“Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand” Psalm 149:6
When we think of congregational Psalm singing, if we ever think of Psalm singing at all, we usually have visions of nattily dressed folks singing four part harmony in a Sanctuary, completely unmolested from any serious distractions.
However, congregational Psalm singing has been practiced in other environments besides the safety of formal worship. During the English resistance to the tyranny of King Charles I the New Model Army, led by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell were known for their Psalm singing while going into battle. Cromwell’s Army was drawn largely, though not exclusively, from the Puritan population and being familiar with the Psalms they took those Psalms into battle. These men believed that they were God’s Army fighting God’s battle and so they advanced against the enemy singing the songs of Zion.
Imagine how this must have unnerved the enemy. You are one of the troops in the Cavalier Army, entrenched in a defensive position, and suddenly in the distance you begin to here the feint melody of Psalms wafting upon the morning breeze. As the minutes unroll the menacing voices carrying those awful sounds come closer and closer until you can see the terrible Army that is carrying those Psalms coming to disembowel you and your mates.
The troops that carried those Psalms with them into battle were men who had been so shaped by the Psalms that it was natural for them to carry those songs with them as they were wading into a conflict that could very well find them meeting their Creator and Redeemer. What better way to meet God then to be fighting His battles singing His songs?
It was not only Cromwell’s New Model Army that took up the Psalms in battle. We also know that the Covenanters in Scotland were known to sing God’s tunes while in battle.
Of course the idea of music in battle in not unique. However, the singing of Psalms in battle by the inheritors of the Reformation reminds us that the Psalms are not just for Sunday Morning finery. They are intended to put steel in men’s spines and comfort in their souls. The singing of Psalms in battle reminds us that God is known as the Lord of Hosts and that we are to be his infantry in the cause of righteousness.
The Church has lost her martial swagger and while this is no trope advocating Psalm singing battle to be entered into at the drop of helmet, it is a appeal to think again on the importance of singing the Psalms and on the reality that there will be times where we must literally fight and sing for the extension of God’s Kingdom.
The Psalms are beautiful and their beauty is found both in their ability to glorify God and in their ability to shape men in such a way that they would rather die singing God’s song book then surrender apologizing for their convictions.