Every four years, the people of the United States face a presidential crossroads—with the nation’s future seemingly on the line. Every four years, many are woefully disappointed nothing ever seems to change…
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Abuse of power. Corruption at the very highest levels. Hypocrisy, cronyism, lack of morals—all pushing a deep desire for sweeping change in leadership. For many voters, this can sound like the political climate of 2016, when then-candidate Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington. For other voters, it smacks of the presidential campaign for 2020, where supporters of Joe Biden feel they are in a “battle for the soul of the nation.”
Yet this is not a description of today, rather of ancient Israel circa 1050 BC. At that time, the elderly priest Samuel made his sons judges over Israel. In I Samuel 8:3, it states that these men, Joel and Abiah, “turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.”
Such open corruption caused the elders of Israel to come to Samuel and demand: “Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (I Sam. 8:5).
Despite protests from Samuel, and clear warnings on what this change in government would bring, the Israelites ultimately got what they wanted—and reaped the terrible results of their decision. In the end, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had an incredible run of wicked kings, and scant few who were righteous.
Of course, the U.S. shucked monarchy for a democratic republic during the American Revolution. With kings and queens, power remained in a close family line and leaders changed upon death. With presidents, anyone could be elected every four years.
But that does not mean the United States started something new. Israel’s third king, Solomon, was right when he said that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). The U.S. voting system is not unlike the elder’s request to Samuel. Instead of changing forms of government, voters today select a new man. The sentiment is the same, however. With each election, the populace can say: “We demand something different. This old way is not working.”
And, sadly, the results are often the same. With each federal vote, the U.S. seems to turn a fresh page in its history, but little changes—and conditions often get worse.
The Moffatt translation of Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 sums up the situation perfectly: “What has been is what shall be, what has gone on is what shall go on, and there is nothing new under the sun. Men may say of something, ‘Ah, this is new!’—but it existed long ago before our time.”
This article was written before the results of the 2020 presidential vote. Yet the result will be akin to something that has already occurred before. Is America doomed to repeat this four-year cycle forever?
Politicians and journalists are right to say that we live at a unique time in history. The COVID-19 pandemic even comes with the euphemistic tagline “these unprecedented times.” So, while there is “nothing new” under the American political sun, conditions are ripe for post-election clashes as never seen before. The internet has given rise to a post-truth era with many living in ideological echo chambers—where incorrect beliefs are never questioned and instead root in deeper over time. This trend can be found among conservatives and liberals alike.
An early October YouGov poll of 1,999 registered voters found that 47 percent disagreed that the election “is likely to be fair and honest,” 51 percent disagreed that “Americans will generally agree on who is the legitimately elected president,” and 56 percent said they expect an increase of violence as a result of the vote. Headlines reinterpreted the last statistic as “on the brink of civil war.”
The hair trigger that is internet and social media make this ever more a possibility.
Despite being in uncharted waters, there is an element that has remained unchanging in politics the world over: human nature. This has reared its head throughout American history, especially in political arenas.
Early in U.S. history, Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and James Madison detailed what they believed should be America’s new national character. If these virtues were not adopted, Hamilton wrote, the nation would devolve into “plunder and devastation.” Madison said it would be a “gloomy and perilous scene into which the advocates for disunion would conduct us.”
The “advocates for disunion” were the group’s political rivals. “Poverty and disgrace,” Hamilton wrote again, “would overspread a country which with wisdom might make herself the admiration and envy of the world.”
By the late 1700s, negative campaigning was the norm. If Thomas Jefferson were to be elected, one Connecticut newspaper announced, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest, will openly be taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries and distress, the soil soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”
This form of political mudslinging has been honed and repeated ever since.
A Harper’s magazine essay by Richard Hofstadter said this in the article “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”: “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated…how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”
Heated exaggeration. Suspiciousness. Conspiratorial fantasy. While most do not want to admit it, this describes rhetoric from both the right and left today.
Now consider that this essay was written in 1954! Nothing new under the sun, indeed.
The essay included a 1951 quote from U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who infamously held trials to root out communists in the U.S.: “How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men.”
Hofstadter also included a quote from an 1855 manifesto for the left-wing Populist party. The group was assured that the Vatican was pulling the strings in Washington. While the church at Rome has been party to many nefarious political dealings over the years, history shows this was not one of them.
“It is a notorious fact that the Monarchs of Europe and the Pope of Rome are at this very moment plotting our destruction and threatening the extinction of our political, civil, and religious institutions. We have the best reasons for believing that corruption has found its way into our Executive Chamber, and that our Executive head is tainted with the infectious venom of Catholicism…The Pope has recently sent his ambassador of state to this country on a secret commission, the effect of which is an extraordinary boldness of the Catholic church throughout the United States…These minions of the Pope are boldly insulting our Senators; reprimanding our Statesmen; propagating the adulterous union of Church and State; abusing with foul calumny all governments but Catholic, and spewing out the bitterest execrations on all Protestantism. The Catholics in the United States receive from abroad more than $200,000 annually for the propagation of their creed. Add to this the vast revenues collected here.”
Fostering a paranoia about those on the other side of the aisle is as old as the U.S. itself. Again, nothing new.
Wild, close elections have seemed to be the norm over the last two decades. While Hillary Clinton decidedly won the popular vote in 2016, Mr. Trump grabbed more electorates to win.
In 2000, it all came down to Florida. Many days after the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, there were talks of butterfly ballots and “hanging chads.” In the end, Mr. Bush secured just 537 more votes in Florida than his competitor—to win the electoral college 286 to 266.
Such craziness surrounding the polls can seem like a modern invention. Yet the most wild contest goes back to the 1876 election between Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden.
The New York Times recounted that the day after the 1876 vote, “The country awoke to absolute turmoil.”
“Tilden was safely ahead in the popular vote by a margin of about 250,000 votes. The Republicans, however, claimed that Hayes had by now captured Florida as well, giving him a total of 185 votes and a whisker of a victory.
“But quickly the vote counts in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina became the focus of sharp debate and manipulation. Fraud raged on both sides, historians agree. Boxes of ballots would turn up in bodies of water. Black voters were pivotal. Because blacks back then overwhelmingly voted Republican, the party of Lincoln and the party of emancipation, the Republicans had unleashed aggressive campaigns to get blacks to vote, while Democrats had used physical intimidation and outright bribery to discourage black turnout.
“Each party went about invalidating votes and paying bribes to ‘correct’ ballots, resulting in disparate counts for the three Southern states in dispute. Fraud was so pervasive in those states that it is hard to say who the voters truly wanted to win. The results in Florida were tantalizingly close. The Republicans said Hayes finished ahead by 922 votes out of about 47,000 votes cast. By Democratic count, it was Tilden by a skimpy 94 votes. In one Florida precinct that voted heavily for Tilden, the Republicans supposedly ruined ballots by smearing them with ink.
“Both parties sent additional representatives to the three Southern states. A Justice Department detective was dispatched to Florida.
“As bickering intensified, all of the states submitted their results to Congress. The three disputed states sent in two sets of electoral returns, each showing a different winner. Oregon also submitted two sets of returns.”
After some back-door deals, Hayes secured the win by promising to end post-Civil War Reconstruction and withdraw troops from the South.
For more instances of political drama, one has to look no further than the contest between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams in 1824, Theodore Roosevelt jumping in as an independent in 1912, or the down-to-the-wire results for Woodrow Wilson and Charles Evans Hughes in 1916.
Nothing new under the sun…
Back to the story in I Samuel, where ancient Israel wanted a king. Just as previous presidential elections are instructive, so is this Bible story. It reveals more about the U.S. today than would first appear.
To repeat, the elders of Israel came to Samuel and stated: “Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (I Sam. 8:5).
Israel wanted a whole new form of government and verse 6 shows that this request “displeased” Samuel, so he prayed to God.
Verses 7-9: “And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them…Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.”
Humanly, Israel’s unease with their leadership can seem understandable. Samuel’s sons were corrupt. In addition, the high priest Eli also had rotten sons who stole from the people and fornicated with women who helped at the Tabernacle.
Yet God warned in excruciating detail what would happen if Israel decided to have a king: “This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and you shall be his servants” (vs. 11-17).
Now notice the end result of all of this: “And you shall cry out in that day because of your king which you shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (vs. 18).
How does this apply to America, especially considering that they rejected having a king to form a government with elected leadership?
Again, the results for Israel were as God said, with the ratio of evil to good kings woefully imbalanced. While the U.S. threw out monarchy as a form of government, they did decide for themselves what they thought was best for their nation.
America chose democracy, which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously called “the worst form of government except” all the others.
Herein lies the similarities between ancient Israel and the United States: both ignore what God and the Bible want for any nation. And the Book is most explicit.
Every four years, U.S. citizens pin hopes of a better tomorrow on presidential candidates. Regardless of the outcome, each elected president fails to deliver his lofty campaign promises.
With each election, Americans choose a president—they choose to support the nation’s form of government.
In this process, everyone wants a better future. Many even pray that God will help them select the right leader—or that He will guide the decision.
Yet few look to what God wants. It is clear from the account in I Samuel that God does not want a human king. So what does He desire? What form of government does He support?
The answer to this question is the central theme of the Bible.
Notice: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). Out of the gate, Jesus Christ taught about the Kingdom—which is just another way to say government.
This government of God, and Christ’s part in it, is expounded upon in Isaiah 9: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end…to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever” (vs. 6-7).
While some claim this Kingdom has already been set up on Earth, one only has to look to the conditions today—both the tumultuous protests in America and the chaos throughout the world—to see that God’s government has not yet been established.
Yet it will be soon. Daniel 2 speaks of that imminent time when “the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (vs. 44).
Read How God’s Kingdom Will Come – The Untold Story! to learn the exciting truth of what is just over the horizon. It explains how all people—both in the United States and abroad—will forever break the cycle of repeating history’s mistakes. May God’s government come soon!