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(Sunday between September 4 and September 10)
Psalm 149

Psalms 146-150 form a grand doxology at the conclusion of the collection of biblical psalms. In many ways Psalm 145 concludes the book of Psalms and Psalms 146-150 are a development on Ps 145:21 in the form of a great doxology. Psalm 146 introduces that doxology. The collection of five psalms may have originally had some liturgical context, but that has been lost in its present position. Psalms 146-150 describe ‘all flesh’ praising the Lord. There seems to be movement in the subject matter through these five psalms. Each of them adds to the voices which praise the Lord – first the psalmist (Psalm 146), then Jerusalem (Psalm 147), then all in heaven and earth (Psalm 148), then the faithful in Zion and Israel (Psalm 149), and finally ‘everything that breathes’ (Psalm 150). Various dimensions of praise are evident in this movement – personal, community, political, and liturgical. Psalm 149 should be seen in the context of this growing doxology.

Each of the five psalms in this final small collection begins and ends with the word Hallelujah, ‘Praise Yah(weh)’ or ‘Praise the Lord’. The collection is literally an expression of all parts of creation proclaiming praise. Correspondingly, there is also within this collection a focus on the various praiseworthy qualities of the Lord. Psalm 146 extends the catalogue of descriptive phrases already found in Psalm 145. Psalms 146-150 are then linked together through a number of catchwords and motifs. For example, the address to Zion in Ps 146:10 is picked up again in Ps 147:12, with a further reference to Zion in 149:2 and the location of Psalm 150 in the sanctuary itself (v. 1).

Yahweh’s kingship is reiterated throughout Psalms 146-150. It is stated in Ps 145:1 and taken up again in Ps 146:10. By comparison the power, steadfastness and plans of human leaders are deceptive. They cannot last (Ps 146:3-4). The point is underlined in Ps 147:10 with the use of holy war language. Yahweh’s strength does not lie in horses, which were used in late Old Testament times with war chariots, or with infantry. The motif is strengthened in Psalm 148 through the use of creation language. The one exalted over creation, especially over those things which symbolize chaos (the sea monsters and the deeps, Ps 148:7), is sovereign. In the end, with a touch of climax, we hear that the kings and princes of the earth will confirm what is patently clear from creation itself: Yahweh is king (cf. Ps 149:2). Ultimately this king will be victorious over the nations who continue to oppress Israel (Ps 149:6-9).

Psalm 149 needs particular comment in this collection. This psalm focuses on ‘the faithful’ (Heb. hasidim) who praise Yahweh. One might expect the subject to be all creation or ‘all flesh’ following Psalm 148 and anticipating Psalm 150. However, Psalm 149 takes us back to Yahweh’s own people. Moreover, they are not a people who have acted in their own strength or power. Verse 3 describes them as the ‘anawim (NRSV: ‘the humble’; elsewhere ‘the poor’). The same term has been used in the past to refer to those who are dependent upon Yahweh’s compassion (Pss 9:19; 10:17; 22:27; 25:9; 34:3; 69:33; 147:6). Yahweh’s people play a special role in the establishment and proclamation of Yahweh’s kingship. His people are not lost in the flood of kings, princes, young and old who join in Yahweh’s praise (Ps 148:11-12). Just as Zion is a cornerstone in that burgeoning praise (Psalm 147), so are Yahweh’s faithful.

Psalm 149 goes on, however, to speak of the faithful praising Yahweh ‘in their throats’ but having ‘a two-edged sword in their hands’ to execute ‘vengeance’ on the nations (vv. 7-9a). This vengeance, however, is not their own but ‘the judgment decreed’ (NRSV). The presumption in the context is that it is Yahweh’s judgment which is executed. A parallel can be drawn with Psalm 2 where Yahweh derides those who reject his reign saying he has set his king in Zion (Ps 2:6). Yahweh’s king is his weapon against his opponents. In Psalm 149 the faithful replace the king in his role. The functions of the king have been democratized. The ideal king in the Psalms, namely David, has become an exemplar. The faithful not only emulate him in terms of piety but they begin to fulfil the role the king once had. Moreover, while there is the chance for the nations to ‘be wise’ as Ps 2:10 says, there will still be those who oppose Yahweh’s ways and his faithful people, which is what Psalm 149 anticipates (cf. Ps 148:11-12).

The picture is an eschatological one with a vision of things yet to be; things that will only be achieved through struggle against those forces which oppose the life-giving ways of God for all creatures. That needs to be kept firmly in mind with these verses which, if taken literally, would seem to give justification to whatever campaign an individual might deem to be in praise of God. We have more than enough sectarian hatred and violence in the world. Scripture must be read in the context of Scripture. This psalm cannot be understood except as it is read in conjunction with biblical texts that place peace and God’s strength evident in human weakness and humility at the forefront. In Christian terms, read in the context of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

Verses 1-6a, or parts thereof, can be easily used with slight modifications as a call to worship. They may be organised into a responsive call:

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
praise the Lord in the assembly of the faithful.
Let us be glad in our Maker;
let us rejoice in our King.
Let them praise the Lord’s name with dancing,
making melody with tambourine and lyre.
For the Lord takes pleasure in the people;
adorning the humble with victory.
Let us exult in glory;
let us sing for joy.
Let the high praises of God be in your voices
and put aside all that oppresses and hinders
life, peace and joy.
This is glory for all the Lord’s faithful ones.
Praise the Lord!
Old Testament reading: Exodus 12:1-14

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