Going Deeper 10-30-19

The Psalm for All Saints Sunday…

Psalm 149    Praise the Lord!  Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.  Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.  Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.  For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.  Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.  Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron,  to execute on them the judgment decreed.  This is glory for all his faithful ones.  Praise the Lord!


What a lovely Psalm… at first!  As one of the five “Hallel Psalms” filled with praises of God which conclude the Book of Psalms, 149 adds an unexpected feature: vengeance upon our enemies.  What a strange verse: “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance…”


Scholars and commentators offer a wide variety of perspectives on this type of language and thought.  It is helpful to remember that Israel understood itself as a “theocracy”—The LORD was not only their God, but also the King of their nation.  God ruled and governed Israel, which meant (at least in their understanding) that their enemies were automatically God’s enemies, and He could be counted on to defeat them.


This perspective is consistent throughout the Old Testament.  Sometimes, when Israel was faithful to their covenant relationship with God, they were able to defeat enemies-- often when the odds were significantly against them, which showed that God actually did the fighting.  And when Israel was unfaithful, Israel’s defeats at the hand of their enemies were understood as punishment.


Honestly, I am not sure what to make of this.  There is no doubt that understanding itself as a Theocracy greatly impacted Israel’s history… and how it was understood and remembered.  But there is also little doubt that nations since then which have understood themselves as a type of theocracy have proven to be dangerous. 


The bottom line for us is this: we can be certain that Jesus clarified for us how God’s children are to relate now to our enemies—not with a two-edged sword of vengeance, but by praying for them and loving them.  The Kingdom of God is not built on weaponry or political strength, but upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with reconciliation and peace being our ultimate goal.


With You in His Love,


Mark Gabbert, Pastor
Zion Lutheran Church
Wellington, Colorado

"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."