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Songs of Ascent;- Psalm 127 Except the Lord build the house

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posted on Oct, 22 2021 @ 05:13 PM
Cards on the table. The Psalms are not really my thing. Even in poetry, I prefer narrative to lyric. So while I’m looking at this group of Psalms, I won’t rely entirely on my own conclusions. I’ll separate out my own observations (in this first post) from what I find in commentaries and add in the later posts..

Psalm 127

I’ve looked at this psalm in a previous thread, when I recalled how it had been my very first exercise in public Biblical exposition. I still don’t have the heart to change the interpretation I gave all those years ago, do I’ll reprint it now and add some observations relating to the place of the psalm in the “Songs of Ascent” cycle.

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.

And I will now add, in relation to the psalm’s place in the series;
That the division into two parts was also a feature of Psalm 126.
And that the anxiety about wanting children for the sake of the community was visible in Psalm 126 and will be seen again in Psalm 128. As I remarked in the previous thread, this anxiety belongs to the time when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon and came home as a small population. That was the nation’s weakness. The community would not be viable in the long-term without population growth.

posted on Oct, 22 2021 @ 05:15 PM
The above are my own independent thoughts on the psalm. Having got that far, I will now open up Weiser’s commentary bought a couple of years ago, discover (probably) a number of insights which haven’t occurred to me, and add them here.

He tells us that the two parts are unrelated as far as the subject-matter is concerned. Both parts are in the form of an enlarged “Wisdom” saying, and that is the sole connection that has brought them together in one psalm.

In the first part, the point is the decisive significance of God’s actions in man’s everyday life. The purpose of the repeated verdict that human action is “in vain” is the radical renunciation of an attitude of mind that is so absorbed by work and worries that it loses sight of God’s providence and his effect on life. It is not a question of work in general, but of an attitude towards work. No other choice is left open than that confident trust in God, who will give whatever is needful. And man is by no means always able to judge precisely what may be needful.

The point of the second Wisdom saying is simply praising children as a gift entrusted by God. The phrase “heritage from Yahweh” reflects the Old Testament conception of family and nation, deeply rooted in religion. The joy in having children is itself part of the divine blessing. It is joy in the abundance of life which comes from God and which he bestows on a healthy nation.

posted on Oct, 22 2021 @ 05:15 PM
Hear also what Matthew Henry saith.

We depend on God for the raising of a family.
“Except the Lord build the house;”
We may take this as the material house. However solid the foundations might be, if God is not acknowledged, we have no reason to expect his blessing.
Or it may be understood of the business of making a family “considerable” [he means in terms of social advancement and rising status]. “Men labour to achieve this by advantageous matches, offices, employments, purchases, but all is in vain unless God build up the family.

We depend on God for the enrichment of a family.
Men try to achieve this by rising up early and sitting up late in pursuit of wealth.
But only those who love God and are beloved by him have true comfort and prosperity.

“God gives us sleep.”
He gives us the grace to lie down in his fear (our souls returning to him and reposing in him as we sleep), and we awake to be still with him and to use the refreshment we have by sleep in his service.
The sleep which he gives his beloved is quietness and contentedness of mind, a comfortable enjoyment of what is present, and a comfortable expectation of what is to come,

Children, being a heritage, are to be counted as blessings, not burdens. He that sends mouths will send meat of we trust in him. They are also a heritage FOR the Lord.

Children are like arrows in a quiver in that arrows come in different sizes, all of use one time or other. In the same way, children have different capacities and inclinations.

posted on Oct, 23 2021 @ 01:28 PM
So again we get Matthew Henry's Opinions.

Ditch the first two posts, by now everyone has them memorized. Stick to the word and just tell us what it says where it says it.

posted on Oct, 23 2021 @ 01:47 PM
a reply to: ChesterJohn
Matthew Henry will be included in every thread in this series (which means until Christmas).
On this particular topic, I think other outlooks are needed to supplement my own.
If you don't like any of the opinions on offer, you are free to present your own interpretation of the text of the psalm.

posted on Oct, 25 2021 @ 07:18 AM
a reply to: DISRAELI

Oh so this is not your work but thework of MATTHEW HENRY.

If you forgot the T&C you are not allowed to post without permission another authors work and make it look as your own.

posted on Oct, 25 2021 @ 07:55 AM
a reply to: ChesterJohn
The third post in each thread is a summary drawn from my copy of Metthew Henry, and deliberately advertised as such every week. Matthew Henry is dead, and three hundred years out of copyright.

The problem is that you never bother reading beyond the first two words of anything before jumping to conclusions. I suppose that is because you find reading such a slow process, and taking in the content and meaning of complete paragraphs is too much like hard work.

edit on 25-10-2021 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 26 2021 @ 08:11 AM
a reply to: DISRAELI

waste of time and space to repeat tow post in each thread. Just link it to the first one if they need a reread and get on with your or Matthew Henry's teaching seeing you are not teaching but just sharing.

posted on Oct, 26 2021 @ 08:55 AM
a reply to: ChesterJohn
It's always hard to know how much of an overlap there is between your inability to understand things and your unwillingness to understand things- between your reading difficulties and your resentful hostilities.

I will try just once more to explain in words of one syllable how the structure of this series works.

Each thread relates to ONE psalm.
Three posts (though I sometimes combine the last two) offer three viewpoints;
My own views ON THAT PSALM
Weiser's views ON THAT PSALM
Matthew Henry's view ON THAT PSALM

Since each thread relates to a different psalm, no posts are being duplicated. Nothing is being duplicated except a couple of opening sentences. And I make it very clear which views come from me and which come from other people.

Let me ask you this. Since you are making such a prominent display of your inability to think straight, advertising this weakness as publicly as possible, how are you expecting anyone to trust what you say on Biblical matters?

edit on 26-10-2021 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 26 2021 @ 08:49 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI


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