>George Washington and the Old Testament

>One of the most memorable passages in the book of Micah is his vision of a future where peace would prevail:

“But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it” (Micah 4:4).

This passage describes the lasts days when the Lord will establish his kingdom and all nations will seek the Lord to learn his ways. The expression “sitting under the vine and the fig tree” reflects the peace and harmony that all people will enjoy under the protection of God.

So important was this proverbial expression of peace, security, and rural comfort that it appears several times in the Old Testament (1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31; Isaiah 36:16; Zechariah 3:10).

Another person who understood the concept of sitting under the vine and the fig tree was George Washington, the leader of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and the man who served as the first President of the United States of America (1789-1797).

In the introduction to the electronic edition to The Diaries of George Washington, the Library of Congress describes George Washington’s use of this biblical expression:

No theme appears more frequently in the writings of Washington than his love for his land. The diaries are a monument to that concern. In his letters he referred often, as an expression of this devotion and its resulting contentment, to an Old Testament passage. After the Revolution, when he had returned to Mount Vernon, he wrote the Marquis de Lafayette on Feb. 1, 1784: “At length my Dear Marquis I am become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, & under the shadow of my own Vine & my own Fig-tree.” This phrase occurs at least 11 times in Washington’s letters. “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree” (2 Kings 18:31).

One example of Washington’s use of this expression appears in his letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, written in August 1790:

Gentlemen:

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

The two last statements in George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport are very important. The first statement is a biblical reference to Abraham and a quotation from Micah 4:4.

The second statement is George Washington’s prayer in which he affirmed his belief in an afterlife: “May the Father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here and, in His own due time and way, everlastingly happy.”

It is amazing how people can say that the Founding Fathers were not religious, that they did not believe in God, and that they did not pray in public.

And remember, Washington wrote this letter, which includes a prayer and a biblical reference to Micah’s book, in 1790, at a time when he was the President of the United States. This means that George Washington quoted the Bible and wrote this prayer “on government time at taxpayers’ expense, and he delivered it in his official capacity as president.”

If George Washington were alive today and had used government time and taxpayer money to write and send that letter, the Supreme Court probably would decide his action was unconstitutional and Congress probably would vote to impeach him.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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8 Responses to >George Washington and the Old Testament

  1. Nate says:

    >I have always loved that letter from President Washington because it shows what an enlightened person he was. It’s a genuine expression of Christian love and friendship that this nation embodies towards its Jewish citizens that is truly unique throughout the whole world.

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  2. >Nate, I agree with you. President Washington’s letter is an sincere expression of love and faith. I did not know about this letter until a few days ago.Claude Mariottini

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  3. Anonymous says:

    >Dr. Mariottini,On my bookcase I have had an envelope that I got in Savannah, Georgia, some years ago, which I reopened tonight. Based on a postcard, Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah was founded in 1733 by 42 Jews of mostly Spanish-Portuguese origin. The envelope included copies of a letter from President George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation of the City of Savannah. One copy is a copy of the manuscript, on some old-style paper (I am not sure whether to call it vellum or parchment or what). The other copy is a printed version in italics which is easier to read. The letter from President George Washington, written while in office, includes a closing paragraph shown in quotation marks below:“May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors planted them in the promised land- Whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation-still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”I thought you and other readers might find the above information interesting in light of your post above.Adam StuartJacksonville, Florida

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  4. >Adam,Thank you for this information. I will do some research and try to find this letter in the Library of Congress.Claude Mariottini

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  5. >Check out my latest post on my blogs about GW and the Bible. He was indeed a man of Prayer, Providence, who knew the Bible and probably thought the Good Book divinely inspired in *some* sense. However, the record does not demonstrate he thought the Bible the inerrant, infallible Word of God, or that he believed in the Trinity.

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  6. >Jonathan,Thank you for your comment. I read your post and I thought it to be very interesting. I also believe that George Washington never thought the Bible to be inerrant or infallible since this view is a recent dogma among some evangelicals that was not taught widely in Christianity in GW’s days.Claude Mariottini

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  7. Anonymous says:

    >u know i love this letter that george washington wrote to the hebrew congregation i belive its basically all about amendment number 1 freedom of religion speech and press. but i dont belive we kept up with that because if u protest against a company because u dont like what they do u get sued. if u show on of ur childs best friend ur religious belifes he goes of and tells his parents and the parents dont allow them to come over anymore and u can get sued if the child does somthing bad because of "supposably" bad influence of different religion. why?? its all so stupid

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  8. Anonymous says:

    >Check out Peter Lillback's George Washington's Sacred Fire. Lillback documents over 40 uses of Micah 4:4 in Washington's prayers and letters.

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