Saturday, March 1, 2014

Psalm 149

In this blog post about Psalm 149, I will post the entire Psalm in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment on select verses.

1 Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.
2 Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
4 For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.

It is interesting that God’s people are called “meek” here, considering the aggressive warfare that they wage in vv 6-8.  Perhaps they are meek in that they rely on God, or because they are oppressed people who are merely rising up against their oppressors.

5 Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.

Why do they sing aloud on their beds?  One proposal is that they sing on their beds because they can finally relax, since they no longer have to worry about being attacked by enemies.  Maybe there is something to that, but I am not entirely convinced.  Shouldn’t they be relaxing after their enemies have been defeated?  But vv 6-9 seem to indicate that God’s people are still in the process of waging war against their enemies, or have yet to do so.  Why would they relax on their beds, if they have not even won yet?  Perhaps I should not regard this Psalm as rigidly chronological, however.

Another proposal is that the saints sing on their beds because, within the Psalms, the time of rest at night is “a time of intensified spiritual activity and receptivity.”  I quote here from Thijs Booij’s “Psalm 149, 5: ‘they should for joy on their couches,’” which appeared in Biblica 89 no. 1 2008.  Booij states that “the faithful in their beds are to punish the nations”, which intrigues me.  Is Booij saying that the warfare that God’s people wage is spiritual rather than physical: that God’s people are defeating their enemies, not by literally going out with a literal sword and waging literal warfare, but rather by praying to God?  Is the sword in v 6 spiritual rather than physical and literal?

6 Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;
7 To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people;
8 To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron;

Maybe the warfare that God’s people wage in Psalm 149 is spiritual, but I can still think of reasons to view the warfare as physical and literal.  There are places in the Hebrew Bible in which God’s people actually participate in the restoration of Israel by fighting their enemies: see Zechariah 12:8 and Micah 5.  Perhaps Psalm 149 is reflecting that sort of tradition.

The United Church of God’s commentary on Psalm 149 attempts to apply Psalm 149 to Christians at Christ’s Second Coming:

“Of course, the Church in this age is not to take up arms and fight, because Christ’s Kingdom for which we wait is not of this world (see John 18:36). Yet when Jesus returns to set His Kingdom up on this earth, His saints, then glorified in divine power, will fight alongside Him-as this psalm makes clear. Indeed, as the patriarch Enoch prophesied, ‘The Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all’ (Jude 14-15). The two-edged sword here (Psalm 149:6) would seem to parallel the book of Revelation’s figurative portrayal of a sharp sword coming out of Christ’s mouth at His return (Revelation 19:15; compare 1:16; Isaiah 11:4-5; 49:2). And the imagery of a two-edged sword is used to represent the Word of God (compare Hebrews 4:12-13).”

Is there a tension here between understanding the sword as literal, or as spiritual?  Is the sword a literal object that Christ and the saints use to slaughter the enemies of God, or is the sword rather symbolic for the word of God?  There are interpreters of the Book of Revelation who do not take all of its bloody material literally, but rather contend that Revelation is about the saints of God overcoming through spiritual means: meek suffering, staying faithful to their testimony to Jesus, praying, etc.  I am open to that interpretation, but I have a hard time saying that Revelation is not about God’s literal wrath on the wicked, a theme that appears so often in the Bible.  Moreover, the word of God that Jesus’ sword represents may be consistent with God’s literal wrath: the word could concern God’s wrath, or God is judging the wicked for transgressing God’s righteous word, and so, in that sense, the word is smiting them.

9 To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the LORD.

Where is this judgment written?  Leslie Allen states in his Word Commentary: “It may be a reference to the Holy War traditions fixed in writing, such as those which enjoined the destruction of the nations of Canaan (e.g., Deut 7:1-2; A. Weiser, Psalms 840) and/or to prophetic passages which promised eschatological victory (e.g., Isa 24:21-22; 45:14; Joel 4 (3):9-16, 19-21); or it may refer to decrees written in God’s heavenly records for past offenses against his people (cf. Dan 7:10; Anderson, Psalms, 954).  J. Schreiner has suggested a reference to an old victory Psalm (Sion-Jerusalem, 208).”

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