“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 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. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. 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. A Song of Ascents.”(Psalm 127:1–128:title, ESV)
In our fast-moving world it seems that there are those of the opinion that you work hard and play hard, collecting all you can get out of life. There also seems to be a growing number of people who feel that they are entitled to the fruits of others’ labors simply because it is a human right to have what your neighbor has, so why work?
The Bible definitely speaks positively about the need for hard work in order to provide for your needs, and beyond yourself, the needs of those who are weak and helpless. This reflects the character of God who “labored” for six days in creation and also cares for the needs of all of creation.
But Psalm 127 addresses a real problem that we need help with in our modern age–work hard, but work in such a way that you are dependent upon the Lord God for your effort.
In these first two verses of this psalm, the work of building, securing what we have, and making sure we have good food to eat, are all measured to be vain activities if the Lord is not involved in the life of the one making the effort. This isn’t to say that such a person doesn’t meet their goals. The house is built; the city is secured; the toil does produce bread. That isn’t the issue.
The question is, when all is said and done, and when we stand in heaven before God, will what we have done in this busy life have been done in vain because we did not include the Lord in our work, but instead rushed headlong into our work by ourselves? This is a good question to ask before we have gone on too far in life. It is a tragedy when life is only examined on the death bed. At this point, what can be changed?
The second half of the psalm (vv. 3-5) are so different from the first half, that some have thought that they are two different songs somehow placed together. But they are connected, both poetically, and logically. The Hebrew word for “builders” (v. 1) is bonim, and the word for “children” (literally, “sons”) is banim. But there is a greater connection here.
Whereas the first part is a picture of the mad rat-race of life to get as much as you can by your own herculean efforts, the second half begins with the inheritance that is received as a good gift from the Lord. Like a plot of land (a common gift of inheritance in the biblical world), the land would need to be cleared of trees, stumps, weeds, etc., then plowed, seeded, and finally harvested.
Children are like this. They are gifts from the Lord, and they are for a time a liability rather than an asset. They need a lot of attention, pulling sinful weeds, watering with love, seeding with the gospel, removing rocks of rebellion and unbelief, but in the end, this fruit of the womb has a reward. Not a reward from God for our goodness or righteousness. No, children are a gift of grace. The reward is the fruit of the labor in seeking to raise children in Christ. When we do this, it is the Lord who builds the house–not a literal house, but a figurative one, in the family.
These children will become warriors for truth in the hands of the parents, beginning in the quiver of the parents, and eventually being launched out into the world to carry on the building of a household that pleases the Lord. How blessed is this father and mother!
It is a tragedy that the family has been attacked in our society and world. Abortion has destroyed innocent unborn children in the name of progress and opportunities. Not only is it wicked, it is foolish.
It is a tragedy when parents sacrifice their children in order to provide them with a “good home” all the while tearing down their family through neglect and the instilling of unbiblical values through abandonment of duties and disregard for the warnings of Scripture.
Who has built your “house?” If it isn’t the Lord’s doing, all your labor will be in vain.