Pledging Allegiance


A Study of PSALM 31:13-16

The United States is a wonderful place, and we are lucky to be a part of it. But there are those in the world who hate America. How should we, as Americans, respond? The text teaches us that people who recognize the sovereign power of God will endure. From Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address onwards, the United States has, through the deed of word, declared itself “under God.” According to the Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God, He is the supreme ruler of the universe, superintending all its affairs. No thing that happens in the universe is beyond His knowledge or awareness. Nothing, therefore, catches Him off guard. By drawing together as a community under God, we can take comfort in the fact He, being sovereign, has whatever happens under His control.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The pledge is an oath of loyalty to the nation. Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, wrote the first draft in 1892. There had been four amendments by 1954. Each change aimed to foster a greater sense of American nationalism. Though the first three revisions helped hone American ideals, something still seemed to be missing. The idea to add the words “under God” came from Louis A. Bowman, a chaplain of the Illinois Society of Sons of the American Revolution. He said he “took the words from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.” President Harry Truman thought the idea a good one when presented with it. But there was no official bid to include the words during his administration. The catalyst for their inclusion came when a Scottish-born Presbyterian Minister, Reverend George MacPherson Docherty, preached a persuasive message while President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the audience. Reverend Docherty’s sermon, “A New Birth of Freedom,” focused on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Reverend Docherty compared America to ancient Sparta. He pointed out that …

… America’s national might is not found in her weapons or military capability, but in her spirit, epitomized by the American way of life.

Reverend Docherty declared that the exclusion of the words “under God” rendered the pledge generic. It could, therefore, apply to any nation. Conversely, by including the words “under God,” the pledge would reflect the American spirit and way of life as defined by Lincoln.

A review of early American historical documents reveals that many of the founding fathers were not necessarily religious, though they were certainly men of faith. The nation they defined was also one of faith. For the pledge of allegiance, the words “under God” from the later Gettysburg Address were coupled with “one nation” to form “one nation, under God.”

The phrase One Nation Under God declares that our country was founded on the belief God is the supreme ruler of the universe, and everything is under His purview.

This sentiment is a reflection of Psalm 31:15:

– “My times are in your hands.”

There are three divisions in Psalm 31:

Verses 1-13 – The human need for divine intervention during uncertain times

Verses 14-18 – Proclamation of the assurance of God’s sovereignty and deliverance during trying times

Verses 19-24 – Ascription of praise and thanksgiving to God, and exhortation to the saints to wait on God

We will focus on verses 13 -16.

We live in perilous times. Those of us who have traveled abroad recognize how blessed we are to live in America. This country is not perfect, but it is a far better place to live than regions of the world where people have known only war, disease, famine and starvation. But while it is wonderful to be an American in America, to be an American abroad can sometimes make you a target. America is one of the most powerful nations, but she is also hated in some, perhaps many parts.

In verse 13, the psalmist says,

– “For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side.”

Slander in the Hebrew means “defamation” or “evil report.” Terror means “to produce fear” or “to make fearful.” It is likely that anti-American sentiment is more profound today than in the past.

When I was growing up, it was not unusual to see protesters burning the American flag, or to see signs declaring “Death to America.” Even today, all of the propaganda about America has one aim: To assassinate the character of America worldwide. Those who espouse a strong dislike for America use language that is incendiary and intended to provoke fear and dread.

Most commentators believe Psalm 31 to be a psalm of David. The prevailing attitude is that David spoke these words during the time his son Absalom attempted to take the throne from him in a coup. Hence, the psalmist says,

– “They conspire against me and plot to take my life.”

Conspire in the Hebrew means “to sit together in council” and “to deliberate together.” Plot means “to meditate on evil.” One translation is “to join forces and think of ways to carry out evil and wickedness.” It is interesting how power and self-interest make strange bedfellows. Before pointing Jesus out to the Jewish authorities, Judas aligned himself with those he previously opposed. The Jewish authorities had the power, and Judas was driven by self-interest, money.

Bringing it a little closer to home, there are those who wish and actively campaign for evil and wickedness to befall America. Some extremists have made it clear they desire nothing less than death to all Americans. A definition of community is a “group of people who share a common interest.”

There is a community of American haters. For many of them, that is the only sentiment they have in common. How should we respond?

The answer can be found in verse 14,

– “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’”

David underscores that the only response for the people of God who live in perilous and trying times is to trust God.

The word used for trust means literally “to be secure,” or “to fear nothing for oneself.” In other words, trust God totally and completely, and do not fear anything or anyone.

How can the psalmist make such a bold statement? Note the word LORD is capitalized. When we see this in the Old Testament, it is translated as Jehovah, which is the proper name for God. It means the “self-existing one,” the “eternal/immutable God.”

God is and will always be, because He does not change.

This is a glorious revelation. People change, environments change, relationships change, world leaders change. God, however, does not change. No matter what you see on the news – the violence in Iraq or Afghanistan; the latest displays of arrogance from Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or North Korea’s Kim Jong-il; or any other ephemeral event – God remains the same.

God is the one constant when things become uncertain. He is the only sure thing we have in this life.

The psalmist declares in the latter part of verse 14,

– “You are my God”

and in verse 15, because you are my God,

– “My times are in your hands.”

Wow! What a bold declaration of faith. You are my God, Elohim – creator and judge, and the world and my life are under your control. This is good news. No matter what happens, everything is under God’s control. How comforting it is to know that nothing happens by accident or chance, and that all is within the firm grasp of Elohim, our creator and judge.

Armed with this understanding, let us revisit our current world scene for a moment. There is much debate about the validity of the recent elections in Iran and the alleged victory of Ahmadinejad. Let us keep in mind that nothing and no one lasts forever. Leaders serve for a period, and it is by God’s authority that they ascend to power in the first place. Some leaders will be good, others not so good. It is a matter of perspective. In the monarchies of both Israel and Judah, there were those who did well in the sight of the LORD, and those who did evil. Yet, both were under the control of God. Those who did well and those who did evil met the same fate: They eventually died. God, however, used both to serve the people.

The events of September 11, 2001 forever changed our nation and the world in which we live. Our post 9/11 is punctuated with heightened security at airports, along our highways, and in many buildings. Our government is using innovative technology to ensure the safety of our nation and prevent future acts of terrorism within our borders. But there is an additional power that will keep us safe as a community:

Those who put their trust in God are never disappointed.

America has endured earlier periods of uncertainty. As a nation under God, she emerged each time better and stronger. In terms of the toll the Civil War took on Americans, it was the bloodiest of the wars in which Americans have fought. In addition, it almost fractured our nation. Yet, we survived. We have survived two world wars, the Korean, Vietnam and two Gulf wars. We have also survived the Great Depression, presidential assassinations, slavery, the turmoil of the civil rights struggle, and a changing cultural and social landscape. How have we survived? Because America is “One Nation Under God.”

The times we live in are bad and may get worse. Scripture says that, in the last days, things will worsen.

The people of God can take comfort in the knowledge that the worse the times get, the closer we are to the return of Jesus Christ.

In the interim, believers can, like the psalmist in verse 16, call out to the God, who never changes, and say,

– “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.”

When times become trying and uncertain we can petition our heavenly Father to look again on us, to look after us, and to protect us in His loving and caring arms. We can ask God to be a fence around us guarding us from all of the foolishness and craziness that is going on around us, because our salvation is found only in God in Christ. Without Him, we will surely die.

The only thing that causes God to look away from us is a heart bent on living contrary to His will.

Personal iniquity is an obstacle overcome only by divine forgiveness. We obtain divine forgiveness through personal surrender to God through Jesus Christ. Christ died making divine forgiveness available to all who ask for it. Do you need God to shine His face on you? Do you feel as though there are things that stand between you and God? If so, please pray this prayer and come in from the cold.

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and arose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer


Sunday 5 July 2009

May God Bless You

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