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Psalm 149

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.

This weekend I had the special honor of traveling to Mexico with a group of people from our church to visit with missionaries and ministries we support down there. During that time, we got to see the places where a number of our missionaries work and serve as well as we got to hear stories of the kinds of things that God is doing in places like Tijuana and Rosarito. One of the places we got to visit was a church community we have worked with for many, many years in East Tijuana. Before we came their pastor and his wife had to travel to another part of Mexico because of emergencies in his own family. Because of that, they asked if I would preach and lead communion in the church service on Sunday afternoon.

Worshipping in Spanish with the church community (we had a translator) was a marvelous gift of God for my faith. In that small Church of 30 people – including the six others I came with – we worshiped God together loudly and boldly. Whether I was singing in English or trying to sing in Spanish, and with the worship leader up front and the band shaking the floor, we sang a new song unto the Lord. In the midst of poverty, in the midst of a neighborhood run by gangs, in the midst of a city run by drug cartels, we sang of the Holiness and victory of God; we pushed back the darkness with our voices and we celebrated a God who is living and active.

Not only did we gather in song, we centred ourselves on the Word of God and we shared the communion table, the Lord’s Supper, the feast of our King. One of the things I love about the sacrament is that it is a meal that unites us, not only to Jesus and his victory over sin and death in the cross and the resurrection, but it is a meal that unites his people together as we literally take him in. In this way, the supper is a symbol of what he has done, but it is also a seal placed upon us as his people guaranteeing his full, final, future victory. In this way, the supper is both a looking back and it is a looking forward in hope that has an effect on the present reality in shaping us, in transforming us, more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.

It is a celebration of the victory of God in the past and the victory we yet anticipate in the future.

Psalm 149 does the same thing. Psalm 149 is a psalm of victory for the people of God based on the past acts of God in his making them as a people (vs. 2). I love this line from Alastair Roberts, “Israel is about to leave Egypt, the womb in which it has been growing. After the contractions of the plagues, the Passover is the start of labor. In the Red Sea the waters of the womb are broken and Israel, God’s firstborn son, passes through a narrow passage into the light of a new day, to be greeted by joyful songs on the other side. The Red Sea crossing is thus a birth event in which a new people are created.”[1] This is a people made to worship God from birth (vs. 3; cf. Exodus 15:20 where Miriam praises God with dancing and timbrel after coming through the Red Sea). And who continue praising God for restoring them after the exile – most scholars consider this Psalm to be used in worship some time after the return from Exile, during the construction and completion on the second temple. Finally, the psalmist's praise is filled with the hoped-for fulfillment of all God’s covenant promises to his people yet to come in the future (vs. 6-9).

From the beginning, God shows us he is victorious and he will be victorious. That's why we sing a new song.

But Jesus changed the song.

For the Israelites, this might have looked like literal warfare against the nations that rejected God. But even that warfare was revealing the depths of our collective sin and the transcendent holiness of God in whom no sin could abide. Instead of us being unable to abide in God because of our sin, God chose to abide in us in the incarnation of Jesus. And because of Jesus, because of the cross and the resurrection, because of the Holy Spirit, we now have new weapons; we have a new double-edged sword. I love the way John Calvin puts it: “As to the Church collective, the sword now put into our hand is of another kind, that of the word and spirit, that we may slay for a sacrifice to God, those who formerly were enemies, or again deliver them over to everlasting destruction unless they repent.”[2] He takes this idea from Ephesians 6, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph. 6:17) And from the Book of Hebrews, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) To mix metaphors this double-edge sword is what the Heidelberg Catechism refers to as one of the “keys of the Kingdom:” the word of God (HC, Q&A 83) - the other key being Christian discipline towards repentance. By these keys, or by wielding the double-edged sword, heaven is opened to those who would accept the gospel promise with true faith and closed by proclaiming “as long as they do not repent, the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them.” (HC, Q&A 84)

But the image of the double edge sword from Psalm 149 goes even further. It is connected to a promise of God spoken first in Isaiah 41. In chapter 41 the Isaiah writes of the Helper of Israel. He describes how it is God who will redeem them, how it is God who will save them long before the exile ever takes place. Isaiah is promising that God himself will be their savior, he will be their redeemer. He says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Is. 41:10) And then he says to the people Israel: “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth.” (Is. 41:15) The word translated “threshing sledge” is double-edged sword. God says he will be their hope, strength, and savior, and that they will become a double-edged sword. What we see in the gospel of Jesus is God's revelation of himself, but also how all the hopes and the promises that were connected to Israel get personified in him; he is the true and better Israel.[3] John opens his gospel by saying that Jesus is the word who took on flesh (Jn. 1:1-3; cf. Col. 1:15-19 and Heb. 11:3). Lastly, the Book of Revelation gives us a brilliant representation of Jesus as judge of the churches, writing, “In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Rev. 1:16)

All of this comes together to mean that, for us as Christians, our sword is the gospel of the Word of God which penetrates the heart, dividing bone and marrow; defeating our excuses and bolstering our faith. And our judge is also our justifier; the adjudicator is our advocate. As Christians, we live in light of this new victory: this victory past and this victory yet to come. And we know also from the book of Revelation that we have this victory now because of Christ's blood then and how that victorious reality will impact our lives in the present: “They triumphed over him [the dragon, the accuser, aka Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Rev. 12:11) – filling up our hope for what is to come.

This is the truth and a hope that transcends the natural barriers of language because it comes to us from a supernatural God who has defeated all the powers of sin and darkness and has called us to be his church, his bride, a new family of brothers and sisters. Whether in the slums of Tijuana or the suburbs of Murrayville, that is a new song we can sing together. 

Let all my life sing your praises. So captivate my heart by your beautiful gospel and the majesty of Jesus that I can’t but “rejoice in this honor and sing for joy.” Help me to love your word as your gift to your people and to proclaim it to the nations – that in hearing they might be found by you. In Jesus’ name, Amen! 

[1] Alastair Roberts, “Rightly Dividing the Red Sea” for The Gospel Coalition, March 3, 2020. Accessed online.
[2] Calvin, Commentary, (Vol. 6 |Psalms 93-150), 5.316.
[3] The thematic whole of the gospel of Matthew goes to lengths to make this point, but perhaps most explicitly cf. Matthew 2: 14-15.