The mighty armies of Persia’s young King Cyrus grew tired of storming the walls of the fortress of Babylon. Time and again they had assaulted it. Yet all their ruses, strategies, and brutal power failed to breach the solid defenses of Belshazzar’s capital. After a while King Cyrus abandoned the costly assaults, and settled down to starve Babylon into submission. Month after month passed, and there was not a single sign of weakening on the part of the defenders. Spies informed the impatient ruler of Persia that the stores of Babylonia could last another two years before the residents would feel the effect of the siege.

And then it happened. One day a Jew was among the captives whom the nightly patrols brought back form their daring forays into the city. His name was Zerubabel and he claimed to be a descendant of the last Jewish king. Cyrus heard about it and asked the Jew to be brought before him. “Peace be with you, my Master and King,” he greeted the ruler of Persia.

“You call me King, yet you and thousands of your Jewish brethren fight on the side of my enemies,” the king replied.

“Your Majesty is right, yet we are bound by the command of our prophets to serve the welfare of the city to which G‑d has sent us into exile. Let me, however, tell you that that our prophets also foresaw the end of Babylon. With the help of G‑d, without our assistance, you shall conquer this mighty fortress.”

“I would rather have your help than the promise of your prophets,” said Cyrus. Yet after a while he asked Zerubabel, “What is it that your prophets predicted?”

“The scroll of Jermiah’s speeches was thrown into the Euphrates. But Isaiah’s prophecy is here on this parchment. It has always remained with the Jewish kings. Since the death of my father, I, the grandson of Jechoniah, carry it with me wherever I go. Its contents kept our hopes alive all through the bitter years of exile.” With these words, Zerubabel gave the king an old, faded scroll of parchment. Cyrus opened it impatiently, and read and reread the words which Isaiah had written centuries before:

“That saith to the deep water: Be dry,

And thy rivers will I dry up.

That saith of Cyrus, You are my shepherd.”

“Leave the scroll with me,” Cyrus requested after the words of the prophet had filled his being with the promise of its message. “When Babel falls, I shall return it to you. And it will not be your loss.”

That night both the king of Babylon and the king of Persia could not fall asleep. Cyrus was bothered by his failure to take the strongly defended city. And all the while the message of Isaiah flashed through his tortured mind. Every now and then he pulled the scroll from beneath his pillow and reread the puzzling words. Suddenly it dawned upon him. As he followed the meaning of the message, a picture flashed through his mind and he jumped up from his bed. Full of inspiration and reawakened courage, he proclaimed aloud:

“That saith to the deep water: Be dry,

And thy rivers will I dry up . . .”

In the castle, Belshazzar, the ruler of Babylonia, was also unable to fall asleep. All the joy of the huge banquet in honor of the city’s goddess had been spoilt for him when the mysterious writing that predicted his fall appeared on the wall. Just when he and his companions had begun to enjoy themselves, and when they had shouted their gratitude to the goddess for protecting them against the enemy, the invisible hand had crept along the wall and shaken Belshazzar out of his drunkenness. All through the city rose the singing and shouting of the feast. But he, the king, could not go on. He could not forget, and sleep fled from his tired eyes. “Oh, for a minute’s peace,” he groaned, and turned from side to side without finding relief.

The guards of the walls had joined the drinking bout of their comrades-in-arms. There was no chance that the Persians would attack in the night. Why then should they miss the fun? But they were greatly mistaken. Not far from the walls, a great many Persian soldiers worked hard by the flickering light of torches. They blocked the river just before it entered the walls of Babylon, and guided it into a new bed they had dug in the dark of night. While Babylon was drunk with wine and joy, Cyrus’s soldiers entered the fortress through the empty bed of the river. There was no one to resist them. At will they burnt and killed and looted. By dawn the mighty fortress was completely theirs.

In the dry riverbed Cyrus’s men found an earthen container which they brought to their happy king. Cyrus opened it, and as Zerubabel had told him, it contained the prophecies of Jeremiah. His eyes skimmed over the writing and to his great surprise he read these words:

“I will dry up her waters . . .

And I will make them drunken,

The princes of Babylon and her heroes . . .”

Loud was the praise of the G‑d of Israel when King Cyrus put down the scroll and expressed his awe at this exact prophecy of the way in which G‑d had delivered Babylon into his hands.

Zerubabel was brought before the king. Cyrus thanked him for the scroll of Isaiah and honored him before his people. The descendant of the last Jewish king, however, was not satisfied. He bowed before Cyrus and said, “You have made the first half of the prophecy come true. Why not make the second half come true, too?” At Cyrus’s astonished look, he took the scroll and read aloud:

“That saith of Cyrus: He is my shepherd;

Even saying of Jerusalem it shall be built,

And the Temple’s foundation shall be laid.”

King Cyrus did make the second half come true. At his order Zion was restored, and the Jewish people returned from exile to Jerusalem, to rebuild once again the House of G‑d.