Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This belongs to the group of psalms already referred to Ps. 146-150, each beginning and ending with a "Hallelujah," and probably composed after the return from the captivity, and the rebuilding of the walls of the city and the second temple. This psalm would be eminently appropriate to such an occasion - first, as expressing the joy of the nation; and secondly, as indicative of what the nation was to do in those circumstances in carrying out the purposes of God, and accomplishing his will. The people are considered as restored to their land; as safe, peaceful, happy; their city is securely fortified, and they are armed to defend themselves, and are now in a position to carry their conquests over the pagan and hostile powers around them. The psalm, therefore, consists of two parts:
I. The exhortation to praise, to joy, to rejoicing - as appropriate to their deliverance; to their safe return; to their re-establishment in their own land, Psa 149:1-5.
II. The exhortation to carry out the purposes of God in regard to the people who had them, and who wronged were still hostile to them: to inflict on them the punishment which was due to them, and which God designed to bring upon them - regarding themselves as called of God to be his instruments in executing that punishment, in token of the divine displeasure at the conduct of those who had oppressed and wronged them, Psa 149:6-9.
Praise ye the Lord - Margin, Hallelujah. See the notes at Psa 146:1.
Sing unto the Lord a new song - As if there was a new and a special occasion for praise. This would be so if the psalm was composed on the return from the exile; on the rebuilding of the city; and on the re-dedication of the temple. On the meaning of the language, see Psa 33:3, note; Rev 5:9, note; Rev 14:3, note; see also Psa 96:1; Isa 42:10.
And his praise in the congregation of saints - In the assembly of the people of God. See Psa 148:14, note; Psa 111:1, note.
Let Israel - The people of Israel; the Hebrew people; the people of God.
Rejoice in him that made him - Him, who has made the people what they are. All that they have and are is to be traced to him, as really as the universe of matter is to be traced to his power. Their condition is not one of development, or one which is the result of their own wisdom, grace, or power. See the notes at Psa 100:3 : "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves." Compare Isa 54:5.
Let the children of Zion - Those who dwell in Zion or Jerusalem.
Be joyful in their King - In God as their king.
(a) That they have a king, or that there is one to rule over them;
(b) That they have such a king; one so wise, so powerful, so good;
(c) That he administers his government with so much efficiency, impartiality, equity, wisdom, goodness. Compare Psa 100:3-5.
Let them praise his name in the dance - Margin, with the pipe. The Hebrew word here - מחול mâchôl - is rendered dancing in Psa 30:11; dance, as here, Psa 150:4 (where also the margin has pipe); Jer 31:13; Lam 5:15; dances, Jer 31:4. It does not elsewhere occur. On the verb חול chûl, see Psa 10:5, note; Psa 51:5, note. Here it cannot be improper to regard it as referring to that measured tread, or solemn movement which sometimes constituted a part of worship: Sa2 6:14. Such a movement cannot be proved to be wrong in worship; whether it is wise or expedient is a different matter. Customs in worship change as the customs of a people change; and that might be very proper in one stage of society, or in one period of the world, which, though not in itself wrong, might be very unadvisable in another. There was much in the Hebrew mode of worship which cannot be transferred to the forms of Christian worship without an obvious incongruity and disadvantage; and because a thing has been done, and is not in itself wrong, we should not infer that it should always be done, or that it would be always best. If people like the Shakers dance in worship, they have an undoubted right to do so, and it may be the most edifying mode of worship for them with their low notions of religion; let not others ridicule them; nor let others go to see them as they would any other "outr'e" performance from idle curiosity. Such absurdities might soon die away if they were not kept alive by the notice which they attract, and by the foolish curiosity of wiser people. There are some things which are more certain to come to an end by neglect than they could by sober argument; some things which live merely because they are ridiculed, and because they who practice them are exalted into conspicuity by their own folly, and by the idea that they are martyrs.
Let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp - On these instruments, see the notes at Isa 5:12; notes at Job 21:12; notes at Psa 68:25; notes at Psa 81:2.
For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people - Let them rejoice on this account. He loves them; he approves their conduct; he bestows his favors upon them. All this should add to their joy, and fill their hearts with gladness. Compare the notes at Psa 35:27. The Hebrew word here rendered "taketh pleasure" conveys the idea of complacency, satisfaction, delight. It is the opposite of being pained or offended. God has complacency in his people. He delights in their welfare; he delights in doing them good.
He will beautify the meek with salvation - The word here rendered beautify means to adorn, to honor, as the sanctuary, Isa 60:7 (rendered glorify); and it here means that the salvation which God would bestow upon them would be of the nature of an ornament, as if they were clothed with costly or splendid raiment. Compare Psa 132:16. The word meek here means humble or lowly, and may refer to those who are humble in rank or condition, or those who are humble in heart. Perhaps the two ideas are here combined. They have not external adorning, but God will give them an honor and beauty in salvation which no outward adorning could impart.
Let the saints be joyful in glory - In the glory of their condition; in the favor of God; in the honor which he bestows upon them. Let them rejoice in this; let them shout and triumph over this. Other men rejoice in honor; in wealth; in houses, lands, parks, libraries, works of art: let the saints rejoice in the glory of being the friends of God; in the hope of heaven. Compare Psa 84:11.
Let them sing aloud upon their beds - Compare Job 35:10, note; Act 16:25, note; Psa 34:1, note. The idea is, that in the meditations of the night, when darkness is around them, when alone with God, they may find occasion for exultation and praise. Their hearts may be full of joy, and alone they may give expression to their joy in songs of praise.
Let the high praises of God be in their mouth - Margin, as in Hebrew, in their throat. Literally, "Praises of God in their throat; and a sword of two edges in their hand." That is, In the very work of executing the purposes of God on his enemies, there should be the feeling and the language of praise. Their hearts should be full of confidence in God; they should feel that they are engaged in his service; and while they defend themselves, or inflict punishment on the enemies of God, they should chant His praise. The idea is, that even in the work of war they might feel that they were engaged in the service of God, and that the passions usual in war should be subdued and kept under by the consciousness that they are mere instruments in the hand of God to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps the Hebrew word rendered "high praises" - רוממה rômemâh - may imply more than mere praise. It may embrace anything that is lofty and exalted, and may mean here that they would have the consciousness that they were engaged in high and lofty aims; that they were carrying out the great designs of God; that they were executing purposes more momentous than their own could be - even the eternal purposes of the Most High. This would give an importance, a dignity, an elevation to their conduct which could spring from no other source.
And a two-edged sword in their hand - literally, a sword of edges; that is, a sword with an edge on both sides of the blade. Roman swords were often made in this manner. They were made for piercing as well as for striking. See the notes at Heb 4:12.
To execute vengeance upon the heathen - To inflict punishment upon them as a recompence for their sins. The word pagan here means nations. The allusion is, doubtless, to those who had oppressed and injured the Hebrew people - perhaps referring to those who had destroyed the city and the temple at the time of the Babylonian captivity. They were now to receive the punishment due for the wrongs which they had done to the nation; a just recompence at the hand of God, and by the instrumentality of those whom they had wronged. Compare the notes at Psa 137:7-9.
And punishments upon the people - The people of those lands. Those who had waged war with the Hebrew nation.
To bind their kings with chains - To make them prisoners and captives. This is but carrying out the idea in the previous verses, of inflicting punishment upon them for the wrongs which they had done to the people of God. There is no evidence that this refers to a spiritual conquest, or to a spiritual subjection of those nations to the true religion. The whole idea is in accordance with what is so often expressed in the Psalms - that of inflicting just punishment on the wicked. See the General Introduction, Section 6.
And their nobles with fetters of iron - To make them prisoners. That is, to subdue them. Captives in war, even those of elevated rank, were often led in chains to grace the triumph of conquerors.
To execute upon them the judgment written - Either, that which is written in the law in general as what is threatened to wicked men; or, that which was written for their particular case, or which they were specifically commanded to do. Compare Deu 7:1-2; Deu 32:41-43. Most probably the reference is to some particular command in this case.
This honor have all his saints -
(a) It is an honor to engage in executing or carrying out the purposes of God. As it is an honor to be a magistrate, a judge, a sheriff, a constable, a commander of an army, an admiral in a navy, to execute the purposes of a government - an honor sought with great avidity among people as among the most valued distinctions of life - why should it be less honorable to execute the purposes of God? Are the objects which he seeks in his administration less important than those which are sought among people? Are his laws of less importance? Are his aims less pure? Is there less of justice, and equity, and benevolence in his plans?
(b) It is an honor which pertains to "all the saints" - to all who love and fear God - to be engaged in carrying out or executing his plans. In their own way, and in their own sphere - it may, indeed, be a very humble sphere - but each and all in their own sphere, are engaged in executing the purposes of God. In the duties of a family; in kindness to the poor; in the office of a teacher or a magistrate; in clearing a farm; in cultivating the land; in building a schoolhouse; in founding a church, a college, an asylum for the blind, the dumb, the lame, the insane; in contributing to send the gospel abroad over our own land, or among the pagan, or in going to carry that gospel to a benighted world - in some of these ways all who are truly the friends of God, or who are entitled to be enrolled among the "saints of the Lord" are, in fact, carrying out the purposes of the Lord - the "judgments written" to guide mankind; and man's highest honor here, as it will be in heaven, is to carry out the purposes of the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord - Hallelu-jah. It is a subject of praise and thanksgiving, it should lead us to shout Hallelujah, that we are permitted to be employed in any way, however humble, in carrying out the divine plans, or in accomplishing those great designs which he contemplates toward our race.