We are so used to advertising messages these days that when it comes to looking at scripture we come with the same mentality. If you use product A your life will be spectacularly, marvellously, stupendously, profoundly wonderful… It will solve all your problems, you’ll be happy… we guarantee it. We can view Psalms like the one we read today as being that kind of promise… that if we do A then God will do B, and B is that God will bless us with prosperity, happiness and security …. It will solve all our problems… Guaranteed. But Psalm 128 is a wisdom Psalm reflecting on life rather than a sale pitch to make us buy into something by offering us unrealistic benefits.
Like Psalm 127 before it it’s more a Psalm of Solomon than David. A proverb a wise saying wrapped up in a blessing. A proverb that says that the fear of the Lord is the source of all God’s blessing, prosperity of land, with its illustrations of plentiful grape harvests and olive groves sprouting from good soil. It’s focus on family, where in an agrarian culture having many sons was seen as a great advantage. The blessings that Abraham received in his covenant with God of land, family and prosperity, the covenant blessings at Sinai where Israel became God’s people, bought down to a personal family unit level. But also in verse 5and 6 spiraling out again as being a basis for the blessing of the whole of Jerusalem and Israel. The health of a nation is dependent on the health of the family units within it. Sadly we see the truth of that today, in the personal and social cost of family disharmony and breakdown.
It’s helpful to see where this Psalm comes from. Commentators suggest three possibilities. One is that it was originally a blessing given at marriage. Some sage advice and hopes for a couple setting out together. That they would live in a way that revered God, and that if they did that that they would experience God’s blessing. The other is that it was a blessing on the host that a traveller being given shelter and hospitality would give on the doorstep before entering the house. Once again wise advise that the household would serve the Lord, and sure hope that they would receive blessing because of it. The last is that it became the welcome for pilgrims as they entered the sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple. A reminder of blessings coming from that life of reverence for God. All these use the psalm to remind people that any and every blessing comes from a life lived in fear of the LORD.
The fear of the Lord is not that we live afraid of God, scared that God will be angry with us, if we put a foot out of line, but we are aware of who God is, his sovereignty over all creation, but also his faithful love for his people and what he has done for us so we live a life that reflects God’s goodness to the people around us. For Christians it is as we become more and more aware of God’s mercy and grace shown in Jesus Christ that we reflect that in the mercy and grace we show to other people.
Being wisdom literature, it is not a promise but an observation that blessing comes from the fear of the Lord. In a marriage in a house hold in a pilgrim’s life. In that respect it’s a psalm of orientation, this is the way life should be. We have to remember that scripture is also very realistic when it comes to looking at life and one of the greatest themes of the wisdom literature is dealing with the disorientation in life, with the very real issue of evil or why bad things happen to good people? The psalms are resplendent with Psalms of disorientation, people wrestling when it all seems to have gone pair shape and despite being people of faith they wonder where God is in the midst of the suffering and pain. But also reorientation when they again turn to focus on the fear of the Lord, that reverence for God is the centre point in life, and God’s abiding presence becomes the focal point of hope.
So what does this wisdom Psalm have to say to the pilgrim and to us.
The first thing is like with Psalm 127 every good thing comes from God. Family sustenance, prosperity stability security are blessings from God. We live in a society where we are told we can be blessed and happy if we have things and as we’ve got more and more sophisticated and technologically advanced those things that supposedly give us happy lives have become more and more varied and expensive and extravagant. In that environment the simplicity of God’s blessing in family and produce and provision of good food that Psalm 128 gives bring us back to be able to see such basic things as true treasurers that we are able to give thanks for. To see our children’s children is to be able to see how God’s goodness is able to be passed on from generation to generation. It also allows us to see how the Church,a temple of living stones bought together as 1 Peter puts it, is able to continue to be a blessing from generation to generation.
The second thing is that it directs the pilgrim and us to what is of vital importance in life. Our relationship with God, established by his unfailing covenant love for us and that is lived out as we reflect that love in how we live and relate to the people and world around us. For God’s Old testament people it was the God who chose them in Abraham and bought them out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the promised land to be his people. For us it is as we remember God’s faithful love for us in sending Jesus Christ to live, die and be raised to life again for us. That we may be set free from the past given a fresh start and new life in Christ. A life that finds its true joy and meaning and blessing in knowing Christ and allowing our live to confirm to his in loving other people. In Philippians Paul talks of the surpassing greatness of Knowing and being known by Christ, he talks of learning of being content and knowing he is blessed if he has heaps or if he has nothing because he has learned that he can do all thing in Christ that strengthens him. In that it allows us to see the blessings that gives us as well. A family not only of biological connections but of brothers and sisters right next to us and around the world. The provision of our daily bread, as we come to communion part of that celebration is taking those everyday things that God provides for us to remember his death, his abiding presence with us and his eventual immanent return.
Finally it shows the pilgrim the way forward, not just what God had done for them but how to live it forward. Like it might to a marriage or as a reminder to a household offer hospitality or a pilgrim come to worship it points us forward on the ongoing journey in life, not that we have come to a place of simple blessing but are invited onwards as his people to live that relationship with God out. And the trust that as we do that we will see more of God’s great blessings on the journey.