Singing Your Way to Victory
2 Chronicles 20
March 19, 2006
“I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.” Martin Luther.
“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ’Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever’” (2 Chronicles 20:21).
This must be the most unusual battle plan in history.
The year: 850 BC. The place: Jerusalem. The king: a godly man named Jehoshaphat. He was a good king, and he reigned during a period of prosperity and happiness for the people of Judah. God smiled upon him because he was a man of the Book. He honored God’s Word, and God honored him in return.
All of that changed when word came that a vast enemy army was approaching from the southeast. They came from Edom on the other side of the Dead Sea. When the king got the news, the advancing army was only 40 miles away and closing rapidly. Obviously the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Meunites had planned their attack for many weeks. The danger was very real.
When the messengers gave the king the bad news, they told him that the army was coming “against you” (v. 2), meaning Jehoshaphat now faced a very personal crisis. The army he faced was far larger than the army he commanded. In a straightforward battle, the men of Judah would lose badly. This wasn’t a fair fight.
What will Jehoshaphat do?
A man’s response in the time of crisis tells a great deal about his character. Our first reaction reveals our deepest values. We may cover up a problem, we may deny it, we may panic and throw in the towel, or we may decide to turn to the Lord.
Jehoshaphat responded in three ways (v. 3):
First, he took the threat seriously.
Second, he prayed to the Lord.
Third, he called for a fast.
Christ-Centered, Team-Oriented, Battle-Focused
Verse 4 says that from all over Judah people came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord together. Because their leader felt the burden, the people shared the burden with him. Everything in this story turns on this simple point. When the king issued a call, the people came to seek the Lord together. Recently I ran across a website for an organization called Battle-Focused Ministries. Their model for spiritual warfare is “Christ-centered, team-oriented, and battle-focused.” They explain the second principle this way:
Most popular spiritual warfare instruction focuses on the individual Christian’s struggle against his own weaknesses and his personal fight against evil spirits… in order to be delivered from the weariness of battle. That is in stark contrast to the training a soldier receives in our nation’s armed forces. Although each individual soldier must be trained to survive on a battlefield, the vast majority of his training concerns accomplishing the mission, defeating an enemy, by fighting as a member of a team under the orders of his chain of command.
Jehoshaphat understood that by himself, he could not defeat the mighty Ammonite army, but united together, they could multiply their prayers to the Lord of Hosts.
With the people assembled around him, and the enemy army advancing hour by hour, Jehoshaphat offers one of the greatest prayers in the Bible. He begins by declaring God’s greatness: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you” (v. 6). Next he reminds God of the promises he made to take care of his people when they were in trouble. Then he tells God, “We’re in big trouble now!” He freely admits, “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us” (v. 12). And he concludes with this simple confession: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (v. 12).
We tend to get all mixed up about prayer, don’t we? We look at the externals–the form, the words and the length. But God looks at the internals–faith, sincerity, honesty and humility. Jehoshaphat’s prayer proves that in a moment of crisis, a short prayer often means much more than a long prayer. Because his prayer came from a heart of faith, it got God’s attention in a big way.
Go to the Gorge
When the prayer was over, the Holy Spirit prompted a man named Jahaziel to stand up and announce the battle plan:
This is what the LORD says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.” (vv. 15-17).
God gave them three specific details:
1) A time: Tomorrow
2) A place: March to the end of the gorge
3) A plan: Stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.
And he said it very plainly: “You will not have to fight this battle.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Go out, take your positions, and then don’t move a muscle. Stand still and watch God do the work.
Singing … Loudly!
Satan’s greatest weapon against us is discouragement. If he can cause us to give up, he wins before the battle even starts. The real question becomes, Will you go in your own strength or in the strength of the Lord?
If the battle is yours, you are in big trouble.
If the battle is ours, we are in big trouble.
If the battle is the Lord’s, we are going to be okay.
At that moment the Levites began to worship the Lord loudly (v. 19). These were the trained temple singers who had been appointed in David’s day. Across the generations they had led the people of God in public worship.
Now they begin to sing … loudly!
This is not a small point.
Remember the situation. The bad guys are closing fast on Jerusalem. The odds don’t favor the men of Judah. The king has just proclaimed, “We do know what to do.” Jahaziel has just said, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” What happens next?
The singers begin to sing … loudly!
Luther said it very plainly: “Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like.” Do you believe music drives the devil away? I do.
Preaching is one thing.
Prayer is one thing.
But music is something else.
It touches the heart and soul at a level too deep for words. Music is not better than preaching or better than prayer, but music takes the words of the sermon and brings them home to the heart, and music lifts our spirit to believe the words we bravely utter in prayer.
Invading the Devil’s Territory
Music is a weapon of spiritual warfare. And the devil hates it when we sing. He hates our music because our singing rouses our souls, gives us courage, lifts our hearts, restores our faith, builds our confidence, unites our voices, and lifts up the name of the Lord like a mighty banner.
Music is not just preparation for warfare. Music is spiritual warfare. When God’s people sing together, we invade the devil’s territory.
What happens the next day is actually very simple. Jehoshaphat sends his army out to do battle with the enemy. We all know that a wise general puts his best troops at the front so they will bear the brunt of the battle. So this is what the king did: “After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ’Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever’” (v. 21).
He put the male singers at the front of the army and had them lead the way to the battlefront. And he had them sing as the army marched along, thus giving up the element of surprise.
As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another(vv. 22-23).
Note the key phrase, “As they began to sing and praise.” It was their singing that unleashed the ambush that led to the rout of the enemy army. The slaughter was so great that it took three days to collect the plunder from the battlefield. When that was done, the people gathered in the Valley of Beracah for a praise service. Then they returned to Jerusalem, singing and praising as they went to the temple.
The Doxology and the Devil
You can’t escape the real meaning of the text. Music played a vital role in this amazing victory. Music is not just a means of praising God. It is also a means of throwing the devil and his cohorts into confusion. John Piper points out that “God has appointed the use of spiritual songs as an effective weapon against his arch enemy Satan.”
Mary Schlosser worked for years as a missionary in China. She used to say, “I sing the doxology and dismiss the devil.” Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, said, “ I believe truly that Satan cannot endure it and so slips out of the room – more or less – when there is a true song.”
I’ve never been much of a singer, but I love to sing. It must have started very early, because I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t love to sing. I can remember being part of a children’s choir at the church where I grew up. Later I joined the youth choir and tried my best to fit in. Once or twice many years ago, I even led the music for revival services. And I can remember singing a solo at least once, something I have not seen fit to repeat, nor has anyone asked me to.
In my pastoral ministry, there have been many occasions when I came to church on Sunday morning feeling weak and tired. Perhaps it was because of a busy week or perhaps I was carrying a particular burden. Sometimes my mind would be going in a thousand different directions. And then the worship service would begin. It might be with the mighty pipe organ playing “Come, Thou Almighty King,” or it might be with the worship band leading “Lord, We Lift Your Name on High.” Or it might be singing “Like a River Glorious” or “Down at the Cross” or “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” or perhaps it was a new worship chorus I was learning for the first time. I have had this amazing experience over and over again. As the congregation worshiped, my mind cleared, my doubts departed, my worries receded, my faith swelled, my heart was lifted to heaven, and when the time came to preach, the Holy Spirit came in great power. This has happened so many times that I cannot believe it was by chance.
“I’ve never seen anything like it”
I also believe there is something powerful when men sing together. I believe God smiles from heaven when men, who are supposed to be the spiritual leaders, do what the Levites did. When men lead the way in singing, the whole congregation becomes stronger. No movement in the last 50 years has done more for the men of America than Promise Keepers. In June 1994 I joined 62,000 men at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis for a life-changing weekend. I jotted down a few notes after I got back home to Oak Park:
“The Hoosier Dome fills up to overflowing… .Hallways jammed with men. Every seat taken and more coming in … 62,000 men praising Jesus together … Believe it or not, they turned away 18,000 men because they didn’t have enough room … “Gentlemen, prepare for landing. Fasten your seat belts.” … “Welcome to Promise Keepers.” … Singing “O Worship the King,” “Crown Him With Many Crowns,” one song after another, feeling the momentum build as we sing … God is in this place tonight … A sea of hands uplifted in worship… .”Some of you men didn’t want to come. I saw heel marks out in the parking lot.” … 3000 men going forward to rededicate themselves to Jesus Christ… . Clapping, cheering, raising our hands in worship … “Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty” … The wave… . The Double wave… . “Purify my heart” … Bill Bright calling us to be filled with the Spirit …
The final session… . “We’re pumped!” … Joe Stowell’s awesome message on being the light of the world… . “We Christians don’t have enough acceptable hand signals when we get mad.” … Steve Green and Steven Curtis Chapman—accountability partners… . Nothing like this has ever happened before … Singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with 62,000 men… . “This is what heaven will be like.” … “God must love this.” … Joining hands overhead, 62,000 strong, and singing “Brother, Let me be your servant.” … Swaying to the music… . “Shoulder to Shoulder and Back to Back.”… Clapping, cheering, raising our hands in praise to Jesus… . “America is going to be different because thousands of men have decided to become Promise Keepers.” … Share your personal commitment with a friend… . Don’t take off your wristband until you keep that commitment… . One final song. “Rise up, Oh Men of God, have done with lesser things. Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of Kings. Rise up, the Lord is calling. Rise up, this is the day. Rise up and seize the moment. Rise up, O men of faith!” … Final good-byes … Christian men hugging each other—strong men, brave men, unafraid to say “I love you, brother.” … Thousands of men going home changed forever… . Driving back in the darkness. Arriving home at 3 AM. So excited I can’t go to sleep… . “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Twelve years have passed since that weekend in Indianapolis. A lot of water has gone under the bridge, and I have still never seen anything like it. There is something very powerful and God-glorifying about men singing together.
It was true in Jehoshaphat’s day. It is true in our day as well. Let the men be men and lead in the singing, and we will see more victories for Christ and his kingdom.
Let the Pastors Sing!
If we want spiritual victory over the devil, one way to get it is to sing our way there. I find it noteworthy that the people of God were singing before, during and after the battle. They ambushed the enemy with music. We should do the same thing.
Let the pastors sing!
Let the elders sing!
Let the deacons sing!
Let the old folks sing!
Let the young people sing!
Let the children sing!
Fill your heart will God-honoring music all day long. C. J. Mahaney says that we ought to listen every day to music that focuses on the cross of Christ. I think that’s a wonderful idea. Given today’s resources, there is no reason why every Christian cannot go through each day listening to God-centered, Christ-exalting music.
You can find it on the Internet.
You can play it on a CD.
You can play it on your iPod.
You can play it on a cassette tape.
You can listen on your Walkman.
You can listen to Christian music on the radio.
You can buy a DVD of Christian music.
You can write your own music.
You can buy a hymnbook.
When you are discouraged, sing “Shout to the Lord.”
When you feel like quitting, sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
When you feel empty, sing “Come Thou Fount.”
When you are tempted, sing “How Great Thou Art.”
When you feel overwhelmed with guilt, sing “Wonderful, Merciful Savior.”
When you are hungry to know God better, sing “As the Deer.”
Parents, sing to your children … and to your grandchildren.
Make sure they hear you singing in church.
Teach your children and grandchildren to sing hymns, gospel songs and choruses.
Sing while you are in the shower.
Sing while you ride your bike.
Sing along while you listen to the radio.
Sing while you work out.
Men, sing together … loudly!
Women, sing together … joyfully!
Children, sing together … spontaneously!
Take It to the Streets
Here’s something else I’ve been thinking about. If we want to take on the devil, we need to take our music outside the four walls of the church. We’ve heard about “Prayer Walks.” How about some Praise Walks where the body of Christ comes together to sing publicly? How about churches meeting in parks for public praise services? If the devil gets his music played everywhere, why shouldn’t we be at least as bold about taking our music to the streets? A little creative thought will suggest dozens of ways we can sing the Lord’s praises out where the people are.
I am writing the end of this sermon on Friday night. In 36 hours many of us will gather in church to worship the Lord. Take time to prepare your heart by listening to God-honoring music. Ask God to enable you to worship fully this Sunday morning. When the time comes, when the congregation stands and the organ plays, the band starts, the words flash on the screen or you pick up a hymnbook, don’t hold back. Sing with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.
Drive the devil nuts.
Keep on singing and drive him away.
He hates the music God loves.
Satan hates a singing church.
So sing out and make the devil mad.
One final word. I add this because we live in a day when music has become a contentious issue in many churches. For the last fifteen years we’ve heard a great deal about “worship wars” that have torn apart many local congregations. Instead of using music to fight the devil, we’ve used music as a weapon to fight each other. How sad. How tragic. How Satan must crow over our divisive attitudes. Ask God to deliver you from musical smugness. As I have traveled the world, I have learned that God’s people worship him in a bewildering variety of styles, languages, accents and rhythms. When we look down on others whose musical tastes differ from our own, we run the risk of destroying the unity of the body of Christ. We don’t all worship the same way, and that’s okay. But we do worship the same Lord. And it’s in his name that we will win our battle with the devil. Keep the main thing the main thing and all will be well.
Singing will bring new strength to your spiritual walk.
Singing will bring new power to your spiritual warfare.
Singing will build up your faith.
Singing will strengthen the whole church of God.
God loves it and the devil hates it when you sing for the glory of God.
Sing out … and you will see the salvation of the Lord. Amen.