Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “British empire

Lest we forget

Lest we foget 8 400pxLast Wednesday was ANZAC Day, which is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand of those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Did you know that the phrase “Lest we forget” used to commemorate those who died in warfare came from the Bible? It came via the poem “Recessional” (see Appendix A) by Rudyard Kipling which was written towards the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897. These turned into a celebration of the power of the British Empire.

The poem was written to be sung as a hymn at the end of a church service (see Appendix B for an explanation of its meaning). It acknowledges that God helped establish the British Empire. But all human power is transient and empires eventually decline and disappear. It urges the English to be humble instead of boasting about their achievements. The main warning is not to forget God. The chorus is:
“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
So the context of “Lest we forget” is God, not those who have died.

The title “Lord of hosts” comes from the KJV of the Bible (1 Sam. 1:3), which can be translated “Lord Almighty” (NIV), “Lord of Armies” (CSB), or “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (NLT). It means that God is sovereign over all other powers in the universe, including the British Empire.

The phrase “Lest we forget” comes from a warning given to the Israelites after they settled in the promised land. It says, “Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Dt. 6:12KJV). Or, “be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (NLT). They were not to forget what God had done for them. But we know that the Israelites did forget God and followed idols.

So, in Recessional, “Lest we forget”, was a call to not forget God. But this song was also sung at remembrance services for those who died in warfare. And in this context, it was a call to not forget those who had given their lives for their country. In this context, the meaning of “ancient sacrifice” in the song changed from Christ’s death to the death of soldiers. This is an example of how words and phrases can change their meaning over time.

Lessons for us

As the Israelites were God’s people in Old Testament times, Christians are God’s people today. And like them, we are not to forget what God had done for us. We too can easily forget God and the ancient sacrifice of Christ for us. He gave up His life so we could have eternal life.

Let’s not be like the Israelites who forgot about God when they followed idols. Anything we can’t live without or must have is an idol that needs to be removed or put back in its place. An idol is anything that we give higher priority than God. Or anything that we think about more than we think about God.

“Lest we forget”. Don’t forget God!

Appendix A: Recessional

A poem by Rudyard Kipling (1897)

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law —
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Appendix B: Exegesis of Recessional

Kipling was a British poet who wrote verse for English readers. This poem was written over 120 years ago when the British Empire was a major world power. Some of the imagery used in the poem is drawn from the KJV Bible.

Verse 1

Their ancestors worshipped the God of the Bible.

Their armies trusted in this God.

They were in awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God.

They acknowledge that God helped them establish the British Empire.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 2

The 60th anniversary celebrations for Queen Victoria will end. They are transient.

The military leaders will stop parading and the visiting dignitaries (kings of Europe) will return home.

But Christ’s ancient sacrifice endures.

God wants us to be humble rather than proud and boasting. We need to confess and repent of our arrogance and boasting. This may be derived from, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17KJV). “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (NLT).

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 3

Although their Navy travels to far-away places, they can’t sustain their presence in these places.

Watch-post fires are extinguished as military personnel leave.

The 60th anniversary celebrations and the might of the British Empire is transient.

Like Nineveh and Tyre, the British empire will eventually decline and disappear. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire whose destruction by the Babylonians was predicted in the Bible (Nahum 1:1 – 3:19). Tyre was a powerful Phoenician city whose destruction by Alexander the Great was predicted in the Bible (Ezek. 26:1 – 28:19).

They acknowledge God will judge the nations and pray that He will spare them from judgment. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness (Gen. 18:20 –  19:29). The Bible teaches that God will judge nations according to their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3:1-16). And in many cases, sin brings its own judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 4

They are intoxicated with the idea of colonial power.

They have no awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God. Because of these two things, they say things they shouldn’t say.

Like the Russians and Germans, they boast of their achievements.

They also boast like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.

They are warned not to forget God.

Verse 5

They are acting like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.

They trust in military might.

But all this is futile because it will end in dust! It is insignificant compared to the eternal nature of God.

They leave God out of their lives.

They claim to be God’s people. And they pray to God for forgiveness for their boasting and their foolish language.

Verses 3 and 5 say that they shouldn’t trust in human achievements because these don’t endure. They are fleeting.

Written, April 2018