A song of ascents. Of Solomon.
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.
(Psalm 127:1-5 NIV)
In our last time together, we looked at Psalm 126, where we saw the psalmist rejoice in the Lord’s restoration of blessings. The Israelites certainly knew the pain of loss – loss of loved ones, loss of freedom, loss of relationship to God, loss of joy. When they turned their hearts back to the Lord, then their seeds of faith, watered by their tears and warmed by God’s love, sprouted into a tremendous blessing that ultimately yielded an abundant harvest of joy.
In today’s psalm, we see Solomon identified as the author. This is the same King Solomon who wrote many of the Proverbs, and who penned Ecclesiastes (“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2 NASB).
In verses 1 – 2, Solomon voices a similar idea, that human efforts without God are in vain. This does not alleviate our need to work hard and to work well at whatever the Lord gives us to do. Other scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are quite clear on this – don’t be a sluggard (lazy) – take lessons from the ant, whatever you do, do it for the Lord with all your might, if you don’t work, you don’t eat, etc.
Notice that Solomon recognizes that God takes care of us and provides for us, even giving us sleep (v. 2). Solomon had written about this before, recognizing that God gives us rest:
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
(Proverbs 3:24 NIV)
The theme and focus of Solomon’s thoughts in verses 1 – 2 is not on us, but on God. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson expresses it this way:
“The pilgrimage is not at the center; the Lord is at the center. No matter how hard they struggled to get there, no matter what they did in the way of heroics—fending off bandits, clubbing lions and crushing wolves—that is not what is to be sung. Psalm 127 insists on a perspective in which our effort is at the periphery and God’s work is at the center.”
(Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), p. 107)
In the second half of the psalm (verses 3 – 5), Solomon contrasts all the things done in vain (verses 1 – 2) with work that will last and hold value – raising children.
Solomon recognizes that children are a heritage, a priceless and lasting gift from the Lord (v. 3). Yes, parents are obviously involved in the creation of the children, but the gift of having children comes from God Himself.
Solomon then describes the tremendous value that children bring to the family (v. 4). Just as arrows in the hand of a skilled hunter help bring in food, and arrows in the hand of a warrior protect the people behind the front lines, so children help provide for and protect the family.
Solomon is not referring to child soldiers or using children as indentured servants here – he is talking about children who have grown, matured, and have been trained in basic life skills and can add value to the family. In our modern culture, think in terms of 18 – 21-year-old children that can go to work, hold a job, and be responsible for their own well-being as well as helping their parents and other siblings.
Finally, Solomon concludes this psalm by reminding us of God’s blessing of children in our lives (v. 5). Solomon identifies multiple children in a family as a blessing from the Lord, just as a warrior is blessed with multiple arrows in his quiver.
Solomon closes by recognizing the tremendous value of advocacy within a family when faced with outside opposition. In ancient civilizations, the city gates were the place of meeting and commerce, and also where disputes were settled and justice was dispensed.
The assumption here is that the accused family is innocent, but a wrongful accusation has been brought against them. Rather than the father trying to defend himself alone against the accusers, having children of age standing together with the father provides honor and integrity to the matter. Remember, in ancient times there were no video surveillance cameras, no cell phones, no photography – only the word of one person or group against another’s. Having advocates (multiple sets of eyes) within a family in the marketplace prevented unscrupulous people from taking advantage of individuals.
May we see God at the center of everything we are and do.
May we see our children as a blessing from the Lord, and an integral part of our family dynamic and life.