Connections 10.18.2020: Electoral Humility

Isaiah 45:1-7

Almost sixty years had passed since Nebuchadrezzar’s Babylonian forces sent the first group of exiles from Judah to Babylon. Almost fifty years had passed since his armies had destroyed Jerusalem, leveled the temple, and sent more people into exile. During those long decades, the exiles had struggled to come to terms with the significance of the tragic events that had befallen them.

The voice of conventional wisdom said that Babylon’s gods must be stronger than Israel’s God. The voice of traditional justice said that the people had gotten what they deserved. The voice of despair said that God must have abandoned the people.

But another voice—the voice of the prophet whose words are preserved in Isaiah 40–55—said that the people should have hope because not only were Babylon’s gods not stronger than Israel’s God, they in fact didn’t exist! And while justice may have been served, God in God’s grace declared that the time of judgment was nearing its end. And not only had God not abandoned the exiles, God was in fact about to take them home.

As a matter of fact, the voice of the prophet proclaimed that Yahweh was the only God. And since Yahweh was the only God, Yahweh was sovereign over everything that happened. That included the rise to power of the Persian ruler Cyrus, who was about to defeat the Babylonians and allow the Jewish exiles to return to Judah. Yahweh had called Cyrus to be the instrument through whom God would deliver God’s people from exile. God even called Cyrus God’s “anointed,” the Hebrew word that transliterates into English as “messiah.” This was true despite Cyrus’s not knowing that God had called him and was working through him.

This can be a dangerous passage to talk about this close to a presidential election. Christians can hardly help but hope and pray for God’s will to be done in an election. But we can cross a dangerous line when we decide that we know for certain what God’s will is. And we can cross an even more dangerous line when we decide that we know for certain that God has chosen a particular candidate to carry out God’s will.

Still, we do have to practice discernment, don’t we? We do have to study the candidates, analyze their positions on the issues, and make a decision. We do have to decide for whom we’re going to vote. We might even decide to donate some money, time, or effort to our candidate’s campaign. As Christians, we will hopefully make our choice prayerfully.

Still, we do have some guidance for discerning God’s will, don’t we? We have our Bibles, we have the Spirit, and we have Jesus. But I suggest we approach those sources of guidance humbly, recognizing the limitations of our understanding. I suggest we remember that we are all too prone to make up our minds and then go looking for validation. I further suggest that, having practiced prayerful discernment and made our choice, we proceed with more humility, knowing that we have hopefully done the best we can but also knowing we might have made a mistake.

I also suggest that we be very careful about deciding that any candidate is God’s chosen one. I furthermore suggest that we be very careful about any candidate who claims that God has anointed them to run, much less to win or to govern. I finally suggest that we not put it in the head of any candidate that we think God has chosen them.

God called Cyrus, but Cyrus didn’t know it. And there’s no evidence that Cyrus was aware that the prophet said that God had called him.

That seems to me a safer approach.

Discussion

  • Does the situation of God’s people today have any parallels with the situation of the people who were in Babylonian exile? If so, what are they?
  • What was the ultimate purpose of God’s calling Cyrus? How would Cyrus’s activity contribute to the carrying out of God’s will?
  • The words in the lesson text are directed at the people in exile, not at Cyrus. Why did they need to hear them?
  • Twice in the passage God declares through the prophet, “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (vv. 5a, 6b). How does the rest of the passage affirm and underscore this declaration?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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