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Unless the Lord builds the house

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posted on Mar, 6 2020 @ 05:02 PM
Psalm 127 comes in two distinct parts, which seem to be on two different subjects.
As in the old Victorian “What am I?” riddles, we have to consider three questions; the meaning of the first part, the meaning of the second, and the meaning of the two parts in combination.

My first is…

The first part (vv1-2) makes three statements about things which are “in vain”- that is, useless and without effect.
Those who build a house labour in vain unless the Lord is doing the same work.
Those who watch over a city (the city has already been built) will be watching in vain, unless the Lord is doing the same work.
The third statement takes a slightly different tack. It is in vain “that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil”.
In short, it is in vain to be anxious about the work being done.
And the implied reason in this case is “because the Lord IS working, and taking all the care upon himself”.
The reason given in the text is “for he gives to his beloved sleep”. I take this to mean that he gives the gift of sleep for a purpose, that his fellow-workers might be refreshed and retain their strength. If we allow anxious thoughts and “burning the candle at both ends” to break into that sleep, then we frustrate his purpose.
So the work is a joint enterprise in which the Lord shares in the building work and the preservation, and keeps to himself all the care.

My second is…

The second part (vv3-5) dwells on the premise that children, and especially sons, are a blessing from God. In fact that is the Old Testament definition of “blessing”, that God is willing to give life in different forms.
So “sons are a heritage”.
They are the “fruit” that comes from the womb, and this fruit constitutes a “reward”.
They are like arrows in the hand of a warrior, an image which implies that they can be used as weapons. “Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”
Such a man “shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
The town gate was the location of town business and town justice, and I’m afraid the man’s “enemy in the gate” is probably his next door neighbour.
The implied scene is that the neighbour has a clutch of sons ready to stand up and say “You can’t call our Dad that, even though he moves your boundary stone”, and the man who cannot match this display of physical force will be “put to shame” and defeated in the argument.

And my whole is…

How are these two parts linked?
The more general connection is the common theme of “dependence upon the Lord”. The second part takes for granted what is taught in the first part, that men’s efforts are useless without God’s help. Here is one of the basic assumptions of the Old Testament, that God is the provider of children.

The more specific link is that the second part is providing the answer to the unspoken question deriving from the first part; “How does the Lord defend the city?”
Even the strongest walls are quite useless (“in vain”) if the city has no inhabitants to stand there and defend them (as the citizens of Constantinople discovered in 1453).
So the simplest way to defend the city, in the long-term, is to keep up the population.
The city is built and maintained by the continuing supply of sons, to be arrows against the city’s enemies.

Now let’s apply this to the church, which has been called a building and a city and a household.
Men may work to build up and maintain the church, but their work will be in vain without the concurrent support of the Lord, who takes the care upon himself.
And how does the Lord build up the church and preserve it?
By the unceasing recruitment of new people, maintaining its life as an active and strong community.
The believers who fill the church are God’s children, the church’s inheritance from the Lord.

posted on Mar, 6 2020 @ 05:03 PM
The theme in the above post has a special place in my personal history.
This was my very first public venture in Biblical exposition.
I appear to have mislaid the original notes, though I thought I had kept them. No matter, because I could reproduce the gist of the original, and have chosen to do that for its own sake instead of searching through commentaries for a fresh view.

I suppose the story really goes back to the night the secretary of the college Christian Union discovered that I had become a Christian without his knowledge, and dragged me back to college to meet some of the others. Making, along the way, the priceless confession “We’ve been praying for people to be converted, but you weren’t one of them.” They debriefed me, according to my diary, “on the when, who, how, and why (in that order)” of my conversion.
Four nights later, I was taking part in my very first Bible study, having been brought up in the kind of church which did not supply them. My opinion was asked on one point, and I said I was leaving it to the experts. I would smile at that memory when I had become an “old hand” at leading Bible Study groups.

The little talk which has been re-created in the OP was given about half a dozen years further down the line, to the midweek meeting (Wednesday night) of St. Clement’s church.
I’ve never had a loud voice, so I planted a couple of friends in the back row to give alert signals when it was getting inaudible.
The talk did not need to be very long, because I had arranged for the leaders of various “outreach” groups in the church to follow on, giving little reports on what they were doing.
The church had recently closed its evangelistic coffee bar, for lack of support, and the whole evening was my own propaganda exercise, trying to encourage the church to get it restarted.
Hence the choice of “the importance of recruitment” as the theme of the exposition.

It was a small start. But as Voltaire said about St. Denis, the decapitated martyr who carried his own head for five or six miles; “It’s the first step that counts.”

posted on Mar, 6 2020 @ 08:40 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

I have an old picture my mother bought long ago that is based on this.

God is love, if God does not build the house then the builder labours in vein.

posted on Mar, 7 2020 @ 05:11 AM

originally posted by: LABTECH767
God is love, if God does not build the house then the builder labours in vein.

If god is the love, where is man's responibility to himself and why does he need instructions?

posted on Mar, 7 2020 @ 06:50 AM
a reply to: nerbot
Why should there be any contradiction between those two things? Think it through and explain.

posted on Mar, 7 2020 @ 06:55 AM
a reply to: LABTECH767
I also have a photo belonging to my parents.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.
I remember it on the wall for years growing up.

Compelled me to click on this thread!

posted on Mar, 7 2020 @ 09:33 AM
a reply to: DISRAELI

The believers who fill the church are God’s children, the church’s inheritance from the Lord.

Wow. You should have been a carpenter. You always hit the nail on the head. Thank you. lol

posted on Mar, 7 2020 @ 10:07 AM

originally posted by: DISRAELI
a reply to: nerbot
Why should there be any contradiction between those two things? Think it through and explain.

"God" is irrelevant and used as an excuse for the individual "self".
edit on 7/3/2020 by nerbot because: (no reason given)

posted on Mar, 7 2020 @ 10:10 AM
a reply to: nerbot

I suppose if you desire to live a loveless existence, then you can attempt to do so.

But for me, everything worthwhile I've ever managed in life has been centered around a love for that activity or those persons, including myself.

God is love.

Absent that love, whatever I've built has always been lacking.

And if it's something I've needed to do, then you best bet I'm praying for the love to do it right.

edit on 7-3-2020 by ketsuko because: (no reason given)

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