Psalm 149 – The High Praises of God and a Two-Edged Sword
This is another of the last five psalms that have no title in the Hebrew text, but each of these last five begin and end with Hallelujah or Praise the LORD!
A. The praise of God’s people.
1. (1) Praising Yahweh with a new song.
Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
And His praise in the assembly of saints.
a. Praise the LORD: The last five of the 150 collected psalms begin and end with this phrase. In many (or most) of the previous songs there was a trouble, crisis, or evil described and brought before the LORD. In these last psalms, it is all praise.
b. Sing to the LORD a new song: God loves to receive the rejoicing and praise of His people expressed in song, especially the new song. The new song can come from an old saint as he or she gains fresh awareness of God’s love and grace.
i. “He is ever new in his manifestations; his mercies are new every morning; his deliverances are new in every night of sorrow; let your gratitude and thanksgivings be new also.” (Spurgeon)
c. And His praise in the assembly of saints: It is wonderful for the individual saint to offer praise to God; it is even better and greater to do so in the assembly of saints. The community of God’s people makes praise all the richer, especially praise offered in song.
2. (2-4) The pleasure of true praise.
Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
Let them praise His name with the dance;
Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp.
For the LORD takes pleasure in His people;
He will beautify the humble with salvation.
a. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker: If one ever lacked for reasons to praise God, there is one great reason that is always at hand. It is always right and honorable for us to praise and rejoice in our Creator.
i. “The starting point for us creatures must be our acknowledgment of the Creator, since it is only when we have begun to know God as our Creator that we can appreciate what we owe him and understand how we have failed to praise and thank him properly.” (Boice)
b. Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King: God is the Maker of all humanity, but is recognized as King only over His people. This recognition is a source of incomparable joy to His people, who realize they could never hope for a ruler greater in love, wisdom, and power.
i. It is common for people to be joyful over a political leader or a head of state. The visit of such a ruler is treated as a happy, special occasion. Believers regard it is a special and joyful thing to recognize and enjoy the presence of their King.
ii. “The true splendor of kings lies not in what their people do for them, but in what they do for their people: and herein our Lord excelleth all the princes that ever lived.” (Spurgeon)
c. Let them praise His name with the dance: The joy among God’s people in their Creator and King was evidenced by dance, song, and instrumental music. These were happy expressions of gratitude, and show that God approves of and encourages such happiness among His people.
i. Adam Clarke disagreed with most translations that the Hebrew word here translated dance (mahol) means a flute or musical pipe, not a dance. “I know no place in the Bible where machol and machalath mean dance of any kind; they constantly signify some kind of pipe.”
d. For the LORD takes pleasure in His people: If God is so rich in grace and mercy that He takes pleasure in His people – despite all their sin and weakness – it is cause for great rejoicing.
i. “It is the constant teaching of Scripture that we may please God. This was the testimony borne of Enoch before his translation, and the apostle [Paul] exhorts us to walk worthily of the Lord, unto all pleasing.” (Meyer)
ii. “Such ‘pleasure’ the King of Zion taketh in his people, that he hath [chosen] to become like one of them; to partake of their flesh and blood.” (Horne)
iii. “What is there in us in which the Lord can take pleasure? Nothing, unless he has put it there. If he sees any beauty in us, it must be the reflection of his own face. Yet still the text says so, and therefore it must be true: ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in his people.’” (Spurgeon)
e. He will beautify the humble with salvation: Most of the great ones among men despise the humble and leave them in their low condition. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5). He makes the humble beautiful with salvation.
i. “Not only does God take a personal interest in each step of the obedient soul, but He makes it beautiful, and leads it from victory to victory.” (Meyer)
ii. “The qualification for receiving Jehovah’s help is meekness, and the effect of that help on the lowly soul is to deck it with strange loveliness.” (Maclaren)
iii. “God taketh pleasure in all his children as Jacob loved all his sons; but the meek are his Josephs, and upon these he puts the coat of many colours, beautifying them with peace, contentment, joy, holiness, and influence.” (Spurgeon)
B. The power of God’s people.
1. (5-6) Making ready for conflict.
Let the saints be joyful in glory;
Let them sing aloud on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
a. Let the saints be joyful in glory: The spirit of the first part of this psalm continues. The saints are so happy in God’s glory that they sing aloud on their beds. Waking hours do not give enough time to express all their praise and joy unto God, so they must continue it on their beds.
i. This reminds us that though songs of praise are especially wonderful among the assembly of God’s people (Psalm 149:1), they should never be restricted to the assembly. It is a sacred and wonderful thing for the saints to sing aloud on their beds.
b. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand: God’s people are pictured as ready for battle, equipped with two mighty weapons.
· They bear the high praises of God; their worship indicates the allegiance and surrender to the God of every victory. In 2 Chronicles 20:20-21, a great victory was won for the people of God as they entered the battle with praise.
· They bear a two-edged sword in their hand, demonstrating both the use of practical weapons and means, and in a spiritual sense, reliance upon God’s word, which is described as a two-edged sword (Revelation 19:15) as even sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and as the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).
i. “Their praise is not merely to be that of the chanting of words. It is also to be in the doing of His will. While the high praises of God are in their mouth, a two-edged sword is to be in their hand, with which they carry out His purposes among the peoples, the kings, and the nobles.” (Morgan)
ii. “In this state of mind, the Lord will grant victory to his people, as he did to Nehemiah and his men who worked with ‘sword and trowel’ while praying to the Lord (Nehemiah 4:9, 16-23), believing that ‘Our God will fight for us!’ (Nehemiah 4:20).” (VanGemeren)
iii. A saying among Americans came from the Second World War: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Psalm 149:6 has something of that idea.
iv. The combination of these two – the high praises of God and the two-edged sword – spiritually speaks to every leader among God’s people. The gatherings of God’s people should excel in both praise and the preaching of God’s word. We should always press to have excellent praises of God and a right, sharp handling of the sword of the Spirit.
v. “The word of God is all edge; whichever way we turn it, it strikes deadly blows at falsehood and wickedness. If we do not praise we shall grow sad in our conflict; and if we do not fight we shall become presumptuous in our song. The verse indicates a happy blending of the chorister and the crusader.” (Spurgeon)
vi. “If you had a sword of steel, you would fight with men; but that is no part of your business. You are not called to that cruel work; but, as you have the sword of the Spirit…go forth and praise God by the use of that two-edged sword which is the Word of God.” (Spurgeon)
2. (7-9) The victory of God’s people.
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 written judgment—
This honor have all His saints.
Praise the LORD!
a. To execute vengeance on the nations: The power of praise and the word of God will ultimately see God’s work accomplished among the nations. For those who persist in disobedience, it will be vengeance and punishments at the end of the age. Not even kings or nobles can escape this judgment to come.
i. “The stern close of the psalm strikes a note which many ears feel to be discordant…. [Yet] it is entirely free from any sentiment of personal vengeance.” (Maclaren)
ii. Execute vengeance: “…for all their cruelties and injuries towards God’s people. This was literally accomplished by David upon the Philistines, Ammonites, Syrians, and other neighbouring nations and princes, which were bitter enemies to God’s people.” (Poole)
iii. We see that in the immediate context of the psalmist, in some way Israel was to be the agent to execute vengeance. This means that their joyful praise had to connect itself to radical obedience, even to God’s difficult and costly commands. As believers under the New Covenant, we don’t battle flesh and blood enemies (Ephesians 6:12-18), yet we have the responsibility to be not only worshippers, but warriors in a spiritual warfare that at times will be difficult and costly. In a spiritual sense, we are to execute vengeance on every thing that would oppose Jesus Christ and the work of His kingdom in our lives.
iv. “Our equivalent of binding kings with chains (Psalm 149:8) is to ‘take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Cor. 10:5).” (Kidner)
v. To execute on them the written judgment: “It would be a sad thing for any one to misuse this text: lest any warlike believer should be led to do so, we would remind him that the execution must not go beyond the sentence and warrant; and we have received no warrant of execution against our fellow men.” (Spurgeon)
vi. For the believer under the New Covenant, there is a written judgment against every spiritual enemy, and Jesus wrote it by His work on the cross (John 16:11, Colossians 2:14).
vii. To execute vengeance: “The history of this song is one of great sadness, due to grave misinterpretation, and grievous misapplication. Delitzsch has said: ‘By means of this Psalm, Caspar Scioppius, in his Classicum belli sacri…. inflamed the Roman Catholic princes to the Thirty Years’ Religious War and, within the Protestant Church, Thomas Münzer, by means of this Psalm, stirred up the War of the Peasants.’” (Morgan)
viii. Especially in light of how this verse has been abused, it is important to remember what Morgan noted: “There is no reference in this Psalm to the Church of God. As it specifically indicates, it has to do with ‘Israel,’ with ‘the children of Zion.’”
b. This honor have all His saints: In some way beyond our present comprehension, God will use His people in setting right the wrongs of this present age. Even if our participation is only as an audience to the righteous judgments of God, it will be an honor to all His saints.
i. “They are redeemed from bondage that they may be God’s warriors. The honour and obligation are universal.” (Maclaren)
c. Praise the LORD: This sentence – one word in the Hebrew, hallelujah – is understood as either a declaration or an exhortation. Here especially it can be taken as an exhortation and encouragement for all those who reject and resist God to praise Him instead, to be among His saints and not among the nations who will receive God’s vengeance.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org