Psalm 149 Translation and comment

Bright praise to Yah!

Sing to Yahweh a new song,

His praise in the assembly of caring people!

May Israel be merry in her maker,

The children of Zion rejoice in their King!

May they adore his name with dancing

Make music for him on the tambourine and the lyre.

For Yahweh takes pleasure in his people

And makes lovely the oppressed by his deliverance.

May the caring people jump for joy at their splendour,

Let them sing as they recline for their supper!

May high songs to God be in their throats,

And a two-edged sword in their hands,

To wreak revenge on the nations

And punishment upon their peoples;

Binding their monarchs with metal

And their nobility with iron shackles;

To do to them what the written judgement requires!

This is vindication for all his caring people.

Bright praise to Yahweh!

Peaceful people may want to pass over this unapologetic celebration of victory over enemies. But perhaps we should remember VE Day or the mood of the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis. Where threatened peoples have won against the odds, there is cause for joy.

Yes, this psalm is fairly specific – praise the Lord and pass the ammunition – but its frankness is better than any pious vagueness.

My translation “let them sing as they recline for supper” spells out a possible meaning of the Hebrew “on their couches” It is unclear when the habit if reclining reached Israel, but if this psalm comes from say the 2nd century BCE, it is a possible reference, and one which picks up the “splendour” mentioned in the previous verse.

The key phrase is “he makes lovely the oppressed by his deliverance.” He does not merely rescue them, he transforms them, and gives them “beauty for brokenness.”

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