Housing, Security, work and family… These are the areas of human concern and endeavour that Psalm 127 addresses. AS Leslie Allen says the psalm tells us that “God is the immanent Lord of the home, the city, the field and the family."
These areas have changed since the time this psalm was written. Housing concerns are more about affordability than simply construction, we have a whole generation wondering if they will ever be able to own a house amidst sky rocketing property values. Security; is not simply a matter of an armed guard on the city wall staring at the horizon or into the dark night, but of Policemen, customs agents and those people in intelligence who stare at the new digital horizon and the dark recesses of the Internet. Work, for most is not hands on toiling to grow the food we eat, but to make ends meet, in our increasingly complex and costly society. Family; Psalm 127 reflects a male dominated agrarian society where to have many sons was a real blessing, they would work hard, carry on one’s legacy and were able to speak in the city gates to defend land rights and family honour, we are happy to change our reading to children and reflect the great joy and equal value of daughters, and in our changing society family sizes are shrinking and people choosing to be single or couples choosing to not have kids are a growing phenomenon. Housing, security, work and family are still central areas of human concern and Psalm 127 is as relevant to us today as it was to its original readers.
Psalm 127 is unusual in its title it is said to be of Solomon, not of David. It is wisdom literature not simply prayer and praise. EM Blaicklock says it is written from the perspective of a person mature in years looking back at the reality of life, with the possibility of failure and success.
It is what is called a proverbial psalm. It brings two proverbs together to help us reflect on God and life. The first is in verses 1-2 and reflects on home, community and work, the second in verse 3-5 focuses on family.
Both are what are called conditional proverbs, there outcome is conditional on the same thing. The first deals with the curse of human futility, all our endeavours and achievements amount to nothing unless they are in the will of LORD. The second deals with the blessing of human fertility, which is seen as a result of the will of God and the blessing of God.
One commentator suggested this Psalm was read to new fathers as it balanced the joys of having children with the challenge of having children. But we use this psalm basically in two ways. The first proverb is most often used, by Christians, after we have made decisions and worked out our plan of action and we stop to ask God’s blessing because unless the LORD is on board then it is all in vain. The second is used most often in discussions on family values. Our focus can be the success of our plan or our family and we can miss that the focus of the Psalm is on the LORD.
This is a psalm of ascent, a psalm used as pilgrims come to Jerusalem for one of the three great festivals of the Jewish Faith. It is used as the people come to the temple to worship, they were said to recite one of the fourteen psalms of ascent on each of the fourteen steps up to the temple to prepare themselves to worship God. In this psalm they stop and realise the providence and the sovereignty of God in all areas of life.
It humbles us, we realise that for all our endeavours, our cleverness, our inventiveness, our planning, our having a family that it is all dependant on God. God is sovereign and it is his providence that enables our homes our cities, community and work to thrive and prosper. In the fickleness of history, the rise and fall of empire, economy and fortunes, we are dependant not on our own abilities but on God’s grace.
It causes us to give thanks, to see what God has done for us. While the blessing of God is seen in families and in particular sons, it does not stop the widow or the orphan or childless couple from joining their thanks to this. God did not chose to bless them like this and their lives have been hard because if it they can give thanks that God is also the God who cares for the widow and the orphan. They can give thanks and have hope because they two live their lives out with the sovereign providence of God.
The third thing this Psalm invites us to do is to trust in God. To realise that the whole of our lives are in God’s hands. In the sermon of on the mount Jesus invites us not to be anxious and worry about tomorrow, not to loose sleep over our needs because God knows our needs even before we ask So we should put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to us. It is not that we focus on our work but on good works that glorify and honour God. The Psalm does not discourage human effort and work or success and prosperity, neither does it give a formula for success but invites us to stretch out our hands in trust and submission and ascribe praise to God for the success we do enjoy.
At the centre of this psalm is a verse about the Lord giving sleep to those he loves. It provides a positive ending to the proverb that has been about the futility of toiling outside of God’s will. I’m sure if you’ve been parents it is a great promise when you turn to think of family, the sleeplessness and concerns that never seem to go away when it comes to families even though they are a blessing from God. I had a friend in Rotorua whose business partner had six daughters and he said it was only the first thirty years that were sleepless. We can trust in God’s sovereignty and God’s providence. In Jesus Christ we have the greatest example of that, God’s love and grace shown to us, that in Jesus life death and resurrection we can have the central concern of life, relationship with God put right and our sins forgiven. We know his love and we can trust that his plans for us are for good not for harm, and rest in that on our pilgrim journey.