Ready, Aim… Music?

By Darlene Franklin ~

I’ve never been to war. Neither had anyone in the desert-hardened Israelite army as they prepared to fight for the land promised to them by God. How did they feel? Nervous, excited, scared, raring to go?

Imagine how they felt, all 600,000 of them, when all they did was to march around the walls of Jericho once every day for a week with trumpets sounding.

You may know the story. On the final day, they circled the city seven times, the instruments blared, the men shouted—and the walls fell down. The battle ended before they threw a spear (Joshua 6).

Centuries later, the judge Gideon led a small group of three hundred men to fight the Canaanite nations who’d oppressed the Jewish people. Again, God used the weapon of music—a blaring trumpet—to defeat the opposition (Judges 7).
Is it any wonder that Isaiah links strength and music?

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2 KJV)

Music composed in battle has become national anthems—“The Star Spangled Banner and “La Marsellaise.” In the mid-twentieth century, “We Shall Overcome” played a vital role in the civil rights movement.

Many translations of Isaiah 12:2 plainly place music in war’s arsenal: the Lord is my strength and my song (emphasis mine). Some even change the English word from “music” to “defense” instead. None of the sources I consulted explained how the same word came to mean two such different things, or why the translators changed the wording.

Was it possible that music was the defense? Perhaps so. Over thirty hymns have been composed based on Isaiah 12:2. Here are a few of my favorite phrases:

“Jesus! ’Tis music in the sinner’s ears, ‘Tis life, and health, and peace” —Isaac Watts

“I am trusting Thee for power, Thine can never fail” —Frances Ridley Harvergal

Anyone who’s ever been moved by a song on the radio or at a concert can testify to the power of music. It slips into the heart, curls up next to the spirit and warms it even before we take in the words. Who doesn’t want to stand and shout when they hear “I’m Proud to be an American” on the 4th of July? Not to mention Katherine Lee Bates’ immortal words about “America the Beautiful.”

Music has the capacity to bypass logic and doubt and stir our worship to God. The Creator’s creation calls for songs of praise. Yahweh, the great I AM, is the source of songs of praise. He was Salvation for those before Jesus took on human form, born of the virgin Mary. The love demonstrated at the cross “demands my soul, my life, my all.” (Isaac Watts)
God my salvation and strength is also my defense. Let His praise be continually on my lips.

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