99. The Lord Is A Man Of War
Written by George Frideric Handel, 1738
Performed by the Monteverdi Choir, 2003
From the CD Handel: Israel In Egypt (Decca, UK 2009)



The Lord is a man of war, Lord is His name; Pharaoh’s chariots, and his host, hath He cast in the sea.
His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
The depths have covered them, they sank into the bottom as a stone.
Thy right hand, o Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.
And in the greatness of Thine excellency, Thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee.
Thou sendeth forth Thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. [1]


Watts wasn’t the only major composer to sonify Britain as the new Israel. Thirty years after the publication of The Psalms & Hymns of Isaac Watts, Handel wrote Israel in Egypt for King George II for the funeral of the King’s consort, Queen Caroline. [2]

Handel completed Israel in Egypt on November 1st, 1738 [3]. It was a work of three parts: The Lamentation of the Israelites for the Death of Joseph, Exodus, and Moses’ Song, all of which used excerpts from the Old and New Testaments. [4]

Interestingly, while Handel was busy providing the British aristocracy with a soundtrack by which it could reinvent itself as the new Israel, Portuguese and Spanish Jewish merchants, having been allowed to settle in Britain in the 1650s after being banned for three hundred years, were boosting Britain’s economy. By the middle of the 18th century, Jewish merchants had made the country around £5,000,000 [5] and there were 3,000 Sephardic and 20,000 Ashkenazi Jews living in London. [6]

It’s unlikely though that Handel’s composition had much to do with this new presence of Jews in Britain. The martial, besieged tone of Israel in Egypt may well have been informed by slightly more recent events. The Jacobite revolts had spread from Scotland to the north of England, down to London, and fears of a French invasion were still in the public memory, so were the rebellions and riots across England that marred the crowning of King George I and led to the Riot Act of 1715, the first of its kind in Britain. In 1715 there had been four major battles between Jacobite forces and the British government, the most violent of them being the major rebellions in Scotland against the rule of King George I. [7] This is what was happening in Britain when Israel in Egypt made its premiere on April 4 1739 at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket. It was not a success, and was rarely performed during Handel’s lifetime. [8] Nonetheless, Handel stuck with his religious themes. ‘He would’, wrote Sir John Hawkins, ‘frequently declare the pleasure he felt in setting the Scriptures to music, and how contemplating the many sublime passages in the Psalms had contributed to his edification’.

Three years after the failure of Israel in Egypt Handel’s Messiah received a much more enthusiastic response. By then the Jacobite rebellions were approaching a bloody end. In London there were more clashes between soldiers and the pro Stuart civilians. Increasingly violent unrest in Scotland culminated in the defeat by the British army of the Jacobites on the moor of Culloden on the morning of April 16, 1746. 4000 bedraggled and poorly armed supporters of the Stuart monarchy, aged between thirteen and fifty one, were slaughtered by 9000 cavalry and infantrymen led by Lord Cumberland. [9]

The event inspired Handel to write Joshua (1747) – with the memorable line, ‘See the conquering hero come’ in honour of the victory of the English. With the defeat of the Jacobites came the clearance of the Highlands for highly profitable sheep farming, and the scattering of the indigenous population across Europe, India, and America. [10]

Handel died peacefully in 1759, aged 74, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.


[1] G.F Handel, Israel in Egypt. Archive Production Historical Music Deutsche Gramaphon [2708 020] Germany,1971.
[2] John Woodford, http://www.musicteachers.co.uk/journal/2000-09_handel_1.html
[3 & 4] http://www.napervillechorus.org/israel_in_egypt.html
[5] Paul Vallely, ‘A short history of Anglo-Jewry: The Jews in Britain, 1656-2006’, The Independent, Tuesday, 13 June 2006
www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/a-short-history-of-anglojewry-the-jews-in-britain-16562006-482185.html – 79k
[6] ‘Jewish London’, http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/English/Collections/Onlineresources/RWWC/themes/1301/1155
[7] Williams, Hywel (2005). Cassell’s Chronology of World History. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 294–295. ISBN 0-304-35730-8 quoted in
[8] John Woodford, http://www.musicteachers.co.uk/journal/2000-09_handel_1.html
[9&10] ‘The Rise & Fall of the Jacobite Rebellion’, by Mark Monaghan.http://www.highlanderweb.co.uk/culloden/jacobite.htm



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