June 13, 2017

We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners.  Psalm 20:5

June 14 is Flag Day, a big deal at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. As it notes on its website, “Where better to celebrate Flag Day than at the home of the Star-Spangled Banner?”

Let’s take a look back in history as to how this came to be. Francis Scott Key was a wealthy lawyer who by 1814 had appeared several times before the Supreme Court, and been appointed U.S. District Attorney. Deeply devoted to his faith and opposed to the War of 1812, he nonetheless served briefly in the Georgetown Light Field Artillery.

In August 1814, the British captured a prominent physician named William Beanes, and Key was asked to help secure the doctor’s release. Key traveled to Baltimore in September and, with a government agent who arranged for prisoner exchanges, set out on a small vessel flying a truce flag to meet the Royal Navy.

The two men boarded a British ship and procured Dr. Beanes’ freedom then all three Americans re-boarded their boat, but they weren’t allowed to return to Baltimore until the British finished bombarding Fort McHenry in Chesapeake Bay in the Battle of Baltimore.

It must have been excruciating to watch the assault from behind the British warship, about eight miles from shore. For 25 hours, the British pounded the fort. Finally they gave up the unsuccessful effort and left.

As the smoke cleared and it became apparent to the Americans that the British truly had given up the fight, Key looked toward the fort, hoping to see the flag still flying. And as we learned in grade school, it “was still there.” He quickly wrote out a poem, which was handed out under the title “Defence of Fort McHenry.” Later the words were set to music and it became “The Star-Spangled Banner.” While it was a popular patriotic song, it didn’t become our national anthem until 1931.

It’s no surprise then that there’s a huge focus on the flag at Fort McHenry, and Flag Day is an all-day affair.

One Biblical name for God is Jehovah Nissi, which translated from Hebrew means “the Lord is my banner” (Exodus 17:15). The idea is of a rallying point, a flag or signal or standard where troops gather under its leader, either to prepare to fight or in triumph.

The War of 1812 didn’t end until March 1815, so when Francis Scott Key saw the flag at Fort McHenry, several more months of battle lay ahead. We too still have many skirmishes ahead of us in this life. But we have this promise: “You [God] have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth” (Psalm 60:4). We have our sure gathering place in a Person who lives forever, a Leader “who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

So proudly fly the Stars and Stripes on June 14—and remember, every day, to honor the One whose everlasting, never fading “banner over us is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4).

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