Iran, known as Persia in biblical times, plays an important role in the Bible. From being mentioned as early as the book of Ezekiel to featuring prominently in the books of Esther and Daniel, Iran’s interactions with God’s people shaped biblical history.
In this post, we will explore the biblical references to Iran and understand their significance. You will learn how God used world powers like Iran for His divine purposes during Bible times. As we study, we may gain insight into how God moves in our world today.
- Iran was known as Persia in the Bible. The Persian Empire ruled during parts of the Old Testament.
- Biblical prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel served in roles in the Persian administrations. God used them as witnesses even in a foreign court.
- Esther’s courage while queen of Persia saved the Jewish people from genocide. God can use anyone for His plans.
- Persian kings allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple after the Babylonian exile. This fulfilled Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy.
- The Magi from the East who visited baby Jesus may have been Persian astrologers. People from Iran sought the Messiah.
Now let’s explore the biblical accounts in depth.
Iran in the Old Testament
Ezekiel and Jeremiah Refer to Persia
The books of the major prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah contain some of the earliest biblical references to Persia. Ezekiel 38:5 mentions Persia alongside Cush and Put as nations under the rule of Gog that will form a coalition against Israel:
Persia, Cush and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets (Ezekiel 38:5, NKJV)
While foretelling God’s judgement on the nations that attacked Judah, the prophet Jeremiah specifically names Elam, an early civilization that became part of Persia:
Against Elam I will bring the four winds, from the four quarters of heaven; and scatter them toward all those winds; there shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go. (Jeremiah 49:36, NKJV)
These prophecies likely came true when Assyria conquered Elam and Persia around 645 BC. But they foreshadowed Persia’s rise to become a world empire.
Persia Conquers Babylon
The rise of Persia is recorded in the book of Daniel. After Babylon exiled the people of Judah, the writing on the wall in Daniel 5 foretells Babylon’s days were numbered. That very night, King Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom (Daniel 5:30-31). In Daniel 6, we see Darius appointed Daniel to high rank. Daniel continued serving faithfully even under Persia’s rule.
But it was King Cyrus of Persia that acted on prophecies like Isaiah 45:1-7 and initiated the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. Ezra 1:1-4 records Cyrus’ decree allowing the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and the books of Ezra attribute this foreign king’s actions to the Lord stirring his spirit. Though not a believer, Cyrus carried out God’s plans.
Queen Esther Saves the Jews
The book of Esther provides the most well-known account of Jewish interactions with Persia. King Ahasuerus, identified by many scholars as Xerxes I who reigned 486-465 BC, chose the Jewish orphan Esther as his queen. Her cousin Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate Ahasuerus.
Later, the king’s highest official Haman devised a genocidal scheme to kill all Jews across the empire. After Mordecai appealed to Esther, she bravely approached the king, revealed her Jewish identity and exposed Haman’s plot. As a result, Haman was executed on the gallows he’d built for Mordecai. Esther’s faithfulness as queen saved her people from certain death.
This amazing story shows how God can use anyone for His glory. Esther courageously spoke up before the most powerful man in the world to save her people from evil plans. Her example inspires us to step out in faith when called to stand up for what’s right.
Iran in the New Testament
Persian Rulers in Post-Exile Books
In the centuries after Judah’s return from exile, Persia remained the dominant empire. Books like Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi record interactions with the Persian kings who succeeded Cyrus.
For example, Ezra 7 describes how Artaxerxes allowed Ezra the priest to return to Jerusalem with offerings and gifts from the king and his counselors. The Persian rulers even provided articles for the temple and decreed the appropriate sacrifices.
Towards the end of the Old Testament, in the book of Nehemiah, we find accounts of Nehemiah gaining King Artaxerxes’ approval to return and rebuild the city walls. Persian kings played a surprisingly prominent role in restoring the Jewish nation.
Magi from the East
The Magi or wise men who sought Jesus after his birth were likely astrologers from Persia. Matthew 2:1-2 describes these visitors from the East coming to worship the newborn King of the Jews:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, NKJV)
Based on the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, scholars believe these men likely came from Persia or regions under Persian rule. So some of the first recorded Gentiles to seek and worship Jesus may have traveled all the way from your modern day Iran!
Applying Lessons from Iran in the Bible
As we’ve seen, Persia’s interactions with God’s people shaped significant events in biblical history. From prophecies to Esther’s courage to their role in restoring Jerusalem, Iran served as part of God’s plan during Bible times.
But these accounts are not just ancient history. We can gain valuable lessons and insights from Persia’s biblical role that apply to our lives today.
God Can Use Anyone
Esther’s courage before King Ahasuerus reminds us that God can use anyone to accomplish His will. When faced with the threat of genocide, Esther risked her life by approaching the monarch. God gave her favor, and through Esther’s daring actions, the Jewish people survived.
Like Esther, God might call on you to take bold stands in your workplace, school or community. Step out in faith and trust God to use your actions for His glory. You never know how your small act of courage may end up saving many lives.
Seek Jesus Like the Persian Magi
Imagine undertaking a long, difficult journey through the desert to meet the promised Messiah. That’s what the wise men from Persia likely did. Their faithfulness in following the star should challenge us. Is there anything you place above seeking Jesus? Remove those obstacles and distractions that may keep you from worshiping Christ.
Also, the Magi’s lavish gifts reflect Jesus’ worth. Are you giving God your best? He deserves nothing less than our utmost love and devotion. The Magi traveled from Iran to honor Christ – what can your life journey look like when wholly focused on glorifying your King?
Trust God’s Plans During Exile
When Judah was exiled to Babylon, they wondered if God had abandoned them. But His plans involved using a Persian king to bring them home. And in the courts of their captors, prophets like Daniel still found ways to honor God.
Your situation may seem hopeless. You may feel far from home and out of God’s will. But take courage! Like He did for Daniel and the exiles, God can use you powerfully even in unlikely circumstances. Keep seeking Him, and you’ll be amazed as His plans unfold.
The biblical accounts of Iran provide many lessons to grow your faith. As you follow Jesus, keep learning from Esther’s boldness, the Magi’s worship and the exiles’ perseverance. When you trust and obey God like they did, He will use you mightily for His glory.
As we have explored, Iran’s ancient civilization played an integral role in the biblical narrative. From the prophecies of its rise to prominence, to Esther’s bravery in the royal court, to the Persian kings who restored the Jewish nation, Iran intersected with God’s people at pivotal moments.
Key figures like Daniel, Esther and Ezra continued serving the Lord faithfully despite living under Persian rule for much of their lives. Their courage provides an inspiring example for Christians today. The biblical accounts also remind us of God’s sovereignty over the nations and how He can use any circumstance or person – even a powerful pagan ruler – to accomplish His perfect will.
Next time you read these stories, remember the lessons they teach. We can all develop stronger faith and deeper devotion to Christ by learning from those who walked with God in ancient Persia. As you live for Him, rest assured that God is still on His throne and intimately involved in your life journey even today.