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This Psalm, like the others of the series of which it forms a part, bears evident traces both in style and language, and in the feelings which it expresses, of belonging to the post-exile literature. It was probably composed soon after the return from the captivity in Babylon. “It breathes,” says Perowne, “the spirit of intense joy and eager hope which must have been in the very nature of things characteristic of the period which succeeded the return from the Babylonish captivity. Men of strong faith and religious enthusiasm and fervent loyalty must have felt that in the very fact of the restoration of the people to their own land was to be seen so signal a proof of the Divine favour, that it could not but be regarded as a pledge of a glorious future yet in store for the nation. The burning sense of wrong, the purpose of a terrible revenge, which was the feeling uppermost when they had first escaped from their oppressors (as in Psalms 137:0), was soon changed into the hope of a series of magnificent victories over all the nations of the world, and the setting up of a universal dominion. It is such a hope which is expressed here. The old days of the nation and the old martial spirit are revived. God is their King (Psalms 149:2), and they are His soldiers, going forth to wage His battles, with His praises in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hands. A spirit which now seems sanguinary and revengeful had, it is not too much to say, its proper function under the Old Testament, and was not only natural but necessary, if that small nation was to maintain itself against the powerful tribes by which it was hemmed in on all sides. But it ought to require no proof that language like that of Psalms 149:6-9 of this Psalm is no warrant for the exhibition of a similar spirit in the Christian Church.”
THE JUBILANT PEOPLE OF GOD
The summons to praise in this Psalm is addressed to the people of God. He is to be praised “in the congregation of saints. Let Israel rejoice in Him,” &c. The tone of the Psalm is intensely joyous. Let us notice—
I. The reasons of their rejoicing.
1. The mercies received by them from God. That they had received recent and great mercies from God is implied in the summons to “sing unto Him a new song.” The new song was for some new and special occasion for praise. Probably the mercies to be thus celebrated were the return from captivity, and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and of the Temple. And these blessings had awakened new hopes which were also to find expression in the new song. In the life of the people of God new mercies are ever calling for new songs. His goodness should enkindle the gratitude and joy of His people.
2. The relationships sustained by them to God.
(1.) They are His subjects. “Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” Barnes: “In God as their King. (a.) That they have a King, or that there is One to rule over them. (b.) That they have such a King; One so wise, so powerful, so good. (c.) That He administers His government with so much efficiency, impartiality, equity, wisdom, goodness.” Perowne: “Such a King will not leave them under foreign rule; He will break the yoke of every oppressor from their neck.” Let the Christian rejoice that he is a subject of the Lord Jesus.
(2.) They are His saints. “The congregation of saints. Let Israel rejoice in Him that made him. Jehovah taketh pleasure in His people. Let the saints be joyful in glory.” They are His people and His saints because He has made them what they are. He selected and called the Israelites to their high spiritual privileges; He made them His own covenant-people. Christians are now made by Him. “All that they have and are is to be traced to Him, as really as the universe of matter is to be traced to His power. Their condition is not one of development, or one which is the result of their own wisdom, grace, or power;” but of His grace and power.
(3.) They are His delight. “Jehovah taketh pleasure in His people.” He regards them with complacency. He taketh pleasure (a) in their progress and prosperity; (b) in their worship and service; (c) in their future destiny. He has provided heaven for them, and He is preparing them for heaven. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.”
3. The adorning wrought in them by God. “He beautifieth the meek with salvation.” The primary significance of these words is well expressed by Moll: “The help which God vouchsafes to His oppressed people against their oppressors is not merely manifested to the world as deliverance and salvation generally, but serves also as an ornament and honour to that people themselves, so that, coming forth arrayed in it, they gain for it recognition and praise (Isaiah 55:5; Isaiah 60:7; Isaiah 60:9; Isaiah 60:13; Isaiah 61:3; Isaiah 62:7).” God’s spiritual salvation is a beautifying of the human character and life. The lowly and meek He clothes with Divine grace. “The beauty of the Lord our God is upon them.” “Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” For all these reasons let the people of God rejoice in Him.
II. The character of their rejoicing.
1. It is religious. They are called to “sing unto Jehovah;” to “rejoice in Him;” and to “praise His Name.” Their exultation is not sinful or selfish, but holy and in honour of God.
2. It is constant. Both by day and “in the congregation of saints,” and also by night and “upon their beds.” They are to cultivate an abiding spirit of pious gladness; to “rejoice evermore.”
3. It is intense. The number of times and the various forms of expression employed by the Psalmist in calling upon them to rejoice, and the various modes in which he calls upon them to express their joy, show that the joy is deep and full, active and abounding.
III. The expression of their rejoicing.
The poet calls upon Israel to express their joy—
1. With “a new song.” The exultant soul naturally speaks the language of poetry in the tones of music. New mercies demanded “a new song.” They required “a new song” also to express “all the new hopes and joys of a new era, a new spring of the nation, a new youth of the Church bursting forth into a new life.”
“Thus far His arm hath led us on;
Thus far we make His mercy known:
And while we tread this desert land,
New mercies shall new songs demand.”
2. With music and dancing. “Let them praise His Name in the dance; let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp.” “The dance,” says Dr. Hayman, “is spoken of in Holy Scripture universally as symbolical of some rejoicing, and is often coupled for the sake of contrast with mourning, as in Ecclesiastes 3:4, ‘a time to mourn and a time to dance’ (comp. Psalms 30:11; Matthew 11:17). In the earlier period it is found combined with some song or refrain (Exodus 15:20; Exodus 32:18-19; 1 Samuel 21:11); and with the tambourine (A. V., ‘timbrel’), moreespecially in those impulsive outbursts of popular feeling which cannot find sufficient vent in the voice or in gesture singly.… Women among the Hebrews made the dance their especial means of expressing their feelings.” But, as Barnes remarks, “there is much in the Hebrew mode of worship which cannot be transferred to the forms of Christian worship without an obvious incongruity and disadvantage; and because a thing has been done, and is not in itself wrong, we should not infer that it should always be done, or that it would be always best.” Yet whatever is seemly and suitable in music may be employed as an aid in the expression of religious joy.
3. Both in public and in private. “In the congregation of saints,” and “upon their beds.” In the public assemblies for religious worship we should extol our King and our God. And in the quiet of the night our holy joy may rise to Him in songs of praise. The godly man praises God both in the chamber and in the church.
Let Christians see their privilege, and cultivate and exhibit a spirit of religions thankfulness and joy. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: again I say, Rejoice.”
THE PEOPLE AND PLEASURE OF THE LORD
“For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people.”
I. The people.
1. They have a special relation to God.
2. They are regenerated and sanctified by His Spirit.
3. They are conformed to His image.
4. They are zealous for His glory.
II. The pleasure.
I. In their persons.
2. In their welfare.
3. In their services.
4. In their graces.
5. In their fellowship.
(1.) Are we the Lord’s people?
(2.) Do we realise our privilege as the objects of the Divine delight?
(3.) Do we delight in God?—George Brooks.
“THE BEAUTIES OF HOLINESS”
“He beautifieth the meek with salvation.”
“Salvation” is a word which is used by men to represent very different things. The lowest conception of it is that miserably selfish one of deliverance from punishment and the realisation of happiness. The highest is perhaps this, the attainment of spiritual beauty, becoming like Christ, finding our heaven in God. Salvation beautifies human character and life. I fear we are not sufficiently alive to the importance of beauty in the culture of character. God has made the soul receptive of the beautiful, capable of appreciating it, and profiting by it; and “He hath made everything beautiful in its time,” to minister to man’s thirst for beauty. The beautiful in character is for many reasons the highest beauty. This God promises to the meek. How many blessings come to the meek which the proud never receive! “The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way.” “The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” “The Lord lifteth up the meek” “The High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity dwelleth with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” “Thus saith the Lord, To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” “Jehovah beautifieth the meek with salvation.”
Meekness in itself is beautiful. Who does not love the modest violet? “The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price.” Our Lord Jesus is “meek and lowly in heart.” Haughtiness repels; meekness attracts.
Meekness is further beautified with salvation. Salvation is the transforming of our morally disfigured natures into glorious and unfading beauty.
I. Salvation promotes physical beauty.
Sin is moral ugliness; and it tends to produce physical ugliness. The sins of the drunkard, and glutton, and sensualist, banish refinement, purity, and beauty from the features, and make them coarse, vulgar, and brutal. Every debauch thickens the lips, dims the fire of the eye, effaces something of the spiritual from the countenance, and stamps it with something animal or even brutal. Now, as salvation promotes temperance, chastity, and spirituality, it also promotes physical beauty. Purity of heart will gradually and silently mould even coarse features into refinement and comeliness. Again, evil passions deform their victims I once saw three portraits of one man, taken at different periods of his life. There was that of youth—fair, beautiful, and apparently ingenuous; there was that of young manhood, still fair and beautiful, but with more of maturity and less of ingenuousness; there was that of the man still young in years, but old in passion, old in sin; and now the features are hard, cynical, bitter, repulsive, reminding one of his own words—
“To be thus—
Grey-hair’d with anguish, like these blasted pines,
Wrecks’ of a single winter, barkless, branchless,
A blighted trunk upon a cursed root,
Which but supplies a feeling to decay—
And to be thus, eternally but thus,
Having been otherwise!”
But while evil passions darken and scar the features, salvation, which curbs and conquers evil passion, and imparts calmness and peace and love, gives repose and sweetness and beauty of countenance. If truth and purity, spirituality and meekness, peace and love are ours, they will inform the features with a spiritual and divine beauty.
II. Salvation is spiritual beauty.
“Beauty is the robe of holiness: the more holiness, the more beauty.”
1. The beauty of salvation resembles the beauty of God Himself. Moses prayed, “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” Meekness and patience, truth and righteousness, purity and love,—these constitute the infinite loveliness of the ever-blessed God; and these are the beauties with which He adorns the meek. All human beauty is but a reflection of “the beauty of the Lord our God.” Every grace that adorns human character is a ray from the splendours of the loveliness of the Infinite.
2. This beauty is varied. The beauty of creation is varied. Each of the seasons has its own peculiar charm. There are the beauties of the sea and shore, the beauties of wild mountain districts, and the beauties of quiet, fertile, pastoral scenes. So spiritual beauty is varied. In Mary we have the beauty of a receptive, meditative, deep, deathless love; in Martha that of an active, careful, ministering, and equally deathless love; in Job we have the beauty of trust in God sorely tested and sublimely triumphant; in Paul the beauty of a self-surrender and earnestness which has never been surpassed by man, &c.
The totality of beauty is found only in Jesus Christ He is the “Altogether Lovely.”
3. This beauty is immortal. The beauty of flowers soon perishes. The beauty of “the human face divine” is short-lived even at the longest. As our great dramatist says—
“Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good,
A shining gloss that fadeth suddenly;
A flower that dieth when first it ’gins to bud;
A brittle glass that’s broken presently;
A doubtful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, faded, broken, dead within an hour.”
But spiritual beauty is a pure good, and it never perishes. “Truth, love, and holiness are Divine, and always young and beautiful. The beauties with which they invest the soul have nothing temporal about them; they are the beauties of eternity.” The beauties of salvation are unfading.
4. This beauty is ever-increasing. The meek, rejoicing in perpetual youth, will increase in loveliness through all eternity. The redeemed soul will become invested with more and more of the Divine beauty for evermore.
Let us seek to be beautified with salvation. We have not sufficiently thought of salvation as an adornment, a thing of light and loveliness. We have not sufficiently sought to add sweetness to strength, and tenderness to integrity of character. Too often the thought of our safety has filled our mind to the exclusion of the nobler solicitude to be beautiful with Divine grace and radiance. Yet we are being saved only “so as by fire” if we are not growing in amiability and loveliness. Oh, seek to be “beautified with salvation”!
THE MILITANT PEOPLE OF GOD
In interpreting this portion of the Psalm we shall do well to heed the words of Delitzsch: “The dream that it was possible to use such a prayer as this, without a spiritual transubstantiation of the words, has made them the signal for some of the greatest crimes with which the Church has ever been stained. It was by means of this Psalm that Casper Sciopius in his ‘Clarion of the Sacred War’ (Classicum Belli Sacri), a work written, it has been said, not with ink, but with blood, roused and inflamed the Roman Catholic Princes to the Thirty Years’ War. It was by means of this Psalm that, in the Protestant community, Thomas Münzer fanned the flames of the War of the Peasants. We see from these and other instances that when in her interpretation of such a Psalm the Church forgets the words of the Apostle, ‘the weapons of our warfare are not carnal’ (2 Corinthians 10:4), she falls back upon the ground of the Old Testament, beyond which she has long since advanced,—ground which even the Jews themselves do not venture to maintain, because they cannot altogether withdraw themselves from the influence of the light which has dawned in Christianity, and which condemns the vindictive spirit. The Church of the Old Testament, which, as the people of Jehovah, was at the same time called to wage a holy war, had a right to express its hope of the universal conquest and dominion promised to it, in such terms as those of this Psalm; but, since Jerusalem and the seat of the Old Testament worship have perished, the national form of the Church has also for ever been broken in pieces. The Church of Christ is built up among and out of the nations; but neither is the Church a nation, nor will ever again one nation be the Church, κατʼ ἐξόχην. Therefore the Christian must transpose the letter of this Psalm into the spirit of the New Testament.”
We may use these verses as suggesting certain features of the spiritual warfare of the Church of Christ.
I. The true spirit of the Church militant.
The people of God in this world are a combatant people. They have enemies which they must war against. They have to contend against evil
(1) in themselves. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit,” &c. “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection,” &c. Starke: “Wage a good warfare against thyself above all; take vengeance and inflict punishment upon the heathenish desires of thy heart; strike down with the sword of the Spirit what contends against God and His honour.” They have to contend against evil
(2) in the world. Satan is active in human society. Wicked men are arrayed against the cause of God. Sinful principles and practices are mighty upon earth. Against these Christians have to do battle. They have to conquer the world to Christ by the power of His grace and truth. The spirit in which they should wage this warfare is indicated in the text: With “the high praises of God in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand.” Let them go into the conflict with songs; let their spirit be that of triumphant trust in God. The victories of truth and grace are never won either by cowards or by the self-confident, but by those whose strength is in God, and whose courage is inspired by Him. Not with craven fears, but with confident hopes, let the soldiers of Christ war their warfare.
II. The trusty weapon of the Church militant
“A two-edged sword in their hand.” The grand weapon in Christian warfare is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” “The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” The only weapon which can slay error is truth. The only power which can convert men to God is His own power in the Gospel. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God,” &c. Many and glorious victories have already been won by this weapon, and yet wider and more brilliant triumphs will be achieved by it in the future.
III. The Divine warrant of the Clhurch militant.
“To execute upon them the judgment writtell.” Various interpretations have been given to these words; some of which we need not mention here. The correct view, we think, will be found in this brief quotation from Perowne: “Others understand by ‘a judgment written’ one in accordance with the Divine will as written in Scripture, as opposed to selfish aims and passions (so Calvin). But perhaps it is better to take it as denoting a judgment fixed, settled—as committed to writing, so as to denote its permanent, unalterable character—written thus by God Himself. As in Isaiah 65:6, God says, ‘Behold, it in written before Me,’ &c.” Christians have a Divine commission for their holy warfare. That warfare accords with the purposes and plans of God.” As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” “Go ye, make disciples of all the nations,” &c. “Go ye into all the world, and preach,” &c. And He who thus sends them forth, promises to be with them, and to conduct them to complete victory.
IV. The grand design of the Church militant.
“This honour have all His saints.” More correctly, “It is a11 houour for all His saints.” “That is,” says Perowne, “the subjection of the world described in the previous verses. But perhaps it is better to take the pronoun as referring to God: ‘He is a glory to all,’ &c.: i.e., either
(1) His glory and majesty are reflected in His people; or
(2) He is the autllor and fountain of their glory; or
(3) He is the glorious object of their praise.” The latter seems to us the true interpretation. The glory of the victory of the Church in the subjection of all the world to God will be entirely His in the eyes of all His people. All the praise and honour they will ascribe to Him. The glory of God is the grand end of the work and warfare of the Church. God shall “be all in all.” “It should lead us to shout ‘Hallelujah,’ that we are permitted to be employed in any way, however humble, in carrying out the Divine plans, or in accomplishing those great designs which He contemplates toward our race” “Praise ye Jehovah.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 149". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany