1 All praise be given to the LORD, Because he is a rock to me; He trains my hands to fight in war, To battle with the enemy.
2 My fortress and my loving God, My saviour and defence is he; He is my refuge and my shield, Subduing peoples under me.
3 LORD, why should you take note of man? Why should you hold mankind so dear? 4 For they are like a fleeting breath; Their days like shadows disappear.
5 LORD, part your heavens and come down; So touch the mountains that they smoke! 6 Send lightning, rout your enemies; Shoot arrows, scatter all their folk.
7 Reach down your hand from heaven on high; From mighty waters rescue me. 8 Deliver me from foreign foes Who speak and act deceitfully.
9 To God a new song I will sing; I’ll play on lyre a pleasing chord. 10 For you give victory to kings; David you save from deadly sword.
11 Deliver me from hostile hands; From foreign forces rescue me. Their mouths are full of lying words; Their right hands work deceitfully.
12 Then will our sons, like nurtured plants, From early youth grow strong and tall; Our daughters fair as pillars carved To beautify a palace wall.
13 Our barns and stores will then be filled With harvests which our land will yield; Our sheep will multiply and grow By tens of thousands in the field.
14 Our oxen will draw heavy loads; Our walls will not be broken down. We’ll not be led away as slaves— No cry of anguish in our town.
15 How bless’d are all the folk of whom This is a true and faithful word! How bless’d the people who can say, “We have no God besides the LORD!”
Throughout the aeons wars have been fought by nations with some preconception that their “god” was on their side and throughout my life’s ministry the pros and cons of war – exclusively those of World Wars I & II have been contested. “Churchill was a despotic dictator” (imprisoned Christian pacifist) and “the bombing of Hiroshima was both inevitable and necessary” (Christian elder).
In the Old Testament war was regarded as a holy conflict initiated and sanctified by God although glory in victory was later tempered by His judgement on His people for their sinful rejection of the covenant. This is reinforced in the New Testament where Jesus’ condemnation of war and his stress on peaceful love and reconciliation is only too apparent. However, Jesus also spoke of the inevitability and continuation of wars until His return and did not deny the right of earthly governments to maintain armies; hence the Christian adoption of the theories of Augustine and Aquinas on “Just War”.
Scholars remain divided both on the authorship of Psalm 144 and indeed, on David’s true historical status – i.e. an insignificant tribal chieftain, victorious in local skirmishes or the powerful biblical king who established the Israelite kingdom.
Psalm 144, traditionally ascribed to King David of the biblical House of David, is of fragmentary composition. However, the psalm’s poetic excellence and beauty of imagery are comparable to any other Davidic Psalm. The opening verses (1-2) extol God as the warrior’s supreme protector (cf. Psalm 18.1-50) although His regard for mankind (cf. Psalm 8) – is held in awe. In verses 5 – 8 and 9 -11 supplications are made to the Lord for courage, strength and victory in battle in return for the humble and worshipful adoration of God’s Chosen Nation.
There never will be a consensus on the evils of war and without God, the present sight of wars, division and destruction are all there is to shape our belief and hope. But if, instead, we accept the fact and presence of God, Immanuel, with us, then we are led towards the future that God is bringing, just as he did in the past.
“Our God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Be thou our guard while troubles last, And our eternal home.”
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) altd. Based on Psalm 90.1-6
The Rev’d Ian Gow, Minister, Eltham URC.
Sing Psalms! The Psalmody and Worship Committee of the Free Church of Scotland