Why do armies sing?

In 1981 I woke up one morning to a sound as beautiful as a nightingale and as frightening as a cobra. When I looked outside my window I saw about five hundred Zimbabwean soldiers singing as they marched. Now I don’t know about the singing quality of five hundred American or British soldiers, but these men sang in four part harmony with a sound as rich as a Johannesburg gold mine. Here they were, men in the prime of their lives, trained in the ungentle art of war, yet they sang with such beauty as they marched past my house and down the road.

Christian soldiers, too, sing. We are surrounded: “On every hand the foe we find, drawn up in dread array,” yet we also remember that if we fight with faith “The earth will tremble ‘neath our tread, and echo with our shout” (John Yates, Faith is the Victory).

And I asked myself: Why do armies sing?

1. They sing in order to keep in step.
It’s not much of an army if they show up in their own time, at their own pace, whenever they feel like it! Armies move in step as they advance to the battlefield or to the frontier. The army of God, too, marches best when it marches in step.

2. They sing to lift their spirits.
War is a frightening thing. There will be suffering and casualties. The enemy is dangerous and ruthless. Hearing the other voices reminds the Christian soldier that he does not fight the battle alone.

3. They sing in order to tell each other who they are, and what they fight for.
Thus confederate armies sang of their longing for Dixie, Marines sang of their battles from “Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,” the British sang, with tongue in cheek, about how far they were from Tipperary. “Like a mighty army,” Christians, too, must sing in order to encourage each other.

4. To let the enemy know they fight a fearsome foe.
The Lord is still our leader, and we still have on our side the faithful of all the ages!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over the present darkness, against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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