Part of “Summer in the Psalms” series, 2019. James Jackson, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL
I know what you are thinking. You see the screen that says Psalm 126-128 and you’re thinking, “Come on. It took us two weeks to cover Psalm 19, and now we’re going to cover three Psalms in one week? Right!”
Oh ye of little faith! Yes, we really are. And not only are we going to cover three Psalms, but you are also going to see how these three Psalms fit into the larger book of Psalms. And on top of that, since we talked about how Psalms is a book of practical poetry, we are going to do all of this while at the same time sharing how to raise godly children, live longer, love your spouse well, and sleep better. I know that sounds ambitious, so we had better get to it!
Go ahead and turn in your Bible to Psalm 120. You can use YouVersion if you want to, but it will actually be easier to see this with a physical Bible. I want you to notice, right off the bat, that Psalm 120 is the first of fifteen Psalms to have a certain title. From Psalm 120-134, all fifteen Psalms begin by telling you that these are what? That’s right, Songs of Ascent. In. Hebrew, the verb MAH-oh-loht means “to go up.” Its actually also the same root word for offering. (ohlah) There’s a reason for this double meaning.
In the law, God decreed that every Jewish male was required to go to Jerusalem three times a year. If you’ve been to Isarael, you know that no matter which direction you are coming from, north, south, east, or west, in order to get to Jerusalem, you have to go up. You have to ascend in elevation. You were also “going up” spiritually. You were going up to the Temple. This was spiritual higher ground.
Once you got to the Temple, you would climb the Southern Steps to the Temple Mount. There are fifteen wide steps, alternating between one or two narrow steps. And there is a lot of evidence to suggest that pilgrims would sing or chant the songs of ascent on the fifteen wide steps leading up to the Temple. Even today, a lot of tour groups will do the same thing when they go to the Southern Steps
So the Songs of Ascent were the road trip mix. They were the songs families would sing together while they were on pilgrimage. They are the songs Jesus sang with His disciples while He was on His way up to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. Think about this: Jesus had about a three year ministry with the disciples. So they went up to Jerusalem maybe as many as nine times together.
There’s one more thing I want to show you about the Songs of Ascent before we get into our Scriptures for this morning. The fifteen Psalms seem to fall naturally into five sets of three Psalms each. And each cycle of three has a similar pattern. The first Psalm in the cycle talks about TROUBLE or hardship. The second talks about TRUST in the Lord. And the third promises TRIUMPH for those who do so.
I think this is worth pointing out because like we talked about a few weeks ago, the Christian life is really one long pilgrimage. All of us are “going up” to higher ground. Which means all of us are on various stages of this cycle. Some of you may be here this morning and you’re saying, Yep, I’m in the trouble phase. (some of you are trouble!). Others might be on the trust cycle. And some of you may be in a great stage of life, and you are experiencing the victory of the TRIUMPH of Christian living. The good news is that the Bible gets you. The Psalms get you. And specifically, these pilgrimage Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent, they get you!
I want you to flip over from Psalm 120 to Psalm 126. We’re starting here because 126 is the first Psalm in the third cycle. And if you look at our chart, what are you going to expect to hear in Psalm 126? That’s right. There’s going to be something in here about trouble. Let’s listen for it.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!”
Psalm 126:1-4 ESV
(The Negev was the south country in between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. It’s dry and rocky most of the year. But during the rainy season, streams rush down between the cliffs and the desert blooms.)
Now, remember from our chart that this is the “Trouble” psalm of the Trust / Trouble / Triumph cycle. Verses 5-6 and the trouble:
“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Psalm 126:5-6 ESV
So this brings us to the meat of our Bible study for this morning, Psalm 127. Remember what I promised you. This is a very practical Psalm. You’re gonna learn how to raise godly children and you’re going to learn the secret to getting a good night’s sleep. Look at your chart. If 126 is about TROUBLE, what are we going to find in 127? That’s right. TRUST. Let’s read the entire Psalm together, and then we’ll break it down:
“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.”
Psalm 127:1-5 ESV
The first thing I want you to notice is who wrote Psalm 127. Look at the title. Who wrote it? That’s right. SOLOMON. And I think that’s worth noting because the main theme of Psalm 127 is building a house that honors God. Build is the Hebrew word banneh, and house is the Hebrew word beth. Solomon knew something about building a beth, didn’t he? 1 Kings 6 tells us that He spent six years building God’s house, the temple. Then the next chapter tells us he spent 13 years building his own beth.
Who’s building your beth?
So the first question I want us to ask this morning is, who’s BUILDING your beth? Look at verses 1-2. Three different times, Solomon says that if the Lord isn’t building your house, you are working in vain.
Who is building your house, and what are you building it on (compare Matthew 7)
Picture the scene. A band of pilgrims has finally made it to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. And it took a lot of work. Some came great distances, overcoming formidable hardships. I wonder if there was a temptation among the pilgrims to congratulate one another on the journey? To swell with pride in their accomplishments? I wonder if they made comparisons with other pilgrim bands—who made the longest pilgrimage? Who got there the fastest? Who brought the most neighbors? Who had the record for most pilgrimages?
Then, through the noise of the crowd, someone would strike up the tune:
“Unless the Lord builds the house… unless the Lord watches over the city…”
Eugene Peterson notes that no matter how hard they had struggled to get there, no matter what they did in the way of heroics—fending off bandits, clubbing lions, crusning wolves—that is not what is to be sung. Psalm 127 insists on a perspective where our own effort is on the sidelines and God’s work takes center stage.
Let’s apply this to parenting: All of us know that running a household is hard work. There are plenty of early mornings and late nights. And believing parents aren’t shielded from that. Believing parents will work just as hard, sleep just as little, and be just as anxious… but it won’t be in VAIN. It’s leading somewhere. There’s a reason for it.
Charles Swindoll puts it this way: Work, strive, fret, worry, plan, strain all you wish, but if a relationship with the Lord is not the very center of your home, and obedience to His word doesn’t guide every decision, no amount of your additional effort can preserve it from falling apart. (Encouragement for the Daily Grind)
And don’t miss the promise of verse 2: “God gives sleep to His beloved!” That’s good news, isn’t it? Some young mom needs to hear that this morning! You want to sleep better? Let the Lord build your house.
Now, in verses 1-2 Solomon moves from talking about godly households in general to being godly parents. According to 1 Kings 11:3, Solomon had three hundred wives and 700 concubines. So I’m guessing he knew something about young uns, don’t you think?
Verses 3-4 read,
3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children[a] of one’s youth.
The Hebrew word for son is ben, and daughter is bat, so, point number 2 is Behold, your Bens and Bats! What does Solomon, arguably the foremost expert on parenting, say about sons and daughters?
Children are a gift, (heritage). They are also a reward from God. Your kids aren’t a burden or a punishment. They are a reward. Maybe dads needed to be reminded of this at this point in the pilgrimage!
And, according to verses 4-5, they are like arrows in the hands of a warrior. How are children like arrows?
- Arrows must be shaped and sharpened. Nobody picks up a stick and says “Hey, this would make a great arrow.” Our children start off in a state of sin. Every one of them is just a 7 pound 3 ounce bundle of iniquity.
- Psalm 51:5—surely I was sinful from birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
- Psalm 58:3– The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
- Folly is bound up in the heart of a child (Pr. 22:15). They need boundaries and they need direction.
So moms and dads, its our job to shape our kids. To sharpen them. You are the primary disciple maker for your kids.
- Arrows must be aimed (what target are you pointing your children toward?). It’s easy to get obsessed with aiming our kids toward the wrong target. How are you defining success for your kids? Is it athletic or academic excellence? Nothing wrong with that. But is that THE target?
- Arrows must be released (huge for helicopter parents. Huge for in laws). In order for our children to do what God has called them to do, we have to let them go! We sharpen them. We shape them. We aim them in the right direction. But at some point, we have to nock them to the bowstring, and we have to release them into the world. Psalms says that parents are blessed when they have a quiver full of arrows. But no one is blessed if they stay in the quiver!
We’ve looked at the TROUBLE of Psalm 126, and the TRUST of 127. So, one last time, look at your chart, and tell me what you expect we are going to read about in Psalm 128? Right. TRIUMPH.
Psalm 128 shows the result of letting God build our house. Let’s see what it says about the Blessings we receive from the Builder:
“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!”
Psalm 128:1-6 ESV
There are two different Hebrew words translated “blessed” in this Psalm. In verses 1-2, the word is ashere, and it describes the sense of happiness that comes from living in good relationship with God.
Let’s look at some of the specific blessings or sources of happiness the Psalmist talks about:
- Fruitful labor (v. 2): When you fear the Lord, you are going to get fruitful return for your labor.
- Fruitful relationshiips (v. 3): put God first, and your marriage is going to be a source of happiness for you. The wife here is described as a fruitful vine. This implies childbearing, but it also implies joy. In the Bible, “the vine” was always associated with grapes and winemaking, and wine was always associated with joy and celebration.
It also says that your children will be like olive shoots. . You can’t overestimate the role of olives in the ancient near east. And notice that they aren’t olive branches. They are shoots, or plants. Each is independent. Each will reproduce his or her own kind in later years.
So ashere is the first word translated blessed. But the second is barak. That’s the one in verses 4-5. This blessing describes what God does in a saving relationship.
The first “barak” blessing is that our nation will prosper. When a nation’s people fear the Lord, that people will see “the prosperity of Jerusalem.” Or Washington. Or Wall Street. But remember, the blessing is for those who are in a saving relationship with Christ. We can’t believe God is going to bless America just because we ask Him to. If our people aren’t puruing God in a saving relationshhip with Him, then He is under no obligation to prosper our nation.
The second blessing that comes from a saving relationship with God is a long life. Verse 6 says that you will “see your children’s children.”
Now, you need to know that this isn’t intended to be an absolute promise, but a general principle. There are committed, godly people who die young. (Example—Jesus!). But in general, those who walk with God walk longer. And this has actually been medically verified!
A 2018 study published by the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science showed that religiously affiliated people lived between 5.64 and 9.45 years longer than those who were not religiously affiliated. A similar study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that women who attended religious services at least once a week were “associated with an approximately 5-fold lower rate of suicide” than those who never attend a service. Still another study reported that people who attend religious services regularly experience less stress and were “55% less likely to die” over the next 18 years than those who did not attend.
So you see the triumph of Psalm 128, that results from the trust you see in Psalm 127—trusting God to be the builder. Which in turn helps you cope with the trouble you see in Psalm 126. The biggest encouragement to the Psalms of Ascent is to remember the Hebrew: maholot. We are on the way up. We are heading up somewhere. We aren’t stuck. Trust will grow out of trouble, triumph will result from trust. We don’t have to stay in the valley.
Invitation: Are you pressing on the upward way? Are you trusting God to lead you to higher ground? There is a difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim. A tourist goes somewhere to get something. A pilgrim goes somewhere to get somewhere. If you see your life as a pilgrimage, then you see yourself as someone whose life is going some place, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ.
Does that describe you?