Daniel 5: King Cyrus of Persia, Part 1
May 13, 2015
Daniel 4 and 5 speak of the first and last kings of Babylon. As I explained this earlier, in the structure of the book, these two chapters are D and D in the middle of the parallelism.
A. The Captivity of Judah (Chapter 1)
B. Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream (Chapter 2)
C. Daniel’s Companions in the Fiery Furnace (Chapter 3)
D. The First King of Babylon (Chapter 4)
D. The Last King of Babylon (Chapter 5)
C. Daniel Himself in the Lions’ Den (Chapter 6)
B. Daniel’s Dream and Vision (Chapters 7, 8)
A. The Desolations of Jerusalem (Chapters 9-12)
Chapters 4 and 5 are therefore the climax of Daniel’s overall prophecy, and chapter 5 is thus shown to be the most important event that he presents to the reader. Many focus upon the rise of Babylon and tribulation in Daniel and Revelation, but the prophet himself wanted us to focus upon the fall of Babylon. Therefore, Daniel 4 presents the proof of God’s sovereignty over Babylon, while chapter 5 presents us with the takeover.
Daniel, however, records only the story of King Belshazzar’s party on the night that Babylon fell. He says almost nothing about how the city fell. Yet those circumstances reveal much about the fall of Mystery Babylon in the far future. It is prophesied in Revelation 16:12-21. Whereas Daniel says nothing about drying up the River Euphrates, John presents this as a central sign of the soon-coming fall of Mystery Babylon.
This indicates that we ought to be familiar with some history of Babylon’s overthrow that is not specifically recorded in the book of Daniel.
The last four bowls poured out in Rev. 16 are upon:
- The Sun (King Cyrus, or Koresh, “The Sun”)
- The Throne of the Beast (Medea and Lydia)
- The River Euphrates (Diverting the River)
- The Air (Conquest of Babylon)
These four are patterned historically after the original history leading to the Persian conquest of Babylon.
- Cyrus came to power in 550 B.C., as the rising of “The Sun.”
- Cyrus overthrew the thrones of Medea and Lydia (546 B.C.).
- Cyrus’ army diverted the river Euphrates in order to enter the city of Babylon through the river (537 B.C.)
- Cyrus conquered Babylon, which was ruled spiritually by “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).
Drying up the River Euphrates
In the sixth seal in Revelation 16:12, we read,
12 And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings from the east.
The sixth seal prepares the way for the events of the seventh seal—the battle of Armageddon and the fall of Babylon. In that way, the two are closely linked, and the one becomes the direct cause of the other. To understand Revelation 16:12, we must know the historical precedent on which this prophecy is based. That precedent was established when the kings of the east (King Cyrus of Persia and King Darius of Media) diverted the water from the River Euphrates to conquer Babylon.
Thus, the drying up of the River Euphrates was the final prophetic act that led to the conquest of Babylon. Two centuries earlier, Isaiah 44:24 to 45:1 had prophesied of this, saying,
24 Thus says Yahweh, your Redeemer . . . 25 causing the omens of boasters to fail, making fools out of diviners, causing wise men to draw back, and turning their knowledge into foolishness, 26 confirming the word of His Servant, and performing the purpose of His messengers, “It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’ And I will raise up her ruins again, 27 It is I who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Be dried up!’ And I will make your rivers dry. 28 It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’
1 Thus says the Lord to Cyrus [Heb. Koresh, “the Furnace-Fire” (i.e., The Sun)] His anointed [Heb. Messiach, “Messiah”], whom I have taken by the right hand to subdue nations before him. . .
This passage makes it clear that King Cyrus of Persia was God’s servant and anointed one (“Messiah”). That is, he is a type of Christ insofar as He was the conqueror of Babylon. Though Cyrus was not a believer in Yahweh, he did what God called him to do, saying to Jerusalem, “She will be built,” and giving orders to lay the foundations of the second temple (Is. 44:28).
Isaiah 44:27 also says, “And I will make your rivers dry.” This was fulfilled when the River Euphrates was dried up in order to allow the invading army to capture Babylon.
Cyrus’ Throne in Shushan, Elam
The name “Cyrus” is from the Hebrew word Koresh, which means “Furnace Fire.” Smith’s Bible Dictionary says (p. 67),
“Cyrus. The Persian name for the sun (Heb. Koresh), and the same as the Egyptian name Phrah. Thus, Cyrus is a title for the king, as Pharaoh, Augustus;, etc.
Phrah is also the root of the word Pharaoh.
In the Hebrew word, Kor-esh, kor = “furnace” and esh = “fire.” Thus, it was a title that referred to the Sun. Yahweh Himself is symbolized by the Sun in Malachi 4:2,
2 But for you who fear My name [Heb. shem] the sun [Heb. shemesh] of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
The Hebrew word for “sun” is shem-esh, literally, the “name of the fire.” The sun was a symbol of God Himself, who is pictured as a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24). Pagan kings, who believed they were God’s representatives on earth, took titles appropriate to that belief. Hence, the king of Persia adopted the name Koresh (Cyrus), the Persian name for the sun. As such, he was a type of Christ, the One who gave the Law to Moses from the midst of the fire. God also speaks prophetically in Jeremiah 49:38,
38 Then I shall set My throne in Elam, and I shall destroy out of it kings and princes, declares the Lord.
Cyrus’ throne was in Susa, a city in Elam. Cyrus’ father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been lesser kings of Ansan in eastern Elam under the dominion of the Median Empire. The territory of ancient Elam forms much of today’s nation of Iran.
Susa is the Shushan of Nehemiah 1:1 KJV and Esther 1:2 KJV, from which place the Persian kings ruled. Thus, when God identified Elam as being the place for His throne, He was identifying with Cyrus and portraying him again as a type of Christ.
The Hebrew word Shoshannim, “lilies,” is the plural of Shushan, “lilly.” At the end of Psalms 44 and 68 it says, “To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim.” (This should be read as a post-script at the end of Psalm 44 and 68, though many Bible translations mistakenly place this statement as a title at the beginning of Psalms 45 and 69.)
The reference to Shoshannim here means that these psalms were read at the time of the wave-sheaf offering and were prophetic of Christ’s resurrection. This is the Hebrew origin of the so-called “Easter lily.”
All of this lays a prophetic foundation of Old Testament types of Christ ruling from Shoshannim (i.e., by the power of His resurrection life), even as Cyrus, the Messiah, ruled from Shushan, or Susa. The fact that Shoshannim has the dual ending (“im”), means there are two Shushans—first the physical city of Elam, and secondly, New Jerusalem, the spiritual city of resurrection life from which Christ rules.
Shoshannim is plural for the same reason that Jerusalem is plural in Hebrew. Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is plural also because there are two Jerusalems—old and new. In each case, the old is a type of the new. The old was never meant to be the final place of the throne of God. It was a carnal type of a city not made with hands.
These biblical types often go unrecognized, because the Bible does not see fit to explain them to us. We only see them when we study a little history. In fact, the story of King Cyrus’ birth is a fascinating study of biblical types and shadows. The parallel between his birth and that of Jesus six centuries later is absolutely remarkable, but because the Bible only gives us a few hints, most people miss this completely.
Of course, no one can truly appreciate this prophetic king and the present-day drying up of the River Euphrates without some understanding of Cyrus’ life.
The Story of King Cyrus
As for the lineage of Cyrus, he was the grandson of Astyages, the King of Medea on his mother’s side. He was also the great-grandson of Tiespes of Persia on his father's side:
Here is the story: Alyattes, king of Lydia, ruled (from his capital city of Sardis) what is now the western half of Turkey. Lydia was attacked by Cyaxartes of Media, and ultimately, the conflict ended with a treaty that was cemented by marriage. The Lydian princess, Aryenis, was given in marriage to Prince Astyages of Media, uniting the nations.
Cyaxartes of Media also made an alliance with Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, and these two overthrew Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, in 607 B.C. The Medes conquered Persia and extended their conquests to the borders of Lydia (in the middle of modern Turkey).
Meanwhile, the Babylonians extended their empire into Judea and Egypt. They conquered Jerusalem in 604 B.C. and finally destroyed the city in 586 B.C.
Cyaxartes died the next year, and his son, Astyages came to the throne (585-550 B.C.). Recall that his wife was Aryenis of Lydia. Their daughter was Mandane, who was the mother of Cyrus. But Mandane the Median princess was given in marriage to Cambyses, who was Persian. So Cyrus' father was Persian.
The story is told by Herodotus, the “Father of History” who lived from about 490 B.C. to 425 B.C. In his book, The Histories, Book I, beginning with par. 108,
“Astyages had a daughter called Mandane, and he dreamed one night that she made water in such enormous quantities that it filled his city and swamped the whole of Asia. He told his dream to the Magi, whose business it was to interpret such things, and was much alarmed by what they said it meant. Consequently, when Mandane was old enough to marry, he did not give her to some Mede of suitable rank, but was induced by his fear of the dream’s significance to marry her to a Persian named Cambyses, a man he knew to be of good family and quiet habits—though he considered him much below a Mede even of middle rank.
“Before Mandane and Cambyses had been married a year, Astyages had another dream. This time it was that a vine grew from his daughter’s private parts and spread over Asia. As before, he told the interpreters about this dream, and then sent for his daughter, who was now pregnant. When she arrived, he kept her under strict watch, intending to make away with her child; for the fact was that the Magi had interpreted the dream to mean that his daughter’s son would usurp his throne.”
Keep in mind that the child in question here was destined to become King Cyrus of Persia, who would defeat the Medes and make them his subjects. This is why many years later, it was Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede who conquered Babylon.
Take note also that there was a plot to kill Cyrus as soon as he was born, even as King Herod later tried to kill Jesus shortly after He was born. In both cases, it was the revelation of the Magi that prompted these actions. Revelation 12 attributes it to the inspiration of the Red Dragon. In the case of Cyrus, the Red Dragon was manifested in the person of King Astyages of Media, and later in the birth of Jesus, it manifested in King Herod of Judea, the half-Edomite. (Edom means “red.”)
King Astyages then attempted to kill his grandson as soon as he was born. Herodotus’ history continues:
“To guard against this, Astyages, when Cyrus was born, sent for his kinsman Harpagus, the steward of his property, whom he trusted more than anyone, and said to him: ‘I have some instructions for you, Harpagus, and mind you pay attention to them, whatever they may be. My safety depends upon you. If you neglect it and prefer to serve others, the day will come when you will be caught in your own trap. Get hold of Mandane’s child—take it home and kill it. Then bury it how you please.’
Harpagus protested, but was duty-bound to obey the king. However, because he was also a kinsman of the king, this made him likewise a kinsman of the baby. So he decided not to do the deed himself.
“He promptly sent a messenger to one of the king’s herdsmen, who he knew had a stretch of pasture amongst mountains ranged by wild beasts, and therefore most suitable to the purpose in hand. The fellow’s name was Mitradates, and he lived with another of the king’s slaves, a woman whose name in Greek would be Cyno, or Bitch: (the Median form of it was Spaco—‘spaca’ being the Median for bitch). . .
“The herdsman made haste to answer the summons, and Harpagus said to him: ‘The king’s orders are that you must expose this infant in the wildest spot you know of amongst the hills, where it may soonest die. I am to tell you, moreover, that if you disobey and find some means of saving the child, the king will have you put to death in a way not pleasant to think of. I am commanded to see for myself that the child has been exposed.’
“Mitradates picked up the baby and, returning by the way he had come, took it back to the shack where he lived. Fate had decreed that his wife, who had been daily expecting a child of her own, was on that very day brought to bed, while her husband was away in the city. . .”
Mitradates returned with the child and told his wife his new assignment. He then said to his wife,
‘“Well, what do you think? It’s the child of Mandane, the king’s daughter, and Cambyses the son of Cyrus, and the king has given orders to make away with it. Look—here it is.’
“As he said this, the herdsman uncovered the baby and showed it to his wife, who, seeing that it was a fine strong child, burst out crying, and put her arms round her husband’s knees, imploring him to do anything rather than expose it. . .
‘“My own child,’ she said, ‘was born today—and it was born dead. Take the body and expose it, and let us bring up Mandane’s son as our own. If we do this, no one will find out that you have disobeyed your masters. Moreover, we shall have managed pretty well for ourselves too; our dead baby will have a royal burial, and this live one will not be killed.’
“Mitradates was pleased with his wife’s proposal, and at once proceeded to act upon it. . . And so came about that the herdsman’s wife, when her own son was buried, brought up the child that was one day to be Cyrus, though she, of course, did not call him by that name.”
I find it interesting that Cyrus’ supposed mother was named Cyro, “Bitch,” which, of course, would make Cyrus the son of Bitch. Likewise, in the Jewish Talmud, Jesus’ mother was a prostitute, and His father was a Roman soldier named Pandira. Both Cyrus and Jesus were insulted in this way.
Cyrus was raised by a herdsman—that is, a shepherd. And so, Isaiah 44:28 says, “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd!” In this, Cyrus prefigured the real Messiah, for Hebrews 13:20 calls Jesus “the great Shepherd of the sheep.”
When Cyrus was ten years old, he and the neighbor boys were playing “Kings,” a game where they would elect one of them to be king, and the rest agreed to be his followers. Cyrus was elected king. One of the players, the son of a nobleman, refused to obey Cyrus, so Cyrus grabbed a whip and beat him severely. He ran home and complained to his father, who took it to King Astyages. Cyrus was called to give account for himself, and when Astyages saw him, he noticed the family resemblance and took note that he had acted out the part of “King” as if he were truly royalty.
Upon questioning his steward, he found that the baby had been entrusted to a herdsman to kill, so he questioned the herdsman and discovered that his grandson still lived, and it was Cyrus. Instead of being angry, King Astyages decided to celebrate his grandson’s deliverance with a feast. He then turned to Harpagus, the steward, and told him, as recorded by Herodotus:
‘“I want you to send your own son to visit the young newcomer; and come to dinner with me yourself, as I intend to celebrate my grandson’s deliverance by a sacrifice to the gods to whom such rites belong.’
When Harpagus’ son arrived at the palace, Astyages had him butchered, cut up into joints and cooked, roasting some, boiling the rest, and having the whole properly prepared for the table…To Harpagus was served the flesh of his son. . .
“When Harpagus thought he had eaten as much as he wanted, Astyages asked him if he had enjoyed his dinner. He answered that he had enjoyed it very much indeed, whereupon those whose business it was to do so brought in the boy’s head, hands, and feet in the covered dish, stood by Harpagus’ chair and told him to lift the lid and take what he fancied. Harpagus removed the cover and saw the fragments of his son’s body. As he kept control of himself and did not lose his head at the dreadful sight, Astyages asked him if he knew what animal it was whose flesh he had eaten. ‘I know, my lord,’ was Harpagus’ reply; ‘and for my part—may the king’s will be done.’ He said no other word, but took up what remained of the flesh and went home, intending, I suppose to bury all of it together. And that was how Harpagus was punished.”
Since Cyrus had been elected “king” by the boys, the Magi advised the king that his dream had already been fulfilled in a harmless manner. So Astyages did not order Cyrus’ execution. Instead, he sent Cyrus away to his real biological father, Cambyses of Persia. So we see that both Cyrus and Jesus left the country for their protection—Cyrus to Persia, and years later, Jesus was taken to Egypt.
Meanwhile, Harpagus the steward was burning for revenge upon Astyages. He kept in touch with Cyrus in Persia as he grew to manhood, while at the same time, as Herodotus tells us,
“… persuading some of the Median nobles that it would be to their advantage, in view of the harshness of Astyages’ rule, to dethrone him in favour of Cyrus.”
Harpagus finally sent word to Cyrus, setting a specific date to begin the revolt. “The Persians had long resented their subjection to the Medes,” Herodotus tells us in Par. 125. So when the Persians did revolt, King Astyages foolishly put Harpagus in charge of the Median army to put down the revolt. Harpagus had suppressed his anger well enough to make the king think he would submit to his treatment with no animosity. Absolute monarchs make this mistake when they are blinded by their own belief that they have the right to mistreat their subjects at will.
“The result was that when they took the field and engaged the Persian army, a few who were not in the plot did their duty, but of the remainder some deserted to the Persians and the greater number deliberately shirked fighting and took to their heels.”
So Medea came under the domination of Persia. Astyages’ dream came true, for his daughter had indeed brought forth a son who would usurp the throne of the Medes. Astyages had ruled 35 years before being defeated and dethroned by Cyrus in 550 B.C. Herodotus says,
“On the present occasion the Persians under Cyrus rose against the Medes and from then onwards were masters of Asia. Cyrus treated Astyages with great consideration and kept him at his court until he died.” (Par. 130)
Astyages’ son, Darius, was Cyrus’ uncle and later became his father-in-law. It was this Darius the Mede who actually took Babylon at the age of 62 (Daniel 5:31). He was subject to his nephew, Cyrus, the Persian, who was 40 at the time they jointly conquered Babylon. The Bible says little about Darius, but Cyrus is a type of Christ. The Bible thus also credits Christ with conquering Mystery Babylon.
This is part 17 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones