Although each psalm exists as an independent poem, that does not imply that they have no relationship to one another. In fact, the order of the psalms provides insight into the purpose as conceived when collected. Indeed, the division into five books of psalms indicates both the original purpose of each psalm and the timeframe in which the whole section was deemed complete in structure by inspiration. Psalm 149 illustrates this well, picking up praise for the LORD where Psalm 148 left off because of the hope He has brought to His people. However, the phrase “Sing to the LORD a new song” (Psa. 149:1) borrows from Psalms 96 and 98, hearkening back to the days of David while simultaneously offering hope for the future, thus creating an important connection between Psalms 96-98 and Psalms 148-150. Whereas the earlier triad focused on the events and worthiness of the LORD to reign, the latter three focus on the extent of praise appropriate for the people to give in recognition of these events and of the LORD’s glory.
The psalmist once again presents a more recent challenge to trust in God for salvation and victory through the lens of Israel’s own history by recapturing the sentiments expressed in the Song of Moses following the crossing of the Red Sea and following it with allusions to the victories gained by the LORD in taking the land, perhaps even up to and including Barak’s victory over Sisera and the Song of Deborah which celebrated it. Thus, this psalm also celebrates a victory clearly wrought by God’s hand, a victory that warranted renewed praise of God’s people in a new hymn to mark the occasion (Psa. 149:1; cf. Ex. 15:1). After years of unfaithfulness, desiring a king like the nations around them, steady decline under the rule of men, and finally captivity at the hands of their enemies, Israel recognized the LORD as their king and had gained victory as a result (Psa. 149:2; cf. Ex. 15:18). This was a moment worth celebrating as much as the crossing of the Red Sea, the rebirth of the nation (Psa. 149:3; cf. Ex. 15:20), for the LORD had once again saved His people and recognized them as His own (Psa. 149:4; Ex. 15:2). Thus, sadness had turned into joy (Psa. 149:5) and concern into confidence (Psa. 149:6) as the children of Israel once again saw themselves as God’s special people, standing up for God’s will and standing against all who would oppose Him (Psa. 149:7-9).
The sentiments of this psalm surely strike a chord with any who have known the joy of belonging to God only to wander away but then return with renewed appreciation for the blessings He bestows and the unique relationship He bequeaths. The general principles of worshipping with joy, being thankful for salvation, and standing up for truth as privileges of God’s people offer abundant thought for reflection. However, the placement of this psalm indicates a date toward the end of Israel’s inspired history, and pairing it with this timeframe draws out its possibilities. During the post-exilic period recorded in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, one account harmonizes perfectly with Psalm 149. When Nehemiah returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he encouraged the people to unite in the cause and withstand the pressure brought by Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab (Neh. 6:1-2). He prepared them for battle even while building the wall with the rallying cry of faith, “Our God will fight for us” (Neh. 4:20), trusting God to provide the victory as in the days of old. It proved to be the last battle for which Israel prepared, trusting in God, and for which God ensured they would not need to fight (Neh. 6:16). Thus, they worshipped, with Ezra leading them in the reading of the Law—an act which made them weep in the beginning but look to joy in the end (Psa. 149:5a; Neh. 8:10). By reading, they discovered that the time approached for the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh month (Neh. 8:14-18; cf. Lev. 23:34), a time when they would sing while reclining on their beds (Psa. 149:5b), praising God for deliverance (Psa. 149:6; Neh. 4:16-18). Under Nehemiah, Israel had once again stood their ground for God and acted together as His people against the ungodly (Psa. 149:7-9a; Neh. 6:17-18). And, once more, they saw it as a privilege. “This honor have all His saints” (Psa. 149:9b). To serve God, to do His will, and to stand against the agents of Satan—this is our privilege! And the blessing that follows is profound: to participate in God’s victory by doing His will. And this why God will ever deserve to hear His people say, “Praise the LORD!”