One World War II historian wrote: “In early 1940, the British and their allies 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 was pushed back to the beaches of the small Belgian town of Dunkirk. To everyone’s surprise the Germans halted their advance to regroup. 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 British people understood the biblical significance of the cryptic message. It was a reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel, where Daniel and his friends chose death rather than worship an image of the pagan king, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”” (Daniel 3:17-18, NKJV).
The British Expeditionary Army, 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. The message galvanized the British people. In a matter of hours thousands of boats of every description headed across the dangerous waters of the English Channel and, at the risk of their own lives from enemy fire, began the evacuation of the heroic but beleaguered army in what historians now refer to as “the miracle of Dunkirk.”
The British army believed they would be rescued. But they were determined to remain loyal to freedom under any circumstance, “But if not.” This needs to be our attitude when we face troubles of various kinds. Just like Daniel’s three friends, we pray to God for deliverance and rescue. But also like his three friends, we choose to be faithful to God, ‘even if not.’ Nothing could move them from their service to God—and neither must anything move us from our service to Christ!