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Praise to God from His people, who will receive salvation and share in executing judgment (Psalms 149) March 29-30

Psalm 149, the fourth hymn in the concluding Hallel collection, is a royal psalm praising Israel 's divine King for granting to His people salvation and the high honor of executing His judgment on the nations for their defiance of His rule. This psalm follows from the conclusion of the previous one, with emphasis on the role of Israel and the focus on His "saints" or hasidim, meaning devoted ones, the Hebrew word being used here three times-in the first, middle and last verses (verses 1, 5, 9). And as in the former case, "Israel" and the "saints" (in addition to the "children of Zion " in this psalm) should not be limited to God's physical nation. Rather, the truly devoted and obedient people of God are principally in view here-spiritual Israel, the Church of God. This is especially so, given the primarily end-time focus of the song (as implied by the granting of salvation and the execution of vengeance on the nations).

The psalm begins with a call to praise God with a "new song" (verse 1; compare 33:3; 40:3; 96:1). This does not require a song never heard or sung before. The sense can be that of singing with renewed awareness of what God has done. Even old psalms can be sung as new because the congregation always has fresh reasons for expressing gratitude.

Note that the song is to be sung in "the assembly of saints" (149:1). As The Expositor's Bible Commentary points out, this statement in the closing frame of the book of Psalms ties back to the opening frame: "The phrase is equivalent to 'congregation of the righteous' (1:5), and it may be that Psalm 149 is a formal closure of the Psalter, climaxed by the great praise psalm, Psalm 150" (note on 149:1-5). There is a further tie back to the opening as well. As noted in the Bible Reading Program comments on Psalms 1 and 2, these two untitled psalms together apparently form the opening frame of the Psalter. Psalm 1 lays out the character of the righteous while Psalm 2 is a royal psalm focusing on the Messiah coming to conquer the world and set up His Kingdom. So it seems appropriate to read Psalm 149, the next-to-last psalm, in light of that second opening psalm.

The first part of Psalm 149 communicates a sense of celebration, including praising God with dance, singing with timbrels (tambourines) and harps (verse 3)-celebratory elements that are all invoked in the next and final psalm, as we will see.

Israel rejoices because "the LORD takes pleasure in His people" and "will beautify the humble with salvation" (149:4). God's people are thus equated with those who have a humble, respectful attitude before Him, parallel to what we read just two psalms earlier within the same Hallel collection: "The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy [ hesed ]" (Psalm 147:11). Here, again, we see that their hope will be rewarded with being "beautified" with salvation (149:4). The word here can also mean "adorned" and thus recalls other verses about being clothed with salvation (Psalm 132:16; Isaiah 61:10). The "salvation" here could signify God saving His people from life-threatening circumstances in the here and now, yet the ultimate picture is certainly that of salvation in His coming Kingdom. The ancient Israelites in singing this song would have understood both aspects.

The saints singing for joy on their beds (Psalm 149:5) contrasts greatly with past circumstances: "The 'beds,' which had before been soaked with tears, share in the joy of the Lord's deliverance (cf. 4:4; 6:6; 63:6; Hos 7:14)" ( Expositor's, note on Psalm 149:1-5).

The latter part of the psalm praises God for giving His people a role in executing judgment on the nations (verses 6-9). This applied in part to Old Testament Israel, as the nation fought against the Canaanites, the Philistines and other enemies: "Under the particular administration of the emerging [earthly] kingdom of God put in place in the inauguration of the Sinai covenant...she [Israel] was armed to execute God's sentence of judgment on the world powers that have launched attacks against the kingdom of God. Under that arrangement, she served as the earthly contingent of the armies [or hosts] of the King of heaven" ( Zondervan NIV Study Bible, introductory note on Psalm 149). The Nelson Study Bible says that Psalm 149 "was used by the army of Israel as well as by the people in their worship of God.... [At verse 6] the focus of the psalm switches from the congregation at worship to the army in training. Israel's army was to be the vanguard for the battle of the Lord. Their training was to have a strong component of praise and worship of God" (introductory note on Psalm 149 and note on verse 6).

Yet we should once again recognize that the "saints" in this and other psalms is primarily a reference to the spiritually converted people of God-spiritual Zion , the Church. 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).

"The written judgment" (Psalm 149:9) refers to the "punishments" and "vengeance" (verse 7) recorded in God's Word by the prophets. As Expositor's notes on verses 6-9, "The 'sentence' [NIV] ( mishpat, 'judgment') decrees that on the day of the Lord, the wicked (individuals, nations, and kings) will be fully judged for the deeds done against God and against his people (cf. Isa 24:21-22; 41:15-16; 45:14; 65:6; Ezek 38-39; Joel 3:9-16, 19-21; Mic 4:13; Zech 14; 2 Thess 1:5-10)."

The saints will then reign with Christ during the Millennium (see Revelation 20:6), continuing to rule by God's laws.

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