Psalm 149: Unbridled Praise and Unsheathed Swords

Read Psalm 149.

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” That was the refrain of Chaplain Howell M. Forgy on December 7, 1941.

In the midst of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the power went out aboard the USS New Orleans, and ammunition had to be delivered to the gunners by hand. A bucket brigade of servicemen formed, and as they handed rounds down the line, Chaplain Forgy shouted the now-famous phrase to the men in lieu of a prayer. It was a tense moment when no one could pause to bow their heads.

Today, when we hear someone say, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” images of end-times clamoring, Bible-thumping survivalists fill our minds. Hallelujahs and weapons don’t seem to go together. But in Psalm 149, they’re side by side: “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (v. 6). Israel is at war, and it seems the conflict not just an earthly matter.

The psalmist sees the battle as God’s judgment on other nations. God’s people have been granted the holy privilege “to carry out the sentence written against them—this is the glory of all his faithful people” (v. 9). The whole scene is epic, but nothing within this psalm gives us a clue to the historical context. We don’t know which war is in view or which other nations are set to receive the hurting end of these double-edged swords, though that may be intentional. Instead of describing a moment in the past, Psalm 149 may look to the future.

The Bible describes a final battle at the end of the age, in which demonic forces will gather the armies of the world against God’s people (see Revelation 16:14). Though the details of the battle are shrouded in mystery, one thing is certain: Jesus will be victorious.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:11–15)

Not coincidentally, the sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth is described earlier in the book of Revelation as being “double-edged” (1:16; 2:12; compare with Psalm 145:6). The Lord will be in this battle with us. It will belong to Him, but we will have a part in judging the world (see 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 20:4).

You see, way back at the beginning of history, the first man was given a position of authority, “to work” and “take care of” the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). I realize that sounds like he was to be a simple gardener, but the Hebrew words used here are the same ones used to describe the work of priests and Levites elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Numbers 3:7–8; 8:25–26; 18:5–6; 1 Chronicles 23:32; Ezekiel 44:14). In particular, the word translated “take care of,” or in some translations, “keep,” means “to protect and guard.” The idea in the context of temple service was that priests and Levites were to maintain the holiness of the place, to guard the sacred space surrounding God’s presence against any person or object that might be ceremonially unclean. In Eden, the responsibility given to Adam and Eve was no different.*  

Humanity’s role at the start of the world was to stand against all those who oppose God. We were given the authority to judge evil. When the serpent reared its beautiful but sinfully ugly head, it was Adam and Eve’s job to silence the snake. That was what they were supposed to do as keepers of the garden. The devil’s filthiness had no place in the holy sanctuary of Eden. Imagine how our world would be different today if our first parents, instead of listening to the lies of the enemy, had judged the snake with the authority God had given them!

In Christ, this original authority has been restored, and we will reign with Him in the age to come (Revelation 2:26). In the meantime, as the apostle Paul tells us, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

You and I must answer the call of Psalm 149—with praises on our lips and swords in our hands. In a spiritual battle, our swords are not forged of metal, of course; they are far more powerful. We carry “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), and with it we proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to a world in desperate need. In doing so, we take back bits of territory from the enemy and push back the darkness as we await our coming King.

* Even though Eve wasn’t yet created when God charged Adam with working and keeping the garden, the responsibility should be extended to her, since she was created as a helper for Adam. See the devotional on Psalm 146 for more on that topic.

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