Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Praise of God's People and the Mission of God: Learning to Pray Psalm 149

Psalm 149 moves the general call for all creational praise in Ps 148 to focus on the specific role played by God’s people within the mission of God.

Praise the Lord.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
    let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
    and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
    he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.
May the praise of God be in their mouths
    and a double-edged sword in their hands,
to inflict vengeance on the nations
    and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters,
    their nobles with shackles of iron,
to carry out the sentence written against them—
    this is the glory of all his faithful people.
Praise the Lord.

 Psalm 149 is a bold and daring psalm of praise that exhorts God’s people to announce God’s ultimate victory and live in light of it in the present.

Psalm 149 begins and ends with “Praise the LORD.” Psalm 149 provides the rationale for worship by focusing on God’s victory and on God’s people’s role in proclaiming it to the nations. Verse 1b invites God’s people to sing a “new song.” This language is typical of the Old Testament worship of God for a new work of God’s salvation (Isa 42:10; Pss 96:1, 98:1, 144:9). “New” reminds God’s people that God’s victories and acts are not merely past tense. There is an abundant future and God continues to move in the present to create it.  Verse 2 links this new song to the worship of God as the maker of God’s people as well as their true king.

Verse 3 is critical for understanding the meaning of Ps 149. It envisions God’s people praising God with dancing and playing of timbrel and harps. The language here is important. A review of contexts where God’s people deploy dancing and timbrels together in worship all involve God’s people celebrating a military victory over enemies (Exod 15:20–21, Judges 11:34, 1 Sam 18:6-7 cf. Ps 150:4). Significantly in these contexts, the worshippers played no role in the actual battle. They either celebrated the return of the warriors from battle or praised God for his sole role in securing an abundant future for God’s people. This is important because Psalm 149 contains imagery that may be misread as exhortations to violence. Verses 2–4 assume God’s kingdom has been fully established by God alone without the aid of any human power or weaponry. As verse 4 reminds us, God “crowns the humble with victory” rather than calling God’s people to fight literally against the nations to achieve victory.

What role then do God’s people serve in God’s mission? It is simple and audacious. God’s people function as witnesses who testify to the nations of God’s victory and greatness. They are to epitomize joy and gratitude to the LORD (v. 5).

Psalm 2 opened the Psalter by declaring the security of the future for God’s people through the reign of God as represented by the LORD’s Messiah. The nations were invited to find happiness and security along with God’s people by aligning with God’s purposes. Psalm 149:6–9 assume God’s victory over the nations. These verses contain violent imagery of battle but this language is metaphorical. God’s people win battles not with weapons fashioned by human hands but by embodying faith, love, and hope (Ephesians 6:10–17). God’s people testify to God’s good future through praise and worship. This is the privilege and glory of all who align with the LORD (149:9).
This prayer of praise is a crucial reminder to God’s people in whatever era we find ourselves of our mission to witness to God’s good, greatness, and final victory. We do this not with displays of human power or the flashing of weaponry, but with our voices singing out the good news of God.

How does this psalm teach us to pray?

What is the mission of God’s people?

How does this psalm envision God’s people responding to the nations that may rage against God and God’s mission?

1 comment:

  1. As people on this side of the cross we have the advantage of understanding "violent passages" through the lens of the cross. As you mentioned, God's people don't win battles with weapons. God's people, like Jesus, win battles through laying down our lives for the oppressed and the oppressors.

    The mission this Psalm helps us understand is the call to live as a community of a new reality - an alternative to the kingdoms of this world. We rejoice through laying down our lives in love for our enemies as opposed to rejoicing at the vanquishing of our enemies.

    I enjoyed your lectures this week. Thanks for letting me sit in.