This psalm is titled A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon. Most believe Solomon to be the author, yet it is possible that the psalm was composed by David for Solomon. Here, Solomon will be considered the author.
“The strength of the Hebrew people in the past, and all that remains of it today, largely results from the keen sense which they ever cherished of the importance of the home and the family. The house, the city, labour, are all important to the conserving of the strength of the family.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. Blessing upon daily life.
1. (1) God’s work of building and guarding.
Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.
a. Unless the LORD builds the house: Solomon understood that the work of man had its place, but it was of little ultimate use without the work and blessing of God. Without God’s work and blessing, they labor in vain who build it.
i. “No house-building is successful which leaves God out of account. How have we seen men build only houses, with care and at great cost, only to see them crumble to pieces because God was forgotten!” (Morgan)
ii. “A Latin motto says, Nisi Dominus Frusta. It comes from the first words of this psalm and means ‘Without the Lord, Frustration.’ It is the motto of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, appearing on its crest, and is affixed to the city’s official documents. It could be attached to the lives of many who are trying to live their lives without the Almighty.” (Boice)
iii. It is possible that the house built here is actually a family. “It may also signify the raising of a family, especially because this section precedes a unit in which the family is emphasized as a reward from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5). In the Old Testament it is usual to speak of a family as a ‘house’ even as we speak of a prominent family as a ‘dynasty’.” (VanGemeren)
iv. “It is a fact that ben, a son, and bath, a daughter, and beith, a house, come from the same root banah, to build; because sons and daughters build up a household, or constitute a family, as much and as really as stones and timber constitute a building.” (Clarke)
b. Unless the LORD guards the city: The watchman has his role and should stay awake, but God’s work and blessing are needed to truly guard the city.
c. Builds the house…guards the city: It’s especially meaningful that Solomon wrote this psalm, because he knew what it was like to both build a house and guard a city. Wise Solomon understood that though God welcomed and even commanded human effort and participation, His work and blessing were more important.
i. “These would be splendid words to cut into granite over the entrance to all our homes, and to emblazon in gold in all the meeting places of those in civic authority. But better still let them be written in the heart of those who make homes, and guard and govern cities.” (Morgan)
ii. “Note that the Psalmist does not bid the builder cease from labouring, nor suggest that watchmen should neglect their duty, nor that men should show their trust in God by doing nothing: nay, he supposes that they will do all that they can do, and then he forbids their fixing their trust in what they have done, and assures them that all creature effort will be in vain unless the Creator puts forth his power.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “They, above all men, ought to implore the divine grace and benediction, who are employed either in building or defending the spiritual house and city of God.” (Horne)
2. (2) The vanity of reliance on the strength of man.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
a. It is vain for you to rise up early: We gather that Solomon did not speak against hard work, because several of his proverbs praise the hard worker who rises early (Proverbs 6:6-11). From the first verse of this psalm, we understand that Solomon intended the trust many put in their hard work and the anxiety that showed reliance on self, not God (to eat the bread of sorrows).
i. For you: “He directs his speech to the persons forementioned, the builders or watchmen, of both which sorts there are many that use the following course.” (Poole)
ii. “But the psalmist decries this as an inferior way of life if the hard work is only for the purpose of providing daily food and clothing for oneself and the family. The higher way of life begins with trusting the Lord in one’s work.” (VanGemeren)
iii. “Long hours do not mean prosperous work. The evening meal may be put off till a late hour; and when the toil-worn man sits down to it, he may eat bread made bitter by labour. But all is in vain without God’s blessing.” (Maclaren)
iv. Bread of sorrows: “…living a life of misery and labours, fretting at their own disappointments, eaten up with envy at the advancement of others, afflicted overmuch with losses and wrongs. There is no end of all their labours.” (Manton, cited in Spurgeon)
b. For so He gives His beloved sleep: Men who are affected by reliance on their own work experience the anxiety that comes with it. God’s blessing is to give His loved ones sleep. They can be at peace knowing that God’s hand is at work and His eye watches even as they sleep.
i. His beloved: “…an allusion to Solomon’s other name, Jedidiah, God’s darling.” (Trapp)
ii. “There may be a cryptic reference to himself by Solomon in the words ‘those he loves’ (Psalm 127:2). In Hebrew the words are actually ‘his beloved,’ the name God gave Solomon according to 2 Samuel 12:25: Jedidiah, meaning ‘Beloved of Jehovah.’” (Boice)
iii. Sleep: “Begone, dull, worrying care! Let me rest sweet Faith and Hope, close mine eyes and still my heart; Jesus, give me sleep, and in sleeping give me my heart’s desire, that I may awake and be satisfied.” (Meyer)
B. Blessing upon the family.
“The labours of mankind, first in building houses and cities, and then in guarding and securing their possessions, are undergone, not with a view to themselves alone, but to their families, which they would establish and perpetuate.” (Horne)
1. (3) The reward of children.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
a. Children are a heritage from the LORD: Solomon considered the wisdom of trusting God in building a house (Psalm 127:1), but he also understood that a home is built by more than bricks and wood. He called upon all to see (behold) that children are a blessing.
i. “The Jew would ask, why is the house being built if it is not for the family? And why are the watchmen protecting the city if not for the families that live in it? Then as now, the family was the basic unit and most important element of society.” (Boice)
ii. “Let the fruitful family, however poor, lay this to heart; ‘Children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward.’ And he who gave them will feed them; for it is a fact, and the maxim formed on it has never failed, ‘Wherever God sends mouths, he sends meat.’” (Clarke)
iii. “He gives children, not as a penalty nor as a burden, but as a favour. They are a token for good if men know how to receive them, and educate them. They are ‘doubtful blessings’ only because we are doubtful persons.” (Spurgeon)
b. The fruit of the womb is a reward: Sadly, though Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), we know of only one of his specific descendants. Perhaps Solomon knew very little of this reward.
i. “This last was a fit lesson for Solomon, who, by so many wives and concubines, left but one only son that we read of, and him not of the wisest.” (Trapp)
ii. “Like much of Solomon’s wisdom, the lessons of this psalm, relevant as they were to his situation, were mostly lost on him. His building, both literal and figurative, became reckless (1 Kings 9:10ff.,19), his kingdom a ruin (1 Kings 11:11ff.) and his marriages a disastrous denial of God (1 Kings 11:1ff.).” (Kidner)
2. (4-5) Children like arrows.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
a. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior: In many ways children are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.
· They must be carefully shaped and formed.
· They must be guided with skill and strength.
· They must be given care or they will not fly straight.
· They must be aimed and given direction; they will not find direction on their own.
· They are, in some respects, only launched once.
· They are an extension of the warrior’s strength and accomplishment.
· They have potential for much good or evil.
i. Like arrows: “This similitude importeth that children must have more in them than nature; for arrows are no arrows by growth, but by art; so they must be such children, the knottiness of whose nature is refined and reformed, and made smooth by grace; and then they are cared for.” (Trapp)
ii. “…ready winged with duty and love, to fly to the mark; polished and keen, to grace and maintain the cause of their parents.” (Horne)
iii. “We shall see them shot forth into life to our comfort and delight, if we take care from the very beginning that they are directed to the right point.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “If it is a vain act to build a house without God or watch over a city without depending on God to preserve it, then it is even greater folly to try to raise a family without God.” (Boice)
b. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them: If children are a reward (Psalm 127:3), then there is great blessing and happiness in having many children.
i. Who has his quiver full of them: “…who hath a numerous issue; which as it is a great blessing in itself, so Solomon’s want of it made it more valuable in his eyes.” (Poole)
ii. “A quiver may be small and yet full; and then the blessing is obtained. In any case we may be sure that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of children that he possesseth.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “I remember a great man coming into my house, at Waltham, and seeing all my children standing in the order of their age and stature, said, ‘These are they that make rich men poor.’ But he straight received this answer, ‘Nay, my lord, these are they that make a poor man rich; for there is not one of these whom we would part with for all your wealth.’” (Hall, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. “Many children make many prayers, and many prayers bring much blessing.” (German proverb, cited in Spurgeon)
c. But shall speak with their enemies in the gate: The gate of an ancient city was a place of business and justice. This verse speaks of children of the godly having places of prominence and influence in their communities.
i. “As the arrows protect the warrior, so the godly man need not be afraid, when blessed with sons…. A house full of children, born before one becomes old…is a protection against loneliness and abandonment in society.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “Nobody cares to meddle with a man who can gather a clan of brave sons about him.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The gate was the place where justice was administered, and where was the chief place of concourse. It is therefore improbable that actual warfare is meant; rather, in the disputes which might arise with neighbours, and in the intercourse of city life, which would breed enmities enough, the man with his sons about him could hold his own. And such blessing is God’s gift.” (Maclaren)
iv. “One can discover his ideal through his song. It is that of a prosperous city, its enemies kept outside its gates; and that of the secret of its prosperity as being the house well-built, in the spiritual and moral sense, and the families dwelling within such houses as being able to deal with its enemies in the gate.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org