Posted by: rcottrill | June 4, 2014

The Star-Spangled Banner

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Words: Francis Scott Key (b. Aug. 1, 1779; d. Jan. 11, 1843)
Music: (source unknown)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Francis Scott Key)

Graphic Star-Spangled Banner OriginalNote: The poem that become the American national anthem was originally called “The Defense of Fort McHenry. The actual flag that was the centre of attention on that occasion is the fifteen-starred banner pictured here. The story of the writing of the song is found on the Wordwise Hymns link.

Though the American song was popular through the nineteenth century, it did not become the official national anthem until President Herbert Hoover signed that into law on March 3rd, 1931.

The melody, ironically, may possibly be English. The Anacreontic Song, arranged by John Stafford Smith (1750-1843), is of unknown origin. But around 1778, it was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, a club of amateur musicians in London.

1) Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say does that star spangled banner still wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

This is not strictly speaking a hymn, of course. It’s a poetic description of a military action in 1814, one in which the flag provided the evidence of success or defeat. If the British had been able to replace Stars and Stripes with the Union Jack, the poem would likely never have been written.

I hesitate, as a Canadian, to criticize the National Anthem of another country, but I have certainly heard American friends decry the fact that the song glorifies war. And though it does exult in the cause of liberty (“the land of the free” is mentioned in each stanza), it does not provide a picture of the multiplied blessings of the nation. If I had a vote, I’d probably favour Katherine Bates’s America the Beautiful ahead of the present song, for a National Anthem (though the latter is strongly influenced by the Social Gospel).

The two middle stanzas of The Star-Spangled Banner seem to be seldom used. Their poetry is dramatic, and at times lurid. The British troops are a “haughty host” whose “foul footsteps” have polluted the land. The feelings toward an enemy in time of war are often stated in the most extreme and absolute terms possible. It’s a way of stirring the blood and energizing the troops. But later years tend to view the sides of the conflict in more even terms, as former enemies often become allies.

The only references to God come in the final stanza of the four in the original poem. It’s on the spiritual aspirations of those words that we need to spend a moment. And may I encourage you, if you live south of the border, when it is your choice, have folks sing the last stanza as well as the first.

4) Oh thus be it ever when freeman shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation;
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, “In God is our trust.”
And the star spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In describing his country as a “heav’n rescued land,” and calling for its citizens to “praise the Power” behind its defense, Francis Scott Key was reminding them of the need to recognize their dependance on Almighty God. Many scholars believe Key’s poem to be the origin of the motto “In God We Trust,” which has appeared on American coinage since the days of the Civil War.

No nation can survive that turns its back on God. On the other hand, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12). Though those words were spoken first of Israel, they have a secondary application to all nations, including my own land of Canada. “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). Psalm 118, verse 8 is actually the central verse in the whole Bible, and it, and the verse following, alludes to a central life principle.

“It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes” (Ps. 118:8-9).

In exhorting his people to obey the Word of God, Moses declared that this would cause other nations to say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:6). The true dawn of hope for a nation comes not primarily from its natural resources, its political leaders, or its armed might, but from its trust in God and obedience to His Word. Francis Scott Key, himself a believer, understood that. Do we still?

1) What can we do, as Christians, to promote righteousness and justice in our nation?

2) Are there leaders in your nation, locally or nationally, who profess to be Christians? What can you do to encourage them?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (Francis Scott Key)


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