One of the enduring debates in the Christian church is the appropriate attitude to war. Christians universally recognise that war is not good, but there is debate on whether or not it is ever necessary. The predominant view is just war theory: that war, though never good, may be necessary and even right, given the appropriate circumstances. But there seems to be a growing number of Christians committed to varying degrees of pacifism (or, as many prefer, Christocentric nonviolence).
Regardless of which position one takes, there is often a degree of discomfort when the reader encounters language like that found in Psalm 149: “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged sword in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples.” As bloodthirsty as this may sound, the psalmist considered it to be “honour for all his godly ones” (vv. 6–9).
In what sense should Christians be committed to such vengeance and punishment? How can this be considered “honour” to the godly? It is helpful to consider the context of the warfare in this psalm. These words are written in the context of praise.
Dennis Tucker and Jamie Grant observe that the phrase “a new song” (v. 1) is found only seven times in the Old Testament, each time in the context of Yahweh as divine Warrior. Psalm 149 stands out among these, however, in that it is the only time when God’s people are invited into the battle. In the other six instances, his people are the beneficiaries of his victory; here, they are the instrument of his victory. But they are the instrument of his victory, as in 2 Chronicles 20, not by means of their weaponry, but by means of their praise.
We saw in Psalm 48 that worship in Scripture is frequently a means of warfare, and that emphasis is again brought to the fore here. The psalmist portrays the worshipper entering into battle with God by means of his praise. More specifically, the psalmist portrays the “assembly of the godly” (v. 1)—the church—entering into warfare by means of its corporate praise.
When God’s people worship—and, particularly, when they worship “in the assembly”—they enter into warfare. We know that we are in a spiritual war, in which the world, the flesh, and the devil seek to distract us from our focus on the gospel and instead embrace sinful attitudes and actions. Worship is a powerful tool to combat this.
When “the assembly of the godly” properly worships, it turns its attention afresh to the great truths of the gospel. As we corporately confess our sins, we embrace afresh the forgiveness that is offered in Christ. As we sit under gospel-centred preaching, we are equipped for the work of the ministry. In corporate prayer, we embrace afresh the work of Christ to combat evil and align our wills with God’s. As we sing songs of praise, we rehearse the glorious truths of the gospel to one another. As we participate in the ordinances, we remind ourselves visibly of our unity with Christ through his gospel. In worship, we participate in the extension of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
It is no mistake that totalitarian governments consider Christian worship to be a threat. The Bible affirms this: Corporate worship is a threat to the kingdom of darkness, for through the praises of his people, God brings the nations of the world to their knees.
This morning, allow Psalm 148 to remind you that, in worship, we engage in war. Then commit yourself to the importance of assembling together, encouraging one another, and together opposing the world, the flesh, and the devil.