Most of the news stories about the death of the Reverend Billy Graham highlight how he reached out to various U.S. presidents in times of crisis. He counseled Lyndon Johnson in the days when the Vietnam war was heating up, and he gave spiritual support to Richard Nixon through the Watergate scandal. He prayed with Bill Clinton after the affair with Monica Lewinsky became national news. He had a close friendship with Ronald Regan, and he also met with Barack Obama at the White House. George W. Bush has even credited Graham with helping him to overcome alcoholism after Graham advised him to turn his life over to Jesus. Billy Graham also gave prayers at the inaguration of three presidents—Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton (both times). One could say that he was a spiritual adviser to most of the twelve presidents who were in office during his days of preaching the gospel to large crowds.
What may not be so evident is a long tradition of national leaders seeking spiritual counsel from godly individuals. The tradition reaches back even into Old Testament times, when these spiritual leaders were called “prophets.” Prophets sometimes anointed a king or were otherwise involved in getting them to the throne. Samuel anointed both Saul (1 Sam. 10:1) and David (1 Sam. 16:13) to be king over Israel. Nathan conveyed the Lord’s promise to David that his kingdom would last forever (2 Sam. 7:16). Ahijah anointed Jeroboam to rule over the ten northern tribes when the kingdom of Israel divided into north and south. Elisha carried out Elijah’s commission to anoint Jehu, prompting him to come to the northern throne in a bloody coup (1 Kings 19:16; 2 Kings 9).
Isaiah may be the most noteworthy example of a prophet who served as spiritual adviser to kings. When Ahaz king of Judah feared that the kingdom would be lost in battle to a coalition of the kings of Israel and Aram, the Lord sent Isaiah to give him an encouraging message. Ahaz refused to believe the message, though, and Isaiah gave the famous prophecy of the virgin who would conceive a child and name him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, was more receptive to Isaiah’s ministry. When the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, Hezekiah prayed and Isaiah assured him that the Lord would deliver Jerusalem and Judah from the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:13-34).
The Assyrians were a tremendous threat to Jerusalem and Judah, but God delivered them by a great miracle that drove the Assyrians back to their own land (2 Kings 18:35–36). When our own country was severely tested by the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, Billy Graham delivered a sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. that encouraged the nation to trust in God. He affirmed that “God cares for us,” and he called for national revival. Spiritual leaders like Billy Graham seem to be rather rare today. There was hope that 9/11 would unite our nation, but since then we have become severely divided. I pray that our God would raise up another Billy Graham to bring our nation together through revival and through spiritual counsel given to our political leaders.