The Election of a President: An Old Testament Perspective

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

In a few days the American people will elect the next president of the United States. As an American citizen, I have been voting in presidential elections since the 1970s. I believe that this election campaign has been one of the nastiest, ugliest, and most belligerent in recent years.

In the presidential election of 2008, we have two candidates, with different economic and political views, as far apart from each other as east is from the west. And the American people are divided in their preference. According to a recent poll taken among likely voters, the difference between the two candidates is 1%, with a margin of error of ± 3%.

Voters are divided on who should be the next president, but the mainstream media is not. A recent Rasmussen poll showed that 45% of the population believes that the media wants Obama to win. These same 45% of the public believe “the media will use the censorship of information as a means to achieve a tactical advantage for their candidate of choice (Obama).” The same poll reports that 49% of those polled believe that most reporters will help the Democrats with their coverage.

In this election the media has become partisan. This is the reason that the media does not investigate Barack Obama when he does not tell the truth or obfuscates the facts. Media bias in favor of Obama is the reason the media refuses to scrutinize the thin resume and his lack of experience to become the president of the United States.

Media partisanship is the reason John McCain has been vilified, called a racist, and compared to George Wallace. Media bias is the reason Sarah Palin has been ridiculed by the misrepresentation of her qualifications and achievements and the reason her husband and children have been maligned by falsehoods.

If the press has already made its selection, some people may ask the question: “Who does God favor in this election?”

“There are millions of people around this world praying to their god — whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah — that his [McCain’s] opponent wins, for a variety of reasons,” said Arnold Conrad, former pastor of Grave Evangelical Free Church. “And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name in all that happens between now and Election Day.”

Although Conrad’s prayer is not a direct request for God to elect John McCain, it is very close. Not so the prayer of Dennis Hopper, the US actor-director best known for his movie “Easy Rider.” According to a published report, Hopper is praying to God for a victory for Barack Obama.

Now, we have two prayers, one asking God to vote Republican and the other asking God to vote Democrat. Is anyone out there praying that Bob Barr, the nominee of the Libertarian Party, be elected the next President of the United States? If there is, then God has three choices to make.

But is God interested in who is elected the next President of the United States? Does the Old Testament have anything to say about God’s dealing with the selection of a political leader to rule a nation? Before I answer these questions, let me review God’s involvement in the political process in Israel.

Until the days of David and Solomon there was no central government in Israel. Israel was organized as a society without a king, for YHWH was the only and true king of the nation (1 Samuel 8:7). As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king” (Isaiah 33:22).

But, because of the misconduct of Samuel’s sons, whom Samuel had appointed judges in Israel, the elders of the nation, after holding a formal meeting, came to Samuel and requested a king (1 Samuel 8). The request displeased Samuel, but he sought God’s guidance and was told by God to yield to the people’s demand (1 Samuel 8:7).

Thus, Saul, the son of Kish, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, was elected the first king of Israel. The people accepted Saul as king by proclaiming: “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:24). As a king, Saul ruled not in his own right nor did he rule because he was chosen by the people, but by being chosen by God. Besides being commander-in-chief of the army and supreme judge, the king exercised the power to impose taxes on the people and required from them service and labor on behalf of the government.

When Saul failed to fulfill his responsibility, God chose another man, one who would rule in righteousness. David was chosen to be the second king. God established a covenant with David which guaranteed that the descendants of David would sit on the throne for ever.

After the division of the kingdom, the Northern Kingdom adopted a charismatic type of leadership. Anyone who had the support of the army and of the people could become king. This caused a period of political instability until the accession of Omri to the throne of Israel. Omri was able to establish a dynasty that lasted more than a century.

With the death of Zechariah (2 Kings 15:8-12), Omri’s dynasty came to an end and political instability reappeared and continued until the fall of Samaria in 722 BCE. Concerning the political instability in the Northern Kingdom, the LORD said: “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval” (Hosea 8:4). These words indicate that the LORD desired for the people to consult him in the selection of their kings, but they never did.

The Old Testament also says that God had a part in the political process of other nations. God commanded Elijah to “anoint Hazael king over Aram” (1 Kings 19:15). According to Amos, God was planning to intervene in the political process in Moab because of the Moabite king’s inhumane treatment of the king of Edom (Amos 2:1). Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was called by God and became his servant to accomplish God’s purpose in the world (Jeremiah 25:9). God called Cyrus of Persia to subdue nations for the sake of God’s people: “For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me” (Isaiah 45:4).

In light of all the things mentioned above, what does the Old Testament have to say to us today about the selection of the next president of the United States?

The answer is: absolutely nothing!

The Bible says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). But the United States is not a “nation whose God is the LORD.” The Old Testament rules for kingship do not apply to the election of the president of the United States.

God does not tell us to vote for John McCain or Barack Obama. God does not tell us to vote Democrat or Republican. God does not favor one candidate over the other; God has no favorites.

This means that we have a responsibility to make a choice and God will work with and through whomever we choose as the next president. For this reason voters must know the issues, the policies of each candidate, and where they stand on matters that will affect our country and the lives of every citizen. Then, they must vote for the one who will be a better candidate for our country, because what is good for the country is good for all.

When the people selected Saul, they chose him because he was “an impressive young man, a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 9:2). When God chose David he did so because of his heart. When the people selected their kings, they considered “his appearance and his height.” When the LORD selected a king, he considered the man’s “heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

The presidential election of 2008 will be crucial for the future of this country. Thus, it is necessary that every American citizen exercise the rights of citizenship and vote for the person who will help our nation through this very difficult time in its history. It is imperative that each citizen vote this election; vote early and vote often only once.

NOTE: For other studies on Saul, read my post Saul, King of Israel.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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5 Responses to The Election of a President: An Old Testament Perspective

  1. anthony says:

    >you are abosulely right. God cannot be just for 1 candidate. If one is elected, the those who prayed for their candidate will feel God has not answered their prayer. How can God answer everyone’s prayer at the same time? the choice will be who the majority of the people decide. whether it is in line with God’s will is another case.


  2. >Thank you for this perspective, Dr. Mariottini. It is very comforting to me when you say that God will work through the person who is elected. I confess that I get confused as to which policy is the best…trickle down, or tax and spend (very simplified overviews), and trying to sort through all the campaign rhetoric. So I will still try and get as much information as I can before I vote, but I will also trust that God is sovereign.


  3. >Anthony,I agree with you and this is the reason Christians must pray and seek God’s will. However, there are millions of people who do not know God and will not seek God’s will. This is the reason God will work with whomever is elected, even if that person is not the best person for the job. We will get what we want and then will have to live with the consequences of our choice.Claude Mariottini


  4. >Steve,We believe that God is sovereign and that he will work with the person the people of this country choose.Here is where we must pray that the people will select a king (or president) like Josiah and not one like Manasseh. Claude Mariottini


  5. >Anthony,The majority may select a candidate but it does not mean that the majority is right. And just because the majority selects, the majority’s decision may not be God’s will. This is the reason we must be careful in selecting the next president; we will have to live with him for 4 or 8 years.Claude Mariottini


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