparation and swift readiness to seize the occasion, which Xenophon extols. And nothing is more striking to one familiar with our Scriptures, when reading the "Cyropaedia," than the frequency with which the writer insists on the success that followed the Persian. If to the Hebrew Cyrus was the called of God, upheld in righteousness, to the Greek he was equally conspicuous as the favourite of fortune. "I have always," Xenophon makes the dying king say, "seemed to feel my strength increase with the advance of time, so that I have not found myself weaker in my old age than in my youth, nor do I know that I have attempted or desired anything in which I have not been successful." And this was said piously, for Xenophon’s Cyrus was a devout servant of the gods.

The two views, then, are not hostile, nor are we compelled to choose between them. Still, they make a very suggestive contrast, if we put these two questions about them: Which is the more true to historical fact? Which is the more inspiring example?

Which is the more true to historical fact? There is no difficulty in answering this: undoubtedly, the Hebrew. It has been of far more importance to the world that Cyrus freed the Jews than that he inspired the "Cyropaedia." That single enactment of his, perhaps only one of a hundred consequences of his capture of Babylon, has had infinitely greater results than his character, or than its magnificent exaggeration by Greek hero-worship. No one who has read the "Cyropaedia"-out of his school-days-would desire to place it in any contrast, in which its peculiar charm would be shadowed, or its own modest and strictly-limited claims would not receive justice. The charm, the truth of the "Cyropaedia," are eternal; but the significance they borrow from Cyrus-though they are as much due, perhaps, to Xenophon’s own pure soul as to Cyrus-is not to be compared for one instant to the significance of that single deed of his, into which the Bible absorbs the meaning of his whole career, -the liberation of the Jews. The "Cyropaedia" has been the instruction and delight of many, -of as many in modern times, perhaps, as in ancient. But the liberation of the Jews meant the assurance of the world’s religious education. Cyrus sent this people back to their land solely as a spiritual people. He did not allow them to set up again the house of David, but by his decree the Temple was rebuilt. Israel entered upon their purely religious career, set in order their vast stores of spiritual experience, wrote their histories of grace and providence, developed their worship, handed down their law, and kept themselves holy unto the Lord. Till, in the fulness of the times, from this petty and exclusive tribe, and by the fire, which they kept burning on the altar that Cyrus had empowered them to raise, there was kindled the glory of a universal religion. To change the figure, Christianity sprang from Judaism as the flower from the seed; but it was the hand of Cyrus, which planted the seed in the only soil in which it could have fructified. Of such a universal destiny for the Faith, Cyrus was not conscious, but the Jews themselves were. Our prophet represents him, indeed, as acting for "Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel’s My chosen," but the chapter does not close without proclamation to "the ends of the earth to look unto Jehovah and be saved," and the promise of a time "when every knee shall bow and every tongue swear unto the God of Israel."

Now put all these results, which the Jews, regardless of the character of Cyrus, saw flowing from his policy, as the servant of God on their behalf, side by side with the influence which the Greeks borrowed from Cyrus, and say whether Greek or Jew had the more true and historical conscience of this great power, -whether Greek or Jew had his hand on the pulse of the world’s mare artery. Surely we see that the main artery of human life runs down the Bible, that here we have a sense of the control of history, which is higher than even the highest hero-worship. Some may say, "True, but what a very unequal contest, into which to thrust the poor ‘Cyropaedia’!" Precisely; it is from the inequality of the contrast, that we learn the uniqueness of Israel’s inspiration. Let us do all justice to the Greek and his appreciation of Cyrus. In that, he seems the perfection of humanity; but with the Jew we rise to the Divine, touching the right hand of the providence of God.

There is a moral lesson for ourselves in these two views about Cyrus. The Greeks regard him as a hero, the Jews as an instrument. The Greeks are interested in him that he is so attractive a figure, so effective an example to rouse men and restrain them. But the Jews stand in wonder of his subjection to the will of God; their Scriptures extol, not his virtues, but his predestination to certain Divine ends.

Now let us say no word against hero-worship. We have need of all the heroes, which the Greek, and every other, literature can raise up for us. We need the communion of the saints. To make us humble in our pride, to make us hopeful in our despair, we need our big brothers, the heroes of humanity. We need them in history, we need them in fiction; we cannot do without them for shame, for courage, for fellowship, for truth. But let us remember that still more indispensable-for strength, as well as for peace, of mind-is the other temper. Neither self nor the world is conquered by admiration of men, but by the fear and obligation of God. I speak now of applying this temper to ourselves. We shall live fruitful and consistent lives only in so far as we hear God saying to us, "I gird thee," and give ourselves into His guidance. Admire heroes if thou wilt, but only admire them and thou remainest a slave. Learn their secret, to commit themselves to God and to obey Him, and thou shalt become a hero too.

God’s anointing of Cyrus, the heathen, has yet another lesson to teach us, which religious people especially need to learn.

This passage about Cyrus lifts us to a very absolute and awful faith. "I am Jehovah, and none else: Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of peace and Creator of mischief; I Jehovah, Maker of all these things." The objection at once rises, "Is it possible to believe this? Are we to lay upon providence everything that happens? Surely we Westerns, with our native scepticism and strong conscience, cannot be expected to hold a faith so Oriental and fatalistic as that."

But notice to whom the passage is addressed. To religious people, who professedly accept God’s sovereignty, but wish to make an exception in the one case against which they have a prejudice-that a Gentile should be the deliverer of the holy people. Such narrow and imperfect believers are reminded that they must not substitute for faith in God their own ideas of how God ought to work; that they must not limit His operations to their own conception of His past revelations; that God does not always work even by His own precedents; and that many other forces than "conventional and religious ones-yea," even forces as destitute of moral or religious character as Cyrus himself seemed to be-are also in God’s hands, and may be used by Him as means of grace. There is frequent charge made in our day against what are called the more advanced schools of theology, of scepticism and irreverence. But this passage reminds us that the most sceptical and irreverent are those old-fashioned believers, who, clinging to precedent and their own stereotyped notions of things, deny that God’s hands are in a movement, because it is novel and not orthodox. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Moulder; shall the clay say to its moulder, What makest thou?" God did not cease "moulding" when He gave us the canon and our creeds, when He founded the Church and the Sacraments. His hand is still among the clay, and upon time, that great "potter’s wheel," which still moves obedient to His impulse. All the large forward movements, the big things of to-day-commerce, science, criticism however neutral, like Cyrus, their character may be, are, like Cyrus, grasped and anointed by God. Therefore let us show reverence and courage before the great things of to-day. Do not let us scoff at their novelty or grow fearful because they show no orthodox, or even no religious character. God reigns, and He will use them, for what has been the dearest purpose of His heart, the emancipation of true religion, the confirmation of the faithful, the victory of righteousness. When Cyrus rose and the prophet named him as Israel’s deliverer, and the severely orthodox in Israel objected, did God attempt to soothe them by pointing out how admirable a character he was, and how near in religion to the Jews themselves? God did no such thing, but spoke only of the military and political fitness of this great engine, by which He was to batter Babylon. That Cyrus was a quick marcher, a far shooter, an inspirer of fear, a follower up of victory, one who swooped like a "bird-of-prey," one whose weight of war burst through every obstruction, -this is what the astonished pedants are told about the Gentile, to whose Gentileness they had objected. No soft words to calm their bristling orthodoxy, but heavy facts, -an appeal to their common-sense, if they had any, that this was the most practical means for the practical end God had in view. For again we learn ‘the old lesson the prophets are ever so anxious to teach us, "God is wise." He is concerned, not to be orthodox or true to His own precedent, but to be practical, and effective for salvation.

And so, too, in our own day, though we may not see any religious character whatsoever about certain successful movements-say in science, for instance-which are sure to affect the future of the Church and of Faith, do not let us despair, neither deny that they, too, are in the counsels of God. Let us only be sure that they are permitted for some end-some practical end; and watch, with meekness but with vigilance, to see what that end shall be. Perhaps the endowment of the Church with new weapons of truth; perhaps her emancipation from associations which, however ancient, are unhealthy; perhaps her opportunity to go forth upon new heights of vision, new fields of conquest.


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Bibliography
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/isaiah-46.html.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

11. Calling… from the east — Literally, from the sun rising.

A ravenous bird — Cyrus was rapid in movement and execution; quick, keen sighted, strong. He is said to have taken for his ensign a golden eagle standing with outstretched wings. XENOPHON, Cyrop., Isaiah 7:1.


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Bibliography
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/isaiah-46.html. 1874-1909.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

“Calling a bird of prey from the east,

The man of my counsel from a far country,

Yes I have spoken, I also bring it about,

I have purposed, I also will do it.”

Let them remember the former things, His ancient activity, and what He has declared which is still not yet done. Isaiah is now dealing with God’s prime purposes in history and their fulfilment, and he therefore again briefly recapitulates the advent of Abraham (Isaiah 41:2-4), for the prime example of Yahweh’s ancient activity is Abraham and the raising up of the Servant. He was called from the East and descended as a bird of prey on Canaan, establishing himself in the land, ridding it of the king of Babylon (Shinar) and then through his descendants driving out the inhabitants. He was also a man after God’s own heart, who did all His will and followed His counsel. He was truly and literally ‘a man of my counsel’. He above all men vividly received the counsel of Yahweh, and responded to it. His whole life resulted from following that counsel. Which was why (from Israel’s viewpoint) Egypt, Babylon and the Philistines all submitted to him.

Cyrus was not a man of God’s counsel. The men of God’s counsel were His messengers the prophets (Isaiah 44:26). And in the context the description requires one involved in God’s counsels from the beginning.

Abraham has already been described as ‘a man from the east’ in Isaiah 41:2, which see. And has previously been used to demonstrate Yahweh’s power to influence history (Isaiah 41:4). Now he is briefly brought back into the picture so that we are reminded of the prime message of this part of Isaiah, the coming forth of the Servant, preparatory to the destruction of that hindrance to all God’s working, Babylon, which is all part of the ancient plan. For Abraham is the original Servant.

‘The man of My counsel.’ We have been told in Isaiah 46:11 that His counsel is from ancient times, and goes on in terms of what is ‘not yet done. For He declares the end from the beginning. Thus the one in mind here must be someone involved continually in God’s plans, His Servant, who commenced with Abraham and will continue to the end. This was just not true of Cyrus who was a momentary bright star. But Abraham was the first prophet (Isaiah 44:26 with Genesis 20:7).

‘Bird of prey’ must not be seen as a derogatory title, any more than is ‘lion’ which can be used of God’s favourites (Numbers 23:24; Numbers 24:8-9). It is rather the description of someone strong and powerful descending swiftly on the unsuspecting, and seizing the prey, which is exactly what Abraham and his descendants did to their enemies.

Nor must the tenses of the verbs deceive us. As we have regularly seen they do not indicate chronology but completeness and incompleteness. We could paraphrase as ‘when I have spoken I bring it about, when I have purposed I do it’. And we must remember that when Abraham was called his seed was called in him. This would result in still future ‘callings’ for ‘Abraham’ in the call of the Servant at different times; in Moses, David and the like, and also the call of the true Israel to be His Servant, and finally the call of the greater David Who would finalise God’s purposes (see on Isaiah 41:1 to Isaiah 42:9). What He has spoken in Abraham He will bring about through his seed who entered Canaan in him (Isaiah 41:8).

In Isaiah 41:2 Abraham has been spoken of as ‘called in righteousness’, here he is described as ‘a man of my counsel’, both titles of full approval and demonstrating that he is fully pleasing to God. Furthermore we should note that this chapter has from Isaiah 46:3 been full of God’s care and concern for His people. It has described His bearing and carrying of them, His delivering of them, and His purposes for them from of old, in the controlling of history and carrying out of His will. Thus a brief reintroduction of the Servant here fits aptly

After the surprising prophecy about Cyrus, which was in order to demonstrate how Yahweh would bring in a new era in him, replacing the Temple and subduing the nations, we required some statement like this which would bring us back to the idea of God’s prime Servant through whom He will introduce His righteousness and place salvation in Zion for Israel His glory. For the truth is that there is really no reason for again introducing Cyrus here. He has been dispensed with in chapter 45. So here we are brought back to the idea of the original Servant. Isaiah’s primary concern is with the final triumph of God.

Note on The Bird of Prey From The East.

The most popular attribution by commentaries of this bird of prey from the East is to Cyrus. But that is largely due to reading subsequent history back into Isaiah, and often with a fixation which the text does not support. Because of subsequent history, with its concentration on the Exile in Babylon, they are seized with the idea that ‘Isaiah’ must be seen as in Babylon encouraging his people with the hope of a return from that land back to Jerusalem, and that this is therefore a picture of Cyrus swooping on Babylon. But that idea, while superficially attractive, is nowhere apparent from the text. It is certainly nowhere clearly stated there. The text deals in great principles, not in a limited situation of exiles coming home from Babylon. It is therefore something that we have rejected simply for that reason, because it is not what the text says. While superficially plausible it is not the situation that is actually being portrayed.

As we have seen the impression given by the text from the start is in fact far different. It is that Isaiah is in Jerusalem and seeking to evangelise the people of Israel, to bring to them the vision of God, to call exiles to return from all over the world, and supremely to bring out the activity of Yahweh’s Servant. Babylon, while having to be dealt with as the enemy of God supreme lurking in the background, is incidental to his main purpose (if Babylon can ever be called incidental), simply acting as the representative of all that is anti-God. It is the city that has to be destroyed because it is the deceiver of the nations and because of its great claims, and because it represents what is bad in all cities. It personifies the world city of Isaiah 24:10; Isaiah 25:2; Isaiah 26:6. It represents idolatry in opposition to God. That is why as the supreme enemy of God it has to be destroyed before the Servant can fulfil his work. But that is because it is a dark and threatening shadow in the background, not because it is actually seen as interfering in the main plot, apart from by its insidiousness.

This is something which had already been stressed in chapters 13-14, where Babylon, while treated as one of the nations rising against Assyria, was also depicted as something far greater than that. Whereas in Genesis 3 emphasis was put on the snake behind which lay a dark and shadowy influence, so throughout Isaiah emphasis is laid on Babylon, behind which is a similar dark and shadowy influence. Like the snake Babylon is picked out as the supreme rebel. Both centralise in themselves the world’s opposition to God. And this is so because from the very beginning Babylon had represented enmity against God. In Genesis 4 Cain in his rebellion ‘built a city’ (established occupation as a group in an encampment or network of caves) and this idea in turn later became centred on Babel (Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:1-9; Genesis 14:1). Now that rebellion continues in Babylon.

In fact if we look from the point of view of history the destruction of Babylon actually described in Isaiah goes far beyond anything that Cyrus did. Babylon is to be totally destroyed, and it is Yahweh Who will bring it about as Israel’s Kinsman Redeemer (Isaiah 47:4). Cyrus in fact actually left Babylon largely unaffected except for its change of ruler.

And it will be noted how often it is necessary in Isaiah for commentators to apologise for the text because it does not quite say what they want it to say. They would rather suggest that Isaiah was wrong (about for example the Medes in chapter 13) than discard their interesting but mistaken hypothesis. But the hypothesis to accept is, if at all possible, the one that fits the facts stated.

For the problem is that the text is continually uncompliant with their hypothesis. It just does not say what they want it to say. The truth is that if describing and calling for the return of exile from Babylon was what the writer was mainly trying to do he has gone a strange way about it. He has constantly refused to make any reference to captivity in Babylon, he has spoken regularly as if he were in Jerusalem, he has not brought mention of Babylon in at crucial points, and when he has referred to the return of exiles it has been of worldwide exiles, not of Babylonian exiles.

What he has actually concentrated on has mainly been the raising of God’s Servant preparatory to God’s worldwide triumph, while, apart from its fate at His hands, Babylon has been almost ignored. And it will continue to be so except as an example of God’s great enemy who has to be dealt with, as already demanded in 13-14. Its mention was necessary to Isaiah because it symbolised ‘the city’ as against God. It thus symbolised all cities. That is why it is the one city for which no future hope is ever prophesied. Babylon is to him the example of all that is at enmity with God, and seeking to drag men down, and must therefore be destroyed utterly. But that his silence in so many places about Babylon was not because he was afraid of offending Babylon comes out in his quite open prophecy of its humiliation and destruction in both Isaiah 43:14 and 47. When he does speak of it, it is as what is most insidious, a strange approach to someone supposed to be avoiding offence.

This non-mention of Babylon was true even when writing of the activity of Cyrus. Nothing is said there about Babylon, and even when the destruction of Babylon is described in chapter 47, it is neither connected by the writer with Cyrus, nor with the deliverance of exiles. It stands on its own as an indication of God’s final purpose for Babylon (a destruction never actually brought about by Cyrus). And yet, as we have pointed out above, the declaration that Babylon is to be destroyed is evidence enough that he did not veil his writing in fear of what the Babylonians might do.

It is true that there is one reference (Isaiah 48:20) which could just possibly be interpreted as referring to exiles returning from Babylon, but even that is doubtful. The plea there is for those associated with Babylon to disassociate themselves with it in haste. It does not read like an orderly return from Babylon with the agreement of the overlord (Ezra 1), such as later took place. It reads as a desperate flight from all that is evil. A return of exiles from there might indeed be seen as expected and necessary in view of Isaiah 11:11 and Isaiah 39:6-7, but surely not in these terms. This is not a call to people who have settled in Babylonia to return home, it is a call to all those actually involved with Babylon, to desert her before it is to late. It does not necessarily totally exclude the thought that exiles might be in mind, they too should flee, but it is certainly not a strong case for it.

We can safely say that if someone who knew little of history picked up the book of Isaiah and read it he would not come away with the idea that chapters 40-55 were dealing with a return of God’s people from Babylon. If he noticed the occasional mention of Babylon he would merely see it as greatly emphasising the need for its destruction. He may see such a destruction as partly due to what Babylon would do to Judah as described in Isaiah 39:6-7, but he would not see it as part of the main plot. He would certainly note that the need for Babylon to be destroyed is repeated in both sections of the book (especially chapters 13-14 and 47), but he would note that that was because of what Babylon signified rather than because of exiles. Thus if he also knew of the references in Genesis he would surely feel that he had gained the clue he was looking for.

Indeed the fact that the impression gained by scholars is of its application to the Babylon situation is rather an indication of the genius of prophecy. Regularly some prophecy which appears only to have one application, does in the future become fulfilled in a totally unexpected way. It is as though God has prepared the way for what is to happen. It demonstrates that such prophecy fits many situations. Consequently in giving His message through Isaiah here we may see God as providing a primer for Israel in whatever situation they found themselves. And that included large scale exile in Babylon. But it does not specifically have that in mind.

And once we rid our minds of the idea that the bird of prey is to descend on Babylon at this point, its application to Cyrus (well away, be it noted, from the context in which Cyrus is dealt with, which is limited to Isaiah 44:27 to Isaiah 45:13) becomes extremely unlikely. This bird of prey has rather come in order to establish righteousness among those who are far from righteousness (Isaiah 46:12-13), and is playing a part in God’s eternal purposes.

End of note.


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Bibliography
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-46.html. 2013.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Bird; Cyrus, whose rapid conquests are thus denoted. (Calmet) --- He chose a golden eagle, with wings expanded, for his standard. (Xenophon vii.) --- Christ came from heaven to redeem the world, Psalm xviii. 6., and Malachias iv. 2. (Calmet) --- He was the orient, adored by the eastern sages, to whom the prophet refers. (St. Jerome) (Worthington)


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Bibliography
Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/isaiah-46.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

the man that executeth My counsel = the man of My counsel: i.e. Cyrus, a type of Messiah, set apart by God for this special service. See App-57.

I will also bring it to pass. Reference to Pentateuch (Numbers 23:19).


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Bibliography
Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/isaiah-46.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

A ravenous bird from the east - Cyrus: so called on account of the rapidity of his marches from the distant regions of Persia to pounce on his prey, (see notes, Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 41:25; Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3). The standard of Cyrus, too, was a golden eagle on a spear (see the pagan historian, Xenophon, 7, where almost the same word is used, aetos, as here, `ayit).

The man that executeth my counsel - (Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:13.) Babylon represents, mystically, the apostate faction: the destruction of its idols symbolizes the future general extirpation of all idolatry and unbelief.

I have purposed (it), I will also do it - (Isaiah 43:13.)


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Bibliography
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/isaiah-46.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(11) Calling a ravenous bird.—Cyrus is thus described as Nebuchadnezzar is in Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3. The image derives a special significance from the fact that the standard borne by Cyrus and his successors was a golden eagle (Xen., Cyrop. vii. 1. 4; Anab. i. 10, 12). (Comp. also Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37.) The “sun-rising” is, of course, Persia; the “far country” probably represents Media.

I have spoken.—The word of Jehovah passes, unlike that of the false gods, into a certain and immediate act.


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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/isaiah-46.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
Calling
13:2-4; 21:7-9; 41:2,25; 45:1-6; Jeremiah 50:29; 51:20-29
a ravenous bird
Or, "an eagle," a very proper emblem for Cyrus, says Bp. Lowth, as in other respects, so particularly because the ensign of Cyrus was a golden eagle, [aetos chrusous] the very word ayit, which the prophet uses here, expressed as near as may be in Greek letters.
Ezekiel 39:4
the man
44:28; 45:13; 48:14,15; Ezra 1:2; Psalms 76:10; Acts 4:28
that executeth my counsel
Heb. of my counsel.
Psalms 119:24; *marg:
I have spoken
14:24-27; 38:15; Numbers 23:19; Job 23:13; Jeremiah 50:45; Acts 5:39; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 3:11

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Bibliography
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:11". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/isaiah-46.html.

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