Chapter 7: Psalm 127

Psalm 127  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Rest for His Beloved
THIS is the central Psalm of the whole series, there being seven before and seven after it. Each seven, as before pointed out, contains two by David; is divided, as is so often the case with the number seven in Scripture, into four and three; and contains the name of Jehovah twenty-four times. If these interesting details of structure may not lead us aside from the divine teaching of the Psalms, we may yet admire the symmetry and exactitude of the inspired Scriptures. The title of this Psalm reads in our Bibles, “A Song of degrees for Solomon”; but it is generally accepted that “of” should be substituted for “for,” and, thus, that Solomon was the writer of the Psalm. This fact lends a peculiar interest to its subject, and shows us that the king commenced to build the house in real dependence on God. The first two and the last three verses go together, though there is an intimate connection between the two divisions; for the two fundamental ideas are the house and the family, whatever may be their prophetical import.
“Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” (v. 1.) It is contended that it should be rendered a house, and not the house. If we accept the correction, the teaching will be all the more emphatic, as in the application it will include Solomon’s own house, the temple which he had the privilege of building, and the house or temple which will yet be rebuilt, first by the Jews in unbelief after their restoration, and finally by the Lord Himself after the establishment of His kingdom. (See Zech. 6:1212And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: (Zechariah 6:12).)
We have, then, first of all, the general truth that all human undertakings are to no purpose unless the Lord is with us in them, guiding, controlling, and sustaining, unless, indeed, we are but carrying out His purposes and designs. It was well for Solomon to be deeply imbued with the conviction here expressed, seeing that one half of his reign (twenty years) was occupied in the erection of the house of the Lord and his own house. That he failed to remember the divine principle which he had been given to record is seen from the comment appended to the statement that he was seven years in building the Lord’s house. “But Solomon was building his own house thirteen years,” nearly twice seven. Alas! how often is it that we commence our own service in real dependence upon the Lord, with the full sense that we can do nothing apart from Him; and then, from one cause or another, even from delight in the work itself sometimes, we are betrayed into dependence upon our own methods or our own energies, or into losing sight of God’s object through being occupied with our own.
Remark, moreover, that our own houses often come into competition with the Lord’s house. Very solemn instruction is given on this head by the prophet Haggai. “Ye looked for much,” he says to the restored remnant, “and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of Mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.” (Chapter 1:9.) We need, therefore, to ponder much upon this truth, that all our “building” is utterly in vain unless it is as accomplishing the Lord’s work.
The prophetic application is of great interest, and it contains much encouragement for the remnant of a future day. From other scriptures we learn that the Jews will be restored to their own land while in unbelief, and that, in the attempt to revive their national splendor, they will build the temple. (See Isa. 66:66A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the Lord that rendereth recompence to his enemies. (Isaiah 66:6); 2 Thess. 2:44Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4), etc.) This will be carried on before the eyes of the pious remnant, those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” But guided by the teaching of this Psalm, they will be comforted with the assurance that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it”; and they will thus be kept from being deceived by the building and the establishment of the gorgeous rites of the national temple. And surely a solemn warning is conveyed by these words to Christian builders. As Paul writes, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a vise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” (1 Cor. 3:1010According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. (1 Corinthians 3:10).) The one that builds in wood, hay, or stubble does but labor in vain, except, alas! to secure his suffering loss in the future or his own destruction. Truly the day will declare the character of every man’s work, whether of Jewish or Christian builders, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
In the next clause the same principle is applied to human vigilance “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Jerusalem may yet be rebuilt and fortified so strongly as to be deemed impregnable; the watchful sentries may be constantly on the alert; every possible care may be taken to guard against any and especially any nocturnal assaults; but the most strenuous efforts of human strength and care will be utterly futile unless the Lord keep the city. Illustration after illustration of this truth might be easily drawn from historical records, and notably from the capture of Babylon by Cyrus—all alike proclaiming the impotence of man when acting apart from God. It is a lesson needing to be written upon the hearts of God’s people in all ages, that they may repose alone upon His protection and care, and thus be able to sing in the darkest hour, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
The next verse does but continue, if in another aspect, the same lesson of dependence: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: [for] so He giveth His beloved sleep.” A word or two may be first offered upon the translation of the last clause, as the meaning of the whole passage depends upon it. Many, taking sleep in its literal sense, render it, “He giveth His beloved in sleep”; but we cannot discover, in the language employed, any justification for this addition. This leads to the question whether actual sleep is intended. The manifest contrast is between securing, or obtaining, something by our own efforts, or looking for and receiving it as God’s gift. Now no one would ever think of purchasing sleep in the way here described, certainly not by eating the bread of sorrows; but it is the common way of man to seek to acquire the means of ease, retirement, and enjoyment through his own painful and unwearying labors. We conclude, therefore, that sleep must be taken in the symbolical sense of rest and repose of spirit. So taken all is plain. Quiet of mind and restful enjoyment can never be attained as the fruit of our own toil. God is the giver of all repose to His beloved; and, once accepting this simple truth, they tease from all carefulness, as also from anxious labor, and are kept in perfect peace, whatever the outlook, with their minds stayed upon Him. And how blessed for the soul to enter in any measure into this, surrounded as we are with so many dangers and causes of apprehension and anxiety! In perilous days, amid trials, tribulations, and sorrows, we may ever rest upon the breast of Him who giveth His beloved sleep. Sorely tried believers, whether from temporal or spiritual difficulties, will find much blessed food for meditation here, and withal learn ever to look up to the Lord, and to remember that they are His beloved to whom He delights to minister “sleep.”
The last three verses go together, and complete the subject of the Psalm. Thus we have the dwelling, taking now the house in its primary significance; then, guardian care with repose of spirit; and lastly, the family—the children. But if there be children, they also are God’s gift—an heritage of (from) the Lord; and they are His gift as His recompense or reward, as the mark of His approval and blessing bestowed on those who fear Him and walk in obedience to His word, according to His promise to His earthly people. (See Deut. 28:1111And the Lord shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers to give thee. (Deuteronomy 28:11), and the next Psalm.) We see, therefore, that in every dispensation God will have His people learn that He is the source of all their blessings, that He is a GIVER, the God of all grace; and hence that the secret of a happy, restful life lies in realized dependence upon Himself. What anxieties and apprehensions we should be spared if this lesson were but more deeply graven upon our hearts! We then, indeed, might be careful for nothing, because we should only wait upon God, and have our expectation from Him, in the assurance that we could not obtain one single thing by our own efforts, however diligent, but that all must be received as God’s gift. When we have once learned that God is a giver, we are content and happy to be receivers.
Children, moreover, are a means of defense (for enemies are still in the land, as before noticed): “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.” As an illustration we read that “the sons of Ulam were mighty men of valor, archers, and had many sons, and sons’ sons, an hundred and fifty.” (1 Chron. 8:4040And the sons of Ulam were mighty men of valor, archers, and had many sons, and sons' sons, an hundred and fifty. All these are of the sons of Benjamin. (1 Chronicles 8:40).) This will also explain the following verse: “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” As the gate was the place of authority and judgment, where matters in dispute were settled, and the place possibly of assault by external foes, the allusions of the Psalmist are easily comprehended. The man that “hath his quiver full of” such arrows, children, will have the means to defend his cause when unrighteously assailed, and thus will be able to present a bold front to his enemies. So we read of the Messiah in a future day, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power; from the womb of the morning Thou hast the dew of Thy youth.” There cannot be a doubt that this verse should be punctuated as above; and the meaning of the last clause would seem to be that the youthful followers of Messiah in the day of His power will be as numerous as the dewdrops from the womb of the morning, or, as one has paraphrased it, “Thy youthful soldiery is like the dew in its beauty.” Combining the two thoughts—number and beauty— we may indeed say that when Messiah comes forth He will not be ashamed when He speaks with the enemies in the gate, as He surely will to their destruction. (See Zech. 14:33Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. (Zechariah 14:3).)
Recalling, finally, what is said of Asher (“Let Asher be blessed with children”), and combining it with verse 6, we may surely remind ourselves that, in the preaching of the gospel for example, children are an heritage from the Lord. This will keep us free from all human methods to ensure success, from all appeals to nature and sentiment, and lead us to depend alone upon the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit, and upon the favor and blessing of God. The Lord Himself open our hearts to receive the simple instruction of this Psalm.