A Reflection on Psalm 149 by Canon Rob
September 10th, The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
As the Book of Psalms, the hymn book of the Jewish people, comes to an end, the theme is giving praise to God, celebrating His goodness. It is as if those who compiled the book wanted to end on a high! As I have said before, the great thing about the psalms is that they express every emotion common to all human beings. In them we find tragedy and sorrow, wonder and joy and the whole range between. Today’s psalm is full of joy but, unlike Psalm 150 say, it has a “twist in its tail.” It begins with rejoicing but the tone changes completely in the last four verses. We are taken from music and dancing to vengeance! God is praised because He has won for His people a great victory. Yet the war is not over. Verses 5 and 6 sum up the situation very well. “Let the faithful be joyful in glory; let them rejoice in their ranks. With the praises of God in their mouths and a two-edged sword in their ranks.” (Note the change in the font denoting a change in tone.) The two-edged sword is to be used “to execute vengeance on the nations.” [Verse 6b] From reading about the two World Wars, it is clear that there were victories and set backs as, perhaps, there are in all wars – including that in Ukraine. The same seems to be true here.
As with all the psalms, we can’t be sure what battle the author has in mind when he wrote Psalm 149. However, as you reflect upon the words, note in verse 4 that “the Lord has pleasure in his people.” Then in verse 7 punishment is to be “on the peoples.” Here we see the distinction between the people of God, with whom God is pleased this time, and the “peoples” who are clearly the enemy. The “peoples” are those who do not acknowledge the One, True God and who will face judgement. [See verse 9]. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this. In Chapter 61, we read words which Jesus quoted to describe his mission and ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me…” [See Luke 4.18-19] However, he ends his speech the line before Isaiah describes “…a day of vengeance of our God.” [Isaiah 61.2a in the New English Bible.]
The writer of the psalm believes that God will punish the enemy, the peoples, now, but several commentators suggest that the judgement upon them which he writes about will take place sometime in the future. Although we often come across the contrast between God’s “faithful servants” [see verses 9] and “the nations” [see verse 7], something which is unusual in the psalms is the clear link between the present and future which we find in Psalm 149. Could the psalmist have in mind the coming of the Messiah, the One from God, who will destroy all enemies and free His people for all time? As always we need to be careful that we don’t read into the scriptures what isn’t there. However, it is possible and Christians reflecting on this psalm do so believing that Jesus Christ is that Messiah who will, as we say in the Creed, “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
Judgement isn’t confined to the Old Testament although I recall conversations about how the New Testament focuses more on God’s Love rather than His anger which we find very much in the Old. Several of Jesus’ parables allude to God’s judgement. [See that of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25.31-46.] St Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians [6.1-3] suggests that God’s people will be involved in judging the world: something which the author of today’s psalm may have had in mind when he wrote verse 5. “Let the faithful be joyful in glory; let them rejoice in their ranks,” As we reflect on these words of pride, we do well to recall with humility our membership of God’s family.
May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day,
by his love and pow’r controlling all I do and say.
[Hymn 447, Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New]