"I am Cyrus!"

Israel and the Jews have always had lots of enemies and likely always will. But there are also some rather excellent friends of both the modern state of Israel and the Jewish people. And they are to be found among Protestant Christians.

No, not the sniveling peace-at-any price, Israel-is-evil so-called mainline denominations such as the Episcopalians and Church of Christ. Rather, those Christians who truly accept that the Hebrew Scriptures remain true; who truly accept that the Jews still have a covenant with God and that God’s people must stick together. Whether confessing Christian, or Jew.

Enter Jimmy Carter, who wore his Baptist faith on his sleeve, and confessed “lust in his heart.” Well, Carter is not the last word among Baptists. There’s one Baptist president of the United States who had a different, and a correct point of view. From Michael Oren’s essay in the Wall Street Journal, one may learn something of the Protestant love of Zion, and, in particular, one president’s claim of “I am Cyrus” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23. From that essay:

The question of whether or not to recognize that state fell to Harry S. Truman. Raised in a Baptist household where he learned much of the Bible by heart, Truman had been a member of the pro-Zionist American Christian Palestine Committee and an advocate of the right of Jews–particularly Holocaust survivors–to immigrate to Palestine. He was naturally inclined to acknowledge the nascent state but encountered fervid opposition from the entire foreign policy establishment. If America sided with the Zionists, officials in the State and Defense departments cautioned, the Arabs would cut off oil supplies to the West, undermine America’s economy, and expose Europe to Soviet invasion. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops would have to be sent to Palestine to save its Jews from massacre.

Truman listened carefully to these warnings and then, at 6:11 on the evening of May 14, he announced that the U.S. would be the first nation to recognize the newly declared State of Israel. While the decision may have stemmed in part from domestic political considerations, it is difficult to conceive that any politician, much less one of Truman’s character, would have risked global catastrophe by recognizing a frail and miniscule country. More likely, the dramatic démarche reflected Truman’s religious background and his commitment to the restorationist creed. Introduced a few weeks later to an American Jewish delegation as the president who had helped create Israel, Truman took umbrage and snapped, “What you mean ‘helped create’? I am Cyrus”–a reference to the Persian king who returned the Jews from exile–“I am Cyrus!”

Some things never change. The Arabists in our State Department have never accepted that Jews should live in their ancestral homeland. The difference today is that, for the most part, our military establishment is pro-Israel.

As Mr. Oren makes clear, our support for the modern state of Israel has been mixed:

Since 1948, some administrations (Eisenhower, Bush Sr.) have been less ardent in their attachment to Israel, and others (Kennedy, Nixon) more so. Throughout the last 60 years, though, the U.S. has never wavered in its concern for Israel’s survival and its support for the Jewish people’s right to statehood. While U.S.-Israel ties are no doubt strengthened by common bonds of democracy and Western culture, religion remains an integral component in that relationship. We know that Lyndon Johnson’s Baptist grandfather told him to “take care of the Jews, God’s chosen people,” and that Bill Clinton’s pastor, on his deathbed, made the future president promise never to abandon the Jewish state. We know how faith has impacted the policies of George W. Bush, who is perhaps the most pro-Israel president in history.

It is well worth the time to ponder who Israel’s friends, and enemies have been. One thing that is crystal clear to me is that Christianity is not, today, the enemy of the Jewish people. Rather, properly expressed through the Hebrew Scriptures, Christians must, to be faithful to our shared Scriptures, “take care of the Jews, God’s chosen people.”


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