The Vigor of Praise & the Element of War: A Reflection on Psalm 149

ch_david“Let the godly ones exult in glory;
Let them sing for joy in their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand…” -Ps. 149.5-6

Psalm 149 is an absolutely astounding song. It is, as one scholar titled it, “A Song of Praise in the Context of Judgment On the Nations.” Though it is astounding, it has been, for many, a source of great confusion. Is it a picture of the end of the age, or does it refer to some historical event already passed? It does not give description of any great event in the past, so we might assume that it doesn’t refer to a situation already found in the history of Israel. Is it a literal expression of something future, or is it an age-old brand of Israelite symbolism?

No interpreter struggles with verses 1-4, but verses 5-9 seem to create a conundrum, even (or maybe especially!) for the greatest of Old Testament scholars. Verse 7 paints the picture of a community of “godly ones” who sing the praises of God with a new song of delight and joy, accompanied with music and dancing. The note of celebration is prevalent throughout the description. But the rug is pulled out from under our feet when they are described as those who have not only God’s praises in their mouth, but a “two-edged sword in their hand.”

“Well, that just means that they have a militant spirit about their praise.” Perhaps. But what can we make of the following verses?

“…. to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment 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 an honor for all His godly ones. Praise the Lord!” -vv. 7-9

For my part, I’m convinced that this is an eschatological picture of the beginnings of Jesus’ theocratic rule and reign from Jerusalem, where a redeemed Israel (and in some way the Body of Christ as well) will sing redemptive songs, dance vigorous dances, and make war against the enemies of Yahweh’s kingdom. The visions of the prophets (e.g. Is. 63, Rev. 19) reveal the Son of God with garments stained red, having made war against the enemies of righteousness. The themes are intense to consider, and they are themes of eschatological judgment, but when we receive new bodies and thus new eyes, we will be able to see more clearly and more rightly the nature of all that will transpire when He comes to make the world new.

For now, since we see these weighty future themes so dimly, we can consider the spirit of the psalm and what it means for us in the here and now.

The vigor and strength we gain through the life of praise is meant to be our anchor in the realm of life. This psalm calls us to praise the Lord with joyful hearts. The awareness of war-time helps to remind us that we are not sliding through a casual existence, but rather that we should not settle down and entangle our souls with “civilian affairs.” We are soldiers, saints, and there is no escaping the tension and resistance and challenge of battle for those who would follow the Lord Jesus.

These words from Spurgeon are most fitting to that end:

If we do not praise we shall grow sad in our conflicts; and if we do not fight we shall become presumptuous in our song.

…. Note how each thing in the believer is emphatic: if he sings, it is high praises, and praises deep down in his throat, as the original hath it; and if he fights, it is with the sword, and the sword is two-edged. The Living God imparts vigorous life to those who trust Him. They are not of a neutral tint: men both hear them and feel them. Quiet is their spirit, but in that very quietude abides the thunder of an irresistable force. When godly men give battle to the powers of evil each conflict is high praise unto the God of goodness. Even the tumult of our holy war is a part of the music of our lives.

(Spurgeon, Treasury of David on Psalm 149)

March on then, dear saint, with the high praises of God in your mouth, a new song in your heart, and an awareness that we are in the greatest battle of all times. It is the battle against sin and unbelief, the battles of the heavenlies, and there is no war more taxing or of greater intensity. Yet, the Captain of the hosts is Jesus, and He will lead us onward and upward “with the high praises of God in our mouth, and a two-edged sword in our hand.”

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