For my blog post today about Psalm 127, I will post the Psalm in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will make three comments.
A Song of degrees for Solomon. Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
2 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.
3 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
4 As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
5 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.
1. I have a hard time believing that whatever project God does not support will fail, regardless of how much people work on it. There are ungodly people who succeed, and there are godly people who succeed; there are ungodly people who fail, and there are godly people who fail. One could perhaps say that we don’t necessarily know when God is building a house, and that God may be building the houses of the ungodly, not just the godly! That could be. There are biblical passages about God giving power and authority to ungodly people, and God may very well have a purpose in doing so. But the point of Psalm 127 seems to be to exhort people to trust in the LORD, to realize that they need the LORD for their endeavors to be successful. If one can succeed without even thinking about the LORD, and if success is rather random (for, though it may entail hard work, luck, time, and circumstance also have a lot to do with it), what’s that do to the lesson of Psalm 127?
One could then say that what God supports will survive in the long run, whereas what God does not support will ultimately come to an end. I suppose that there’s a bit of truth to that, from a certain perspective, since virtually every human endeavor comes to an end at some point. We are limited, we die, and life moves on, with powers rising and falling, and cultures changing. If you want to bring a Jewish or Christian view of the afterlife into the equation, you can indeed say that what the righteous build will survive, since the righteous will receive eternal rewards. But I’m not so sure that the author of Psalm 127 has in mind any afterlife. He seems to focus on what he considers to be truths in this life. Could, however, the author have believed in some eschatological restoration of Israel, in which the houses that Israel would build—-supported by God—-would last forever? I can’t rule that out, for scholars have speculated that a number of Psalms are about the restoration of Israel and God’s judgment of Israel’s enemies, both of which can be eschatological concepts. But I can’t escape my current impression of Psalm 127: that it appears to be positing truths that it deems to be relevant in the here-and-now—-that, in the here and now, what and whom God supports thrive and prosper, whereas what and whom God does not support fail and come to an end.
2. I like v 2, which says that “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.” It’s like God can give prosperity or sustenance to someone, without that person having to over-exert himself in working. Proverbs, however, promotes a solid work ethic. I’m the sort of person who would like for success to come to me easily. But success in a number of cases is the result of hard work—-and even hard work does not necessarily guarantee success. I believe in a combination of hard work and relying on God. I don’t deny that I need God, on some level: if I am ever to write a publishable paper, for example, I’ll need an idea about what to write, a flash of insight, if you will. That doesn’t mean that God giving me an idea for a paper topic is the same as God inspiring Scripture. I can’t even dogmatically say that an idea that I get for a paper is from God, and not my own mind. What I’m saying is that I feel limited, and that certain things (i.e., getting a flash of insight) are outside of my control, which is why I rely on God.
3. Vv 3-5 are about the benefits of having children. In those days, having lots of children gave a man workers, people who could support him in his old age, people who could defend him from enemies, and clout. Even today, children can be a benefit to their parents, for children can take care of a parent when the parent gets old, and they can also provide companionship in a lonely world.
I did not care, however, for an article that I read on Jim Daly’s Focus on the Family blog, entitled “Is Intentional Childlessness Biblical?” Daly’s answer was essentially “no.” I suppose that one can make the case that God wants for people to have children, for God in Genesis 1:28 tells the man and the woman to be fruitful and multiply, and Psalm 127 depicts having children as a blessing from God. But, as some commenters noted, one can also find in the Bible another perspective: Paul was single and even expressed preference for the single lifestyle, even as he acknowledged that singleness was not for everyone (I Corinthians 7). Similarly, I would say that having children is not for everyone. Not everyone has what it takes to raise children.
Incidentally, my favorite comment under Daly’s post said the following: “This article has reminded me why I am beginning to love the Jesus presented in the Bible, but not very interested in participating in church or conservative Christian culture.”