The Battle Hymn: God of Wrath


I love music.  I would say that most people have a musical preference.  Some of us are moved by powerful lyrics and others to a sweet melody that rattles around in our head for what seems like forever.


If we look at lyrics, the words to songs, we can discover a lot about purpose, intention, motivation, imagination.  We’re invited into the heart and mind of the writer in a most intimate way.  One song in particular found its way into my head, bouncing off the insides of my brain like a racquet ball.  I began whistling the tune to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a popular tune in the 1860s during the Civil War.  I wanted to look up the lyrics because I only knew one verse and was tired of whistling.  What I found was something much deeper than I realized.  I thought I would explore the words to the song and put a little contemporary spin on them for application’s sake.  We’ll start with the first verse this week:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.


First off, the opening line spoke to me, prompting my Wednesday night devotional this past week (2.2.11), turning me toward Simeon’s song of blessing over Jesus in Luke 2, “for my eyes have seen your salvation.”  So I was thankful for at least that coming from this contemplation.  


What we find here in this opening verse is nothing short of a recognition of the power of God.  Vintage is a word used to describe the best of a particular wine.  Should God trample the vintage from his grapes of wrath, we see that through his wrath comes the best of what can be made.  It’s kind of like a refiner’s fire, where the impurities of the gold are burned away and the purest of God is left behind.  Through God’s wrath comes the best of what he desires to offer.  Yet, the reality is that God must first trample.


The third line speaks of what God can do.  For God to unleash fateful lightning as a swift sword is to acknowledge his control of disastrous forces.  Instantly we sense a terrible fear of God, possessing dreadful power.  But think about what was going on at this time.  On the political front, the country was LITERALLY torn in two.  Families were fighting against families and the right to be called equal was at stake among many.  On the religious side, the ethical debate of African-Americans being equal or not existed and revivalism had become the “norm” in how people worshipped.  The “fire and brimstone” type of preaching we scoff at was an every-sunday event.  This was a time and these were a people that saw the civil unrest as judgment and full of God’s wrath on the awful actions of a country divided.  Besides, what else could create such terrifying effects than the anger of God?  Makes more sense now, right?


The last line is simple once understood with what’s been said above.  God’s truth is marching on.  Why?  Because nothing can stop it.  God is an immovable force and his truth will march onward, no matter what mere man thinks or thinks not.  God’s truth will indeed march on.


The point?  It is important to understand that God is a God of Love and Justice, of Mercy and Grace.  But a truly righteous God will exercise the necessary power to stop the forces of evil and to give due penalty.  Paul and the writer of Hebrews remind us that vengeance belongs to the Lord and that He will repay.  We know of the judgment seat, of when God will bring to the open the very thoughts of humanity and we will be held accountable for how we used God’s gift of life.


So, fear God, yes.  Always remember that God is both full of wrath and full of mercy.  He is just and rewards according to faith.  Therefore be full of faith and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.  Be blessed this weekend.

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