This article is not intended to support a partisan, political agenda that feeds the war between the right and the left. I am as sick of this as you are. This article is intended for Christians to give spiritual reflection and repentance, if needs be, during our current crisis and to encourage Christians to pray for our president and the good of our country.
One of the most fundamental truths of the Bible is that no nation or political leader is to receive our worship, praise, or adoration. Psalm 146:3 is unequivocal in warning us as believers to not “put not our trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” Numerous examples have been inspired before us in the Scripture as lessons of what can happen when leaders boast before the people of their wisdom and accomplishment in an attempt to take glory for themselves as the object of the people’s worship.
Two Warning Figures of the Past
The Herod dynasty provides us a great case study of leaders using their power to establish a legacy for their own glory. Herod the Great (king of Judea 37-4 A.D.), restored to Israel, as much as was possible, her former glory. Herod built a magnificent kingdom in Jerusalem with a theater and luxurious palace with three famous towers. They were famously known as Herod’s Towers, symbols of his greatness among the people.
Herod’s most notable accomplishment, however, was the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s sanctuary and temple. That a Roman-appointed leader was willing to support and actually practice the Jewish religion, rebuilding their temple, something not accomplished since the days of Haggai, was so remarkable, that it awoke the messiah-consciousness that was previously dormant in Israel.
Consider carefully Josephus’ record of Herod’s oration at dedication of the temple,
I think I need not speak to you, my countrymen, about such other works as I have done since I came to the kingdom, although I may say they have been performed in such a manner as to bring more security to you than glory to myself; for I have neither been negligent in the most difficult times about what tended to ease your necessities, nor have the buildings I have made been so proper to preserve me as yourselves from injuries; and I imagine that, with God’s assistance, I have advanced the nation of the Jews to a degree of happiness which they never had before.
The many references to the first-person singular pronoun cannot be missed. Herod won them religious freedom, encouraging their religious devotion to God as he took the glory himself for the rebuilding of the kingdom. He alone gave them happiness like they “never had before” even as he tried to murder Israel’s messiah. These orations echoed through the many generations of Herod’s as the climax of these boastful taunts reached their end in Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great.
The pride and pompous boasts of Herod Agrippa had reached to such a degree that the people were attributing to him divinity. Herod openly welcome the praise through oration and royal investiture. The immediate response of the Lord is recorded as Herod is struck by down and eaten by worms. The Lord issued forth his righteous response putting end to the Herodian royal title in Judea. The divine response of judgment is recorded in Acts 12:21-23:
On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
The second figure to consider is king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. His taunt may sound strangely familiar, “And the king answered and said, Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Like Herod, the Lord gave an immediate response of, in this case, severe chastisement. Daniel 4:31ff:
While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
From beginning to end, the Bible is concerned to demonstrate that all positions of leadership are appointed by the Lord, and that God reserves the right to intrude in judgment or severe chastisement on those leaders who attempt to use their positions to take from the mouths of God’s people the glory that only belongs to Jesus Christ.
The Orations of Donald Trump
The records of president Trump’s speeches are available to anyone who does a basic online search. Trump has taken credit himself for thousands of accomplishments. But there are a few worth posting here.
When President Trump began his presidency, he made the most glaring claim that would establish the trajectory of his speech to us: “I am your voice, said Trump. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.”
In speaking against other nations, Trump has claimed he is “great and unmatched” in his wisdom. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over…”
Of particular importance is Trump’s boast of the economy in his State of the Union address:
Since my election, US stock markets have soared 70 percent, adding more than $12 trillion to our nation’s wealth, transcending anything anyone believed was possible. This is a record. All of those millions of people with 401Ks and pensions are doing far better than they have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 percent, and even more.
“Jobs and investments are pouring into 9,000 previously neglected neighbourhoods thanks to Opportunity Zones. In other words, wealthy people and companies are pouring money into poor neighbourhoods or areas that haven’t seen investment in many decades, creating jobs, energy, and excitement. This is the first time that these deserving communities have seen anything like this. It’s all working.
With regard to Covid-19, Trump has declared himself to be a wartime president fighting “the invisible enemy claiming unequivocally that we will “defeat the invisible enemy.”
Most disturbing is Trump’s acceptance of being designated as the King of Israel and second coming of God. On his Twitter page, these words are still found of Aug. 21, 2019:
Thank you to Wayne Allyn Root for the very nice words. “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him…. like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God…But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore. It makes no sense! But that’s OK, if he keeps doing what he’s doing…
This is only tip of the iceburg in what has become common presidential language.
The Bottom Line
If we believe that God has answered kings and leaders for boasts like this before, even a secular ruler as in the king of Babylon, we shouldn’t be surprised if God turns upside down the boasts of our leaders in the very areas of their taunts. There is just too much similarity in the inspired events recorded above with what was has now become normalized presidential speech.
Like many Americans, I am very grateful for many of the things Donald Trump has done. I am greatly concerned about the erosion of liberties that he has sought to protect. But words still matter. We as believers should detest the pompous boasting of presidents who take glory for themselves in their accomplishments. These boasts are forms of propaganda to pull believers away from the praises that belong to our savior, Jesus, alone. Presidents are not our saviors, of anything.
There are certainly many purposes of God for the current shutdown that we will never know. Providence is not meant to be directly read at a times like this so as to figure out the reason for the crisis. But some Christians have targeted the sins of abortion, homosexuality, and the progressive anti-God agenda of many as legitimate possibilities. I have written on how calamities are to be interpreted here.
It would be grossly unfair, however, if we first didn’t take a close look at own failures. In our despair, have we stood in applause of these orations and boastful taunts, thinking these words don’t mean anything? Have we shrugged them off and passed them into the category of toleration, since it’s just Trump? Do we write off the exposure of these comments as mere political attacks as we are entertained at rallies? Have we stood there with “Herod” and given him praise as he takes the glory for himself? Should we be surprised if God decides to humble our pride in the areas of his boast because we have trusted too much in princes, as the very people purchased by the blood of Christ?
The greatest concern should be obvious. The day we can imagine the following prayer of humility flow from the mouth of our presidents is the day something great again will certainly be achieved:
I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (Daniel 4:34-37)
With this desire, we should pray for our president (1 Tim. 2:1-2), never forgetting that the United States is still a kingdom of Babylon. It belongs the earthly kingdoms of this world that will ultimately be brought to an end (see Rev. 18). I, too, want a country, freedom, and a strong leader. I, too, am tired of political agendas and attacks on freedom. But therein lies the heart of the issue: these things are not ultimately promised to us by the United States of America. No earthly leader creates and provides, in his own strength, a country and salvation. In this life, the blessings we enjoy as government functions as it should is appointed, for a time, by our true King Jesus.
Maybe the real issue is that we have forgotten the kingdom promised to us in not brought in by Donald Trump. Maybe, like Israel, in wanting King Saul to be king in the place of the Lord, we have wearied God with all of our calling of convocations and acts of worship (see Isa. 1), while refusing to look to our true King who has promised us a much greater deliverance. It is always a right time to question whether we are giving glory to God.
We are right to be concerned about the devastating effects of Covid-19, both physically and economically, but maybe, right there, at that point of great anxiety an idolatry is exposed. Give us a king who can open again the doors of our economy, instead of, “O Lord, would you open again to us the doors of your church, so that we might worship you alone.”