The Psalm given to us for All Saints Day seems beautiful for oh, the first six and a half verses, and then things seem to get nasty for the rest of it – at least on the surface level. It’s starts off just like any other song of praise, with the usual invitation to praise, a plethora of reasons to praise, and then a renewed invitation to praise. But then, the Psalm takes a vengeful twist. From the faithful singing new songs to their Maker and King, being filled with dancing and music, God taking pleasure in God’s people, etc., to suddenly the faithful having two-edged swords in their hands to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the people, to bind the kings and nobility with shackles, and to execute judgment on them. This is quite the contrast to say the least!
As with any Biblical text, this one must be read in the context of the greater narrative of Scripture, and in this case, the greater narrative of the 150 Psalms. Like many of Jesus’ parables and other teachings, these verses aren’t to be taken literally, for after-all we know that God is a God of love, and God’s son Jesus was the prince of peace who told his own disciples to put back their swords. Richard B. Hays reminds us beautifully of the Jesus way in his foundational treatise on ethics by saying “Instead of wielding the power of violence, the community of Jesus’ disciples is to be meek, merciful, pure, devoted to peacemaking, and willing to suffer persecution—and blessed precisely in its faithfulness to this paradoxical vision.”
Instead of wielding to the power of violence, these verses represent a radical call for the faithful people of God to live out the reign of God, as described in verses 1-4, thus making this indeed a most beautiful Psalm for All Saints Day. Verses 6-9 continue a similar theme in the Psalms like in Psalm 2 by calling out rebellious nations, people, and kings. The key theme to be pulled out of such Psalms is that those who seek to live out their own sovereignty rather than God’s, will be called to account. Is this not what the call of Jesus is as well? Read in tandem with the Gospel reading Libby wrote on for this day, we see that Jesus had a deep concern for those who found themselves under oppression from poverty, hunger, persecution, etc. Usually, this type of oppression occurs when nations, people, and kings decide they are sovereign – not God, and thus Kingdom economics are not lived into.
In this Psalm, the movement of transferring Davidic theology to the whole people is completed. The faithful are now given the responsibility of being the living and breathing representation of God’s sovereignty to the world. God is sovereign despite what nations and their kings say, and the faithful get to be co-participators with God in being ambassadors of that sovereignty on earth.
As threats of war, and invasions transpire around the world, and Kings decline to help out because the invasions don’t affect their own border, the people of God are still being called to join God at God’s work in the world. God’s justice and righteousness always stand in stark contrast to the godless ways, and in the end verses 6-9 as troubling as they are, call the people of God to a level of discipleship that holds rulers and authorities accountable for their actions, not necessarily always through telling them, but definitely always through pointing to, God’s sovereign Lordship.
This faithful life will always involve a battle, and thus we will need a two edged sword for this fight, but the sword is not a literal weapon, it is the sword of the Word and Spirit. The battle for the faithful of God will be the same as the people of Israel while they were in exile and after they were in exile. It will mean the same that it was for Jesus: there will be suffering, again, the Gospel for this week points to that as well. The Good News is that such suffering is our glory. There will be a mighty reversal when the Kingdom of God is fully consummated, and as we live into the already ushered in Kingdom, we as the faithful point to that backwards Kingdom.
How do your people need to hear the Good News that God has invited them to participate in enacting among all people and all nations, the justice, righteousness and peace God intends for all of creation? Surely, like this Psalm started out with, Praising Yahweh will be at the forefront of that response in your reflections on All Saints Day. May the Saints be found faithful! And in the classic words of Steve Green, ‘May all who come behind us find us faithful’.  Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament (p. 322). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.