Psalms For Life
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Psalm 149

Battle hymn of God’s people

This world’s warfare deals out death and destruction. By contrast, YHWH crowns the humble with life, while those who resist his love end up in bondage, excluded from the irrepressible joy of God’s song.

Praise YHWH!
Sing YHWH a new song
his praise in the assembly of the committed.
2 Let Israel rejoice in its maker
Zion’s children celebrate their king.
3 Let them praise his name in dance
making music to him with tambourine and lyre
4 because YHWH delights in his people
and crowns the humble with victory.

5 Let the committed celebrate their glory
singing for joy from their beds.
6 With ecstatic praise of God in their mouths
and a two-edged sword in their hands
7 to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples
8 to bind their kings in shackles
all their power brokers in iron chains
9 enacting the sentence written against them.
This is the glory of all those devoted to God.
Praise YHWH!

Next to last among the Psalter’s five concluding praise psalms, this psalm calls God’s devoted people to sing a new song celebrating his epoch-making victory. By delivering his people—crowning them with victory over their oppressors—their maker, defender, redeemer, and king proves how much he delights in them. And God’s humble people celebrate with song and dance, like the Israelites freed from Egyptian slavery long before.

Many find the militarism of this psalm’s second part jarring: joyful praise and a lethal sword. However, God makes only the “humble” or “meek”—those Jesus later said would inherit the earth—his warriors. They seek God’s honor by fulfilling the prophet’s oracle against rebel nations. This is his people’s glory since they triumph alongside their divine king and know his irrepressible joy.

This psalm adds complexity to the Psalter in two ways. First, its judgment for kings and peoples contrasts with Psalm 148’s call for both to join in celebrating God’s greatness. Second, it presents God’s triumphing over the nations through his people, not through his anointed king, as Psalm 2 has it. Yet this psalm combines with Psalm 2 to frame the Psalter as a whole. Thus, we’re given two unresolved paradoxes, which doubtless left post-exilic Jews wondering just how God’s kingdom would come. Only in Jesus’ coming did they learn the answer.

You came to defeat evil, Jesus, as both God’s humble servant and conquering king. And you call me to fight as you fought, with weapons unlike those the world wields, yet weapons so powerful they can demolish enemy strongholds. I glory in your victory and in your calling me to share in it. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

YHWH delights in his people
and crowns the humble with victory.

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.