Volume 13, Issue 2: Liturgia
Worship is Warfare
Israel’s prophets promised that in the latter days the nations would make their way to Jerusalem to join in worship with the assembly of Israel (e.g., Is. 2:2—4; 56:6—7; 60:10—12; Jer. 3:17). The Church is the fulfillment of that promise, the beginning of the assembly of the nations, and as the gospel spreads, the Church will become that assembly more and more.
We evangelize so that the nations will gather at Zion to worship the King. Worship is the goal of the Church’s mission. The Bible also teaches that worship is a means, a tool, and a weapon for building and accomplishing that mission. Worship is not a retreat to a safe haven where we can offer praise to God in blissful forgetfulness of the challenges before us. Worship is part of the Church’s engagement with the world, one of the chief strategies in our combat.
The worship of the Church militant is itself militant. 2 Chronicles 20 provides one of the Bible’s clearest illustrations of this. During the reign of Jehoshaphat, the Moabites and Ammonites joined forces with the "Meunites" to attack Judah. In response, Jehoshaphat assembled the people at the house of the Lord and proclaimed a fast (20:2—5).
Once assembled, Jehoshaphat led the people in prayer, confessing the Lord as "ruler" of all nations and proclaiming that "no one can stand against Thee" (20:6). On the other hand, he confessed Judah’s helplessness before the invaders; they were "powerless" to repel Moab and Ammon (20:12). Jehoshaphat’s prayer was centrally an appeal to the covenant. He called on God to remember His covenant with Abraham (20:7, 11; see Gen. 15:18), and also reminded the Lord of His promise to deliver Israel when they turned to Him at His temple (20:8—9; see 2 Chr. 6:24—25, 34—35).
After Jehoshaphat had offered prayers on behalf of the people, the Lord responded with a word of promise through Jahaziel the prophet. Israel should take heart because the "battle is not yours but God’s" (20:15—17).
Jahaziel’s prophecy corresponded exactly to Jehoshaphat’s prayer. Jehoshaphat had confessed Yahweh as the Almighty Sovereign of all nations, and he had admitted Judah’s impotence. In response, the Lord said in effect, "Yes, I know you are powerless, and so I am not going to ask you to do anything. Just stand there and see the great wonders that I do." Jahaziel’s instructions to "stand and see the salvation of the Lord" were reminiscent of Moses’ words at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13).
Jehoshaphat and Judah responded to the Word of the prophet with humility and praise. The people bowed low (20:18), and the Levites began to praise God (20:19, 21).
In a word, Jehoshaphat reacted to a political and military threat by calling the people together for worship, and the passage presents an order of worship: prayer, then preaching, and then praise. Worship was the first line of defense against the invaders.
The next morning, Jehoshaphat did lead the people out to the battlefield, but their advance was less a military maneuvre than a continuation of the worship service. At the end of the worship assembly, the Levites were praising with a loud voice, and the Levites also led the people out of the city (20:20—22), still praising God. Jehoshaphat did not put his crack troops in front, but a group of singers. At the front of the armies of Judah were men armed not with sword and spear but with praise and song. They were not wearing armor but "holy attire," the priestly attire of worship.
While they sang and praised the Lord, the Lord "set ambushes" for the Ammonites and Moabites, turning them to fight among themselves (20:22—23). When Judah went to find out what had happened, they discovered a valley full of corpses, which they plundered for three days (20:24—26). Moab and Ammon had come to plunder Judah but the plunderers ended up plundered. As in the Exodus, Israel plundered her enemies. Moreover, the battle of the Valley of Beracah (which means "Valley of Blessing") reverberated throughout the remainder of Jehoshaphat’s reign. Just as the Canaanites in Joshua’s day were fearful of Israel because of the rumors they heard coming up from Egypt, so this "new exodus" brought terror to the nations (20:29).
Though 2 Chronicles 20 is one of the clearest examples of liturgical warfare, it is by no means the only one. Israel commonly won victories by calling on the Lord in prayer and exalting Him in praise.
Yahweh began His war against Egypt in response to the cries of Israel (Ex. 3:7). At Jericho, Israel won by processing around the city with the ark of the covenant, blowing trumpets, and shouting (Josh. 6). Samuel led Israel to victory at the battle of Ebenezer by offering sacrifices and crying out to the Lord (1 Sam. 7). In the New Testament, Revelation describes the progress of a heavenly liturgy: the book is opened, the trumpets proclaim the Word of God, and the angels pour out blood from sacramental bowls. As the heavenly worship progresses, the Lord pours out His judgments on "the great city."
The power of liturgical warfare does not lie in the liturgy itself. There’s nothing automatic or magical about performing a worship service. Liturgical warfare is effective only if it relies on the Lord of Hosts, the God of Battles. When He is exalted in our praises, He becomes a terror to our enemies, leaves the field strewn with corpses, and makes the valley of battle into a Valley of Berecah.