You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. Obadiah 12 (NIV).
The greatest inauguration address in American history was not given by Joe Biden yesterday, nor was it given by former President Trump four years ago (though that was a pretty good speech).
No, the greatest inaugural address was given by Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1865. He gave it at the start of his second term: a term that would end with his assassination only 41 days later. Lincoln gave the speech knowing that the armies of the Confederacy were nearly defeated, that the Confederacy itself was nearly bankrupt and starving, and that the end of the Civil War was fast approaching. The outcome of the contentious election had been uncertain even up until Election Day but he had overwhelmingly prevailed with the support of military votes. Advisors and generals were urging Lincoln to give a rousing victory speech, one that emphasized triumph over evil slavery.
Over 600,000 Americans, Northern and Southern, had died in the war. Every family in the country was affected; nearly every family had a soldier or knew a soldier who had fought, been wounded, or killed (including Lincoln’s). The cataclysm was begun on the precept of preserving Constitutional rights (but concerned slavery in nearly all its underlying causes). It was ending only after unspeakable bloodshed that had literally torn the nation in two. Thus, it made sense that President Lincoln would give a speech that gloated or bragged victory for the principles so many victorious Union soldiers had fought for.
Yet Lincoln gave a speech that briefly summarized what had transpired, then asked his fellow countrymen to have mercy on their disaffected Rebel brethren. Lincoln sensed it would be wrong, even sinful, to gloat over the misfortunes that war had brought on the defeated South. “With malice toward none,” he asked the nation to bind up its wounds, to care for each other, to make and cherish “a just and lasting peace.” He spoke only seven minutes.
Lincoln was channeling Moses. And Jesus. Like Obadiah, President Lincoln reminded his audience – and us – that woe would come to anyone who gloats over a defeated foe. We, too, are sinful. Even when righteously vanquishing evil, we are not to enjoy it nor celebrate the humiliation of our brothers. To do so is to celebrate humiliating God. To do so violates God’s declaration that we, His creation, are very good.
I doubt any president in our lifetime, even this new one, could speak so meaningfully.
For further reading: Genesis 3:19, Job 31:29, Proverbs 24:17, Ezekiel 35:15, Mathew 7:1, Luke 17:1, Obadiah 13
Lord Jesus, always remind me to not gloat over the defeated but, instead, to show them Your mercy.
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