Singing and swinging, Psalm 149

Psalm 149 contains an unusual combination of joy and justice. It begins with a lilting song of praise, but it ends with a swinging sword of vengeance. Amazingly enough the concepts aren’t conflicting, but complementary.

Because this particular psalm emphasizes the context of corporate worship, it’s an appropriate subject on the day after the Lord’s Day. Verse 1 speaks of the “assembly of the godly,” which we can understand as worship (Psalm 149:1, ESV):

Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
   his praise in the assembly of the godly!

I love traditional worship that stresses singing the psalms because biblical lyrics sing God’s own words back to him. But I note that God commands us to sing a new song. I don’t take this to mean interpreting scripture in a new way, or singing only contemporary tunes. But it reminds me that new music isn’t inherently bad, especially if it’s beautiful in both scriptural content and aesthetic composition.

But I believe the command to sing a new song has more to do with the singer’s attitude. Individually, in choirs, and in corporate worship, we should be careful not to merely mouth the same old words in the same old tired tones. If we remember to whom we sing, we can sing every familiar or not so familiar song with the joyful enthusiasm of singing a new song.

The next two verses are imperatives (2-3, ESV):

Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
   let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
   making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!

Some readers may view these verses as permitting every kind of instrument, noise, and choreography in worship. But we should remember that this was written in a specific time frame when certain instruments and certain actions were part of standard worship. We also ought to keep our minds open to the use of a variety of instruments in worship as long as they don’t detract from the service or focus attention on the “performer” rather than our great God. The primary once again is that the attitude of the one who worships should be full of joy and praise, not bored or barely awake!

The reason we rejoice in worship:

For the LORD takes pleasure in his people;
   he adorns the humble with salvation (4, ESV).

We know that we are to delight in the Lord, but the idea of God taking pleasure in us boggles my finite mind. How can my heart not leap for joy when I realize that God has granted salvation to such an undeserving sinner?

Our joy and exaltation are not limited to corporate worship. We can be joyful when we rest at night or even when we lie on a sickbed:

Let the godly exult in glory;
   let them sing for joy on their beds (5, ESV).

Here’s where the proverbial rubber meets the road in the Christian life. Our joy is to be more than an attitude abiding in our minds or a song pouring from our throats (6-9, ESV):

Let the high praises of God be in their throats
   and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
   and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
   and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
    This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the LORD!

Praise wells from our mouths while we wield God’s two-edged sword! God will use his people to bring down the ungodly nations, kings, and nobles who reject him. It is an honor for God to use us in this way.

I can’t pretend to know how this plays out in your life, but I believe it means that we need to be discerning and intentional about our lives. We need to vote for the most godly options possible. We need to work toward ending injustice and oppression. We are God’s instruments for mercy, but also his way of working justice. We should do whatever we can now in preparation for that great and final day, when we will conquer with Christ.

What a day that will be! Praise the Lord! While we wait, sing to the Lord and swing his sword!

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