What Donald Trump and King David Have in Common

Around the middle of Barack Obama’s second term, I began to hear from several ministers that their congregations (of different denominations) had begun to spontaneously and fervently pray for our country.

These were not the generic “God Bless America” prayers; they were heartfelt anguish over America’s drift from God’s Truth and way, begging for God’s mercy and grace to give us another chance.

Like the old Anglican general confession, they were admissions that “we as sheep, have gone astray” and “Lord have mercy upon us!”

There seemed to be a recognition that our country’s inexorable departure from divine standards of morality—fidelity, honesty, decency, responsibility—had now come home to roost in broken marriages, shattered families, damaged parenthood, shady business practices, and political corruption. Moral breakdown, in turn, created much needless suffering: crime, drug addiction, mental illness, and a rising suicide rate, especially among the young. We seemed on the brink of losing everything: social order, the rule of law, freedom of religion, any meaning of happiness. Millions of Christians were crying out to God to save us from this destruction, perversion, depravity, indecency, profanity, hopelessness and pain.

Then Donald Trump was elected president. Some have suggested that he was God’s answer to those prayers. Others have regarded that suggestion as blasphemous and dangerous. I find the answer in another traditional prayer in the Anglican Liturgy: that “God will answer our prayers in the time and in the way that is best for us.”

Trump may seem an unlikely vessel of God’s providence and grace. But it may help to understand how this could be the case by looking at the Biblical character that I think he most resembles: King David of Israel.

David was an unlikely Leader of God’s nation, but he was chosen by the Almighty for some very specific reasons: he defended his people’s honor and God’s ways. His very human moral failings caused him great pain, and although he was able to establish his nation, God did not let him (because of his sins) build the temple.

President Trump once said how much he appreciated the tremendous support of Evangelical Christians, “even though I don’t deserve it.” Both remind me of God’s promise to Abram and his people Israel: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.”

David was an unlikely candidate for king of Israel. When the Prophet Samuel came to anoint one of Jesse’s sons for the kingship, David wasn’t even there—he was out tending his sheep. But David had done something as a shepherd that qualified him to be king. When his flock had been attacked by ferocious animals (lions and bears) he single-handedly and fearlessly defended his sheep. This is the first duty of a ruler: to protect his people. Our American tradition, viewed in light of the social contract theory of John Locke, posits that free individuals form a government explicitly to protect our natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

President Trump’s chief concern with protecting America from military threats, from unfair trade practices and from the drugs and crime of illegal immigration all show this essential concern for the government preserving its people.

Despite his courage and devotion to duty, David was still viewed with skepticism. His inexperience disqualified him to rule in the eyes of his father and brothers. When David’s resolve was tested by the attack of the monster warrior Goliath, his comrades insisted he put on all the accoutrements of battle: armor, a helmet, a coat of mail and an enormous sword. David found he could not move weighted down by this equipment: he couldn’t be himself. One thinks of Trump rejecting all the “requirements” of running for president: lobbyists and consultants, advisors and party connections, interest groups, even daily intelligence briefings. He said, “I cannot be myself in all this garb!”

So, David faced a massive army and giant warrior with his staff, a slingshot, and a few stones. The monster killer Goliath mocked him: “Am I a dog that you come out to meet me with sticks?!” Goliath told David he would kill him, cut him into pieces, and feed him to the birds and the beasts. David proclaimed that he came “in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied.” He proceeded to kill the enemy with one small stone from his slingshot. The powerful enemy army fled in fear and King David established Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump confirmed that by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by moving the U.S. embassy there.

King David was not a perfect man and he suffered much for it. His infidelities caused him to lose a son; other family members rebelled against him. He was misunderstood and persecuted. His sins disqualified him from building the temple, leaving that honor to his son Solomon. But like another rescuer of Israel, Esther, he was “for such a time as this.”

And so is President Trump.

Photo Credit: Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images

About Garrett Ward Sheldon

Garrett Ward Sheldon is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and an ordained Christian minister. He taught political theory, American political thought, law, and religion. He has published 10 books, including The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America, Religion and Politics: Major Thinkers on the Relation of Church and State, and The Political Philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. He was in residence at and commissioned by, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, and a visiting scholar at the University of Vienna, Trinity College (Dublin), Moscow University, the University of Istanbul, and Princeton.

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