John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 26

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John Kitto Evening Bible Devotions: April 26

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Ormuzd and Ahirman

Isa_45:5-7; Isa_45:12

After the account we have given of the career of Zoroaster, it is proper to consider the nature of the doctrines which he taught. To do this satisfactorily, in a small space, is rendered difficult from the nature of the documents in which the information comes down to us. But the following statement, so far as it goes, will, we apprehend, enable the reader to realize a correct and tolerably clear view of this religious system.

The leading doctrines which Zoroaster taught, were these—

God, he strongly affirmed, was independent and self-existing from all eternity. This was well. This truth, through the great light which the Lord has given to us, has become so elementary and so simple, that we can hardly estimate aright the importance of its distinct announcement in any ancient system. Although to us so obvious, this truth had faded from the common knowledge of man since the patriarchal age, and to bring it forward thus conspicuously, was a great and crowning merit of the system of Zoroaster.

It was in trying to account for the origin of good and evil that Zoroaster began to stumble. There were, he taught, two principles in the universe—good and evil. The one was termed Ormuzd, which denotes the presiding agent of all that was good; and the other Ahriman, the lord of evil. Each of these had the power of creation: but that power was exercised with opposite designs; and it was from their co-action that a mixture of good and evil pervaded the universe, and was found in every creature. The angels of Ormuzd, or the good principle, sought to preserve the elements, the seasons, and the human race, which the infernal agents of Ahriman desired to destroy. But the source of good, the great Ormuzd, was alone everlasting; and mast, therefore, ultimately prevail. If Christians, with all the light of Scripture irradiating the subject, still find in it much that is “hard to understand,” it is not surprising that Zoroaster, who lacked this light, and was left to his own conjectures with the obscure intimations of tradition, involved himself in a dangerous and fatal error, dishonoring to God, which sets upon his system that stamp of human infirmity and failure which all these human inventions bear.

The uncareful reader may be apt to think that this Ahriman, or lord of evil, is no other than the Satan of Scripture. So it may have been intended. Or rather, in Ahriman the reference may have sought to embody, so far as Zoroaster understood them, the old patriarchal traditions concerning the great enemy of man. But there is a vast and awful difference. Ahriman is not like Satan, a creature of God, fallen from the high estate which he held once, and exercising his fearful ministry only through the advantage which the sin of man has given to him, and that only for an appointed time, and under the sufferance of One whose power could crush him in a moment. Ahriman, on the contrary, is not a creature, but a principle, co-ordinate with the author of good, equally with him possessing the power of creation; though differently exercised—waging with him an equal and doubtful conflict—and destined to be ultimately vanquished through an advantage on the part of his opponent, of which the system appears to have deprived himself, for no other reason than that he might thereby be in the end overcome. Let us look at it again. What do we see here but essentially the old pervading vice of the system which may be regarded as next after the patriarchal—a barren recognition of the self-subsistence and eternity of God, but leaving Him in high and holy abstraction far apart, while the government of the world, its good and its evil, are left to great but inferior agents, who alone take an active part in the concerns of man? This is that fatal doctrine which lay at the root of all the ancient corruptions of religion, and in which, indeed, some of the most dangerous errors of Popery have had their origin. Under this view Ormuzd, as the author of good, is scarcely less objectionable than Ahriman, because he is thrust between man and the Almighty, and, indeed, stands before man in the place of God. It becomes, indeed, difficult to distinguish Ormuzd from the Almighty; and we know that in the popular religion the latter was altogether lost sight of, and Ormuzd exhibited as the sole object of worship. We can conceive, that in the days when this worship prevailed, a man might have travelled through the country, and, from what he saw and heard, would have gone away with the impression that Ormuzd was the god of the Persians, without having heard of the High and Inaccessible One, whom the theory of the religion made the head and center of the system, but whom the practice of the system altogether overlooked. There are even state inscriptions, graven on stone of the time of Darius Hystaspis, in which everything is constantly described as being done “by the grace of Ormuzd,” and in which no other spiritual existence is recognized. Then, light was the type of the good, darkness of the evil spirit; and God is represented as having said to Zoroaster, “My light is encircled under all that shines,”—beautiful words, true of the God whom we serve, and not true of any other power in heaven or earth. In fact, in the passage of Isaiah now before us, the Lord does, in the most direct and pointed manner, reprove these errors, and take to himself all the functions of creation, and government, and supreme control, of which it deprives Him. With the information now given, the reader will not fail to perceive a strong and new emphasis in the words—

“I am the Lord, and there is none else,

There is no God beside Me:

I girded thee though thou hast not known Me:

That they may know from the rising of the sun,

And from the west, that there is none beside Me:

I am the Lord, and there is none else.”—Isa_45:5-6.

This passage must have satisfied Cyrus that the being who made this claim, and whom he had before known only as the God of the Hebrews, could be no other than that High and Lofty One, the bare existence of whom was admitted by his own religion; and that He rejected the delegation of his active attributes in the government of the world, and the care of man, to Ormuzd or any one else—absolutely affirming that there was “none else” who exercised for Him, or instead of Him, his divine attributes. In the memorable confession, “He is the God,” Cyrus seems to have recognized this truth, and acquainted us with the impression which these words made upon his mind. If this prophecy had left him in any doubt, the words that follow must have removed them, affirming, as they do, in express terms, that He was not only the Great One above all, but that He exercised without another all the functions ascribed to Ormuzd, and held supreme control over light and darkness, and good and evil. Nothing can be more explicit than these illustrious words—

“I form the light, and create darkness;

I make peace, and create evil—

I the Lord, do all these things.

I have made the earth

And created man upon it;

I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens,

And all their hosts have I commanded.”—Isa_45:7; Isa_45:12.

In connection with the last line, it may be remarked, that in Scripture “the host of heaven” denotes the heavenly bodies, which, as already explained, were the objects of worship under the Sabean superstition, the essential elements of which, purged of the grosser developments, were included in the System of Zoroaster, ennobled as that system was by many great truths, drawn from the knowledge of ancient times. The extraordinary honor paid to the sun under this system, and to fire as its symbol, would alone impart to it this taint. It has been seen that light was the type or symbol of Ormuzd, as darkness was of Ahriman. Hence the disciples of Zoroaster were directed, when they worshipped in a temple, to turn towards the sacred fire which was always kept burning there; and, when in the open air, to the sun as the great source of light, and that by which God sheds his vivifying influence upon the earth. This ended, as all such symbolical worship is sure in the long run to do, in direct worship being paid to the sun and to the fire by the great body of the followers of this religion, unmindful of the higher Object of reverence and worship whom the symbols were supposed to represent.