In Isaiah 45:1–7, the prophet foresees God calling and anointing King Cyrus of Persia to be His chosen instrument to subdue nations (namely Babylon) for the sake of His people Israel. Cyrus, who was not yet born at the time of the prophecy, did not know the Lord or even acknowledge His existence, making him an unlikely choice to be God’s anointed. The pick of Cyrus proved all the more that God is sovereign and in control of all things and people. As the only true God and Creator of all life, His authority and decisions cannot truly be challenged:
“There is none beside me.
I am the Lord, and there is none else.
I form the light, and create darkness:
I make peace, and create evil:
I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6–7, KJV 1900).
If everything God created was good (Genesis 1:31; 1 Timothy 4:4; James 1:17), why does Isaiah 45:7 say God created evil? The Hebrew word translated as “evil” (ra‘) in the King James Version of Isaiah 45:7 has two applications in the Bible. The term can be used in the sense of moral evil, such as wickedness and sin (Matthew 12:35; Judges 3:12; Proverbs 8:13; 3 John 1:11), or it can refer to harmful natural events, calamity, misfortune, adversity, affliction, or disaster. It is in this second sense that Isaiah speaks, and his meaning is reflected in most modern Bible translations of Isaiah 45:7 (emphasis added): “I make success and create disaster” (HCSB); “I make well-being and create calamity” (ESV); “I send good times and bad times” (NLT).
God does not create moral evil. For one thing, moral evil is not a “thing” to be made but a choice or intent contrary to God’s good purposes, His holy character, and His law. Moral evil does not conform to God and His will. God is good (Psalm 34:8), holy (Leviticus 11:44; Isaiah 6:3; 1 Peter 1:16), and loving (1 John 4:8); therefore, His plans and purposes are good, holy, and loving.
As Ruler of the universe, God sometimes creates calamity to accomplish His will. He brought disaster to discipline His people when they turned their backs on Him and refused to repent (Jeremiah 18:17). And He promised to bring calamity to Babylon through Cyrus for the sake of His chosen people—to restore them to their homeland and rebuild their ruined cities (Isaiah 41:8–10; 44:26; 45:4; 2 Chronicles 36:22–23; Ezra 1:3).
As the Sovereign King over all earthly kings, God can make light or darkness and create peace or calamity. He can use Cyrus as His agent of redemption and peace for Israel and as the bringer of calamity upon Babylon. God moved beyond the boundaries of Israel, selecting a world power that did not even recognize His sovereignty to accomplish His greater kingdom purposes. Cyrus would be the Lord’s divine instrument to help spread the good news of God’s “righteousness” and “salvation” (see Isaiah 45:8) to “all the world from east to west” (Isaiah 45:6, NLT). Cyrus would be the channel, but God was the Architect and Inventor of it all.
God’s sovereign rule over all things good and bad—over success and calamity for His people Israel—is cause for hope in the lives of believers today. We can trust and “know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT). God’s purpose is to bring us to spiritual maturity (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4; 5:27; Colossians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 1:24). Our experiences may seem bright or dark, peaceful or disastrous, but God promises to craft them all together, even adversity, affliction, and “evil,” for our ultimate benefit.