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May the Lord bless you (Psalm 127 & 128)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1. Labouring in vain

Last summer, the one just gone, was a very frustrating and unfruitful season for me in the garden. Although I sowed and planted quite a few different types of vegetables, all the rain meant that much of my hard work was in vain. It was for nothing.
The constant rain meant that everything was waterlogged, and I had lot of trouble with soil borne diseases like blight which seemed to quickly spread from one plant to the next. I ended up pulling out all my capsicum plants sadly without eating a single capsicum. It seemed like all my hard work had been for nothing. It had taken months to get those plants to grow from seeds to the stage that that they were at, but all the rain meant that all my hard work had gone to waste. It didn’t go well. It had been in vain.
In Psalm 127 that we are looking at today the psalmist make it clear that whatever we do in life that without the Lord it will be in vain. Today we are looking at both Psalm 127 and Psalm 128 which are sometimes referred to as wisdom songs. These two psalms belong together and have a lot of similarities to wisdom books like Ecclesiastes and Proverbs that guide us on the path of wisdom and steer us away from folly. They are a part of a collection of psalms (120 to 134) that bear the title, “Songs of Ascent”.
Although we cannot know for certain it is believed that the songs of ascent were probably sung by Jewish pilgrims travelling up to Jerusalem and the temple for the Jewish festivals. As the people of God came to present themselves before the Lord singing Psalm 127 this psalm reminded them that without the Lord’s blessing everything would be in vain and singing Psalm 128 straight after it might have reminded them of what they needed to do for things to go well with them. By looking at this pair of psalms we will also discover what it takes for things to go well for us.

2. Without the Lord we labour in vain

The author of the first psalm is identified as King Solomon and the first point that he makes in this psalm is that without the Lord all our labour, everything that we do, is in vain. In verses 1 and 2 he has referred to what would have been three normal preoccupations or activities for the Israelites: building a house, watching out for their enemies, and labouring or working to ensure that they had enough to eat.

• The builders build in vain

Firstly, the psalmist says that without the Lord, verse 1, the builders build in vain.

Psalm 127:1

Unless the LORD builds a house, its builders labour over it in vain ; Solomon was a king who undertook great building projects during his life. He not only built the temple taking 7 years to build it, but he also built himself a huge palace for himself that he spent a further 13 years building . Yet despite all that effort he and his builders put into such a building, he wrote that without the Lord the builders labour in vain. It can be all for nothing. It is a useless and fruitless endeavour.

What is built might end up meaningless maybe because it doesn’t ultimately last, or it doesn’t provide the satisfaction that the builders think that it might bring when everything is done and dusted. Without the Lord what we do or build for ourselves, all our achievements are in vain . They don’t bring meaning to our lives for only that which the Lord blesses, and builds will lasts. As the teacher in Ecclesiastes wrote,

Ecclesiastes 3:14

“I know that everything God does will last forever; there is no adding to it or taking from it. God works so that people will be in awe of him.”
• The watchers watch in vain
The second thing that Solomon says is that the watchers watch in vain.

unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain.
Cities in the ancient world had watchmen who were there for the protection and security of the city. Watchtowers were built into the walls of a city and watchmen were placed in them and were to remain alert to guard the city against enemy attack. But the psalmist says that unless the Lord watches over the city the watchman stays alert in vain. It isn’t an alert watchman that makes a city and its citizens ultimately secure, as alert and attentive as that watchman might be. It is the Lord who protects his people and secures them and their lives. He is their refuge or shelter and strength. Without the Lord the city is not secure.

• The workers work in vain.

Lastly the psalmist says that without the lord workers work in vain. Our hard work doesn’t guarantee success and can quickly just become anxious toil that keeps us awake at night and gets us up early in the morning.

Psalm 127:2

In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food— yes, he gives sleep to the one he loves.

The food that we need to survive is something that hard work alone won’t provide and working harder and longer doesn’t bring any more of guarantee. Worry about it also doesn’t help as we saw a few weeks ago in the sermon on the mount. It’s the Lord who provides for his people giving them what they need. It’s the Lord who makes our labour fruitful blessing us with what we need. Knowing this allows us to rest at night because we know that it all doesn’t just depend on us and how hard and how long we have worked. It is God who provides what we need to survive and thrive and enjoy life. The psalmist reminds us here that without the Lord everything is in vain. It is the Lord who blesses his people, and he makes them fruitful.

3. With the Lord there is blessing and fruitfulness

This seems to be the point that is being made in the second half of Psalm 127. The Lord promised Israel that he would make them fruitful and multiply them. With the Lord there is blessing and fruitfulness in life, without him there is only vanity. In the second half of the psalm, we see this is underscored for it is the blessing of the Lord that brings children. For the Israelite children were their legacy in the land. It was what they left of themselves, their hope of a future.

• Children are a blessing from God

Verses 3 to 5 make the point that children are a blessing from God. They are his gift, and this was something that the Israelites needed to recognise.

Psalm 127:3-5

3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, offspring, a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth.
5 Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. They will never be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the city gate.

While sons are specifically mentioned here some would argue that the word “offspring” in the second half of verse 3, which is literally “the fruit of the womb” would include all children. The 2011 NIV has chosen to translate the word “sons” in these verses in that broader sense as “children” and I don’t think it is wrong to think of it in this broader way.
What these verses highlight is that the Israelites ought to have regarded their offspring, their sons, their children as God’s gift. They are described as the heritage or an inheritance from the Lord. The Lord had promised to bless Israel and make them fruitful when they entered the Promised land, and they were to see their children in this way. They were a blessing from God. “Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them” can be translated, as the NIV has translated it, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” For the Israelite living in the Promised Land their children would provide support and make them less vulnerable and they were the promise of hope and future in the land beyond their own lifetime.

• We are dependent on God

What these verses highlight and taught the Israelites and still teach us today is that we are totally dependent on God for everything in life. The blessing of children and families, our homes and having enough to eat and the relative security that we have are all God’s gift and are all to be recognised as such. It isn’t just a matter of our own labour or hard work or the long hours and dedication to our job for without the Lord our work and labour would be in vain.
If these songs ascent were songs that were sung on the way to the temple what this first one reminded them of was that they were totally dependent on the Lord who they had come to Jerusalem to worship. It reminded them that the Lord was at the centre of everything in their lives, their homes, their work and having enough to eat and their families. It is the Lord who blesses us and makes our lives fruitful. How we should respond to him we will see in the next psalm, but this psalm I believe ought to cause us to think as to whether we see and treat the Lord as though he is on the periphery of our lives or at the centre of everything? It ought to cause us to think whether we are labouring in vain as if everything depends on us or whether we look to the Lord knowing that we depend on his grace and mercy not just our hard work?
If you were to look back and review the last few years, would they show that you have been getting up early and staying up late and working hard because you have been forgetting the Lord? Have we forgotten that it is the Lord who provides us with what we need, blessing us and making our lives fruitful?

4. It goes well for the one who fears the Lord.

The psalmist doesn’t say blessed is the one who works hard and stays up late. In verse 1 of psalm 128, the psalmist wrote “Happy is everyone who fears the Lord (v1)”. He repeats the same idea again in verse 4 “The man who fears the Lord will be blessed (v4)”. In verse 2 of Psalm 128 he talks about being happy (or blessed) and it going well for you. The one who it goes well for is those who fear the Lord and the Lord blesses.
This is how we are to live. We are not to give into worry and be anxious, but to fear the Lord believing that the Lord will deliver on his promises and bless us making our lives fruitful and meaningful. The Lord promises that it will go well for those who fear him and walk in his ways. This is what the Lord had promised the people of Israel just before they enter the Promised land. Moses told them…

Deuteronomy 4:40

Keep his statutes and commands, which I am giving you today, so that you and your children after you may prosper (NIV = so that it might go well with you and your children) and so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you for all time.”

At the end of the book of Deuteronomy Moses also told the Israelites.

Deuteronomy 28:1-6

“Now if you faithfully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all his commands I am giving you today, the LORD your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth. 2 All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the LORD your God:
3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. 4 Your offspring (literally = the fruit of your womb) will be blessed, and your land’s produce, and the offspring of your livestock, including the young of your herds and the newborn of your flocks. 5 Your basket and kneading bowl will be blessed. 6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

The promises the Lord gave Israel are different to the promises that are made to us in Christ under the new covenant for their inheritance was the land of Canaan and ours is the heavenly Jerusalem and new heavens and the new earth. What the Lord promised the Israelites was that if they obeyed him and followed his commands that it would go well for them in the land and that their children and they would be blessed and the Lord would make them fruitful just as he had promised their ancestors (see also Deut. 6:1-3).
The psalmist in Psalm128, in a sense, is only reiterating these promises telling them that if they fear the Lord and walk in his ways then he would bless them and make them fruitful. In verses 2 and 3 the Lord reassures them that he would make them fruitful both in their labour or work and their family life .

Psalm 128:2-4

2 You will surely eat what your hands have worked for. You will be happy, and it will go well for you. 3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children, like young olive trees around your table. 4 In this very way the man who fears the LORD will be blessed.

The Lord had promised the people of Israel before they entered the Promised land that it would go well for them if they fully obeyed him and were carefully to follow all his commands.

• It will go well for you if you fear the Lord

The truth is, that even today, that it will go well for you if you fear the Lord and walk in his ways. What the Lord has promised us we will inherit. As we saw in Matthew chapter 5 in the sermon in the mount. We are blessed for the kingdom of heaven is ours. We are blessed because even though we now mourn in this world, we will be comforted. We are blessed for even though we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will be filled. We will inherit the earth and be shown mercy and be called sons of God. We will be blessed even though we will be persecuted and suffer hardship for great will be our reward in heaven. The blessing might be different for us, but they are no less real, and they mean that our labour in the Lord is never in vain (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).
The only way that things can go well for us so that we enjoy the blessing of God is for God to be at the centre of our lives, the centre of everything we do. We are to fear the Lord and walk in his ways for without the Lord what we build and our labour and what we to make our lives secure is all in vain. It won’t last. It fades away. It will all be for nothing. It is folly or foolishness. The message of Israel’s wisdom literature was the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). It’s the fool who says in his heart that there is no God (or acts like it) (see Psalm 14). It’s the fool who goes his own way which turns to be the way of folly and road to destruction. This was important for the people of Israel to remember; the fruitfulness of their lives would come as result of the Lord’s blessing and of them fearing the Lord and walking in his ways.
We are not talking about a fear of God that drives people away from the Lord, but one that cause them to come to him and humble themselves before him so that they cry out to him and walk in his ways. This humility before the Lord is evident in the last couple of verses of Psalm 128. These verses are a prayer to the Lord to bless Israel and give them peace.

Psalm 128:5-6

5 May the LORD bless you from Zion, so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life 6 and will see your children’s children! Peace be with Israel.

We have an inheritance from the Lord but unlike Israel, but it is more than just the prosperity of an earthly Jerusalem and to see our children’s children living in the land that God had promised our ancestors. We are promised that it will go well for us, but ours is the promise of heavenly Jerusalem, an eternal city, a new heaven and earth where there will be no more curse but only blessing.
Friend, the call today the same as it was then, we are to fear the Lord and walk in his ways if we want things to go well for us and enjoy the blessing of God and have fruitful lives. Do you fear the Lord? If you do, then you will be walking in his ways. You will be honouring God by trusting and following the Lord Jesus and putting his words into practice in your life. To do anything else is folly, foolishness. This is what we are to do and what we are to be teaching our children. Don’t opt for building in vain or living your life to just have enough that’s not what your purpose in life is. You are to fear the Lord and walk in his ways. You are to find out what please the Lord and do it (Ephesians 5:10). The promise to those who do is that it will go well for you. May that be our priority for as the psalmist makes plain in verse 4 of Psalm 128, it is the man (or woman) who fears the Lord who will be blessed.