First Charter of Human Rights

This past week the world was impacted by the attacks in Paris. Radical muslims attacking Jews and a satirical newspaper. Fear and tensions rise. How can there be peace? How can there be justice?

I’d like to take a lesson from a man named Daniel. He was a Jewish exile when Babylon conquered Israel in 597 BC. Daniel lived in a hostile, racially and religiously divided world. He did not demand those in authority agree with him but rather demonstrated through faith and humility his complete reliance upon God. Daniel was raised to a position of high authority where he remained through several rulers, including Cyrus the Great who captured Babylon in 559 BC. It is widely believed that Daniel counseled Cyrus resulting in Cyrus’s release of the Jews and rebuilding of the temple. Equally important is Cyrus understanding that God demanded human rights. Might did not make right and those in power had an obligation toward those without power. I believe Daniel helped Cyrus understand God’s heart of justice.


A couple of years ago we visited the British Museum which houses the Cyrus Cylinder considered by many to be the first charter of Human Rights. Among other declarations, the cylinder reads:

“I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them. From now on, I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never resolve on war to reign. Until I am the king of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions, I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor.

I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. To day, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other’s rights. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such traditions should be exterminated the world over.”

More than 2500 years ago a great ruler stood against oppression and tyranny, but not by waging war or spreading fear. Cyrus recognized that human rights provide justice and dignity to all people. God used Cyrus as the shepherd of his people (Isa. 44:28) to restore them to Jerusalem. Help was offered. Hope was restored. Five hundred years later, Jesus read a scroll from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Lk 4:18. This was the charter under which Christ operated as he announced the good news of his kingdom of justice and righteousness.

May we be people like Daniel who influence the Cyrus’s of the world. May we roll up our sleeves and get involved in the challenges of our day. May we join in the Kingdom work of announcing good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners and those who are oppressed. May we advance human rights as a reflection of human dignity rooted in God’s kingdom. And may we labor for that kingdom as we

Go and Do Likewise!