Posted by: rcottrill | January 17, 2018

God of Our Fathers, Known of Old

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Words: Joseph Rudyard Kipling (b. Dec. 30, 1865; d. Jan. 18, 1936)
Music: Melita, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The tune Melita is also used with the Naval Hymn, Eternal Father, Strong to Save.

World empires have their day, one brief day, only to vanish away, leaving the stage for yet another. Crumbling buildings and monuments, artifacts representing domestic life or long forgotten wars, fragments of their influence on language and culture, these things may remain, but the dominating presence of the regime is no more.

Who remembers the battle of the Teutoburg Forest, in AD 9–beyond students of European history? Yet it’s one of the most significant engagements ever fought. Three mighty legions of Rome moved north in an attempt to capture and control the area east of the Rhine River. But they were ambushed and destroyed by Germanic resistance fighters.

It was Rome’s greatest defeat, and ended Caesar’s dream of conquering Germany. Yet even the exact location of the epic battle was uncertain until, after years of work, British army officer Major Tony Clunn rediscovered it, writing up the fascinating story of his search in The Quest for the Lost Roman Legions, published in 2005. (Recommended, if you love history.)

Back around 553 BC, the prophet Daniel prophesied about coming world empires, from his own time, all the way to the end of human history. So accurate is the Lord’s revelation through him that skeptics have concluded it must have come from some unknown author long after Daniel’s time. But the eternal God is able to view all history in advance. He says:

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done” (Isa. 46:9-10).

Four great world empires are described by the prophet:

¤ Babylon (ruling in Daniel’s own era)
¤ Medo-Persia
¤ Greece
¤ Rome
(A gap of many centuries in which we now live)
¤ A resurgent Roman Empire–as allied European powers–in the last days

In chapter 2 of the book, the four are portrayed as parts of the gigantic image of a man. In chapter 7 they’re described as a succession of wild beasts. Perhaps, the first of portrayal is man’s aggrandized view of himself, while the second is more God’s perspective. In the end, human powers will give way to the messianic kingdom, when Christ returns (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:31-33), and His reign will never cease.

Meantime, other empires have come and gone. Before the Second World War, the British Empire had spread across the world. This was much celebrated during the long rule of Queen Victoria. And for the Jubilee celebration of her sixtieth year on the throne in 1897, British author Rudyard Kipling was asked to write a poem.

He struggled with ideas for a long time, finally deciding to shut himself in a room until it was finished. Looking over the various failed attempts to come up with something, he was struck by one phrase he’d written, and decided to build his poem around that. The phrase was, “Lest we forget.”

The result is a sobering work called simply Recessional. It was later set to music, thus becoming a hymn. It’s a product of its own time, speaking to a people that were proud of their conquests and their place in the world. But we sense the somber mood in the title. A “recessional” is music played when clergy, choir and congregation are leaving a church (as world empires eventually leave the world’s stage).

Whether or not the author saw the departure of the British Empire from its dominating position, Kipling was anxious for the British people to remember that power comes from a sovereign God, and He can also take it away.

The stirring hymn says, in part:

CH-1) 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!

CH-2) 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!

CH-3) 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!

1) What message is there in these words for powerful nations in our own day?

2) Do you see the beginning of biblical signs that the Lord’s return is near? (If so, what are they?)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal


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