Messenger July-August 2017: 149
By Jim East
The Book of Psalms is a veritable cornucopia of precious things from the Lord. It contains: spiritual hymns, songs of lament and thanksgiving, grandiose expressions of confidence, solemn words of remembrance, the wisdom of God Himself, breathtaking prophecies about the arrival of Jesus the Christ. I could go on and on. The early Jewish people sometimes referred to the whole collection as tehillim, a Hebrew word meaning, praises. Like the word ‘Brighton’ in the eponymous rock, ‘praise’ of the Almighty courses through every genre, song, theme and word of the Psalms.
Psalm 149 begins with praise, more praise and yet more praise of the Lord:
1 Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
3 Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.
There is no inappropriate time or unfitting place to declare the goodness of the Lord. For example, beds are for sleeping in, in the majority of circumstances. None-the-less, the psalmist moves on to point out that they also provide an ideal setting for joyous songs of praise!
5 Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
And then comes something a little more unusual:
6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
When this Psalm was first written, praise in the throat was accompanied by a sword of metal in the hands of the singer. This might seem, to us, to be an unusual combination. However, the next few verses explain the psalmist’s meaning and go some way towards explaining a number of other enigmatic Old Testament passages. Why was the two-edged sword needed? Well, it was,
7 to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishments on the peoples,
8 to bind their kings with chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron,
9a to execute on them the judgement written!
It seems to please the Lord to include His people in His business. God was perfectly capable of smiting the nations that deserved judgement all on His own. But, in some circumstances, the Lord sovereignly decided to empower His chosen people to deliver His justice. Israel’s taking of the Holy Land was an example of this and the Lord was painstaking to remind them of the truth behind their conquests: “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them [the native inhabitants of the Holy Land] out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you.” (Deuteronomy 9:4 ESV.) God’s Old Testament people were called upon to serve Him in ways we cannot imagine today. They were called upon to be instruments of His justice. They wielded the two-edged swords that were the Lord’s punishment for ‘defiling the land’, murdering children, worshipping abominable idols, and all manner of other depravities. God’s New Testament people are called upon to be instruments of His grace. Our mission is to deliver the message of salvation – a weapon more powerful than any human sword, or gun or nuclear missile. We, too, are God’s chosen people and we, too, are an invading army. ‘We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Ephesians 6:12 ESV.)
Such is the coming of Christ’s Kingdom.
We live in the time of Christ’s fulfilment of the Law, His death and His glorious resurrection. The sword that we combine with praise is the ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:16 ESV).
Psalm 149 closes by saying,
9b This is honour for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!
The ancient Hebrew psalmist calls it an honour to be used by God to bring His justice. I wonder what word or words He would have chosen to describe our great Christian privilege: to be used by God to bring His Good News?