One of my memory verses for the semester is Psalm 127. I had studied the passage a few years ago, but I was single then. I have a thing against memorizing verses without studying them contextually, so I decided to analyze the psalm once again, as a husband and father (and seminary student).
The text begins in v. 1 with an A/B/A’/B’ pattern:
Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman watches over it in vain.
In sum, The efforts of those who labor without the LORD’s sovereign help are judged to be useless. Twice Solomon refers God as the one who builds the house (in the architectural sense here, as seen with its parallel “watches over the city”, both being types of labor). If he is not working, the laborers might as well pack it up. Their work will be useless; the job will not get done.
Solomon moves on with the vanity idea in v. 2, once again in the A/B/A’/B’ pattern:
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil,
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
In other words, losing sleep for anxious labor is useless because sleep is a gift from the LORD. The picture is of a man who wakes up extra early in the middle of the night to work the crops, hoping that the extra hours will produce a better crop. When the day is over, he is still out there working, foregoing his dinner and rest. He does so out of “anxious toil”. He has anxiety that if he stops working, he might not get enough to provide for his family. So he does not rest, and he does not eat. His work is his “bread”. But all of that is useless because God has stopped working for him. God is in his bedroom, if you will, fluffing the pillows.
If I could group vv. 1 and 2 together, the message would be: The efforts of those who labor anxiously without rest are judged to be useless without the LORD because he is the one who has lovingly given them sleep.
Vv. 3-5 develop three metaphors, one of treasure (3), one of gardening (3b) and one of battle (4-5). In verse 3, “children are a heritage from the LORD…a reward.” He also calls them “the fruit of the womb”. If working endlessly was in vain, bearing and rearing children certainly is not. It is a very beneficial endeavor.
Verses 4 and 5 continue the idea with the metaphor of battle:
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
The phrases “arrows in the hand of a warrior”, and “fills his quiver” are dealing with archery. One should look at children like an archer looks at arrows. When battle comes, the last thing an archer wants is an empty quiver! He wants as much artillery as possible! He reaches in it hoping for as many arrows as he can fit in there. Children are much the same way. When a man “speaks with his enemies in the gate”, he does not want to be childless; he wants children to uphold his name. He does not want to be looked at as cursed because he cannot produce children. He wants to silence his enemies because of the evident blessing of an increasing tribe.
To summarize, the status of children as a heritage from the LORD judges those who has many of them to be blessed and will silence their enemies in the time of confrontation.
If we were to put this whole psalm together, we could state the message this way:
One who labors anxiously without rest must consider the LORD’s gifts of rest and children to avoid the futility of his labor without the LORD and to stand without shame among his enemies.
If anyone is still struggling to make sense of that statement, try this one:
If you want to silence your enemies, don’t do it by working ridiculous hours to reach and maintain “the American dream”. Instead, go home, invest in your family, and go to bed, trusting all the while that God will take care of your needs.
This has tremendous applications for me as I face the middle of an already busy semester, and I might add a few others as well.
1) I will go home at a reasonable time from my classes and my job to spend time with my family, recognizing that a perfect GPA would be nice, but in the end, vanity.
2) I will strive to get both a daily dose of rest and a Sabbath rest, both to protect myself from “anxious toil” and to remind myself of my own frailty and God’s absolute ability.
3) I will invest my life into my son Joshua and will not reject the idea of more children, since one already takes a good chunk of my money(!) because the American dream is vanity. He does not need all the toys and trinkets money can buy. He does need a father who is there and who will raise him up in the fear and grace of the Lord.
4) Those who reject the College @ SW’s Homemaking program as being outdated and even offensive are evidencing our nations rejection of the sovereign rule of God over our labors and our homes. We as a nation have taught that a woman belongs in the workplace and not at home, and she should just take some birth control pills to keep from having children, and if that doesn’t work, have an abortion. That has borne us generations of chaos and disorder, i.e. vanity. (Note: this is not a statement on all women who work, for this psalm is properly categorized as a “wisdom psalm”, which does not speak to every situation, but speaks of general observations on life, i.e., families where the husband has lost a job or has a disability, or single moms, etc. Nor is it a total rejection of birth control, for such medication is not just used for the prevention of babies). Southwestern is absolutely consistent with this psalm in providing a program that supports women who sense that God has provided a greater joy in enjoying the fruit of their wombs.
Well, now, I think I’m going to kiss my son, and thank God for His grace. After that, I am going to praise God for loving me, and my wife for tolerating me, and then I’m going to enjoy His gift of rest.