Source: Nader Bekeken, 2011. 5 pages. Translated by Wim Kanis.

Isaiah 45:6-7 - Creator of Darkness and Calamity

I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness;,
I make well-being and create calamity;
and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:6b-7

God creates the dark as much as he creates the light. He creates both peace and calamity. The one stands alongside the other without distinction. As if it was all the same to God whether he creates something good or something evil.

Does it really make no difference to him? When he allows Japan to be hit by the force of a tsunami, is he acting with the same delight as when he saves people from destruction?

God empowers Cyrus🔗

The city of Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. Many Judeans have been carried off as exiles to Babylon. They have lost all courage. They bemoan the fact that the LORD has no regard at all for the wretched condition in which they find themselves (see Isa. 40:27).

Meanwhile, the political situation is changing. A new power is developing in the east, threatening the realm of the Chaldeans in Babylon. The king who has appeared as a new player on the political scene is achieving one victory after another. No one can stand up to him. Speedily he advances toward Babylon (see Isa. 41:2-3).

In Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1 the LORD mentions the name of this king: Cyrus. He says that Cyrus is carrying out his plans. Just as he had at one time appointed David and his descendants, so the LORD has now designated Cyrus to be his shepherd. He even awards him the title “anointed by the LORD”.

It is the LORD who directs Cyrus. By God’s command, king Cyrus is to take care of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple. He paves the way for him. Cyrus subverts nations, disarms kings, opens and destroys strong gateways, and breaks down defenses. He can do this because the LORD gives him the power to do so. That is why Cyrus will defeat Babylon. The LORD himself gives him the riches of the once mighty metropolis (see Isa. 45:1-5).

In the last line of Isaiah 45:7 the LORD sums this up as follows: “It is I, the LORD, who does all these things.” All these things: you can relate this to what is stated right before it, namely that the LORD forms the light and creates the darkness, makes peace (well-being) and creates calamity. It certainly also relates back to everything that the LORD has told us from 44:24 on. God makes it clear that he is behind Cyrus’ advances and victories. Cyrus can only achieve his spectacular deeds because the LORD empowers him to do so.

God remains the creator🔗

This is what the LORD wants to make clear. That is why he says of himself that he is the one who forms the light and creates the darkness. In doing so, you can think back to God’s work of creation at the beginning of time. This fits well with the first verse of the pericope, Isaiah 44:24. There the LORD points out that he is the Creator of heaven and earth.

One might also think of the light that appears each morning and the darkness that follows it in the evening. Interpreters point here to Isaiah 45:6a. The Living Bible translation read there “from east to west”. That is a translation of a Hebrew expression that can also be translated as: “from sunrise to sunset”. This expression brings the hearer or reader of the prophecy into the atmosphere of the alternation of day and night.

In both cases it is striking that the text does not indicate the creation of light and dark as something that God did once, long ago. If that is how you wish to understand this, one could also translate: who formed the light and created the dark (see Isa. 44:24, where the ESV translates the same Hebrew verb forms using a completed tense). But even then, the emphasis remains that God is still the Creator of light and darkness.

Genesis describes creation as a work of God at the beginning of history. On the seventh day he had completed that work (Gen. 2:1-2). In Isaiah 45:12 God mentions the creation of the earth, man, sky and stars as something he did in the past. So Genesis and Isaiah 45 both know of the distinction between what God has done at the beginning and what he did afterwards.

We are used to distinguishing between the creation at the beginning, and the preservation and government of the world thereafter. There is nothing wrong with that, for Genesis 2:1-2 shows that God did something at the beginning that was completed afterwards. At the same time it is true that creation, preservation and government are very closely related to each other in Old Testament language. Isaiah uses the same terms for what God did at the beginning of the world’s history, and for what he did afterward and continues to do. He links the one directly to the other (see, e.g., Isa. 44:24-28). God is not only the Creator of old — he still is. He is still acting in the world, with the same power he displayed at the beginning.

God makes everything🔗

The second line of Isaiah 45:7 is clearly about what the LORD is doing in history. He makes peace and creates calamity. You can connect the word “peace” to the unimpeded advance of Cyrus, as Isaiah 41:3 describes it (the Hebrew uses the same word there: shalom). It is even more obvious to think of what God said in Isaiah 44:26 and 28: the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the cities of Judah and the temple. With “calamity” the exiles may have thought of everything that had happened to them in the recent past: the destruction of Jerusalem, the removal to Babylon. You can also think of the calamity that is inextricably linked to Cyrus’ advance. Then we are talking about the calamity that will strike the Babylonians. Cyrus will disarm their king, demolish the defenses of their city, and plunder their possessions.

As you the move from here to the first line of Isaiah 45:7, another possibility emerges to fill in the terms “light” and “dark”. Isaiah often uses “light” and “darkness” as images. Light then stands for the salvation that God is working. Darkness refers to the miserable condition people are in or that he brings upon them (see, e.g., Isa. 9:1; 49:6, 9; 59:9). If that is the intention, the first line of Isaiah 45:7 is not about the creation of light and darkness “in the beginning” or the daily re-appearance of day and night, but about God’s intervention in the destiny of the nations.

It is difficult to make a choice. In fact, it is not even necessary. Where the LORD is really the only One who makes everything (as he says in Isa. 44:24), he is also the Creator of light and darkness in all of the meanings just mentioned. Because he is the God who creates light and darkness, peace and calamity, therefore he is also the only one who allows Cyrus to do all that he is [or: will be] doing.

God is the only one🔗

That was by no means the first thing the exiles from Judah in Babylon would have thought. They were impressed by the gods of the Babylonians, with their splendid images. Hadn’t the destruction of Jerusalem taught them that those gods were much more powerful than their own God, the LORD?

Cyrus himself certainly saw it differently than the LORD says here. He was not raised in the awareness of the LORD (Isa. 45:4-5, “though you do not know me”). There is a text from that period of time, the so-called Cyrus cylinder, which allows Cyrus himself to speak. In this manuscript Cyrus thanks the Babylonian god Marduk for his victory over Babylon. In contrast, the LORD lets it be known to Cyrus: I give you the victory over Babylon and the riches of that city; and I do this to bring you to the acknowledgement that I have called you by name and that I am the only God (Isa. 45:3, 5). Not only Cyrus, but also everyone in the whole world will have to recognize that there is nothing and no One but the LORD (Isa. 45:6).

God also desires to convince the despondent exiles from Judah about this. He alone is the Creator of heaven and earth, of light and darkness. Therefore, he is also the only One who gives Cyrus his victories. He uses Cyrus as an instrument in his hands.

And because he, the Creator, is doing this, it is not fitting for creatures such as the exiles to criticize God’s actions (see Isa. 45:9-13).

God restores his people🔗

By what he causes Cyrus to do, the LORD aims to bring everyone to recognize him as the only God. But the LORD has yet another purpose that is closely related to this. In Isaiah 45:4 he says that he has called Cyrus for the sake of his servant Jacob, for the sake of his chosen people Israel. After all, this power and these victories of Cyrus serve the purpose that God will again grant freedom to the Judean exiles. He will provide for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple (Isa. 44:26, 28; 45:13).

The LORD forms the light and creates the darkness. He makes peace and creates calamity. He is behind everything that happens in those turbulent times in the ancient Near

East. But in all of this he has in mind the restoration of his people Israel. You can also read this in the next verse, Isaiah 45:8. There it is again about the creative power of God. Unlike verse 7, there is no mention of darkness and calamity. It is only about righteousness, salvation and justice. The LORD creates not only light and peace, but also darkness and calamity. But as the God who accomplishes all of that, his aim is restoration, salvation and justice.

God is the Lord🔗

The LORD intends to bring Cyrus, Israel and everyone from east to west to the recognition that he is the only God. This is clearly stated in Isaiah 45:5a: “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God”. Cyrus and the other people, however, must not only recognize that the LORD is the only God. They must also recognize that he alone is the LORD: “I am the LORD, there is no other” (Isa. 45:6b). All too quickly we read this as “I am the only God”. But it is worded slightly differently. And that is not without reason.

The LORD is the only God. But he is that as also truly being the LORD, Yahweh. That means, first of all, that he is the God of Israel. See Isaiah 45:3b: “That you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel.” It also means that he is faithful to his people. He carries out his promises of salvation (see the revelation of the name the LORD, Yahweh, in Exodus 3). As the LORD, he is the God who is loving and gracious, patient, faithful and true. He is the God who proves his love to thousands of generations and who forgives sin, even though he does not leave these unpunished (Ex. 34:6-7).

Cyrus, Israel, and the other nations must come to the recognition that the LORD is not simply the only God. That he is the only God can never be separated from the fact that he is the LORD, and that he is everything that his name stands for. He forms light and creates darkness, he establishes peace and creates calamity, and he does all these things through and around Cyrus. He does all this as the LORD, the God of Israel, whose plan is to save his people.

God keeps his word🔗

Does God care whether he creates light or darkness? Does it make no difference to him whether he brings peace or creates calamity? Indeed, he does the one no less than the other.

In fact, Isaiah 45:7 emphasizes that God also creates darkness and calamity. For the formation of light and peace, the text uses verbs that are common in the Old Testament. These verbs are used not only for acts of God, but also for those of the people. Next to “darkness” and “calamity” is the Hebrew verb that is generally translated as “to create”. That verb is used in the Old Testament exclusively for acts of God. In this way the text emphasizes God’s own involvement in bringing about darkness and calamity. That is truly divine work.

The text does so to underscore the fact that the LORD really does all things — all that is necessary to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. All that is necessary for the salvation of his people. To Cyrus and the exiles, God says that he alone accomplishes all of that. In doing so, he shows that he alone is the LORD.

Indeed, he also creates darkness and calamity. But not because it would not matter to him whether he creates something good or something evil. He wants to make clear that he truly is the God who keeps his word, and who therefore is doing everything that is needed to save his people.

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