Today we want to start our series called God & Country. We’re looking at how a Christian balances God and Patriotism. Our goal for today is to see (1) when patriotism can become a danger (2) what good patriotism looks like. We’re going to do that by focusing in on a section from 1 Chronicles. That’s old school. It talks about the nation of Israel and its relationship with God. If you want to open your Bibles to it, it’s in the Old Testament close to the books of Kings. You can also search for it on your iPhones.
But before we study God’s Word, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Bad Patriotism
King David took the final steps out of his palace into the early morning streets of Jerusalem.
It was quiet. Quiet because the city had been partying late into the night. There had been another victory. Another victory for Israel. With that victory came another welcoming home of the victorious soldiers. Chants of “Is-ra-el! Is-ra-el!” had filled the streets. Street musicians played “I am proud to be an Israelian!” as little old ladies waved Israelite flags to the beat. Little kids held up their GI Israel action figures and older teens had pledged to ‘join the army’ when they were a bit older.
It was a good time. A time of national pride.
A time of Patriotism.
With good reason. Under King David, the nation had expanded its borders; it had defeated its enemies. They had gained national wealth, improved the economy and brought prosperity for even the poor. They were the United States of the Ancient World. Other countries feared them; many wanted to be them; no one dared cross them.
David knew that. He knew that and yet…he knew the worries. He knew the nervousness that comes with the economy. He knew the whispers of terrorism and war. He knew that some didn’t think Israel was as great as they thought they were.
A pile of confetti blew past his face. David needed something. Something to comfort the people. Something to dispel their doubts. Something to assure them they were safe. Something to assure himself he was safe.
Then, David had an idea. In a brilliant, politically tactical move, he would order a census. He’d number the fighting men. He’d get a count on how large his army was. He’d post that census on billboards throughout Jerusalem. He’d let himself and his country know how great the land of Israel really was!
David returned to the palace and called for the general of his army to stand before him. “Go; gather your commanders. Set into motion a census. Find out for me just how great the Israelite army is.”
Joab protested. “Majesty -- the country is huge. The army is great. Why do you need a census to prove that? Why do you need to boast? Whose ego are we trying to feed? Mine? Theirs? Yours?”
But David was king. That was that. Joab went out. He travelled. He counted. He tallied. He added. He subtracted. He numbered and reported:
“There are over 1.6 million soldiers in the army of Israel.”
David smiled. David swelled with patriotism.
The others who heard; they smiled. They swelled with patriotism.
But God didn’t smile. He didn’t swell with Patriotism.
“But this command was evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
This seems strange at first. David took a census. Is census taking sinfully wrong? Is it as bad as theft and adultery? Should we feel as uncomfortable around census takers as we might around pornography directors and terrorists?
No. Of course not. Census taking isn’t wrong.
The problem wasn’t the census. The problem was the motivation behind the census.
It’s kinda like eating yogurt. There’s nothing wrong with eating yogurt. There isn’t a commandment that says, “Thou shalt not commit yogurt eating.” If you’re eating yogurt because you’re hungry, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt because you like yogurt, no worries. If you’re eating yogurt, because there’s nothing else in your fridge, no worries.
But if you’re eating yogurt, because your wife implied that you’re a bit out of shape and you’re upset at her for doing that and you hope she sees you eating yogurt and feels bad about the fact that she was being such a meanie – That’s wrong.
What was the bad motivation behind David? Pride. Pride in himself as King. Pride in his country. He trusted the great number of troops; the awesomeness of his army; his nation more than his God.
Because did you notice, there is no mention of God in his request. He doesn’t tell the people – “Be calm; everything is good in Israel because of God.” Nope. With the census he was saying, “Everything is good in Israel because of Israel. Because of our nation. Because of our patriotism.”
That’s bad patriotism. In fact, you might call it “Patriolatry,” – the worship of nation…rather…than…God.
So. I ask. At the time of this election – where’s your trust?
Recently there’s been a controversy around Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem. Did you know this? He and some other athletes have been kneeling during the national anthem. And I’m not here to give a long winded reaction to all of this.
Yes, it’s important to show respect to the men and women who serve our country in war and standing during the national anthem is a way to do that. But it’s also important to listen to a large portion of the black community (our family) when they are telling us about struggles that we might not know anything about.
But I’m more interested in the reaction that I’ve seen these past couple of weeks to it. People have been downright vengeful. There are comments on social media and in the mainstream media about how awful anyone who doesn’t put their hand on the heart for the flag is awful. About how they are traitors About how they are the worst. About how they are “swear word; swear word; swear word.” About how there is nothing more important than showing respect to our flag.
OK. I’m gonna challenge you.
If you’ve got that outrage over a lack of respect for our sinful country, where is that outrage over lack of respect to God?
Where’s your outrage over the family member who doesn’t show God respect and devote one hour a week to him at church?
Where’s your outrage when someone takes God’s name in vain?
Where’s your respect when you can’t even stay awake for a 20-minute message from God’s Word?
Why is there post after post after post (and conversation after conversation) about America and Debate and Vote this way, but there is no mention of God – no mention of our Savior?
I heard someone say this recently: “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing that you love the most passionately.” I’ll say that again. “The thing you defend the most passionately is the thing you love most passionately.”
There’s truth there.
Think about your love. What’s that for you? The USA? Or God?
Scripture says this. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods.” You shouldn’t trust anything more than God. You shouldn’t love anything more than God. You shouldn’t fear anything more than God.
This isn’t God being a big jealous jerk! It’s God loving you. It’s God reminding you that He is the only one that can save. Because the truth is:
The United States will not pass some law to get you to heaven.
George Washington didn’t die for your sins.
Abraham Lincoln didn’t rise form the dead.
Uncle Sam isn’t your Savior.
God did and God is.
And if you ignore this truth. If you stay at the temple of Patriology and your country is more important than God, then that’s bad patriotism.
And God will act swiftly.
II. Good Patriotism
Just like he did with David.
God sent a prophet. The prophet told David, v.10-12 "This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options…Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies…or three days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel."
Now. If I were David and I thought that my nation was so great (and it was), I might pick option one. Three years of famine would be no problem for the booming economy of Israel. He could tell his secretary of agriculture to start gathering food the very next day and start rationing the day after that.
Or I might pick option two. Because three months of enemy combat…After all, they had over 1.6 million soldiers in their army. They might be able to fend off these attacks. They might be able to defend the country.
But option three, three days of plague in the land? If that started immediately, Israel could do nothing. They wouldn’t be able to set up vaccination sites. They wouldn’t be able to combat it. They’d be entirely at the mercy of God.
Which is exactly why David picked it:
v. 13 “Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
Notice the change in trust. No longer does David trust his country. He doesn’t trust his army. He doesn’t trust his nation.
He trusts God. He trusts God to be merciful simply because he’s merciful.
So the pestilence starts. The angel of the Lord stands like a stalwart statue with his sword directed over the land. Soldiers start dropping. Heart attacks. Strokes. Other sudden illnesses. 70,000 people died. It looks like more will die. It looks like a terrible decision. And the angel of the Lord approaches Jerusalem – and the capital city was about to experience the complete wrath of God. But then….
That’s what happens when you trust God and his mercy. God has mercy.
And if you read a bit farther it says that God commands the angel to put his sword away and the angel does. Because God was in control the whole time. Not just at the beginning of this story. It was about God the whole time. From the start of the Israelite nation and throughout King David’s reign, to the kings after David and even the destruction of Jerusalem way in the future. Israel was ok. But God was Great!
It doesn’t depend on the size of the army. Remember the size that David came up with? 1.6 million soldiers? That’s huge. It wasn’t even everyone. Joab had intentionally not counted the men of Levi and Benjamin – probably to keep people from being so prideful.
But God has never needed millions to win battles.
With Gideon he used 300 men to defeat close to 120,000.
In Egypt, he used the wind and the waves to destroy the thousands of Egyptian chariots chasing the Jews.
In the small town of Dothan, his prophet Elisha was trapped, but not a single human soul came to save him. For that God used chariots of fire and angels of vengeance.
But none of those are anything compared to his greatest battle.
Jesus fought millions of billions of sins and death and the devil, all by himself.
He didn’t use a sword. In fact, as the battle started he told his disciples to put their swords away. They did and they ran away. He was betrayed, abandoned, beaten, scorned, whipped, and crucified. He died!
But – with that dead body, he won a war. He came out of the grave and won salvation.
It means that if you have been trapped in Patriology, if you have been trusting in nation rather than God, God is ready to forgive. He defeated your sins. By faith in him, you are forgiven. You are victorious. You are a part of his heavenly kingdom.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) Redefine Patriotism
Webster’s dictionary defines patriotism as (sorry if that sounds like a lame segue for a speech) “the love of one’s country.”
You are American. Love your country. But you are a part of a country much greater than that. A country that you’ll be a part of, if you travel abroad, if you move to Mexico, if you retire in the Caribbean, even if America ceases to exist.
You are a part of God’s kingdom.
Take pride in that. Make that the conversation you have at work. Make that the encouragement you post on the internet. Brag on God’s kingdom and brag on your God.
God’s Word is often described like a mirror. A mirror shows you where you need some help. It tells me where I missed shaving and where I have some asparagus in my teeth. But too often in America, as Christians in America, we pick up the mirror and hold it like this. We run around telling others to look in the mirror and forget to look in the mirror ourselves.
Turn the mirror around. Reflect on your own attitudes and reactions. Reflect on how you’ve done wrong. Like King David – cry out: “Oh dear Lord, forgive me! Forgive me for my wrong doing.”
And then? Hear God’s Word of forgiveness. Reflect on his love. Reflect on his mercy. Reflect on how you can show his love and mercy to other citizens closest to you.
3) Get on Your Knees
That’s what King David did. When he saw the destruction that was coming on his country, he got on his knees and prayed. He prayed because of God’s mercy. He prayed for God’s mercy. God gave it.
Let’s do the same thing. Rather than getting on our feet and arguing with one another – let’s first get on our knees and pray. For God’s kingdom – for our country. Prayer for the salvation of souls in America. Prayer for the coming to faith of our leaders. Pray for opportunities to share his love in our land of North Raleigh.
Pray for God’s blessings on our nation.
Which is actually the very prayer that we will say in the very last hymn for today. Maybe you peeked. It’s God Bless Our Native Land.
Notice something about song. We are asking God to bless our native land.
Not our army.
Not the president.
God bless our native land. God bless the USA. God bless all of us in the USA.