Psalm 149 – Worship and Warcraft

Psalm 149 Bible with Chocolove Dark Chocolate Coffee Crunch
(featuring a special appearance from Bad Decision Dinosaur)

Today’s Chocolate: Chocolove Dark Chocolate Coffee Crunch

Today’s PassagePsalm 149

I’ve been trying to write this entry today, and the inertia is palpable. Some psalms it’s easy to sing along with. This one, though? I hit the midpoint and just about got whiplash. Psalm 149 is a praise song, it’s as much a product of ancient Jewish culture as psalms like 147 and 132, and it’s a song about singing, and I would characterize it as a psalm of new orientation—but man, if it doesn’t induce disorientation in me. It may be a psalm of praise, but it’s also a psalm of war.

The first half of the psalm invites Israel to celebrate God’s kindness to them. If it weren’t for the line “[The Lord] will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation” (4), it could be taken as a simple psalm of orientation. But it’s for a people who have been through affliction and experienced God’s goodness in leading them out of it, and the people are confident he can lead them out again. The psalmist issues an imperative, “Sing to the Lord a new song…Let them praise his name with dancing; let them sing praises to him with timbrel and lyre” (1, 3). Israel is called to rejoice, enjoy God’s goodness, and celebrate it with singing, dancing, and instrumental music. Feels more like a rock festival than a Sunday morning worship service, doesn’t it? I actually found myself wanting in on the party.

And then the transition hit me: for the second half of the psalm, the musicians draw their swords. The psalmist issues another command to the singers and dancers of Israel:

Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
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. (6-9)

Israel gets out their weapons and turns their dance into a war march. Punish our enemies! Imprison their kings! I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist; I recognize that sometimes it’s necessary for individuals and groups to fight in self-defense, and that at points in history God ordered the people of Israel to go to war with other nations. But I’ve always seen those occasions as cause for lament, not celebration.

Perhaps we should be glad to see God’s will executed no matter what it entails. God could have created any world he pleased; he wanted a universe where human beings sometimes kill each other, and he got it. But the tone of this psalm becomes vengeful, celebratory, delighting in (as the psalmist puts it) the honor of executing God’s judgment. There’s not a hint of sorrow that violence has proved necessary. What do we do with that?

Well, this is just one chapter in one book. So I’ll tell you what we do: it’s a big Bible. We keep reading.

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