If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 127 as we continue to make our way through the fifth book of the Psalms, the final section of the Psalms that begins with 107 and specifically through the Psalms of Ascents that we have been looking at for the last couple of weeks together on the Lord's Day Evening. We are in Psalm 127 tonight. You will see that this is a psalm of Solomon's. His name appears in the title or heading of this psalm as “Of Solomon.” And there is perhaps an illusion to himself that he himself has placed in this psalm at the end of verse 2. You will notice the reference, “He gives to his beloved sleep.” And those of you who are familiar with the Song of Songs know that that word, “beloved,” is one that occurs on a number of occasions in that Song and this may well be Solomon's way of symbolizing or interjecting himself into Psalm 127. Whatever the case, because of the heading, we need to note the fact that this is a psalm of Solomon's. This fact will constitute a major application and indeed admonition that we will receive tonight from this psalm. So tuck that in your back pocket; we’ll pull it out again before the end of the service tonight.
Now this psalm tells us apart from the Lord, apart from active dependence upon the Lord, apart from trust in the Lord, our lives are pointless, restless, and fruitless. Specifically, this psalm presents three basic activities of life, three basic activities of life that are relevant to people in all times and in all cultures. And it appeals to these three basic activities of life to explain and apply the truth that we need to depend upon the Lord, that we need to deliberately trust the Lord in every aspect of our lives. And those three activities — you’ll see them here very early on in the psalm — those three activities are: building a house, just about everybody can relate to that, building a house; protecting a city, and rearing a family. That is, the illustrations, the applications in this psalm, revolve around construction, security, and parenting. And in those three spheres, Solomon charges us to trust God, to depend upon God, to recognize that all of our efforts will be in vain unless the Lord blesses. Derek Kidner says, “One of the most telling features of this short poem is that it singles out three of our most universal preoccupations — building, security, raising a family — and makes us ask what they all amount to and to whom we owe them.”
Now critics have sometimes suggested that this psalm has been spliced together rather poorly, that two poems that are unrelated have been sort of blopped together by an editor. That's because if you look at verses 1 and 2 there's a reference to building and watching and the vanity of doing these things apart from the Lord. And then in verse 3 to 5 suddenly the focus is on children and the blessing of having children and family. But the connections between these two parts of the psalm are actually obvious and numerous. Let me just point to three of them before we even read the psalm.
First of all, notice in the very first verse we are introduced to the idea of a house. Now at the end of the psalm we are introduced to the idea of a family and you will be familiar with the fact that the word, “house,” in the Old Testament often has multiple meanings, one of them is a “family;” a house meaning a “household.” In fact, that is part of the play-on words in the very famous passage in 2 Samuel 7. You remember when David goes to the Lord and says, “I want to build You a house,” and the Lord says to David, “You’re not going to build Me a house; I'm going to build you a house.” Well what David means is he wants to build the Lord a temple and the Lord says, “No David, you’re not going to build Me a house, a temple; I'm going to build you a house, a dynasty, a family that will continue to reign on the throne forever.” Well, there we see the play-on words and here it is right here and no wonder because Solomon would have known of that conversation between the Lord and his father, David. So we see the play-on words here in the first and the second half of the psalm between house and family.
The second connection is obvious. Only what is established by God is truly strong, whether that is in building or security or children and family.
And then the third connection is a play-on words, another play-on words. Hebrews loved to use words that sounded like one another and pair them up in poems and even in prose. And there's one of these in this psalm. In verse 1 you’ll see a reference to builders — “Unless the Lord builds the house.” Well, the Hebrew word for “builders” is “bonim.” And then in verse 3 you will see a reference to “sons.” It's translated here, and appropriately so by the ESV, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,” but literally it reads, “Behold, sons are a heritage from the Lord,” and the Hebrew for that is “banim” — “bonim; banim.” You see a connection between the first verse and the third verse in these play-on words. And so despite the fact that the critics say that these are two poems put together rather haphazardly, we see numerous and obvious connections between the first and the second half. And I want to look at this passage with you tonight because it has a lot to say to all of us. Are you a worrier? This psalm is for you. Are you a person who has learned the spiritual discipline of trusting the Lord, resting in the Lord? This psalm is for you. Let's pray before we read it.
Heavenly Father, we need this Word, we need this song. We know that because we do not live by bread alone; we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God and we know that You won't give us words that we don't need. Perhaps even in our scanning this psalm with our eyes we see tonight how much we need it, whether we've perceived that now or not, I pray that by the time we finish studying the psalm we would all recognize how much we need it and that we would understand how to get what this psalm tells us that we need. I pray this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it from Psalm 127:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF SOLOMON.
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.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Do you work? Do you do your work in conscience dependence on the Lord? Do you depend upon the Lord to make your labor fruitful, or does your Christianity make no difference in your approach to work, to labor, to vocation? Is trust even a feature of the way you work? Do you work to protect yourself? And perhaps experience a not insignificant anxiety in doing so and yet find no rest? No abiding, no refreshing sense of security? You know, David would say, “You spread a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.” Isn't that a picture of the ability to trust in the Lord and to receive from Him a blessed rest, even in the presence of our enemies? “You spread a banquet table for me even in the presence of my enemies.” And when you read that from Psalm 23 do you think, “I have no idea what it would be like to feel that way”? Does your dependence on the Lord feature in your view of your family life? Does His providence, His plan, tower in your heart, in your mind, in your thinking? Does His providence, His plan, tower over your efforts and your estimation of your home life and your aspirations for your home life? This psalm speaks to all of those things and it is a timely word for all of us. This psalm makes it clear that our building, our protecting, and even our family work are ultimately pointless, restless, and fruitless without God's blessing and apart from our deliberate, conscious, dependence on the Lord.
And I want to look at this psalm with you tonight especially at two things. The first thing you’ll see in verses 1 and 2; the second thing you’ll see in verses 3 to 5. The first thing is this — Our creating and conserving, our building and protecting, our work and our security, all of these things are pointless and we will find no rest in them without the Lord. Isn't that the message of the first two verses? “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.” Now the word “vain” there isn't the same word “vain” that pops up in the book of Ecclesiastes over and over. Remember, Solomon says there, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” What he means by that in Ecclesiastes is that the best stuff that life can give you apart from the Lord is empty; it won't fill you up. Here, it's a different kind of angle on what it means to be vain. It means you can throw yourself into it and in the end you’ll look yourself in the mirror one morning and you’ll say, “What was the point of all that?” Solomon is telling you here that when we build and when we seek security they are either the Lord's doing or they are ultimately pointless. We can work like beavers and we can endeavor to protect ourselves and find security in various ways and in various situations of life, and if those things are ultimately not the Lord's doing, one day we’ll look in the mirror and we’ll say, “What was all that for? It was pointless.” And secondly, the psalmist tells us here that unless our trust is in the Lord we will never have rest.
OUR CREATING AND CONSERVING, OUR BUILDING AND PROTECTING ARE POINTLESS AND RESTLESS WITHOUT THE LORD
Look at verse 2. “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.” Isn't that a beautiful picture there? A contrast — somebody who gets up early and stays up late and yet their sleep is fitful and filled with fear and there is never any sense of rest, there is no abatement of anxiety; there is an ever-present worry. And in contrast, the one who trusts in the Lord receives from the Lord sleep, rest, refreshment. This is a word that I need to hear. It's funny; I'm actually a very secure person. I joke with people sometimes and tell them I suffer from an almost terminal lack of insecurity, but I also worry and there are not a few of your elders who have to check on me regularly in my worry. I wonder if you know the struggle of worrying instead of resting. And I say this especially to my sisters in Christ, who I think because not only of your constitutional make-up but because of the roles that God calls you to in life are especially prone to worry. Do you know the rest that is being held out to you by God in this psalm?
David Dickson, the great puritan commentator on The Westminster Confession, once said, “The only way to have a quiet mind and good success is to use the means that God has ordained without anxiety and commit the outcome to God.” The only way to have a quiet mind and good success is to use the means that God has ordained without anxiety and to leave the outcome to God. Can you do that? Do you do that? William Plumer, the great Old Testament commentator and the author of a marvelous commentary on the Psalms, asked this searching question: How many millions sleep and wake up like atheists? That is, do we go to bed and wake up in our worries as if God did not exist? Do we think that we can worry ourselves to security? Worry ourselves to fruitful labor as if God did not exist? Or do we work and then trust Him to establish the work of our hands? You remember Moses’ prayer? “Prosper thou the work of our hands.” It's an indication that Moses is depending on God to supply the prospering of our labor. Do you go to sleep and wake up like an atheist or do you trust in the Lord? The first thing we learn in this psalm is that our creating and our conserving, our building and our protecting, our labor and our search for security are all pointless and restless without the Lord, apart from the Lord, unless the Lord builds and unless the Lord watches. That's the first thing we learn in this psalm and there's a second thing.
OUR FAMILIES ARE GIFTS FROM GOD, BUT OR PARENTING AND ASPIRATIONS MUST BE ENTRUSTED TO GOD
The second thing is that our families are gifts from God but our parenting and our aspirations must be entrusted to the Lord. Look at verses 3 to 5. “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.” God's original universal healthcare and eldercare plan was children. That's what the psalmist is saying. God's original universal healthcare and eldercare plan was children so that when you get old and decrepit there's some young people around that like you and care about you to take care of you. And the psalmist is celebrating that. “Children are a heritage from the Lord. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” Now if that picture looks a little idyllic, if that picture looks a little bit different from your own experience of family life let me just remind you that the way that God gives this gift doesn't always look like a Currier and Ives print. It doesn't always look like the cover of the Saturday Evening Post with a Normal Rockwell family around the dinner table. More often than not, the way that God gives this gift looks like something out of a William Faulkner family reunion when there’re more skeletons in the closet than you can get back in!
Think of it. Think of how God gives this gift in Genesis 11. There are the people in the plains of Shinar and they are going to make a name for themselves. They are populous as ants and they are busy as bees and they’re going to build a tower to the sky and make a name for themselves and God frustrates their plans. But what is going to be His counter-plan of blessing? Well, He picks an idolater from Iraq, that's where Ur of the Chaldees is, He picks an idolater from Iraq named Terah. And He says, “Terah, I'm going to give you a boy and his name is going to be Abraham. And Abraham will wait to have a child by his own wife until he is extremely advanced in years.” There is no telling the family tensions that must have existed between Abram and Sarah for much of their marriage. And through that boy, all the families of the earth will be blessed. If you had been there at pointblank range you would have said, “This is a mess. This is not the Currier and Ives print for my family life that I want but it was God's plan.” And God worked His blessings in spite of Abram, in spite of Sarah, in spite of their childlessness for much of their lives and He has blessed all of the families of the earth in them.
I love what Derek Kidner says. “It is not untypical of God's gifts that first they are liabilities. It is not untypical of God's gifts that first they are liabilities or at least responsibilities before they become obvious assets. The greater their promise, the more likely that these sons will be a handful before they’re a quiver full.” Does that encourage you, mothers? “The greater their promise the more likely that these sons who are a heritage from the Lord, these children who are a heritage from the Lord will be a handful before they’re a quiver full.” Testing and trial will come before blessing and reward. That's how God works. So if you’re not living around that Normal Rockwell table or you’re not stuck in that Currier and Ives print, but you trust in the Lord and you lean not on your own understanding, He is working His purpose out and in the end He will vindicate Himself to you and you will, like Job, say, “I had heard of You but now I see You and You are good.”
Now there's a warning in this psalm. Can I take you back to that thought that I told you to stick in your back pocket? Solomon wrote the psalm. And in this psalm Solomon tells us that we shouldn't build without trusting the Lord and we shouldn't protect without trusting the Lord and we shouldn't rear families without trusting the Lord. Well, like much of Solomon's wisdom, the lessons of this psalm that he wrote himself, relevant as they were to his own situation, were lost on him. His building, 1 Kings 9, became reckless. His kingdom, 1 Kings 11 tells us, became a ruin. And his marriages, a disastrous defection from God. Solomon! Is that not a warning for us? The wisest man that ever lived made a wreck of his life and didn't listen to the counsel that he himself wrote. You’re only as wise as your next decision.
Now oddly, there's some good news that comes out of that admonition. In fact, there’re two pieces of good news to come out of that admonition and I want to close with this. The Bible is giving you this warning because this is important and because it's so hard to be dependent upon the Lord. It is really hard to trust the Lord. It's easy to talk about trusting the Lord; it's very hard to actually do it. And so, God in His kindness, has let Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, tell you to trust the Lord in your building, in your security, and in your family life, and then the Lord has allowed you watch him not do it. Do you realize how extensive this exhortation from God to you is? You remember how Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 says that the children of Israel's grumbling and their judgment by God in the wilderness happened and was written down as a warning for us that we would not grumble and fail to trust the Lord? Do you realize how expensive that lesson was? God allowed a judgment to be visited on two million people to that you and me, Christians upon whom the end of the ages have come, would learn not to grumble and test the Lord and to trust Him, even when we're in the wilderness. And He's giving us another extensive lesson here. The son of His servant, David, the wisest man who ever lived, stumbled and fell on his face with his own counsel so that you wouldn't. Do you have any idea how much God cares about you? Do you have any idea how expensive His exhortations and His admonitions and His warnings are?
But there's another piece of good news. How do we do this? How do we trust the Lord? How do we trust the Lord in our building and in our vocation? How do we trust the Lord for our security? How do we trust the Lord in the rearing of our families? By union with Christ. Listen to these wise words from the English puritan, Walter Marshall, from his wonderful book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification. “The way to get holy endowments and the qualifications necessary to frame and enable us to live the Christian life is to receive them out of the fullness of Christ by fellowship with Him and that we may have fellowship we must be in Christ and have Christ Himself in us by a mystical union with Him.” Now he's talking about union with Christ. When the Holy Spirit, just like Pete was telling the children, when the Holy Spirit enables us to repent and believe, He does that by uniting us to Christ. So in the New Testament, over and over, Paul will identify himself and other Christians by saying that we are “in Christ.” And sometimes he’ll even say Christ is in us. And Walter Marshall is saying because we are united to Christ, we need to look to Him and say, “Lord, I need to receive, out of Your fullness, the ability to trust in the Lord because You did. You did, all the way to Calvary; You trusted Your Father. But I'm weak and I'm fickle and I'm feckless. And out of Your fullness, I need to be able to trust the Father. Would You give that to me? Would You give that to me, Christ? I'm united to You. You trusted; would You give me that trust?”
And then in what context do we receive out of the fullness of Christ? In fellowship with Him. When we're in fellowship with Christ, when we're in communion with Christ, when we're in spiritual conversation with Christ, when we're focused on Christ, our eyes are on Christ, we love Christ, we trust Christ, we treasure Christ, we want to be like Christ, we want to be with Christ in that context of fellowship, then, out of the fullness of Christ, we receive what we need to trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your ways straight.” You’ll only be able to do that if you depend upon Christ. Think of that. You won't be able to depend upon God unless you depend upon Christ to enable you to depend upon God. That's how worrisome we are. We’re wired by the Fall to want to do it ourselves and we can't even depend on Him unless we depend upon Him to help us depend upon Him. And so Solomon has written a psalm, a song that tells us to depend upon the Lord and he didn't do it. And in so telling us we are told that this is an important thing and we need God's help to depend upon His help. May God grant that heart of dependence and trust to all of you and to all of you, rest.
Heavenly Father, thank You. Thank You! You know exactly where we are, You know exactly what we struggle with, You know exactly what we need, and You know how to give it. So now we ask. Our hands are open, Lord, they’re outstretched. And we ask to receive, out of the fullness of Christ, the ability to trust and rest. In Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand and receive out of the fullness of God's hand His blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.