Text: Martin Luther (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott)
Music: Martin Luther
Written: ca. 1527
Themes: Confidence in God, Christ’s Victory, Satan’s Defeat, Spiritual Warfare
Background and Message
Arguably one of the best-known hymns of the last 500 years, both the words and the music were written by the reformer Martin Luther around 1527. Translated from the original German, the hymn text is based loosely upon Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The hymn expresses the complete and absolute confidence we may have in our God despite the evils of this world. A word that will likely be less-familiar to contemporary ears is used in verse 1 as God is referred to as “a bulwark never failing.” This older word means a strong wall or fortification for protection.
The four verses highlight the ongoing battle in which we as believers are engaged against Satan and his forces (Eph. 6:12). As we face this battle we must do so relying not upon our own strength, but upon Christ’s strength (vs. 2). At times it may sometimes seem as though Satan is winning, but“His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure” (vs. 3). Christ has secured the victory, and while, for a season, Satan may seem to gain, his ultimate doom is the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). Verse 4 applies this truth well. We may suffer and even be persecuted unto death in this life, but our eternal hope can never be taken away (Matt. 10:28)!
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Congregational & Musical Helps
Whether being sung in a traditional or contemporary setting, take some time to explain the message of the song to the congregation. Some words and phrases may be unfamiliar to worshippers. A number of versions of the song replace the phrase “Lord Sabaoth his name” in verse 2 with “The Lord of Hosts is name.” This is a perfectly acceptable change as this is what “Lord Sabaoth” means.
Verse 3 presents an excellent opportunity to represent musically the theological idea of the already and the not yet. Alternate minor chords could be used on phrases that speak of Satan and his threatening work, contrasted with a shift to major chords when speaking of God’s triumph. Beginning softly at “The Prince of Darkness grim” and crescendoing to “One little word shall fell him” is also very effective.
Verse 4 is effective when sung loudly and with great energy. If being sung in a contemporary setting, trying having all the vocalists sing in unison until the very last line, “His Kingdom is forever.”