Sunday, June 30, 2013

What is up with Psalm 149?

Recently, we've had a few opportunities to pray with Psalm 149 in Morning Prayer. I always find that Psalm kind of jarring. We start with "singing a new song" and we end up being "honored" to kill and imprison a lot a people.

My inner wanna-be Bible scholar told me it has to be about the exile and I was right. First, let's look at the Psalm:
Sing a new song to the Lord,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its maker,
let Zion’s sons exult in their king.
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation.
Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips
and a two-edged sword in their hand,
to deal out vengeance to the nations
and punishment on all the peoples;
to bind their kings in chains
and their nobles in fetters of iron;
to carry out the sentence pre-ordained;
this honor is for all his faithful.
Yes, we recite the whole Psalm in Morning Prayer. It's a short one. Here's where I get confused:

This awful little hymn (pardon the use of the HOLY NAME, by the way) is a cheery little number that was used all the freakin' time at my last parish. To think that this song is followed by blood shed is kind of crazy.

Yesterday, I bought my new favorite book

It's commentary on Psalm 149 is illuminating
An exilic or post-exilic psalm, depending on whether the event envisioned has already taken place or is yet to come. The event is God's deliverance of His people from exile and their restoration to Judah. The psalm envisions a reversal whereby Israel is the victor and its enemies the vanquished. The threefold repetition of the faithful emphasizes loyalty to God.
This gives us some essential clues as to what we are supposed to get out of this Psalm. As the Israelite were in exile, so are we in exile in a foreign land. Our true home is Heaven (Philippians 3:20) so we are, in a sense, exiles waiting to return.

In a Christian reading of the Psalm, this reversal is of the righteous and the unrepentant sinner. As the righteous now suffers, they will be vindicated. As many unrepentant sinners now live comfortable lives, they will be punished.

No, we are not supposed to rejoice in the pain of our enemies (Matthew 5:44). The end of this psalm is supposed to bother us if we are truly trying to imitate Jesus. It is part of our job on earth to  help make sure that other people make it to Heaven (Matthew 5:19). We don't want others to be put into chains. That's a normal, good response to this psalm. This psalm should lead us to prayer for those who aren't following God's will.

St. Gertrude the Great, pray for us

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