Reading the text is always an unpredictable process ... sure, we can sort of determine what the "original" intent might have been, sort of, but it's our response that's most telling.
I've read Psalm 149 a good many times, with thanksgiving and with reservation, because of the violence ... biblical violence in the hands of the powerful is, at best, dangerous; but perhaps it can be read in another way, and that's what struck me this morning.
V.6, "Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands."
Yes, in the eager hands of the already-powerful, such a verse can be disastrous. The Erik Princes of this world love this kind of stuff, and exult in the love of "arms for christ."
Yet as I read it this morning, it reminded me that our praise of God can never be separated from the tasks at hand, the tasks of living and caring for what it is right and good, promoting the wellbeing of a society, and especially defending those whose voices have been muted by the powerful.
The text goes on: "to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron...."
I think of Bonhoeffer's fateful decision to participate in the bomb plot to kill Hitler, which, of course, is an extreme measure, but Bonhoeffer knew full well that love for the nation, for the Jews, now required a dramatic move to remove the source of the nation's ills.
I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., who made clear that violence was never to be offered to violence. But the text makes clear, I believe, that in the struggle for right, there can be no laying downing and simply taking it.
The Civil Rights demonstrators, while refraining from proactive violence, made it clear to the nation that Black People would not longer "take it," but in their determination to cross the bridge or to order a coke at the local drugstore counter, they "violated" the social boundaries and put chains on the powerful.
Lots of folks told them to go back to church and pray, put it into God's hands, and God would sort it all out. But it became evident that God's hands were tied by the powerful representatives of the Jim Crow, and all the prayer in all the world wouldn't open up voting rights or french fries at the local lunch counter. But only a forceful presence that dared to cross the lines and confront the lies.
Well, the upshot of this is both complex and simple: to praise God with our voice is meaningless unless the sword is in our hand, ready to clear the way, make straight the way of the LORD, and put into chains those forces and ideas that make a mockery of religion and love to hurt the weak.
And, that a sword in the hand, always dangerous, has to be linked to praise, lest the sword become a law unto itself, and violence for good simply becomes violence.
So was my reading this morning of Psalm 149.