Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the Lord have created it.
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”
Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.
I have stirred him up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 45:1-13 (ESV)
Isaiah spoke of King Cyrus of Persia 150 years before he reigned. Cyrus was not a believer in the God of Israel, yet he was chosen and set aside by God to overthrow Babylon and return Israel to their land.
It seems worthwhile to note that God puts who He wants to put in positions of power, even Persian kings. Throughout Scripture we see God’s unlikely choices, such as Ruth, the widowed Moabitess who ends up as a foremother of Jesus, David the shepherd boy who became king, and Saul the Pharisee, persecutor of Christians who became the apostle Paul, the greatest Christian apologist and evangelist of all time.
It’s easy for us to question why certain people are in the roles in which they end up. The past century has seen no shortage of despotic, ruthless and unjust rulers. We can look around and see the backroom deals and quid pro quo relationships of human governments (on both the conservative and liberal sides) and wonder if God’s hand is in it at all.
Of course God’s hand is in the left-hand or earthly kingdom, though it might not be as easy for us to discern as His sovereignty in the right-hand or heavenly kingdom. We may see certain rulers and authorities as being despotic or evil (and they may very well be despotic and evil) yet even those rulers rise and fall within God’s limits and control.
If we look at the kings of Israel and Judah, most of the kings were categorized as “bad kings,” who did not uphold God’s laws and standards. Eventually both Israel and Judah fell to foreign conquerors who enslaved the Israelites.
Yet we see something odd in the Scriptures about human government, whether it is just or unjust.
Jeremiah instructs the Israelites who were taken captive to Babylon:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. Jeremiah 29:4-14 (ESV)
When Jesus was asked to weigh in on whether or not it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, He had a response that the Pharisees didn’t expect:
(The Pharisees ask Jesus:) Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:17-21 (ESV)
Isaiah’s prophecy of the reign of Cyrus teaches us the importance of the Fourth Commandment. We may not like the civil authorities, just as teenagers might not like their parents when they set down rules, but we are still bound to obey them. Our elected leaders and civil authorities may actively oppose our belief systems and morals, but God may still be working in and through them to our benefit, whether we realize it or not. Nothing is outside of God’s control.
Even in a representative republic like the United States in which we have a hand in electing officials and determining public policy, we often disagree with the morality and the effectiveness of our laws and how public resources are used. We may not agree with paying tax (especially when our taxes subsidize policies or programs we oppose) but we are obligated to the civil authorities to follow the law where it does not actively violate God’s laws. For example, speeding is not mentioned in the Bible, but engaging in speeding is technically a violation of the Fourth Commandment- because we are violating a law set forth by the civil authorities. Whether we agree with it or not is not the issue.
This is good news for Christians on both sides of the political fence. God is in our civil government regardless of how ungodly individual politicians or policies may seem to us. God is still at work even when it seems that the opposition to all that is good and holy is winning. Neither “side” has a monopoly on right or wrong, as all human beings are fallible sinners.
It is a Christian obligation to participate in government, regardless of whether or not we find politics vexing and repugnant. We have a responsibility, especially in a representative republic, to try to elect officials who will be good stewards of public resources, who will enact policies for public benefit and safety, and who will strive to uphold our Constitution. This does not mean government will ever be perfect or that we will ever root out all the corruption, vice and graft that comes with temporal power. It does mean that Christian voices should actively oppose and seek to change governmental policies that destroy life, that steal from working people, that unfairly feed into graft and vice.
Ultimately we have no way of knowing who God will choose to work in and through. We are called to trust Him and to remain faithful to Jesus. He will work through who He chooses, and the result will ultimately coincide with His will.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:9 (ESV)