Over the past year, I’ve read many articles by Christians claiming that God sometimes wants His people to be ruled by wicked pagan kings like Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar. I’ve read over and over again how sometimes God raises up evil men in order to accomplish His will for His people. As the November elections draw closer, there are more and more Christians claiming that God wants us to vote for an openly vile and wicked man as President just like He wanted the Jews to submit to wicked rulers like Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar.
The question which I keep asking in response is: How do you know that Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar were wicked? The Bible tells us that God used these men to accomplish God’s will. Nebuchadnezzar carried the Jews into Babylon as punishment for their child sacrifice and idolatry. Seventy years later, Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem exactly as the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied. All of this is recorded in Scripture, but what does the Bible tell us about the spiritual condition of these two Gentile kings? I recently found the answer to that question, and I’d like to invite you to see it with me in the pages of Scripture.
Let’s start with Nebuchadnezzar.
The very first biblical reference to the spiritual condition of Nebuchadnezzar is found in II Chronicles 36:13. While speaking of Zedekiah, one of the last kings of Judah, the Bible tells us that “he also rebelled against king Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God.” This tells us that Nebuchadnezzar at least knew of the God of Israel, but it doesn’t tell us anything about his relationship with Him.
The next reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s spiritual condition is found in Jeremiah 27 where God said:
"I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant."
This is the passage that people are referring to when they describe Nebuchadnezzar as an evil, pagan king who was still a servant of God. However, this passage also tells us very little about the spiritual condition of Nebuchadnezzar. Was he really a pagan king at this time? We know that he was a Gentile king, but Gentile and pagan are not necessarily the same thing. How can we determine whether God was addressing a pagan as His servant?
We can begin to see the answer when we notice in verse 3 of this chapter that God referred to Nebuchadnezzar as His servant during the reign of Zedekiah about the time that Zedekiah and the kings of the other nations around Judah were conspiring to rebel against Babylon.
II Kings 25 tells us that Zedekiah’s rebellion occurred about the ninth year of his reign, and II Kings 24 tells us that Zedekiah’s reign did not begin until after Nebuchadnezzar had already captured all of the nobles and the skilled workers of Jerusalem. Zedekiah was only left the poorest people of the land as his subjects. This means that the reference to Nebuchadnezzar as God’s servant in Jeremiah 27 occurred after the events of at least the first two chapters of Daniel and perhaps not until after Daniel chapter 4.
When we turn to the book of Daniel, we discover a few facts about Nebuchadnezzar that seem to have escaped the notice of many modern theologians. In the first chapter, we see that Nebuchadnezzar found Daniel and his three friends to have far greater wisdom than all of his other advisers. At the end of chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar said that Daniel’s God was “a God of gods, and a Lord of kings,” and he appointed Daniel and his friends to some of the highest offices of the land.
The third chapter contains the famous account of Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, and this is where most people point to Nebuchadnezzar as an evil pagan king. Notice, however, how this chapter ends. In verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar blessed the God of the Jews, and in verse 29, he issued a decree throughout the entire Babylonian Empire forbidding anyone from speaking evil of the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
This brings us to Daniel chapter four which I’m sure many of you will recognize as the chapter about Nebuchadnezzar being turned into a beast and eating grass like an ox. But did you know that this entire chapter was actually written by Nebuchadnezzar himself? Daniel chapter four is Nebuchadnezzar’s own testimony of how he came to be a follower of the one true God. In this chapter, he tells how God humbled him when he was lifted up with pride, and he closes the chapter with this confession:
“Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”
Clearly, by the end of Daniel four, Nebuchadnezzar was a true servant of God and not the evil pagan king that many people make him out to be. We are not told when this change took place in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, but if the events of Daniel four occurred within the first ten years of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, then that would mean that Nebuchadnezzar was a believer at the time that God referred to him as His servant.
But what about Cyrus? If Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t fit the bill as a wicked ruler who furthered the cause of God’s people, then surely Cyrus was such a ruler. Well, let’s see what the Bible tells us about Cyrus.
Cyrus holds a unique place in Scripture. Cyrus is one of only three men who were identified by name before their parents were even born. In Isaiah 44:28 we read:
“[The LORD] saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.”
This prophecy was given about 150 years before Cyrus was born. Between this verse and the 14th verse of chapter 45, God listed eight characteristics of this future king.
The fulfillment of this prophecy is found in the first four verses of Ezra. There we read:
"Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem."
In these four verses, we find Cyrus first giving God all the glory for his victories. Then, see that he both received and obeyed a command from God. We also see that this command was to build a house for God in Jerusalem. Then, we read that Cyrus prayed for God to be with His people as they returned to Jerusalem. And most importantly, we see in this passage that Cyrus recognized the God of Israel as the one true God. Thus, we see that when God said of Cyrus “he is my shepherd,” He was speaking of a man whom He knew would serve Him as the one true God.
This passage would certainly be enough to prove that Cyrus was not the evil pagan king that so many believe him to be, but this isn’t all that we find about Cyrus in Scripture. God also informed us that, when Cyrus conquered Babylon, he asked Daniel to be his counsellor (Dan 1:21 & 6:28). And we know that Darius found the decree of Cyrus, his father-in-law, and resumed the building of the Temple which had been halted by Cyrus’s immediate successor. Darius repeated Cyrus’s reference to the God of Israel as the God of heaven, and he asked that the Jews pray for the life of himself and his family (Ezra 5:17-6:10). Plus, the descendants of Cyrus include Ahasuerus who married Esther and Artaxerxes who sent Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The Cyrus described in Scripture was a Gentile king who served and worshipped the true God and taught his children and grandchildren to do the same. This is the kind of ruler that God referred to as His shepherd.
So how does Donald Trump measure up to the examples of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus? Can you read the passages that we’ve discussed and say, “That reminds me of Donald Trump’s relationship with the Lord?” I sure don’t see any similarities, but maybe you see something that I missed. If so, please feel free to share it in the comment section below.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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