The God-Built House
Psalms 127 & 128
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.
A song of ascents.
1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Yes, this will be the blessing
for the man who fears the Lord.
5 May the Lord bless you from Zion;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
6 May you live to see your children’s children—
peace be on Israel.
Max Lucado tells the story of two steam paddleboats traveling down the Mississippi River. Back in the 1800s when such boats were the best way to send cargo from the country’s Midwest to the seaport of New Orleans, these two boats left Memphis, TN about the same time. As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail’s pace of the other. Words were exchanged, then challenges were made – and the race began.
The competition became vicious as the two boats roared down the river. Then one boat began falling behind, not having enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough for a race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ship’s boilers. When the sailor saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they feverishly fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but they arrived at their destination without any cargo.
God has entrusted cargo to us, as well, Lucado observes: children, spouses, and friends. Our job is to do our part in seeing that this cargo reaches its destination. Yet when many distractions of life take priority over people, it is the people we say we care about who often suffer the most. How much cargo do we sacrifice in order to achieve the number one slot? (In The Eye Of The Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, pp. 97-98)
We have been looking at the Psalms of Ascent in this Hub series. This group of psalms offers help to us in our journey of life. Most of the themes are in the arena of hope, deliverance and trust, but in the last Hub ("Full-Time Christian Ministry"), we looked at the first part of Psalms 127 & 128 which provide us with a divine perspective of work. In this Hub, we will look again at these two psalms and see what they tell us about godly families.
Finding The Proper Cultural Context
The first thing to address, however, is a problem that is a part of these two psalms. Perhaps when you read these two psalms read, some of you – most likely you women readers – cringed at the potential implications you may have detected. I am not a woman, but I am still uncomfortable at a surface reading of these two psalms, and I rapidly want to think of these psalms for what they are really saying outside of their cultural context.
You could read these two psalms and get the false idea that daughters are not important because the psalm only mentions sons as a godly heritage. You could read these two psalms and get the false picture that a woman’s only value is to bear lots and lots of children (hopefully sons) so that the husband can be a respected person in the community. I assure you that this is not what these psalms are saying!
These two psalms, like the rest of Scripture was written in a patriarchal culture in which the man was understood as the leader of the family unit, and the link to society’s understanding of God. This patriarchal way of running society has persisted for many generations after the Bible was written, and only recently has the church begun to embrace what the New Testament teaches that women are equal inheritors of God’s grace. So, for the ladies reading this Hub, if you ever feel insulted or excluded by a part of Scripture, remember Galatians 3:28, “There is neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, but all are one in Jesus Christ.”
I find it helpful in a time like this to read a passage of God’s Word in a modern paraphrase; listen to Psalm 127 in The Message: "If God doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap. It’s useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don’t you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves? Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift? the fruit of the womb his generous legacy? Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows are the children of a vigorous youth. Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quivers full of children! Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you; you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep." From this inclusive and affirming point of view, let’s look at what Psalms 127 & 128 have to say about godly families.
The God-Built "House"
There are three words that set the stage for what both of these two psalms are actually saying about families, they are: “builds,” “house,” and, “heritage.” The words in Hebrew for build and house mean the same thing as they do in English, but they also have the symbolic connection to family. The word “build(s)” means to build or construct, but it also can mean, “obtaining children,” that is, creating a family. The word “house” means a house or a place to live, but it also strongly implies a family unit. The word “heritage” means what is inherited, an inheritance, but it also can mean an heirloom. This is interesting in light of Psalm 127:3, which says that children are a heritage given to us by God.
This collection of verses tells us that when we trust in the Lord in our building of a family, our children are a blessing to us from God. Being a parent myself, I can say that that has sometimes been difficult to believe. It’s easier for me now that my children are grown to think of them as a blessing, but when they were growing up, there were times when I wanted to give them back!
At a family reunion picnic, a young bride led her husband over to an old woman sitting in a rocker, busily crocheting. “Granny,” she said, touching the old woman’s hand affectionately, “this is my new husband.” The woman eyed him critically for a long moment, then asked abruptly, “Do you desire children, young man?” Startled by her bluntness, the man blushed, and stammering an answer he figured that she wanted, he said: “Well-uh-yes, ah, yes I do very much.” Looking scornfully over the large and rowdy tribe gathered around the six picnic tables, the old woman said, “Well, try to control it!” (Michael Hodgin. 1001 Humorous Illustrations For Public Speaking, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing house, 1994, ISBN: 0-310-47391-8, p. 149.)
In the ancient world, having a large family with a lot of children was your retirement insurance, because it would be your many children who would take care of you. Our world now is very different from that time; we don’t necessarily need our children to take care of us anymore. Yet our children, as well as our nieces and nephews, and our grandchildren can still be a blessing to us as a source of pride as we watch them impact the world in the same ways that we once did.
But there’s a curious turn-around here: if the children in our community are a blessing to us, as a “heritage from the LORD,” it is we who are challenged to be a blessing to our children. There is a strong message throughout the Psalms of Ascent that longevity is important. In Psalm 128:5, we see that our lives are a gift from God, and that our lives are meant to serve the purposes of God. God’s intention is that we are to be a positive influence on our young people that, “we may live to see our children’s children.” It behooves us, then to take care of ourselves in body and mind so that we will be around for a long time to positively impact our children for God. We are reminded from these psalms that those closest to us will adopt our values, so it challenges us to consider how we are influencing the people in our lives by the way we act and speak.
As Psalm 127:1reminds us, ‘If our families are not built on the ways of God, then our efforts at building a family will come to nothing. If our community isn’t centered on God, then our efforts to have a safe place for our children will be meaningless. Sometimes we get the notion of dividing our lives up into compartments: this is family activity, this is work, this is school, this is church – and never do these areas mix. We are challenged by Psalms 127 & 128 that our activity with God is intertwined with all of the other parts of our lives. How we view one impacts how we view the other. You see, God cares about the so-called routine matters of life such as home, community, work and family. These psalms stand against the purely secular way of looking at the human experience. While some people need to be reminded that home, community, work, and family are not simply necessities to be tolerated, other people need to be reminded that neither are these areas of experience the be-all and end-all of our existence.
Having a nice house may be a part of the "American Dream," but it does not necessarily fulfill the will of God. Having a crime-free community does little good if we have nothing to live for except our possessions. Any of our activities, no matter how good, can become idolatrous if we use them as means to escape the will of God. These two psalms remind us that unless our enterprises are God enterprises as those who build, watch, and labor, seek the will and way of God and invoke God’s presence and purpose in these activities, then there will be an emptiness to them.
It’s also true that our efforts at building God-centered families and God-centered communities are acts of worship to God. When the object of our devotion is right, then all of our relationships will combine together as an honorable offering to God. How much energy and time do we spend in work and in our relationships each week? God is not nearly as interested with our once-a-week church activity as God is of our activities with work, community, and family throughout the week. Our family relationships are not separate from our relationship with God, but are in fact the primary expressions of our relationship with God. Our family, work, and community activities are the truest demonstrations of our devotion to God.
Who is building your house? Putting God first is everyone’s responsibility – from the youngest to the oldest. Now I could spend a lot of time belaboring this idea that God should be the center of your family life, and indeed, all the areas of your life. I could bore you with all sorts of hackneyed suggestions as to how you could make changes. I could insult and browbeat you, and make you feel guilty as to how well or not so well you are doing in this area. But in the end, it’s really just between you and God. You all know where you and your family stands with God. So, my best advice is to pray to God about your relationships, your work, your activities, and ask God if your conduct is pleasing to God. Ask God how your house can be a God-built house. Ask how your family can be a God-built family. Ask God how your life can be a God-built life.