Editor’s Note: Originally, I had planned for last month’s article on Psalm 90 to round out our series on selected Psalms. These two psalms have been on my mind lately as our family grows, so I’m extending the series to include them. Next month will begin a new study of a New Testament book.
If we learn nothing else from the Old Testament, three things at least should be crystal clear to us. 1) God is holy, omnipotent, and exists from eternity past. 2) God created all that there is and is actively involved in His creation and with His people. 3) God is the source of all good things in heaven and on earth and freely blesses those who trust in Him.
Two psalms, 127 and 128, succinctly and eloquently bring out these truths, particularly as they relate to human society and the family. The first is attributed to Solomon, the second is anonymous, but of a similar enough theme that it makes sense to look at both together. Both of these are “Songs of Ascents”, part of a group of psalms the Jews sang together as they made their way up to Jerusalem for the Passover and other festivals. They would have served to remind the people of their provision from the Lord and their call to fear and serve Him.
Psalm 127 begins, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain” (127:1). Simply and beautifully, Solomon reminds us that God is sovereign over all the affairs of men. If we set out to establish ourselves without the Lord’s leading and provision, we are forgetting the very foundation of prosperity, and will surely fail. By the same token, if we cling to what the Lord has already blessed us with rather than to Him, our best vigilance will not keep our possessions secure. Solomon here also bursts the bubble of false security that physical structures and human government offer, urging us to rest in God alone.
James states this idea more imperatively in the New Testament: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be life tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’” (James 4:13-15). The message of both passages is that God is the author and keeper of all things and the source of all good gifts. We should acknowledge Him as such and shape our lives to His will through prayer, trusting Him in all things.
James’ exhortation equally parallels the next verse of the psalm: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep” (127:2). All the effort we undertake to gain wealth and security in this life is a “chasing after the wind” (in the language of Ecclesiastes) if we do so outside of God’s plan. Moreover, Solomon reminds us that the well-being and provision God gives to those whom He loves is not due to their merit but due to His grace.
This is not to say that those who follow the Lord are to be slothful—God gives to them “even in…sleep” not “because they sleep.” That is, the blessings of the Lord come on His timetable, not on the basis of our earning them. An analogous New Testament passage is Jesus’ promise from the Sermon on the Mount: “…do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?... Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these” (Matt. 6:25-31). When we follow the Lord, we are to be about His business; then He will take care of all the things we need to live.
Solomon then moves from observations about the structures of society to the structure of the household, and from how we should trust God for present security to how we should trust God for future security. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate” (127:3-5).
His statement stands in stark contrast to today’s prevailing philosophy that views children as a hindrance to the “good life”, a problem to be solved, and nothing more than an option for married couples. Scripture, exemplified in this passage, is emphatic that children are a gift from God to be treasured. Why? As Solomon’s metaphor of the warrior and his arrows displays, our godly children are our defense “in the gate”—when others despise our testimony, the heritage of righteousness passed from generation to generation speaks loudly. Our children, whom God has blessed us with, honor and defend us when they persevere in the faith of their parents.
More than that, our children serve to strengthen our own faith. They confront us by their innocent ignorance with our own ignorance of God’s ways; they try us by their disobedience and show us how we ourselves treat the Lord; they drive us to prayer for their health, safety, and maturity; they demand a God-honoring level of honesty, consistency, and morality from us that we are slow to pursue on our own. Even from a purely practical standpoint, children provide assistance in the household and family business; they are our protection in old age and the legacy of our hopes and dreams in this life. One only need look at the demographics of Europe, Japan, China, and (to a lesser extent) the United States to see the devastation that waits for a society that disdains and destroys its offspring.
This part of God’s good provision is new to my own life (my wife and I have two very young daughters), and something I had given little thought to until recent years. Now, I find that “children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward,” is my constant prayer when trying to console our newborn at 3 a.m. or telling our toddler to stop whining for the 47th time. I’m sure it will continue to be on my lips when I lay awake worrying about them as teenagers and adults.
I have to remind myself of the promise of this psalm just as often as I am confronted with the secular lies about how much better life would be without the frustrations of parenthood. These truths encourage me to take the long view and recognize that these precious girls are a direct result of God’s grace and part of His plan for my wife and me. “Children are a gift of the Lord” to be enjoyed and cherished, not a hassle to be endured or a cross to bear.
These gifts of God are reaffirmed in Psalm 128. Whereas the wording of Psalm 127 is distinctly Solomonic—observational, reminiscent of the pithy wisdom-literature of Proverbs & Ecclesiastes—Psalm 128 has the feel of a priestly oration. Psalm 127 looks at mankind and shows the virtue of acknowledging God in all things; Psalm 128 proclaims the blessing of God on all who fear and obey Him.
The first four verses of this psalm state the facts of God’s blessing: “How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord” (128:1-4). This clearly mirrors the statements of Psalm 127, declaring that God provides for those who seek to do His will (though adding that it is through the blessing of work), that peace and joy result from following God, and that children are a great blessing.
In the closing verses, the psalmist moves to call for a specific blessing on the follower of God: “The Lord bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Indeed, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!” (128:5-6). The Israelites at the time this was written would’ve made the connection between blessing and Jerusalem, the center of temple worship where God’s work among His people was most clearly displayed. Also, the blessing of long life and peace was a common cultural benediction.
Looking back at both these psalms with New Testament eyes, I believe there is a prophetic significance to this closing. Through Jesus Christ, who came to make an eternal sacrifice for the sins of men at Jerusalem, the Lord indeed will “bless…from Zion” all who call upon His name. Through Him also we are given the gift of eternal life, so that we may see our “children’s children” not just in this life, if we live long enough, but to a thousand generations in the presence of our Lord.
Through both these psalms, we are exhorted to strive after the things of God, to honor Him by our lives of obedience, and to rejoice at His manifold good gifts. He is the Creator, sustainer, preserver, provider, and ruler of all. When we recognize this and place our trust in Him, He will share with us every good thing as He sees fit. “How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.”
Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
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