Sunday, July 04, 2010
By Rev. Tom Stewart
God Bless America
We've all heard the phrase, "God bless America!" of course, but exactly
what does that mean?
There was a time when its meaning was as clear and it was true in our
country. Everyone knows the first stanza of our beloved "Star Spangled Banner," but you may not be as familiar with the final verse. For a believer, it is powerful both from a patriotic and Christian point of
â€œOh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand, Between their loved home and the war's desolation! Blessed with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: "In God is our trust." And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
When Francis Scott Key wrote that masterpiece as he watched America win the climactic battle of the War of 1812, there was no doubt in his mind that so long as "God is our trust" we could not lose. He was right. Shortly before the end of another important war, another musician composed the song from which we all know so well. Irving Berlin wrote "God Bless America" in 1918 while hundreds of thousands of American Soldiers were slugging away in the bloody trench warfare of World War I France. Embroiled in such a
titanic struggle, many Americans realized that honoring the name and power of Almighty God made perfect sense in a perfectly evil world. Though I certainly wasn't alive in 1918, history tells us that for many people
in America back then, the words to that song reflected the truth in their lives.
Since the tragic events of 9/11 the phrase, "God bless America!" has been shouted by Americans of all kinds. This year many Major League baseball teams chose to sing "God Bless America!" during their seventh inning
stretch instead of the traditional, "Take me out to the Ballpark." It seems that in times of war people still instinctively look to the name of God for deliverance. But I wonder, do the words of that song reflect the truth in our lives today, and if they doesn't does it really matter? I think any Christian would say that it does matter, but might be at a loss to explain why. The Bible as it always does "provides the explanation. I wanted to share with you another little known Bible story from the Old Testament.
It comes from I Samuel 4 and concerns the story of the people of Israel going to battle against the unquestioned enemies of God, the Philistines. Conceptually speaking, I think most everyone would agree that God would take the side of His chosen people Israel over the avowed enemies of God in any fight. The Philistines were an openly idolatrous people, were vicious,paganistic, and open scorners of Almighty God. So obviously, God would support Israel against the Philistines. But read the following verses from
(1) Thus the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out to
meet the Philistines in battle and camped beside Ebenezer while the Philistines
camped in Aphek. (2) The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel.
When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. (3) When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, " Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the LORD, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies." (4) So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. (5) As the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth resounded. (6) When the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, "What does the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?"
Then they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. (7) The Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp."
And they said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.(8)
"Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. (9) "Take courage and be men, O Philistines, or you will become slaves to the Hebrews, as they have been slaves to you; therefore, be men and fight." (10) So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. (11) And the ark of God was taken.
The people had been defeated in verse 2, and the first thing they did in verse 3 was ask why God defeated them. Their immediate presumption is that without God, they could not lose, and since they lost, something must be amiss. Good proposition, but what did they do about it? It would seem reasonable for them to maybe do a little self-examination to see if something in their lives was out of place, or if there was any sin in their lives that needed to be confessed before God. Unfortunately, that's not what happened at all. Instead, without even taking a full breath, they immediately sought the symbols of God “the Ark! They thought that the symbol of God could defeat their foes. Notice what the verse says, "(v.3) .. that it (they said "it" not "God") may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies." They did not want to find out if maybe God didn't support them because they might need to change, they wanted the symbol to deliver them from their enemies “while they changed nothing in themselves! But in verse 5 they were pumped! They were cheering just like the Houston Astro fans were cheering Monday night when the first two Cardinal batters struck out in the 9th inning. It literally shook the ground.
I found it interesting that even the Philistines were afraid when they heard why the people were cheering. In verse 8 they recognized "even as pagans "that the name of God was reason to fear, because they knew what God had done to his enemies in the past. But ultimately they reasoned that, well, at least be men and fight: better to die than be slaves. So here comes the Israeli army, bursting with confidence, going against an enemy that is afraid, carrying before it the very ark of the Covenant of Yahweh God, knowing they can't lose "and they are routed from the field of battle, crushed beyond recognition.
They thought that since God had been with them in the past, and that their forefathers had trusted in God and marched with the ark in the lead “and had always been victorious â€“ then if they just hold to the same traditions, they'll be successful, too. But God is a jealous God. "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," says the Lord. If anyone thinks that the mere vestiges of God, the symbols, have any power, they will be in for a very bitter disappointment. God demands that He not only be obeyed, but that He Himself be acknowledged and worshiped. Israel didn't worship God, but only the images of God, while at the same time being disobedient and self-centered. In a sense, they were using the ark of God as an idol!
So when I see so many in our country quickly popping off with "God Bless America!" while giving no real deference to the Holiness of God, I worry. I ask you this week, therefore, to focus on your personal obedience to God and make certain that He is a reality in your life, and not just a popular phrase.
I thank God for you all, and am honored to be counted among your number. May God receive glory because of what you do.
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