Psalm 48 portrays Jerusalem, the city of God, as a fortress for God’s people (vv. 1–3). We do not know the precise setting of the psalm, but the writer describes a time when a formidable army besieged the city to overthrow it. The attack did not last long, however, because “as soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic; they took to flight.” They came, they saw, but unlike Julius Caesar, they did not conquer (vv. 4–8).
Having described the failed attack against Jerusalem, the writer portrays the people of God praising him for deliverance (vv. 9–14). But here is the interesting thing: As you read these closing verses, it almost appears as if praise is the means by which God waged war. More specifically, it seems as if the praises of God’s people roused him to action on their behalf (see v. 10). They employed worship as warfare.
That should not sound strange to us. The Old Testament is filled with examples of worship as warfare. Consider, for example, the unorthodox battle tactics that Joshua employed against Jericho. The people, led by the priests, silently marched around the city once a day for six days. They did so seven times on the seventh day and then sounded trumpets and shouted praises to God. At that point, the walls of the city collapsed.
Or consider the time that King Jehoshaphat faced a threat from the Moabite-Ammonite coalition (2 Chronicles 20). The king prayed to God for deliverance and then arranged his army for battle. He “appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire” to go “before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever’” (vv. 20–21). By the time they reached the battle front “they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped” (v. 24). God had fought for his people without them even raising a sword (vv. 22–23).
God has given to the church an overwhelming task: to disciple the nations. The New Testament frequently describes our mission in terms of warfare (see 2 Corinthians 10:3–5; Ephesians 6:10–20). In the same way that the enemy could not prevail against Jerusalem (Psalm 48), so Jesus promised that the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). Ultimate victory is certain. But for us to move forward in the battle, we must know how to use the weapons God has given to us. Worship is one of the primary means by which Christians wage war.
The power of worship should not be underestimated. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned for preaching the gospel, they were heard singing praises to God at midnight, at which point God miraculously opened the prison doors and provided a way of release (Acts 16:16–34).
Mary Slosser, a Christian worker in China, was known to say, “I sing the doxology and dismiss the devil.” Amy Carmichael 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.” Luther added, “Music drives away the devil and makes people glad.”
There is, of course, much more to worship than singing, but singing is a part of worship. The principle is this: Worship strengthens and encourages believers and prepares them to wage war against the enemy. This is one of the reasons that the Bible so greatly emphasises the need for corporate worship. We are not lone survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape; we are each soldiers in a vast army, waging war against the forces of darkness. Corporate worship is one of our strongest weapons in this fight. The ultimate victory for the church is certain, but if we don’t arm ourselves with the means at our disposal—worship being one of them—we can easily find ourselves on the backfoot.
As we reflect on this psalm, let us be encouraged to take every opportunity to engage in corporate worship, not simply to tick off a box or to fulfil an obligation, but to wage war in a way that is honouring to Christ and helpful to our fellow soldiers.