Many evangelicals have defended supporting Donald Trump by drawing a parallel between Trump and the Persian king Cyrus. Many are confused and are not sure if this is a legitimate parallel. Does the story of Cyrus support (or even demand) voting for Trump? To answer let’s first look at the story of Cyrus.
The Story of Israel and Cyrus
Under the rightful rulers of David’s lineage, the people of God nevertheless sinned and fell in idolatry over and over. In response and after many warnings, God disciplined them for their idolatry. He sent many of the Israelites into exile for 70 years, with the temple being destroyed in 586BC. Many of the Israelites were resident aliens in Babylon. In 539 BC Cyrus defeated the reigning king of Babylon in the midst of establishing the largest empire in ancient history to that point. Unlike previous emperors, Cyrus believed that the best policy for ruling a diverse empire was tolerating the religious and cultural practices of the different people in the land. We see from the book of Isaiah that Cyrus was led to these policies by the providential direction of God. Nearly 50 years after Israel had been deported to Babylon, Cyrus facilitated the people’s return to the land and their rebuilding of the Jewish temple. The prophet Isaiah had predicted this 150 year before in detail, even calling Cyrus by name:
The LORD says this to Cyrus, his anointed,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and disarm kings,
to open doors before him,
and even city gates will not be shut:
I will go before you
and level the uneven places;
I will shatter the bronze doors
and cut the iron bars in two.
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches from secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord.
I am the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.
I call you by your name,
for the sake of my servant Jacob
and Israel my chosen one.
I give a name to you,
though you do not know me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
there is no God but me.
I will strengthen you,
though you do not know me,
so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
that there is no one but me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
The movement of the text is that God providentially raises up a pagan ruler (45:2) for the sake of his people (45:4), ultimately for the global glory of God himself (45:6). Some have argued that this story provides support for Christians supporting Donald Trump, who is known for things Christians typically oppose (divorce, owning casinos and strip clubs, coarse langauge, etc). The argument goes: if God chose and used a pagan king like Cyrus, who supported Israel, God can use a person like Trump, because Trump supports policies that help Christians and their beliefs.
Parallels Between Trump and Cyrus
- God sometimes chooses unlikely and ungodly rulers to establish godly rule. Cyrus was an unlikely supporter of God’s agenda, and Trump is as well. God could be using Trump to establish godly policies in the United States.
- God sometimes chooses unlikely and ungodly rulers to (re)establish his people and restore them. With religious liberty under attack, Trump might mirror Cyrus’s policies of toleration and support of God’s people.
- God sometimes chooses unlikely and ungodly rulers for his global glory. Like Cyrus, maybe Trump is being used to restore the people of God around the world and the nation of Israel in particular.
On the surface some parallels do exist between Cyrus and Trump, but I think problems with these parallels arise when you look a little deeper.
Problems With These Parallels
- We don’t have a word from the Lord about who he is raising up in his providence. God gave Israel specific revelation through Isaiah about Cyrus. This was actually very rare for God to do, and God doesn’t do this today with modern political candidates.
- Ancient kings do not correspond directly to elected candidates. Cyrus was elected (i.e. chosen) by God, but Israel had no choice about who would rule them. Every one of the pagan kings was in some sense a sign of God’s disfavor with Israel (whether Nebuchadnezzar, or Cyrus, or Darius, or Alexander, or Antiochus Epiphanes). The fact that God used Cyrus to restore the land in some way points itself to the problem: David’s descendent wasn’t sitting on the throne. God in his grace chose Cyrus, but this was never the God’s ultimate purpose. His purpose was to restore the throne to David’s line, ultimately through Jesus Christ.
- The argument that God uses pagan kings can be used to support any modern political candidate. The shocking thing about God choosing Cyrus was that pagan kings were often enemies of God and his people. Anyone can argue that any unlikely candidate supports “God’s agenda” and appeal to God’s unlikely choice of Cyrus.
- No single issue today defines a candidate being on God’s side. For Israel, there was one issue: restoration to the land and rebuilding the temple. Today, “God’s agenda” is multilayered and no one party or candidate supports it fully. Is God on the side of religious liberty? Yes. Is God on the side of the unborn? Yes. Is God on the side of his people? Yes. Is God on the side of the poor and marginalized? Yes. Is God on the side of healthy marriage? Yes. Is God on the side of the resident alien? Yes. Is God on the side of the law? Yes. Is God on the side of mercy? Yes. Is God for Republicans? Not necessarily. Is God for Democrats? Not necessarily. Is God for Trump? Not necessarily. Is God for Biden (or Warren or anyone of the other 1,234 Democratic candidates)? Not necessarily.
- God’s global purpose today is not mainly about the restoration of national Israel, but about the furtherance of the gospel through the Great Commission. God is establishing his church in every nation and every langauge. Although a candidate supporting the nation of Israel is a good thing, it doesn’t exactly correlate with God’s global purpose, which is to turn the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of God and his Christ (Rev. 11:15).
- Even if someone argues that Trump (or any other candidate) is parallel to Cyrus, this is all the more reason to give cautious, qualified support. Cyrus was not the ultimate savior of Israel nor God’s eternal anointed Messiah (45:1). He was chosen and anointed by God for a specific task at a specific time. No political leader or candidate should have unqualified allegiance from the people God.
Can Christians vote for Trump without sinning? Yes. Can Christians vote against Trump without sinning? Yes. Is the story of Cyrus a good reason for supporting Trump? Not really.