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..
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
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
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
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
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
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.