Harry Truman, Bible-believing president, enabled 'Exodus' 75 years ago

Opinion: The president believed "I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.”

 US president Harry Truman receives a Hannukkiah from Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as Abba Eban looks on, 1951 (photo credit: FRITZ COHEN/GPO)
US president Harry Truman receives a Hannukkiah from Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as Abba Eban looks on, 1951
(photo credit: FRITZ COHEN/GPO)

The Jewish Passover is celebrated to commemorate the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. The people of Israel had been slaves to Pharaohs for 400 years, after which God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-16) was fulfilled under Moses around 1300 BC.

For more stories from ALL ISRAEL NEWS go to allisrael.com

The Bible describes two other exoduses, the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity to the land of Israel, made possible by King Cyrus, and the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem around 515 BC (2 Chron. 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-4). The third Exodus, also spoken of in the Bible, is the return of the Jewish people to their own land, from which they will no longer be removed. The prophet predicts this return in Amos 9:14-15:

I will bring my people Israel back from exile.

They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.

They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;

they will make gardens and eat their fruit.

I will plant Israel in their own land,

never again to be uprooted

from the land I have given them,

says the Lord your God.

Whereas Moses played the key role in the first exodus and King Cyrus in the second, the third was coordinated under the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, who took office exactly 75 years ago, on April 12, 1945.

That day was a turning point for both Truman and the Jewish nation, as it began a process that freed Jews from nearly 2,000 years of exile and slavery in Nazi Germany, also fulfilling Amos’ prophecy of Jewish permanent settlement in the land of Israel.

Associated with this promise of God is one of the most interesting verses in the Bible (Jer. 32:41), which is, in fact, the only passage in the canonized Bible when God says He is doing something “with all his heart:”

I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

Harry Truman (Credit: US NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)Harry Truman (Credit: US NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

MODERN EXODUS STARTS

April 12, 1945 was a pivotal day that changed Truman’s life permanently. He had been leading the discussion in the Senate as the vice president, when after the session he received a call from Roosevelt’s assistant Steve Early asking Truman to come to the White House immediately. Truman was escorted to Mrs. Roosevelt’s room on the second floor of the White House. Truman wrote in his diary:

Mrs. Roosevelt and Steve Early and Colonel and Mrs. Boettiger [Roosevelt’s daughter] were there – Mrs. Roosevelt put her arm around my shoulder and said, “The President is dead.” That was the first inkling I had of the seriousness of the situation.

I then asked them what I could do, and she said –”What can we do for you?” ...

I was very much shocked. I’m not easily shocked but was certainly shocked when I was told of the president’s death and the weight of the government had fallen on my shoulders.

I did not know what reaction the country would have to the death of a man whom they all practically worshipped. I was worried about the reaction of the Armed Forces. I did not know what effect the situation would have on the war effort, price control, war production and everything that entered into the emergency that then existed.

I knew the president had a great many meetings with Churchill and Stalin. I was not familiar with any of these things and it was really something to think about but I decided the best thing to do was to go home and get as much rest as possible and face the music.

Truman, shocked by the situation, was sworn in with a completely packed Oval Office at the White House at 7:09 p.m., only 2 hours and 24 minutes after Roosevelt’s death. The only Bible that was found in the middle of this hectic situation was the one in the desk drawer of Howell Crim, the White House chief usher: an inexpensive version of a Gideon Bible with bright red page borders. Truman fretted afterwards that had he known, he would have brought his grandfather’s Bible, which he kept in his office, at the White House. The next day, Truman met the press representatives in the hallways of Congress, and the first thing he said to them was:

“Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.”

From that moment on began a turning point in world history that led to the birth of the State of Israel only three years later on May 14, 1948. Harry Truman and Bible prophecy played a central role in this process.

ISRAEL’S FIRST president Chaim Weizmann presents US president Harry Truman with a Torah in 1948. (Credit: COURTESY HARRY S. TRUMAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM)ISRAEL’S FIRST president Chaim Weizmann presents US president Harry Truman with a Torah in 1948. (Credit: COURTESY HARRY S. TRUMAN LIBRARY & MUSEUM)

THE PRESIDENT AND THE PROPHECY

To Harry Truman, the Bible, prayer and faith meant a great deal, and they were seen and heard in almost everything he said or wrote. Truman said that he had twice read the Bible from cover to cover before the age of 12, and there he found role models for his own life in the heroes of both the Old and New Testament. Due to the time he spent in the Bible and Sunday School, Truman was able to recite several verses by heart even in his old age. He made no secret of his faith and the truth of the Bible. The Ten Commandments received by Moses and the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus formed a moral compass for him by which he steered his life and politics, first for 10 years as a senator and then 8 years as president.

Without awareness and understanding of Truman’s life-long solid, personal relationship with the Bible, his actions, as they relate to the establishment of the State of Israel, seem to have been mere political exploits. Many political historians have interpreted his Palestine policy as having been just one way among others to fish for the votes of Jewish Americans and to get them to write checks for his future campaigns, but closer examination of Truman’s life does not support that notion.

Deeper analysis of the president’s belief and political actions elicits very different conclusions, and, in fact, his policies and decisions, with regard to the return of the Jews to Palestine, were drawn directly from a biblical basis.

Israel’s first Ambassador to the United States Eliahu Elath and Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog came to the White House on May 10, 1949 to meet Truman and to express their gratitude for the president’s actions, which had enabled the foundation of the State of Israel. Truman was interested in hearing the chief rabbi’s views on what had taken place, to which he replied,

“God put you in your mother’s womb so that you could be the instrument to bring about the rebirth of Israel after 2,000 years.  A similar mission had once been imposed upon the head of another great country, King Cyrus of Persia, who had also been given the task of helping to redeem the Jews from their dispersion and restoring them to the land of their forefathers.”

The Rabbi then opened the Bible and read the words of King Cyrus from the Book of Ezra:

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 

The rabbi continued:

“You were given the task once fulfilled by the mighty king of Persia, and that he too, like Cyrus, would occupy a place of honor in the annals of the Jewish people.”

According to Elath, on hearing these words, Truman rose from his chair and, with great emotion, tears glistening in his eyes, he turned to the chief rabbi and asked him if his actions, on behalf of the Jewish people, were, indeed, to be interpreted thusly. Was the hand of the Almighty involved in the matter?

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on July 14, 1949, the chief rabbi summarized the meeting with Truman by stating that Truman was a “wonderful, straightforward man who not only appreciated the Jewish vision of moral principles, but knows the Bible as well and respects the Jewish written laws.”

When Truman and his friend Eddie Jacobson later visited the New York Jewish Theological Seminary, Jacobson said in his speech that he would present them with a man who helped establish the State of Israel, but Truman quickly interrupted this by shouting “What do you mean, ‘helped to create?’ I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.”

Alfred Lilienthal, an opponent of Truman’s Palestine policy who worked for the US State Department and participated in the UN founding conference in San Francisco before he moved to be the lawyer for the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism in Washington, stated his view on Truman’s motivation for acknowledging the State of Israel:

“Truman was a biblical fundamentalist who constantly pointed to Deuteronomy 1:8 to justify his actions: See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

Clark Clifford, who worked as the President’s special adviser in 1946-1950, thought back to Truman’s motives in the Israeli question during interview with C-SPAN on July 28, 1991: "There was language in Deuteronomy, he said, in which the Bible promised the Jews. The language went something like, 'The day will come when you will be led into the land of your fathers and it shall become your own.' He believed that he was going to do everything he could to help them get their homeland.

Clifford told in an interview with Richard Holbrook, the former US Deputy Secretary of State, in 1988 that Truman had shared his thoughts with him on the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the return of the Jews to the Promised Land. Clifford, who considered himself an amateur when it came to the Bible, remembered exchanging verses with the president. One of the most impressive verses was the first verses of the 34th chapter in Deuteronomy:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar.

According to Clifford, you could take an old Bible map and see in it the borders of present-day Israel.

GOD IS FAITHFUL

Truman is, perhaps, the most unlikely president of the United States ever, but his amazing role in the birth of the State of Israel speaks volumes about the careful planning of the Almighty in carrying out his plans. God is faithful to His promises, both to individuals and nations.

According to the Bible, everything has its ordained time, and one of the most confusing details about World War II was that the world was ruled by two strong-willed statesmen from 1933 to 1945: Adolf Hitler and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both of them faced premature and sudden death in April 1945. Roosevelt died of a massive brain hemorrhage at the age of 63 on April 12, and Hitler committed suicide on April 30 at the age of 56.

King Solomon writes the book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8):

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

The text contains excerpts from Risto Huvila’s book “The Miracle of Israel and President Truman” (2018). It was first reprinted here.

Risto Huvila, a writer, public speaker, political advisor and TV host from Finland, observes European and American Middle East policies and antisemitism through Evangelical lenses. As Chairman of the Federation of Finland-Israel Associations and vice-chair of the Finnish Holocaust Remembrance Association and the March of Life Finland, he is an active advocate for Israel.