Be Jubilant My Feet: Analyzing Verse 4 of the Battle Hymn of the Republic

The trumpet is an instrument used for calling, for commanding, for announcing. Verse four of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" begins with that trumpet call.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

The trumpet sounding could refer to a number of references in the Bible. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (15:52) he says, "The trumpet will sound!" He refers to the judgement day and Julia Ward Howe evokes that idea. In her vision, the judgement day is at hand, because the trumpet has already sounded. So the Lord "sifts out the hearts of men before his judgment seat". There are many references to this event in the Bible (Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 20:11). This brings an immediacy; judgment is here! But the sounding of the trumpet is not just about the fact of judgment, but its execution and the trumpet blast is not merely an announcement it is calling out the instrument of God's justice, in this case, the Union army.

At the end of this verse, we have a reprise of the marching idea. Mrs. Howe is concerned with more than the soul, which should answer him, but also with the feet. Why "be jubilant my feet"? It is because it is not just with swords and bayonets that the army will win victory, but with its quick movement. At the time, it was (and still is) a military maxim that swift movement could win battles. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest put it in these pithy terms when asked how he won so many battles, "Ma'am, I got there first with the most men."

So again the "Glory Hallelujah!" refrain is picked up to carry the singers on to the next verse.

< Fiery Gospel: Analysis of Verse 3 of the Battle Hymn of the Republic | Let Us Die to Make Men Free: Analyzing the Final Verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic >

Interesting Fact:

The fourth verse of the Battle Hymn of the Republic actually hints at military strategy.


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