STLT#162, Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield

Ear worm in three.. two… one….

As an American growing up in the 1970s, I learned this in elementary school, and I associated it with Vietnam War protests. This might even have been the first African American spiritual I learned, and I didn’t even know at the time it was one. In fact, I don’t know if I knew until well into adulthood, because to me it was a protest folk song, and in my mind, I hear Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul, & Mary.

What I know is that is history is long, and it wasn’t always just an anti-war song, but rather a song about baptism and freedom – going to glory and from slavery, and to a place where fighting (literally and metaphorically) ceases – “gonna study war no more” is likely a reference to this passage in Isaiah (2:4):

“He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

How the whole song came to be, and how it was used, and its journey to our current view of it…. well, like many songs handed down in oral tradition, the path and the ‘real story’ is murky and may never really be known. What we do know is its powerful imagery was inspired by the plight of those who had gone before, and continues to inspire those who go on.

Gonna lay down my sword and shield,
down by the riverside,
down by the riverside,
down by the riverside.
Gonna lay down my sword and shield,
down by the riverside,
gonna study war no more.

I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
ain’t gonna study war no more. (2x)

Gonna lay down my burden
down by the riverside …


Gonna shake hands around the world,
ev’rywhere I roam …


May it be so for all of us.


Yep, that picture is of the River Jordan.

  1. I know I’m a johnny-one-note when it comes to complaining about what they did with song titles in STLT, but I have to say, this is one of the worst examples, given the ridiculousness of the title. I’m so proud that “Down by the Riverside” is in our hymnal, but you certainly wouldn’t know it if you were looking for it under its actual title.

  2. Kaye, you are not a johanna-one-note. There are others who are bothered by the hymnal’s consistent use of initial lines as titles, chiefly, me. “How Can I Keep from Singing?” is another horrible example of the title problem. And “SImple Gifts.”

    1. Truth.

Support this site

I am an entrepreneurial minister, which means I am a freelancer, and every part of my income comes from the work I do. The Hymn by Hymn Project was and is a labor of love, but I now am incurring increasing costs for hosting the site.

If everyone who visited gave just $5, those costs would be covered in a single week.

Whether you give once or monthly, your generosity will keep Hymn by Hymn free and available to to the tens of thousands of people who benefit from it.

Please support the project!


Learn more about my ministry at The Art of Meaning

Read my thoughts about congregational life at Hold My Chalice


%d bloggers like this: