Here’s another hymn for you to add to your arsenal of hymns about missionary work! The title’s metaphorical “ten thousand legions marching” refers to “a mighty band of youth” who share the gospel, which is further described throughout the first three verses.
I find the metaphor of a legion surprisingly compelling. For instance, a “legion” refers to a military group of between 3,000 and 6,000 people. If this hymn is envisioning “ten thousand legions,” a conservative estimate of the total number of people involved here is 30 million! This is not a small work performed on the side of the Church, peripheral to other latter-day tasks. The missionary force is intended to be absolutely enormous, and absolutely central to building Zion.
Additionally, when I think of a military legion, I immediately think of order and discipline. A missionary needs remarkable dedication in order to endure such difficult work. But a “legion” is also an image of honor. Missionary work, although difficult, isn’t always drudgery. Just like a military legion raises images of national pride, missionary work is associated with joy that we are serving in behalf of a cause greater than ourselves.
And just as a military unit is led by a captain, our missionary force is led by Jesus Christ, who directs his followers on to victory and glory. Our service to the cause should be as devoted as an army following its captain.
It is with these metaphorical implications in mind that I read the second and third verses:
Out of ev’ry nation surging–
Sons of Joseph, Israel’s band–
Now they spread salvation’s message
In the tongues of ev’ry land.
Far across the mighty waters,
Reaching ev’ry waiting shore,
Seed of Abraham and Jacob
Like a mighty lion roar.
As missionaries, we should be “surging” forth—moving forward and upward with so much force and power that we carry others with us and sweep them up in the momentum of our enthusiastic devotion. Our message should not be ashamed or timid, but like the “roar” of “a mighty lion.”
Listen. I struggle with missionary work just as much as the next person. It can be awkward. But this hymn inspires me to try harder. It reminds me that, although sharing the gospel has its fair share of discomfort, it is still a glorious and worthwhile cause. We really do have a “light” that can bring the nations “out of darkness,” and with the proper enthusiasm and devotion to that message and to the Savior who gave it to us, we will be able to take “to all people / Zion’s glorious song of truth.”