If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 149 as we continue towards the end of the Psalter and as we continue through this series of praise psalms that began with 146. It's entirely possible that this psalm flows out of the final verse of the psalm that we looked at last Lord's Day Evening, Psalm 148 verse 14. “He has raised up a horn for His people, for the people of Israel who are near to Him.” The focus of this psalm is entirely upon the people of God and especially the people of God in the context of a great victory that God has won for them. Their horn has been exalted. So it's entirely possible that Psalm 149 flows out of the thought of Psalm 148 verse 14.
Now another thing about this psalm is that it looks like a victory psalm, the kind of a song that would have been sung after some great military deliverance or some great military conquest in the history of Israel. I’ll give you some of the reasons for that in just a few moments. Many have suggested, as a possible occasion for this psalm, something that might be related to the deliverance from Babylon. That is, it's suggested that this song may have been sung by the people of God after they had been brought out of exile back into their own land, having been brought out of Babylon and back to Jerusalem.
It begins and ends like these other psalms of praise from Psalm 146 forward with a call to praise, a formal call to praise, with the word, “Praise the LORD” and it ends the same way. Now within those two hallelujahs at the beginning and the end, you will notice three parts to this psalm – verses 1 to 3, verse 4, and verses 5 to 9. The first part of the psalm will be found in verses 1 to 3. Here, you find a comprehensive command to God's people to worship God. The exhortation is, “Sing a new song,” and then a very comprehensive instruction is given along with that exhortation to sing a new song. That's the first part of Psalm 149. The second part you see in verse 4. In verse 4 we are given a double reason for worshiping God. It is not uncommon in the Psalms for a call to praise to be answered with a “for” or a “because.” “Praise the LORD for He is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting!” So there's a call to praise, in many psalms, followed by the reason why we ought to worship God. And we see the same thing here in verse 4 of Psalm 148. We ought to sing to the Lord a new song. Why? Because of God's delight in His people and God's deliverance of His people. So in one verse, two reasons are given to worship God. And then the third part of the psalm you’ll see in verses 5 to 9 and here we encounter an unexpected, even a surprising way, that the people of God are called on to worship Him. They are to participate in the judgment of God's enemies. And that's one of the major themes of verses 5 to 9.
Let's look to the Lord in prayer before we hear His Word read and proclaimed.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the privilege of Your house at the end of Your day. Thank You for the psalms which You have put into our mouths. Thank you for the redemption that we have in Christ. And as we come to this song of praise again, we pray that You would teach us from it what it is to praise You, how it is that we are to praise You, why it is that we are to praise You, and then that You would grant by Your Spirit that we would do this from the very depth of our being, that there would be no insincerity, there would be no simulation of praise, but that our worship of You would represent the deepest desires and realities of our hearts. We ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it in Psalm 149 beginning in verse 1:
“Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his 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 salvation. Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all His godly ones. Praise the LORD!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This psalm so clearly set in the context of some great, late, Old Testament victory that God has provided for His people, gives us, as believers, living under the glories of the new covenant, ample instruction for the praise of God. And I want to look at this psalm especially from the standpoint of the new covenant, especially from the standpoint of our privileges as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and what this psalm calls on us to do. But I want to do that without failing to pay close attention to the original context of the psalm. So let's look at three things together tonight.
SING A NEW SONG
First, looking at verses 1 to 3 and the exhortation to Israel to sing a new song, and looking specifically at the comprehensive command of God that we find there, I want you to see this. We’re being taught here in this exhortation that we are to worship the Lord for His greatest deliverance with all that we have and are. This psalm begins after the exhortation in general, “Praise the LORD!” with this very specific exhortation. “Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his 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!” And I want you to notice the various parts of this very specific and comprehensive exhortation. First of all, they’re told to sing a new song. Now that's not the first time that phrase has been used in the Psalter. It's used at least a half dozen occasions. And usually it's an exhortation for the children of Israel to sing a song to God on a new occasion of His deliverance. And so the first thing that we're told is that we're to sing a new song.
Secondly, notice to whom this exhortation is directed. It is clearly directed to the people of God. Three phrases are used to indicate this. We’re told to sing the new song “in the assembly of the godly.” Clearly this is the gathering of God's people, the assembly of God in the wilderness. Secondly, notice that they’re called “Israel,” and then third they are denominated the “children of Zion.” So in three ways it's made clear that it's the people of God that are to sing this new song. Specifically, what are they to do? They are to praise God as their Maker and as their King. Just like we hear Wiley tell the young children tonight that our Maker is our Savior, the children of Israel were to say that their Maker was their King, who was their Deliverer. He was the one who had led the great victory to save them from their enemies. So they were to affirm exactly what Wiley told our children that we are to affirm when we praise God on the Lord's Day. Our Maker is our Savior.
Then, very interestingly, we're told that we're to do this “with dancing, singing, and musical instruments.” Now this is a very consternating verse to Presbyterians! And we may scratch our heads and wonder if we've been missing a vital element of worship! But it's precisely this that I want to show to you shows that what is happening here is a victory song on a great occasion of deliverance. Because when you see tambourines and lyres and dancing in the Old Testament, they only occur on very specific, very special occasions — not in temple worship, not in tabernacle worship, not in the private worship or the public worship of the patriarchs, but in very specific national contexts. Let me ask you to turn with me to three of them just to illustrate.
First, turn back to Exodus chapter 15. This is the primary, this is the first example of what this psalm describes, and of course it's the victory song that's led by Miriam and the women after the Red Sea. After the children of Israel cross the Red Sea on dry ground, after the army of Pharaoh and his chariots are destroyed, Miriam, in Exodus 15 beginning in verse 20, leads the people of God in this national celebration, this national praise to God. And we read in Exodus 15:20, “Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.’” And so we see the same kind of exuberance that's described in Psalm 149 verse 3 played out in Exodus 15 verses 20 and 21 as the people of God celebrate God's victory over Pharaoh in the Red Sea and God's deliverance of the children of Israel through the Red Sea. But this is not the last time we see this.
Turn forward in your Bibles to the book of Judges. Turn to the book of Judges. In Judges chapter 11, in that heart-stopping story of Jephthah, remember Jephthah the judge who is going to lead the people of God in battle, and he makes a vow that if the Lord will give him victory, when he goes back home the very first thing that comes to meet him he’ll offer as a sacrifice. And we read the story — but don't get too sidetracked with that part of the story; I just want you to see this. Judges 11 beginning in verse 32 — “So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand.” And we're told in the first part of verse 33 that twenty cities were given into the hand of Jephthah. This is no small victory. This is a wipe out. And then we read this. “So the Ammonites were subdued before he people of Israel. Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.” Now the important thing that I want you to note there is this great military victory of Jephthah the judge over the Ammonites is celebrated by his daughter, just like in Exodus 15, with tambourine and with dancing.
And there's another example of this too. Turn forward to 1 Samuel chapter 18. In 1 Samuel chapter 18, this is when David has just been appointed as a leader in the army of Israel. And in 1 Samuel 18:5 we read, “David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul's servants. As they were coming home” — David's coming home after a great victory — “when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’” And of course it's that song that got David in hot water with Saul, who didn't like being second fiddle to David in the praises of the people. But again, you see the same manifestation. Great victory is won by David over the Philistine, it's celebrated in this national victory assembly, and Psalm 149:3 seems to be picking up precisely those kinds of occasions. It's a call upon the people of God to sing a new song.
So you have to ask the question, “What is the new occasion that causes the children of Israel to sing this new song?” And you are not left without an answer in the Scriptures. We are told point blank by John on the island of Patmos in the vision given to him by God, which we call Revelation, twice, first in Revelation 5:9 and then again in Revelation 14:3, that the song of the redeemed to God, to the Lamb, is the new song. Turn with me there, to Revelation chapter 14, and we read this. Beginning in verse 2 — “I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps” — notice the musical instrument — “and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”
Now if you turn back to Revelation chapter 5 verse 9, you’re told the content of the song. Revelation 5:9 — “They sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” And they go on to sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” That is the new song. And so this psalm anticipates that scene — the final victory of the Lamb over all the forces that are arrayed against God, over all the forces that are arrayed against God's people, and God's people are going to worship Him with a new song with all that we have and are.
Now Paul certainly picks up on this scene, doesn't he, in Romans chapter 12. Would you turn with me there? And he exhorts us right now to worship God with all that we have and are. “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers” — Romans 12:1 — “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by the testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And so Paul calls on us to worship God with all that we are. We are to present out bodies, even, as living sacrifices. We’re to worship Him with all that we have and are. And even as the great victory celebrations of the Old Testament picture God's people just giving themselves in the totality of who they are as they dance, as they sing. And I've been trying to picture in my mind what's the closest thing that we could come to, to describe this today, it's probably some sort of a sporting event that you've seen when the crowd is spontaneously singing and sort of moving their bodies in the aisles and rejoicing over some great victory. Unless you've been involved in some sort of military activity in which there's been a conquest in deliverance, that's probably the closest thing that we can picture. But the whole idea is the giving of the whole of ourselves to God in praise. And that's the first thing that we see in this psalm.
WORSHIP THE LORD BECAUSE OF THE GOSPEL
And the second thing is this, and you’ll see it in verse 4. The psalmist tells us why we're to give ourselves to God this way. He tells us that we're to give ourselves in worship to God, all that we have and are, but secondly he tells us why we're to do that. We’re to worship the Lord because He delights in us and because He has delivered us at the cost of His Son. Listen to what the psalmist says. “For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation.” Now in its original context, picture something like this. The people of God have been saved out of the long Babylonian exile. Over and over in that exile they had asked, and the question was in the mouths of their prophets, “Has the Lord forsaken His people? Has the Lord abandoned His people? Has the Lord failed to fulfill His promise to His people that He would be their God and they would be His people?” And the psalmist, here, says “the Lord takes pleasure in His people.” The picture is this — as the exiles have come out of the land of captivity and back to their own land, they say, “Lord, we are now experiencing Your pleasure in Your people. It pleased You to bring us out of captivity. You had not forgotten us. You had not abandoned us. You had not forsaken us. You remembered us and You brought us out of our trouble and You brought us back home. Lord, now we know You take pleasure in Your people.”
And then they go on to say, “And He adorns the humble with salvation.” Though they had been brought low, though they were weak in the eyes of the nation, He brought them back out of captivity and He exalted them. How does the new covenant believer sing these verses? He sings these verses thinking about God's delight. How is God's delight manifested to the new covenant believer? That the one who is offered in our place on the cross is God's own beloved Son. Does He love me? Look who is on the cross for me. Does the Lord delight in His people? Look who He has given that His people might be saved, might be forgiven, might be spared the judgment due their sin. Look who He has given that we might be welcomed back into His family, might enjoy His inheritance. Look at what He has given. Mark the sacrifice appointed. He has given His only begotten Son.
This is why C.H. Spurgeon used to say that when you look at the cross you have to ask yourself the question, “Does God love His people more than He loves His own Son?” And you have to ask that question very carefully because if you say, “Yes,” to that question you’re a heretic. But Spurgeon's point was this — when you look at the cross and you see God giving His Son for His people, the question is, “If God can love us at the expense, at the cost of His own Son, what must that say about His love for His people? How great must His love for His people be if He is giving that as the price of their ransom?” And that's what the new covenant believer does when he looks at this verse, “The Lord takes pleasure in His people.” How do I know that? Because “He who spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for His all, will freely give us, in Him, all things.” That's how we know His pleasure and delight in us. And “He adorns the humble with salvation.” He delivers us at the cost of His Son. He raises us up. He does not pour out the deserved condemnation on us that we ought to receive. He raises us up, He delivers us out at the cost of His Son. And so we worship the Lord because He delights in us and because He has delivered us and raised us up at the cost of His own Son.
JUDGEMENT AND WORSHIP
And then there is this third and last and very serious thing that this psalm does. Many of the commentators spill much ink trying to explain what is going on in verses 5 to 9. It begins a little bit strangely. “Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds”? Here's another hint that what's going on here is not prescriptive for regular worship services. You know, for those who want to go to this psalm to prove that you need to dance in worship, I want to ask them, “Where have you rolled your bed?” Clearly, there's something going on here. Could this be couches that could have been used for reclining at festivals? Or maybe is what the Lord is saying the very fact that you are able to lay your head down to rest finally again in your own bed in your own country ought to call forth from you praise as your eyes shut at night. “Lord, You brought me back home out of exile, out of the land of captivity, to my own land, my own house, my own bed, and as my eyes close as night on my bed, I praise You and I worship You because I wouldn't be here if You hadn't brought me here.” I don't know which one it is, but it starts out strangely enough.
But then it really gets strange. “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands” — ever seen that in a worship service? Now this passage calls upon the people of God to worship by executing judgments on the nations which are arrayed against God. Now think about it. If this psalm is indeed set in the return from captivity, and think about this, the ladies in our congregation who are studying very closely the book of Joshua right now, what is one of the themes in the book of Joshua – that the children of Israel are to wipe out all of the inhabitants of the land. Why? Because those inhabitants are arrayed in wickedness against God and because they will corrupt the people of God if they are allowed to stay in the land. But reading, ladies, together, and studying the book of Joshua, do the children of Israel obey God? No, and the book of Judges records the sad spiritual consequences of the people of God not doing what they had been commanded in the book of Joshua. Now here we are, hundreds of years later at the end of Israel's national history, and they have been sent into exile because for generation after generation, what had they been doing? They had been going after other gods, just like we read in Jeremiah 2 this morning.
Now that they’re brought back into Babylon, now that God in His kindness brings them out of captivity, the exhortation is given, “Worship God with the sword.” It's reminding them of the original conquest. Now of course this children of Israel never take up the sword again in the same way that they did in the conquest, but it's a reminder of them that their allegiance must be to God, that God is going to bring judgment at the end on all those who are opposed to Him, and they must stand on the Lord's side. They must separate themselves from evil. How do we as new covenant believers follow this command? We follow it by worshiping the Lord via a new covenant holy war. Not by establishing a theocracy, not by establishing laws of punishment for unbelievers in our nation states. No, our enemies are not flesh and blood, but the spiritual hosts of wickedness. And our weapons are not physical two-edged swords but the Word of God which is sharper than any two-edged sword and which is able to destroy arguments and sophistries, and every proud obstacles of the knowledge of God. And our binding of kings with chains is taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. And in the Revelation, in all of its picturing of the fiery final judgment of God, the church's description of victory is this — they have conquered. By the killing of their enemies? No. They have conquered by the sword? No. They have conquered by government power? No. Revelation 12:11 — “They have conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Our battle is not with flesh and blood, but with principalities, with the ruler of this world. He is the power behind the kings mentioned here in verse 8. And the warfare that we're called to here is warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to come out and be separate, to stand with the Lord, and to await His final judgment.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for this psalm of praise and we ask that You would teach its truths to our hearts so that our hearts long for and desire what they ought. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
Would you please stand for the Lord's benediction?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.