By David Schnittger
The Bible presents Yahweh God as both transcendent and immanent. By transcendent, we mean that He stands beyond and is unaffected in His essential being by the circumstances of earth and the universe. By immanent, we mean that He is, at the same time, concerned and intimately involved in the affairs of this universe, and, in particular, with mankind. As such, God has chosen to be responsive to man’s actions, whether judging and punishing sin and unbelief, or granting merciful intervention in response to man’s repentance and faith. It is the latter subject that we will explore in this series of articles. We have already looked at the Exodus intervention under Moses as well as the Babylonian Captivity intervention under King Cyrus. We have also dealt with the Nineveh intervention under the prophet Jonah. In the previous chapter we looked at the American Revolution intervention under George Washington.
In this article, we are going to examine the Divine intervention that took place during World War II. This intervention took place at Dunkirk, France at the time when the allies came closest to losing the war. As per the previous divine interventions that we have already looked at, this intervention also involved an unlikely individual, Winston Churchill.
THE PREPARATION OF THE PEOPLE
The road to Dunkirk was long and bumpy, filled with denial and capitulation on the part of the British leadership. Perhaps the most critical compromise occurred in October 1938 when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain traveled to Munich to sign an Anglo-German understanding which could mean “peace in our time.” This conference took place after the invasion and surrender of Czechoslovakia. Churchill attacked Chamberlain in a great speech in the House of Commons where Churchill declared that “we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat.”
Rather than placating Hitler this “understanding” emboldened him, and in 1939 Hitler invaded Lithuania and Poland, prompting Britain to declare war on Germany on September 3, 1939. British “peace in our time” lasted less than one year! Britain sent to troops to France, where the war effort deteriorated quickly. The French government surrendered to Germany within two weeks of invasion and British troops were no match for the German blitzkrieg. As the war effort deteriorated, so did Chamberlain’s political fortunes.
THE PREPARATION OF THE PERSON
In early May,1940 Chamberlain was forced out and on May 10, Churchill became prime minister. Shortly after his election, Churchill met with his outer cabinet. At that meeting, Churchill stated,
“I have thought carefully in these last days whether it was part of my duty to consider entering negotiations with That Man. It was idle to think that, if we tried to make peace now, we should get better terms from Germany than if we went on and fought it out. The Germans would demand our fleet – that would be called ‘disarmament’– our naval bases, and much else. We should become a slave state, though a British government which would be Hitler’s puppet would be set up – ‘under Mosley or some such person.’ And where should we be at the end of all that? On the other side, we have immense reserves and advantages. Therefore he said, ‘We shall go on and we shall fight it out, here or elsewhere, and if at last the long story is to end, it were better it should end, not through surrender but only when we are rolling senseless on the ground.'”
By the time of Churchill’s election, the British Expeditionary Force was pinned down on the French coastal town of Dunkirk. Only 400,000 beleaguered troops remained. This was all that separated Hitler from the complete conquest of Western Europe. By Friday, May 24, the British forces were completely helpless against the Nazi advance. For some inexplicable reason, on May 24 Hitler halted his advance. Some in Hitler’s inner circle heard him say, “The Fuhrer wants to spare the British a humiliating defeat.” After Dunkirk came Hitler’s rationalization: “The army is England’s backbone . . . If we destroy it, there goes the British Empire. We would not, or could not, inherit it . . .” Whatever the reason for the pause, Hitler lifted it on Sunday May 26.
In early April, there had been some talk of a National Day of Prayer. The archbishop of Canterbury had initially though it inadvisable because it could be misinterpreted. As things became more critical at Dunkirk, his opposition dissolved. Now, along with all the churches, he endorsed it. The king had spoken of it in his broadcast of May 23. So had the newspapers. “Let Us Pray” was an article on the front page of the Daily Express on Saturday.
At ten o’clock on Sunday morning the king, the queen, and the highest personages of the empire arrived in Westminster Abbey. The king and queen carried gas masks. Wilhemina, queen of the Netherlands, came with them. There was a long queue outside. Churchill made it clear to his household that he and Mrs. Churchill would be able to attend for no longer than ten to thirty minutes. Indeed they left early, in the middle of the service, for there was plenty for him to do.
THE DARING RESCUE AT DUNKIRK
The National Day of Prayer was followed by a daring rescue of the British troops across the English Channel from May 27 – June 4. This rescue not only involved naval ships but civilian fishing and leisure vessels as well. John Lukacs writes about this in his excellent book, Five Days in London – May 1940: The turning point at Dunkirk was that day, Wednesday, the twentieth-ninth of May. That morning Gort still thought that further evacuation might become impossible, yet at the day went on the prospects brightened. That day and night more than 47,000 men were lifted off from the Dunkirk mole and from the beaches, nearly three times as many as the day before. (On 30 May there would be 53,800, on 31 May 68,000, on 1 June 64,400; thereafter the numbers would diminish to 16,000 for each of the remaining here days of evacuation. The number of French troops carried off by British vessels did not significantly increase until 31 May, and then on Churchill’s direct orders. By the end of day 4 June, the grand totals were 338,226, including more than 125,000 French).
This amazing military rescue was the result of the resolve of Winston Churchill, God’s instrument of deliverance at the battle of Dunkirk. On Tuesday, May 28, Churchill spoke to his Outer Cabinet: “The House should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings. I have only to add hat nothing which may happen in this battle can in any way relieve us of our duty to defend the world cause to which we have vowed ourselves; nor should it destroy our confidence in our power to make our way, as on former occasions in our history, through disaster and through grief to our ultimate defeat of our enemies . . . Of course, whatever happens at Dunkirk, we shall fight on.”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BATTLE OF DUNKIRK
Though the Battle of Dunkirk was not the largest or most decisive battle in the defeat of the Axis powers, it was one of the most significant battles. Lukacs expresses this significance well when he writes: “Had Britain stopped fighting in May 1940, Hitler would have won his war. Thus he was never closer to victory than during those five days in May 1940 (May 24- 28). By the grace of God he did not know that. He thought that sooner or later (preferably sooner) Churchill would be forced to go. In this Hitler failed, because Churchill prevailed . . . Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War; in the end America and Russia did. But in May 1940 Churchill was the one who did not lose it.”
THE DUNKIRK PATTERN OF DIVINE INTERVENTION
In some ways, Winston Churchill was an unlikely person to deliver Britain during her darkest hour. During Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, Churchill was in the “political wilderness.” He was a lone voice in British Parliament when he warned against the Nazi threat. He had experienced many political and military defeats along the way, and was not trusted by the political class. However, in their darkest hour, with the British leadership in a state of collapse, in their desperation, they entrusted Churchill with the power of Prime Minister. The actions of courage and resolve Churchill exhibited likely spared England from defeat and enslavement. If this had happened fully 18 months before America’s entrance into the war, surely all would have been lost! I believe we see, at this critical juncture of British history, the continuation of the patterns of divine intervention we have seen in our previous narratives. Let me summarize it as follows: A needy people cry out to God in desperation. God has respect to their cry and raises up an unlikely person, who, against the resistance of the establishment, is God’s agent to affect deliverance. In the next article, we will see if the patterns holds for the events that took place in America’s last national election.