The famous American flag Francis Scott Key watched flap in the sky as he wrote the national anthem (“O say, does that Star-spangled Banner yet wave”) is housed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in D.C. It’s the first square flag I’ve seen, measuring about 30 foot by 34 foot in size, shortened horizontally by over 10 feet due to people cutting it into squares of handkerchief-sized keepsakes. And if that wasn’t bad enough, someone knifed at the middle to cut out one star, a brazen act that has left a sloppy haphazard hole right in the middle of the flag.
What was not sliced apart by its fans looks to be in good shape for an old flag that lived through a war. Which is to say it’s now tattered to threads, and has deteriorated badly, resembling a favorite t-shirt I wore in college on a regular basis until it took on semi-transparent qualities. It was a shirt I enjoyed wearing as a bachelor and probably would still be wearing had that shirt not experienced a post-marriage disappearance.
Like my t-shirt, this flag is irreplaceable, and in recent years restoration experts have worked carefully in the hopes of stabilizing the flag’s condition and preserving it for centuries of future visitors. The last time I saw it, the flag was behind a special glass-encased room under dim lighting and positioned so the restoration experts could easily inspect each square inch of cloth. Although I’ve not seen anyone working on the flag, I imagine a careful worker with white gloves, a magnifying glass, and tweezers.
Step outside the museum, walk down the street a few blocks away, look up, and you will see sharpshooters walking around on the roof of the White House. These men are standing atop the most iconic building in the United States and home to a few of the most powerful men and women in the world. From the roof, these shooters have a nice 360-degree panoramic view of the surroundings and can watch for anything out of place. Their perch positions them for a clean shot.
So what do restoration experts and sharpshooters have in common? Well, nothing really, except they are both in the business of protecting. The one protects through detailed examination and restoration. The other protects with strength by standing on top of what is protected. For me, both of these protective agents come together in Proverbs 4:6,
Do not forsake her [wisdom], and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Wisdom “keeps us,” a term that emphasizes wisdom’s subtle, careful, and delicate act of protecting us in the details, evoking an image of a restoration specialist replacing weak threads in the fabric, strengthening frail cloth, and initiating chemical processes that will protect the flag from invisible corrosive dangers. Wisdom is at work in subtle ways, making small but strategic actions to protect us.
But wisdom also “guards” us, which is to say She protects us by standing over what is being protected. This is the image of the White House sharpshooter. I think of things less subtle, of broad protection, and clean sightlines to approaching temptations.
Whether it’s by protecting our hearts from subtle corrosive temptations or by standing over our lives with a loaded rifle on the hip, wisdom is working to protecting us. A precious promise straight from scripture to those who love and cherish God’s wisdom—that wisdom is living and active.