Bible Commentary: Psalm 149

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Psalm 149

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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 her--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 Psalms 33:3 Psalms 33:3Sing to him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.
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; Psalms 40:3 Psalms 40:3And he has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
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; Psalms 96:1 Psalms 96:1O sing to the LORD a new song: sing to the LORD, all the earth.
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). 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" (Psalms 149:1 Psalms 149:1Praise you the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.
American King James Version×
). 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' (Psalms 1:5 Psalms 1:5Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
American King James Version×
), and it may be that Psalm 149 is a formal closure of the Psalter, climaxed by the great praise psalm, Psalm 150" (note on Psalms 149:1-5 Psalms 149:1-5 [1] Praise you the LORD. Sing to 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 to him with the tambourine and harp. [4] For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation. [5] Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud on their beds.
American King James Version×
). There is a further tie back to the opening as well. As noted in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary 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" (Psalms 149:4 Psalms 149:4For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.
American King James Version×
). 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]" (Psalms 147:11 Psalms 147:11The LORD takes pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.
American King James Version×
). Here, again, we see that their hope will be rewarded with being "beautified" with salvation (Psalms 149:4 Psalms 149:4For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.
American King James Version×
). The word here can also mean "adorned" and thus recalls other verses about being clothed with salvation (Psalms 132:16 Psalms 132:16I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 61:10 Isaiah 61:10I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
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). 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 (Psalms 149:5 Psalms 149:5Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud on their beds.
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) contrasts greatly with past circumstances: "The 'beds,' which had before been soaked with tears, share in the joy of the Lord's deliverance (cf. Psalms 4:4 Psalms 4:4Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart on your bed, and be still. Selah.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 6:6 Psalms 6:6I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
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; Psalms 63:6 Psalms 63:6When I remember you on my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches.
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; Hosea 7:14 Hosea 7:14And they have not cried to me with their heart, when they howled on their beds: they assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me.
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)" (Expositor's, note on Psalms 149:1-5 Psalms 149:1-5 [1] Praise you the LORD. Sing to 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 to him with the tambourine and harp. [4] For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation. [5] Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud on their beds.
American King James Version×
).

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 John 18:36Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
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). 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 (Psalms 149:6 Psalms 149:6Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand;
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) 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 Revelation 19:15And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
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; compare 1:16; Isaiah 11:4-5 Isaiah 11:4-5 [4] But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. [5] And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
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; Isaiah 49:2 Isaiah 49:2And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand has he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver has he hid me;
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). And the imagery of a two-edged sword is used to represent the Word of God (compare Hebrews 4:12-13 Hebrews 4:12-13 [12] For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. [13] Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
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).

"The written judgment" (Psalms 149:9 Psalms 149:9To execute on them the judgment written: this honor have all his saints. Praise you the LORD.
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) 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. Isaiah 24:21-22 Isaiah 24:21-22 [21] And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth on the earth. [22] And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.
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; Isaiah 41:15-16 Isaiah 41:15-16 [15] Behold, I will make you a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: you shall thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shall make the hills as chaff. [16] You shall fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and you shall rejoice in the LORD, and shall glory in the Holy One of Israel.
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; Isaiah 45:14 Isaiah 45:14Thus said the LORD, The labor of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you, and they shall be yours: they shall come after you; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down to you, they shall make supplication to you, saying, Surely God is in you; and there is none else, there is no God.
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; Isaiah 65:6 Isaiah 65:6Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom,
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; Ezekiel 38-39; Joel 3:9-16 Joel 3:9-16 [9] Proclaim you this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: [10] Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. [11] Assemble yourselves, and come, all you heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause your mighty ones to come down, O LORD. [12] Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. [13] Put you in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. [14] Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. [15] The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. [16] The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.
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, Joel 3:19-21 Joel 3:19-21 [19] Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. [20] But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. [21] For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the LORD dwells in Zion.
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; Micah 4:13 Micah 4:13Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make your horn iron, and I will make your hoofs brass: and you shall beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain to the LORD, and their substance to the Lord of the whole earth.
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; Zechariah 14; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)."

The saints will then reign with Christ during the Millennium (see Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
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), continuing to rule by God's laws.