There are three ways that God protects his people from danger.
Sometimes he prevents danger from even arising on the horizon of our lives.
Other times he allows the danger to attack, and gives us the victory so that we live on and serve him in gladness.
But in the end one enemy is never driven off, the enemy of death. We will all die if the Lord does not return in our lifetime. But here, too, God protects. He protects us from unbelief, and preserves us for his heavenly kingdom.
God Allows the Enemy to Attack
We learn back in 2 Chronicles 17:6 that Jehoshaphat was a good king in Judah: “His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord.” And verse 10 tells us that in those days the way the Lord protected him was that no enemy even arose: “And the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, and they made no war against Jehoshaphat.”
But in chapter 20, God loosens his sovereign grip on the nations around Judah and allows the enemies of Jehoshaphat to come against him. Verse 1: “After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meumites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle.”
God has ceased to protect Jehoshaphat by holding back his enemies. He could have continued to hold them back. But he doesn’t. It is time for Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah to experience the protection of God in another way.
Jehoshaphat Seeks the Lord in Prayer
What should we do when God releases our enemies against us? We should do what Jehoshaphat did. Verse 3: “Then Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.”
When our lives are threatened — when our faith is threatened or our marriage or the morality of our children or the orthodoxy of our seminary or the fire of our worship — when we are threatened by any of Satan’s devices, we should seek the Lord and fast in earnest prayer.
Oh, that we would learn to pray the way Jehoshaphat prays here in verses 6–12! He begins by ascribing sovereign power to God: “O Lord, God of our fathers, art thou not God in heaven? Dost thou not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In thy hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee.”
Oh, let’s pray like that at Bethlehem! Even when we are most desperate, and fear is making our insides melt, let’s ascribe sovereign power to God — “In thy hand are power and might so that none is able to withstand thee!” When you begin your prayer by ascribing all power and glory to God, a strength and hope and confidence come into your prayer and you feel yourself in touch with the Ruler of the universe.
Recalling the Past and Pleading for Help
“We should exult in what God has done in the past because it strengthens our confidence in him.”
Then Jehoshaphat recalls an example of this sovereign power of God from the history of Israel. Verse 7: “Didst thou not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and give it for ever to the descendants of Abraham thy friend?” Often in our prayers we should exult in what God has done in the past. It strengthens our confidence in his power and love.
Then in verses 8–9 he recalls how the people had built God a sanctuary and had dedicated it to his name and vowed always to seek help from him there. Then in verses 10–11 he describes the plight they are in with Moab and Ammon and Mount Seir coming against them. And finally in verse 12 he pleads for help and admits his helplessness. “O our God, wilt thou not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon thee.”
“Fear Not, the Battle Is Mine”
In response to this prayer God sends his Spirit upon a prophet named Jahaziel and tells all the people of Judah that God will protect them. Verse 15:
Hearken, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, “Fear not, and be not dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s” . . . You will not need to fight in this battle; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Fear not, and be not dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.
Jehoshaphat had cried to the Lord: “O God, we are powerless! Help us.” And God responded, “Fear not, the battle is mine!”
Worship and Song
Jehoshaphat’s response to this word of promise is to fall on his face to the ground and worship. Verse 18: “Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.”
Then something different happens. While everyone is bowed down low on their faces before the Lord, a group of people stand up. And together they begin to praise the Lord. Verse 19: “And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.” Was this a spontaneous eruption of song from a few free spirits? Who were these people?
Turn with me back to 1 Chronicles 6:31. Here the writer is listing the families of the tribe of Levi:
These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the Lord, after the ark rested there. They ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of the Lord in Jerusalem; and they performed their service in due order. These are the men who served and their sons. Of the sons of the Kohathites. . . .”
And then the descendants of Kohath the son of Levi are given. In other words this group who stood up to praise the Lord in 2 Chronicles 20:19 are not merely a group of charismatic free spirits. They are the Choir of Israel. They are the group who ever since the time of David had been appointed to do the ministry of song in Israel. So they stood up while everybody else was bowed before God and they led the people and helped the people praise the Lord for his promised victory.
Singers in the Frontlines of Battle
After this great time of worship in response to God’s word, the people make ready to meet the enemy. They rise early the next morning and head out into the wilderness. And as they go, Jehoshaphat commands them to trust God’s promise. Verse 20: “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”
Then Jehoshaphat appoints his frontline troops. But the frontline troops are not charioteers or swordsmen. They are singers. Jehoshaphat aims to conquer with a choir. God had said that the battle was his to fight. So what better way for Israel to meet the enemy than with songs of victory in the front ranks.
Verse 21: “And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy array, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures for ever.’” When God tells us that the battle is his and that the victory is sure, the way we should meet the enemy is with songs of thanks.
And I think that the writer of this book wants to make it clear that, even though the victory belongs to God, the human means through which God gives victory is the ministry of the choir. For it says in verse 22, “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.” First Moab and Ammon turn against Mount Seir. Then they turn against each other. When it’s all over the defeat is so great it takes three days for Jehoshaphat and his people to carry away the spoil.
Warfare and Worship Through Singing
“Spiritual worship and spiritual warfare should be carried out with singing.”
From this story I would draw out the following exhortation: spiritual worship and spiritual warfare should be carried out with singing. In verse 19 when all the people fell down to worship, the choir stood up to sing. And in verse 21 when the people went out to meet the enemy, the choir went before them with songs of victory.
And even more than that, I think that the writer wants us to learn from verse 22 that the enemies of God are thrown into confusion by the songs of God’s people. Or to put it another way, God has appointed the use of spiritual songs as an effective weapon against his archenemy Satan.
Paul and Silas in the Philippian Prison
There is a similar story in the New Testament that confirms this lesson, I think. In Acts 16 Paul and Silas are not protected by God from the attack of their enemies. But they are spared from death. In verses 22–24 it says that they were stripped and beaten with rods and then put in stocks in the inner chamber of the prison.
Now picture this. You are walking down Nicollet Mall and suddenly a gang of vicious men surround you. They strip off your clothes and pull out their smooth wooden billy clubs and for 15 or 20 minutes smash you back and forth between them while the police stand back and watch. Then with open wounds and concussions and broken ribs and internal injuries, they drag you over, put irons around your feet, and let you down a manhole for the night. If you thought of our nice antiseptic prisons, you wouldn’t have any idea of what Paul and Silas endured.
There you are in the middle of the night, having no idea whether you will be hanged or beheaded or flogged again, and what do you do? Pray! That’s right we would all pray. We would cry out for help. So did Paul. But that’s not all he did. Verse 25 says, “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Now why were they singing? It was midnight. They were in pain. They were weary. They were cut off from their traveling partners. They were at the hands of unscrupulous men. Sleep from exhaustion, crying, pleading with God for help — these things we could understand. But singing hymns! If anybody were to say to us today, “When you hit bottom, sing hymns to God,” we would probably say to them, “Lay off with simplistic solutions. You’ve obviously never been on the bottom.” But Paul and Silas were at the bottom. And they sang hymns to God. Sometimes the only solutions left in life are simple ones.
Why were they singing? I think they were singing because they needed a display of God’s power. They had learned that singing to God is not merely a response to his grace but also a weapon of spiritual warfare. They had learned like Jehoshaphat and like many of us that the enemies of God are thrown into confusion by the songs of God’s people.
And in his great mercy God did for Paul and Silas what he did for Jehoshaphat. Verse 26: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake . . . and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened.” So we see again that God accepts the offering of praise and makes it an occasion for his power. And we see the truth confirmed, that God has appointed the use of spiritual songs as an effective weapon against his archenemy Satan.
The Holy Spirit is our great hope against Satan. But how does the Holy Spirit fill and empower us? Ephesians 5:18–19 says, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord with all your heart.” The fullness of the Holy Spirit is experienced as a heart filled with singing. So if we fight Satan by the fullness of the Spirit, we fight him with song.
The Testimony of Great Saints
If you have read Dick Eastman’s book, The Hour That Changes the World, you may recall Mary Slosser who worked in China for many years. She used to say, “I sing the Doxology and dismiss the devil.” And 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.” Martin Luther gives his testimony like this:
Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching . . . Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay . . . Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor. I would not change what little I know of music for something great. Experience proves that next to the Word of God only music deserves to be extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart. We know that to the devils music is distasteful and insufferable. My heart bubbles up and overflows in response to music, which has so often refreshed me and delivered me from dire plagues. (Here I Stand, 266)
William Law in his spiritual classic, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, has a whole chapter to encourage us to chant the psalms in our private devotions. He says,
Just as singing is a natural effect of joy in the heart so it has also a natural power of rendering the heart joyful . . . There is nothing that so clears a way for your prayers, nothing that so disperses dullness of heart, nothing that so purifies the soul from poor and little passions, nothing that so opens heaven, or carries your heart so near it, as these songs of praise.
They create a sense and delight in God, they awaken holy desires, they teach you how to ask, and they prevail with God to give. They kindle a holy flame, they turn your heart into an altar, your prayers into incense, and carry them as a sweet-smelling savor to the throne of grace. (168, 164)
It is no wonder that Satan hates the songs of God’s people. He does his best to keep a church from being a singing church. And he does his best to keep you from being a singing person.
I don’t think these testimonies from Mary Slosser and Amy Carmichael and Martin Luther and William Law are pious platitudes. I think that they are strictly and terribly true. Satan cannot endure the spiritual songs of the saints. You can fight him with song.
Spiritual Warfare Through Singing
Four years ago I was called late one night to come to an apartment where supposedly there was a demon-possessed woman. I called Tom Steller and we went together while our wives prayed at home. What we found was a woman held in a room by some young Christian women who were intent on seeing the demon driven out of this woman. For about two hours I talked to her and read her Scriptures and prayed prayers of deliverance.
She became increasingly violent, knocking the Bible out of my hand and grabbing the prayer sheets and shoving me. At one point, about one in the morning, when the conflict rose to a fever pitch between the word of God and the satanic force in this woman, someone in the group began to sing. It was one of our familiar worship songs.
We sang it again and again and the Lord gave us new words for it each time. The effect on her was dramatic. She began to tremble and threaten us if we didn’t stop. Then she threw herself on the floor and screamed for Satan not to leave her. She went into convulsions and then went limp. When she came to, she remembered nothing of what happened and was willing to read Scripture and pray.
So Tom Steller and I know from experience that singing to God is not a nice little emotional trip to spice up a worship service. For us it felt more like a matter of life and death. That is what it was for Paul and Silas. And that’s what it is for our church.
Two Practical Applications
I close with two practical applications.
1. Use Songs in Your Personal and Family Devotions
First, you received in your bulletin today a bookmark which one of our prayer teams put together to help you ambush Satan with song in your personal devotional life. Notice the box entitled “Simple Songs of Worship”. There are 32 songs there that we sing regularly at Bethlehem. Put this with your Bible or prayer list and use it to bring to mind songs to sing to God in your devotions or with your family.
I promise you it will bring a new power to your fight of faith. Satan cannot bear the singing of the saints. You can drive him away with song. And don’t fall for his lie that you can’t sing. Everybody can sing. Not everybody can perform. Not everybody can lead. Not everybody can read music or even stay on the right keys. But everybody can sing to God.
When a four-year-old comes home from Sunday School and announces that he wants to sing you a new song, and what you hear is a mixture of three tunes and four different sets of lyrics, how do you feel as a parent? I’ll tell you: you feel wonderful, because there is a song in the heart of your child. And if any enemy ever came along and opposed that song, you would flatten him — like God did the Moabites and the Philippian jail. God loves to hear your song, no matter how badly you sing. And woe to your enemies when you sing to your Father in heaven!
2. Know That the Ministry of Song Is Warfare
Second, God has ordained that the gifted singers among us be appointed for spiritual leadership in the choir. David appointed the Levites of the family of Kohath to the ministry of music. They were to serve in the house of God to bring a continual offering of praise and worship to the Lord. They were to lead and assist the people in singing to God. And, as we saw in 2 Chronicles 20 their work is warfare. When they began to sing, the Lord set an ambush against the enemy.
“The enemy is Satan and the warfare is song.”
And so it is at Bethlehem. This choir is not here to turn worship into a nice aesthetic experience for the pleasure of unspiritual artsy types. Dean Palermo has not been called as a kind of musical artist in residence. He has been called as a company commander. The enemy is Satan and the warfare is song. And his business is to take charge of his company at the front ranks of the army and to lead us to God in worship, to each other in love, and into the world to plunder the death camps of Satan.
Christ has given us a promise far greater than the promise of Jahaziel to Jehoshaphat: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; go make disciples . . . I will be with you to the end of the age . . . I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Matthew 28:18–20; John 11:25).
The Triumphant Song of Martyrs
January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot and four other young missionaries approached the jungle edge where the Auca Indians lived. Their last recorded act according to Elizabeth Elliot was to sing a hymn together:
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day thy grace to know,
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
We rest on thee, and in thy name we go.
All five of them were killed that afternoon. But they, too, were protected by God — protected from a fate far worse than death. They were protected from cowardice and unbelief and fear. And I think it would be fair to say — protected with song.
We have two great weapons in worship: the word of God and song. So let us give heed to the Word of God and let us sing with all our heart.