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Christian Biblical Studies
A HOUSE BUILT BY GOD
By W. R.
All Scripture references are to the New International Version,
UK print edition of 1984.
SALM 127 is one in the series of fifteen (120 to 134) known as the songs of ‘degrees’ or ‘ascents’, which may refer to the fifteen steps that separated the men’s court in Solomon’s temple from the women’s. Here the Levites would stand to chant this and other psalms. Some authorities believe this was one of the psalms to be sung by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the great feasts. That is, to go to Jerusalem was to ascend. A similar expression was once common in England, when one would go up to London (the more important place), even from northern counties (less important places.)
1. Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
As this psalm was composed by Solomon, the ‘house’ probably means the temple, constructed under divine mandate in his reign. David, his father, had been denied that privilege, having ‘shed much blood’ and deemed unsuitable by God for the task (1 Chron. 22: 7, 8). Of course, Jehovah does not reside in masonry structures which, however magnificent they may be or how powerfully they may focus the mind on worship, are merely representative of God’s ‘dwelling’ with man (Acts 17: 24, 25). More glorious than the tabernacle of the wilderness, the temple served a similar purpose. But the people were no longer nomads, but settled, and a permanent structure was called for. This first temple was by all accounts glorious, and a credit to the king. But in his latter years Solomon fell away from his first love for God into various forms of idolatry, enticed thereto through his love for women of other religions. His acclaimed wisdom evidently deserted him, just as Samson’s strength left him when he allowed his hair to be cut. So does sin damage the integrity of the Christian who does not guard carefully his or her thoughts and behaviour. As Christians, our virtue is derived solely from our faith-justification. When we are careless in our consecration we become weak and ineffective. Our patience and self-control — the figurative city walls which fortify our character — break down and the invaders of selfishness, worldliness and all manner of impurities rush in through the breach (Prov. 25: 28).
2. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.
As Christians, no matter how commendably diligent and hard-working we may be in our daily endeavours, ‘rising early and staying up late, toiling for food [bread]’, our endeavours will be pointless if our satisfaction is premised on our own works and not on the foundation of Christ alone — justification by faith. This is not to say that we ought not to be faithful providers for those who depend on us. Rather, it is a caution against neglecting our spiritual life by being over-busy in trying to ‘get ahead’. Our enterprise counts for nothing in God’s sight if it is not motivated by and subject to faith in Christ, in whom alone we ‘rest’ from the condemnation of sin, which pervades the human race.
3. Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.
The psalm appears to shift here to a new topic, seemingly unrelated to either temple or city walls. However, a connection can be made to the preceding verses in that the building of a house-hold naturally suggests the raising and nurturing of a family. The birth of children is a heritage-blessing from the LORD in the sense that the process guarantees the permanence of the human race. How? When God pronounced the curse in Eden he directed special attention to the offspring of mother Eve, which would one day destroy the adversary, Satan (Gen. 3: 15): ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ So has it been through the ages. Satan attempts to thwart God’s plan, but without success. For the chief offspring of the woman, Christ, though crucified at Satan’s instigation, suffered a non-lethal ‘heel’ blow, but by his resurrection delivered a crushing, deadly ‘head’ blow against Satan, for whom there is no future. Without seeming to state the obvious, note that this promise regarding the seed was not given to the man, Adam. It was a woman, Mary, whom God favoured, directly begetting her with the perfect life which became Jesus. Under this arrangement the putative human father, Joseph, was set aside, and had no role in the conception of the Saviour. In this way God ensured that his unblemished Son could give a ransom-sacrifice for the entire human family, as the Scriptures testify (1 Tim. 2: 5, 6).
4. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.
Solomon was a father, though not ultimately a successful one, if we may judge from the fact that it was under his son and successor, Rehoboam, born of an Ammonite princess, that the nation of Israel was permanently split in two. Solomon had no shortage of wives and concubines, but with such a motley assortment it was unlikely that he could build a family ‘house’ according to the standards he extols in this psalm. Indeed, he himself built in vain. On the other hand, he was a practised warrior and so his metaphor of the arrows is apt. Although the Hebrew word used here for ‘son’ does not always mean a male, in this case it probably does, since the figure is a martial one, and only men filled the role of archers in ancient Israel. Besides, the birth of a son was cause for special celebration, as a son was the extension of the father’s authority, one who would inherit the father’s role and carry the father’s name into posterity. In the natural order, it was usually in one’s vigour that children were conceived and raised, when the joys of marriage were most appreciated and the wife most fertile. This appears to be the case for the Solomon who wrote this psalm, while still a romantic idealist.
5. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
The archer who was well supplied with good arrows in his quiver stood a better chance of beating his foes. And so a father with a large number of children, male and female, was honoured in his society, possessing influence in the community. Such a large household, built and carefully nourished by both father and mother, would be an aid and support for him, the head, in many ways. Sons would be protectors of the family unit in time of civil strife and war; by their father they would have been raised as warriors and not intimidated by their enemies. In the spiritual view of matters, Christ’s own household is the elect Church, composed of figurative sons, all of whom, courageous and victorious, like Christ, are styled ‘kings’. See Heb. 2: 11 — ‘Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers’; 3: 6 — ‘Christ . . . a son over God’s house’; Rev. 17: 14 and 19: 16 — ‘king of kings’.
Along with his saints in glory Christ will prevail over sin and death in his coming kingdom on earth, restoring mankind to its original Edenic perfection, building a new, glorious home (Rev. 21: 3, 4): ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
July 2015. Author asserts the usual rights, except that you are free to reproduce this article without express permission. Please acknowledge the source.