Psalm 44:1-3 “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
Of course, the psalmist isn’t thinking of the United States in Psalm 44. He is thinking of the people of Israel, whom God led through the desert, and to whom he gave possession of their own land when he drove out the Canaanites who lived there before them.
We are not God’s ancient people Israel. But that same God is still the God of all history. He oversees the rise and fall of every nation on earth. We are largely a nation of immigrants. He brought our fathers, not through a desert, but across an ocean and planted them in this place. He brought them from places all around the globe. In the United States of America he made them flourish. He has defended us and made it possible for us to continue to flourish here today in part because of the service and sacrifice offered by the men and women who have served in our military—the people we honor on Memorial Day.
How? How was it possible for men and women to win the wars that keep us free? The same way ancient Israel did: “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.” Weapons are a necessary part of war. It is foolish to go into battle without them. But weapons aren’t the Christian soldier’s ultimate trust. He has something better.
“It was your right hand, your arm.” What is the power of guns, and bombs, and tanks and missiles, compared to the power of the Almighty God? “He lifts his voice,” we hear in Psalm 46, “the earth melts.” Veterans of our armed forces can tell you about the sounds, the sights, and the smells of battle. They can tell you about the lessons of military discipline, the camaraderie that develops between those who serve and fight together. That you can read about in the books, too. But what you won’t find quite so much in the books is the role of God’s power and God’s help in helping a young man or woman grow as a person and a soldier, in strengthening them for the rigors of military life, in sparing their lives in battle, and in blessing their battles with success. That “we have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days.”
Even God’s power is only part of the story. It was “the light of your face, for you loved them.” Armies and wars are a reminder to all of us that we live in a fallen world. Sin has turned person against person and nation against nation. Even past presidents of this nation have called for national days of prayer and repentance in the face of war, because they recognized God’s call to repentance in those wars. They recognized the call to repentance not because they were prophets, but because they knew that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
Still, God has loved his fallen world, and he sent his own Son to redeem it. By his death Jesus won the war over sin and death. His victory brings forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe in him. This faith has sustained countless soldiers, who believed that even if their lifeless body extended the row of little white crosses at some cemetery a few feet further, the final victory of life in heaven still belonged to them.
On Memorial Day we have the opportunity to remember, not just lessons from the life of a soldier, but living examples of God’s power and love in the service our soldiers have offered to our country. God bless them for their service and sacrifice. God bless us all as our ears hear the great things God has done for them and for us.