The Battle Hymn: Watch-fires


We continue this week with the second verse of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a popular tune sung in the 1860s war-time era.  Here’s the verse…


I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.


The first line talks about watch-fires, campfires set up around an encampment that allowed some visibility for various reasons, ranging from waiting for lost or active patrols to warning others of intruders or attack.  ‘Watchfires’ are still used today as memorials to fallen soldiers.  The importance of ‘watchfulness’ or standing vigil cannot be underscored enough in the spiritual life.  In the Christian tradition, ‘watchfulness’ has been seen as the guarding of the heart and mind over the attacks of the devil.  Temptations and vices often befall those who do not ‘watch’ over their souls with diligence and perseverance.  Do we build appropriate watch-fires around our hearts?


The second line brings the importance of watch-fires into play with the word ‘altar.’  The military actually has a standard way of building watchfires, specifications of 21ft square at the base and 21ft high at the top.  Great care goes into this building and ‘watching,’ so much that they are built before dusk and maintained throughout the next day so they can be lit again the following dusk.


The third line is a little mysterious, but may refer to the perseverance of the lamps throughout the night and into the morning, especially considering the last verse, his day is marching on. God watches throughout the night and His day will come in the morning.


The real lesson here is that God is both enduring and persistent.  God does not sleep, but faithfully marches on, day and night.  I hope we can learn here that we can count on God.  The night, the darkness, does not stop Him.  He sets up camp, lights-up the night, watching and waiting, and His day marches on.  


Be blessed this week and may God ‘watch’ over you.

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