Expositor's Bible Commentary
Praise ye the LORD. Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.Psalm 149:1-9IN the preceding psalm Israel’s restoration was connected with the recognition by all creatures and especially by the kings of the earth and their people, of Jehovah’s glory. This psalm presents the converse thought, that the restored Israel becomes the executor of judgments on those who will not join in the praise which rings from Israel that it may be caught up by all. The two psalms are thus closely connected. The circumstances of the Restoration accord with the tone of both, as of the other members of this closing group.
The happy recipients of new mercy are, as in Psalm 96:1-13; Psalm 98:1-9, summoned to break into new songs. Winter silences the birds; but spring, the new "life reorient out of dust," is welcomed with music from every budding tree.
Chiefly should God’s praise sound out from "the congregation of His favoured ones," the long-scattered captives who owe it to His favour that they are a congregation once more. The jubilant psalmist delights in that name for Israel, and uses it thrice in his song. He loves to set forth the various names, which each suggest some sweet strong thought of what God is to the nation and the nation to God-His favoured ones, Israel, the children of Zion, His people, the afflicted. He heaps together synonyms expressive of rapturous joy-rejoice, be glad, exult. He calls for expressions of triumphant mirth in which limbs, instruments, and voices unite. He would have the exuberant gladness well over into the hours of repose and the night be made musical with ringing shouts of joy. "Praise is better than sleep," and the beds which had often been privy to silent tears may well be witnesses of exultation that cannot be dumb.
The psalmist touches very lightly on the reason for this outburst of praise, because he takes it for granted that so great and recent mercy needed little mention. One verse (Psalm 149:4) suffices to recall it. The very absorption of the heart in its bliss may make it silent about the bliss. The bride needs not to tell what makes her glad. Restored Israel requires little reminder of its occasion for joy. But the brief mention of it is very beautiful. It makes prominent, not so much the outward fact, as the Divine pleasure in His people, of which the fact was effect and indication. Their affliction had been the token that God’s complacency did not rest on them; their deliverance is the proof that the sunlight of His face shines on them once more. His chastisements rightly borne are ever precursors of deliverance, which adorns the meek afflicted, giving "beauty for ashes." The qualification for receiving Jehovah’s help is meekness, and the effect of that help on the lowly soul is to deck it with strange loveliness. Therefore God’s favoured ones may well exult in glory-i.e., on account of the glory with which they are invested by His salvation.
The stern close of the psalm strikes a note which many ears feel to be discordant, and which must be freely acknowledged to stand on the same lower level as the imprecatory psalms, while, even more distinctly than these, it is entirely free from any sentiment of personal vengeance. The picture of God’s people going forth to battle, chanting His praises and swinging two-edged swords, shocks Christian sentiment. It is not to be explained away as meaning the spiritual conquest of the world with spiritual weapons. The psalmist meant actual warfare and real iron fetters. But, while the form of his anticipations belongs to the past and is entirely set aside by the better light of Christianity, their substance is true forever. Those who have been adorned with Jehovah’s salvation have the subjugation of the world to God’s rule committed to them. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." There are stronger fetters than those of iron, even "the cords of love" and "the bands of a man."
"The judgment written," which is to be executed by the militant Israel on the nations does not seem to have reference either to the commandment to exterminate the Canaanites or to the punishments threatened in many places of Scripture. It is better to take it as denoting a judgment "fixed, settled written thus by God Himself" (Perowne). Psalm 149:9 b may be rendered (as Hupfeld does) "Honour [or, majesty] is He to all His favoured ones," in the sense that God manifests His majesty to them, or that He is the object of their honouring; but the usual rendering is more in accordance with the context and its high-strung martial ardour. "This"-namely, the whole of the crusade just described-is laid upon all Jehovah’s favoured ones, by the fact of their participation in His salvation. They are redeemed from bondage that they may be God’s warriors. The honour and obligation are universal.