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Our Christian Faith
But If Not "Message From Dunkirk"
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 5:30am

"...Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace . . . But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."  Daniel 3:17-18, (KJV)

IN LATE MAY of 1940, during the early part of World War II, the German forces were inflicting heavy casualties on the British and their allies who sent a force of some 350,000 men into the low countries of Europe to stem the tide of German advance into France, Belgium and Holland.

Caught in a brilliant pincer movement by the invading German forces, the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was cornered and forced to retreat to the beaches at a seaport across the English Channel in northern France, called Dunkirk. It looked as though all of them would be wiped out by Hitler's approaching armies. To everyone's surprise the Germans halted their advance to regroup.

The German troops had the Allied Army completely surrounded with the sea at their backs, much like the Israelites when Pharaoh had them pinned against the Red Sea. The German Air Force dropped leaflets on the British Forces telling them to surrender and that there was no hope of escape.

Back in Britain, as England and the world waited for what appeared to be the sure and certain annihilation of 350,000 men, a three word message was transmitted from the besieged army at Dunkirk. It read simply, "But if not."

The message galvanized the British people. In a matter of hours, without any formal organization, thousands of English citizens got in their private boats and began heading across the English Channel to their weary soldiers.

The boats were of every kind imaginable; motorboats, rowboats, small fishing boats, trawlers, larger private boats, and even an Olympic racing yacht... raced to the beaches of Dunkirk ... at the risk of their own lives from from certain enemy fire, and the dangerous waters ... and began the evacuation of the heroic and besieged army at Dunkirk and returned them safely to Britain.

Churchill ... "expected only a few thousand men to be delivered during the two days he thought the British Navy would have to take troops off the beach before the Germans blocked the evacuation." ... "The British destroyers dispatched immediately on May 26 could not sail into the harbor or close to the beaches because the water was too shallow."

"On May 27, the second of the two days the British authorities had projected, the Luftwaffe began to strafe and bomb the beaches and attack the RAF planes flying protection for the ships. The evacuation went on. It took nine days. Men died on the beaches and in the boats, but the rescuers carried on. By the ninth day, 338,226 troops had been saved.

On June 4, the BBC reported that the commander of the rear guard had inspected the shores by motor boat to ensure that there was no one left undelivered before he himself boarded the last ship for England. It was indeed what Churchill called it: "the Miracle of Dunkirk".(3)

Seen in retrospect, the words of the three young men and the British commander move me deeply. In fact, the whole episode of Dunkirk undoes me every time I read of it.(3)

What was it about that three-word message? How could three short words--only eight letters--start all that?

The Miracle of Dunkirk happened because the British people recognized a phrase from the Bible. They understood the biblical importance of the cryptic message. They recognized the phrase from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who trusted in God, even when the king threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship an idol. It was a reference from the Old Testament book of Daniel, where Daniel and his friends chose death rather than worship an image of the pagan king'

"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18) ESV.

The British people knew that their troops were saying, "We will not give up, even if we die." The British Expeditionary Force (BEF), surrounded, cutoff and on the brink of destruction was declaring to Britain and to the world that even in apparent defeat they were, in fact, victorious.

Back then, the Brits all knew their Bible! It was estimated that 80% of them knew that slogan and what it meant. They knew that their beloved soldiers would fight to the end and not give in to the Germans but were calling on their God to deliver them.

The citizens were all collectively inspired to hear their cry and respond in the only way they knew to save them.

Just as Moses cried out to God to spare them from the Egyptians, the English Commander called on the God of the Bible to deliver them also. Once again, from the Sea, God rescued his people in distress.

Because the knowledge of these Biblical stories was in the English conscience, they were able to participate in one of the greatest miracles of the war.

That was 1940. Seventy years later, what about us here in America? Would our populace (or Britain) today know the word well enough to respond in a similar fashion? In just one generation, most Americans no longer know their Bible at all.

School children don’t know who Job is or if Abraham came before Jesus or any of the familiar stories of the Bible. They have never even heard them. Christianity is no longer a language that is universally used. Statements such as, ”Patience of Job”, ”She’s a Jezebel”, “Wise as Solomon”, ”Strong as Samson”, “David vs. Goliath” and many others are not known or used anymore.

As much as we don’t like to admit it, we are not a Christian nation like we used to be. Hosea 4:6 says, ”My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”.

Our nation was founded as a Christian nation and dependent upon the God of the Bible to protect and prosper us. Our prayers and actions need to be devoted to returning us to this dependence upon our Creator. But-If-Not, we are doomed to failure as a nation.

You may never be thrown into a fiery furnace. You probably will never be backed into a corner by thousands of tanks and troops. But there will be many times in your life when you'll have to choose between the right thing and giving in to sin. You'll face times when doing the right thing will be hard or embarrassing.

At such times remember that doing right is still right even when it's hard or when there seems to be no immediate reward. Doing right is still right, even if it might be embarrassing or get you into trouble. God can deliver you, and He may even reward you for doing right ... "but if not", it's still right to do right.

Sources: Adapted from ....

  1. Josh McDowell's One Year Book of Youth Devotions, for Sept. 29, Page 273 "A Message from Dunkirk", and
  2. An article at, and
  3. A blog here:

  Belief beyond proof is faith. Belief in spite of proof is folly. 

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Pete, Sr.


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