Psalm 128 – The Blessed Family of those Who Fear the LORD
This Psalm is titled, A Song of Ascents. It is another of the 15 songs sung by travelers on their way to Jerusalem, usually for one of the three yearly feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles). Like Psalm 127 it has a focus on God’s work in and through the family.
“It is of real significance that these songs of home and of true civic consciousness are found among those which are sung on the way that leads to worship. It is ever good to carry into the place of our communion with God the interests of home and city. It is only by doing so that we can influence these for their lasting good.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. The blessing described.
1. (1) Blessing to all who fear the LORD.
Blessed is every one who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
a. Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD: The proper honor and respect the creature owes to the Creator is described as the beginning of wisdom in many places (Psalm 111:10, Job 28:28, Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10, and Ecclesiasts 12:13). It is to be expected that such wise living brings a blessing.
i. “Blessed above all the sons of men, and the author of blessing to them all, was the man Christ Jesus, because above them all, and for them all, he feared, he loved, and he obeyed.” (Horne)
b. Blessed is every one: This blessing is universal. All who will honor and respect God receive this. It isn’t dependent on race, class, education, or even intelligence.
i. “Happiness belongeth not to the rich, the powerful, and the prosperous as such; but in every state and condition, blessed is the man that ‘feareth Jehovah.’” (Horne)
c. Who walks in His ways: This explains what the Psalmist meant by the fear of the LORD. It wasn’t fundamentally a matter of having certain feelings toward God, but of a life of obedience.
i. “The deepest and central truth concerning him is that he fears Jehovah. The reality of that fear is seen in that he walks in the ways of Jehovah. Such a man is indeed blessed, that is, happy, in the true sense of that word.” (Morgan)
ii. “It is idle to talk of fearing the Lord if we act like those who have no care whether there be a God or no. God’s ways will be our ways if we have a sincere reverence for him: if the heart is joined unto God, the feet will follow hard after him.” (Spurgeon)
2. (2-3) Blessings described.
When you eat the labor of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
In the very heart of your house,
Your children like olive plants
All around your table.
a. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy: The Psalmist had in mind the hard working farmer who is fed and who enjoys the fruit of his own work. Though an element of work is cursed since Adam’s time (Genesis 3:17-19), at least a portion of this curse is taken away for the one who fears the LORD.
i. “Thy labour shall not be vain and fruitless, and the fruit of thy labours shall not be taken away from thee, and possessed by others, as God threatened to the disobedient, Deuteronomy 28, but enjoyed by thyself with comfort and satisfaction.” (Poole)
ii. “That is, thou shalt reap and receive the sweet of thy sweat, whether it be of the brow or of the brain, according to the kind of thy calling.” (Trapp)
iii. “Thou shalt not be exempted from labour. Thou shalt work: But God will bless and prosper that work, and thou and thy family shall eat of it. Ye shall all live on the produce of your own labour, and the hand of violence shall not be permitted to deprive you of it.” (Clarke)
b. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine: The one who fears the Lord may be blessed with a large, happy home. The home is happy in its very heart, and the children flourish. As they gather (all around your table) there is a sense of community and happiness.
i. The vine was a symbol not only of fruitfulness (here explicitly so) but of sexual charm (Song 7:8ff.) and of festivity (Judg. 9:13).” (Kidner)
ii. Though the idea of bearing children is found in the figure of the fruitful vine, it goes far beyond it. “Good wives are also fruitful in kindness, thrift, helpfulness, and affection: if they bear no children, they are by no means barren if they yield us the wine of consolation and the clusters of comfort.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The Psalmist took it for granted that God’s people were married. This was and is often assumed among the Jewish people: “At this day every Jew is bound to marry about eighteen years of age, or before twenty, else he is accounted as one that liveth in sin.” (Trapp)
iv. Christianity brought in the idea that singleness is also a calling of God, and that in some cases is to be preferred over being married. Jesus was single.
c. Like a fruitful vine… like olive plants: These were two important crops in ancient Israel. The grapes and wine from the fruitful vine and the oil from the olive plants were not necessities for survival, but they made life so much better. A happy marriage and flourishing children are not essential for survival, but greatly enrich life in their own way.
i. “The vine and the olive are two of the best fruits; the one for cheering the heart, the other for clearing the face, Psalms 104:15; the one for sweetness, the other for fatness, 9:13, both together implying that a great part of a man’s temporal happiness consisteth in having a good wife and children.” (Trapp)
ii. “What a charming cluster of images! The wife as a vine twining round the carved trellis work of the inner court of the Oriental home—as though the woman gives the rich wine of life, which is love, as well as shadowing fertility and graceful beauty; whilst children as olive plants are sources of perennial joy. Would you have such a home? Its key-stone is the fear of grieving the Spirit of God.” (Meyer)
iii. “Olive trees take a long time to mature and become profitable. Patiently cultivated, they become quite valuable and continue to produce a profitable crop for centuries, longer perhaps than any other fruit-producing tree or plant.” (Boice)
iv. “Though the olive tree may not bear after it has been planted for forty years, it is a symbol of longevity and productivity. So are children within the household of faith! They are not like grass, which is here today but is gone tomorrow. Rather, they are olive trees that in due time bear their fruit.” (VanGemeren)
v. “The interesting thing about these two images, vines and olive plants, is that they are biblical symbols of the abundant life. They are not food staples like wheat or corn. They symbolize rich blessing.” (Boice)
3. (4) The promise of blessing repeated.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
a. Thus shall the man be blessed: As stated before in Psalm 128:1, there is assurance of blessing for all who honor and respect God the way that they should. We recognize that some people have genuinely feared the LORD, yet have not enjoyed all of the specific blessings described in Psalm 128:2-3.
· This is because the Psalmist wrote this as his desired blessing for those who fear the LORD.
· It is because these are general descriptions of the blessed life in ancient Israel, and not universal promises to the people of God.
· It is because these are not the only blessings of life, and God may give other blessings in compensation to those who fear the LORD.
· It is because none of us perfectly fears the LORD.
i. “If temporal blessings be granted him, he accepteth them as shadows of those which are eternal; if they are denied, he remembereth that they are only shadows, and are therefore denied, that he may fix his thoughts and affections more firmly on the substance.” (Horne)
b. Who fears the LORD: This is a further condition upon these general promises. The honor and respect that the creature owes the creator is essential.
B. The blessing pronounced.
1. (5) Blessing connected with Jerusalem.
The LORD bless you out of Zion,
And may you see the good of Jerusalem
All the days of your life.
a. The LORD bless you out of Zion: As another of the Songs of Ascents, it is natural for the singers of Psalm 128 to think about the connection of blessing with Jerusalem. God has good for His people that will come out of Zion.
· When we consider that much of the teaching and ministry of Jesus did was in Jerusalem, we see that we are blessed out of Zion.
· When we consider that Jesus died as a sacrifice and a substitute for our sins in Jerusalem, we see that we are blessed out of Zion.
· When we consider that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, we see that we are blessed out of Zion.
· When we consider that the gospel was first preached out of Jerusalem and the church was birthed there, we see that we are blessed out of Zion.
b. May you see the good of Jerusalem: For the one who fears the LORD, it is a blessing for them to see the good of Jerusalem. It shows that there is a sense in which a happy home is not enough; we must also have care for our community and nation.
i. “Blended with the sweet domesticity of the psalm is glowing love for Zion. However blessed the home, it is not to weaken the sense of belonging to the nation.” (Maclaren)
ii. “If piety can be too individualistic, and a family too self-contained, the final strophe takes care of both these dangers.” (Kidner)
iii. Instead, strong and happy homes are for the good of a city. “The strength of any city lies in its strong family life. The true strength of the family issues from its ordering in the fear of the Lord.” (Morgan)
2. (6) Blessing connected with family.
Yes, may you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!
a. May you see your children’s children: The blessing to the one who fears the LORD goes beyond the holy city and impacts the holy family. The Psalmist sees the blessing as enjoying grandchildren, which by most every account are more enjoyable than one’s actual children.
i. Since the pilgrim journeys to Israel were often made as families, it made sense for there to be much attention given to family relationships in the Songs of Ascents.
ii. “Lord, let thy blessing so accompany my endeavours in their breedings, that all my sons may be Benaiahs, the Lord’s building, and then they will all be Abners, their father’s light; and that all my daughters may be Bethias, the Lord’s daughters, and then they will all be Abigails, their father’s joy.” (Swinnock, cited in Spurgeon)
b. Peace be upon Israel: The Psalm ends with the happy and confident declaration. The Psalmist understood that if the people of Israel did fear the LORD, this blessing of shalom would be evident in their community, in their family, and in the kingdom as a whole.
i. “This ancient singer had a truer conception of the obligations flowing from personal and domestic blessings. He teaches us that it is not enough to ‘see children’s children,’ unless we have eyes to took for the prosperity of Jerusalem, and tongues which pray not only for those in our homes, but for ‘peace upon Israel.’” (Maclaren)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission