Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
History supplies a terrible comment on this psalm. “Under the illusion that it might be used as a prayer without any spiritual transmutation, Psalms 149. has become the watchword of the most horrible errors. It was by means of this psalm that Caspar Scloppius, in his Classicum Bibliœ Sacrœ, which, as Bakius says, is written, not with ink but with blood, inflamed the Roman Catholic princes to the thirty years’ religious war and in the Protestant Church Thomas Monzen stirred up the war of the peasants by means of this psalm” (Delitzsch).
So the fanaticism and cruelty of times that should have been more enlightened have been fed by the record the Jews have left of their blended religious and patriotic zeal. The age when such a psalm was most likely to be produced was undoubtedly that of the Maccabees, and the coincidence between Psalm 149:6 of the psalm and 2 Maccabees 15:27 may indicate the very series of events amid which, with hymns of praise in their throats, and a two-edged sword in their hand, the chasîdîm in battle after battle claimed and won the honour of executing vengeance on Jehovah’s foes. The synthetic parallelism is finely marked.
Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.(1) A new song.—See Psalm 33:3.
The congregation.—Apparently the psalm puts us in the Maccabæan age, when the chasîdîm was become a regular title for the patriotic party.
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.(3) In the dance.—Rather, as margin, with the pipe. The use of the word machôl in what was evidently a list of all the orchestral instruments used in the Temple in the next psalm, would alone be almost decisive of the meaning. But one possible derivation is certainly in favour of this rendering, as also the translation in the Syriac version by the name of a flute still found in Syria. Its connection, too, with the timbrel or drum (comp. our pipe and tabor), just as a cognate, chalîl, is connected in 1Samuel 10:5; Isaiah 5:12, points the same way. (See Bible Educator, i. p. 70, and Note to Song of Solomon 6:13.)
Timbrel.—See Exodus 15:20; Bible Educator, i. 314.
Harp.—See Psalm 33:2.
For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.(4) He will beautify the meek . . .—Rather, He adorns the oppressed with salvation. Not only is the victory which achieves the deliverance of the afflicted people a relief to them, but the honour won in the sight of the world is like a beautiful robe, a figure no doubt suggested by the actual triumphal dresses of the victors, or the spoils in which they appeared after the battle. (Comp. Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:7; Isaiah 61:3; Judges 5:30.)
Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.(5) The two clauses are directly parallel:
“Let the chasîdîm raise a cry in glory:
Let them sing aloud upon their couches.”
Either the rejoicing is carried far into the night, and when retired to rest the happy people burst ‘out anew into singing; or (see Hosea 7:14), the couches may rather be the divans where feasts were held.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;(6) High praises.—Literally, exaltations of celebration, i.e., hymns of praise.
To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people;(7) Heathen . . . people.—Rather, nations . . . peoples.
To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the LORD.(9) The judgment written.—If we knew the exact circumstance which produced the psalm, and had the names of the nobles and princes taken prisoners, we should easily guess at the contents of the “judgment written,” which was, perhaps, some special order, the carrying out of which is celebrated here; or we may think of the judgments against the nation registered here and there in the sacred books, and so by prescription made legitimate, such as that of the Canaanites, Amalekites, &c; or we may give the phrase a still more general sense, as in Isaiah 65:6 : “Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom.” Ought we not, however, to read the verse: To execute judgment upon them. It is written, This honour have all his saints.
This honour.—Israel is here regarded as the instrument of God’s righteous judgments on the heathen.