These notes are based on the NASB text.
What is the background of Psalm 127?
The superscription of this Psalm ascribes it to Solomon (although some feel that David wrote the Psalm for his son Solomon). It is referred to as a “Song of Ascents.” There are fifteen Songs of Ascents in the Psalms, which some scholars believe corresponded to the fifteen steps leading up from the Court of Women to the Court of the Israelites. Some scholars believe that the Psalms bearing the superscription, “Song of Ascents,” were sung on the fifteen steps by the Levites. Others believe that they were songs sung by worshipers on a pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. The Psalm addresses three of man’s preoccupations, namely, building, security, and raising a family. This Psalm challenges men to trust in the Lord in the building of houses and homes.
127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
127:2 It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
These verses accentuate the fact that more than human effort is needed in life’s endeavors. We need the Lord. If God is not included in the equation nothing will add up. We must work in dependence upon divine strength. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “And if a sparrow falls to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” Someone wrote that we should work as though all depends on us, and pray as if all depends on God.
The word “house” in verse 1 could mean [A] dwelling, [B] palace or Temple, or [C] dynasty or family. A godly home cannot be built apart from the Lord. The need for protection in verse 1 refers to the need for safety from thieves, military foes, or other threats to the city. But on a wider scale, men also need protection from the foes which threaten to undo their homes. Among these foes are ideas and philosophies that can spiritually, emotionally, and physically destroy families.
Verse 2 stresses that hard work is not the answer. A man who labors hard apart from the Lord will certainly have bread to eat, but where will it lead him? Better to labor hard in dependence upon the Lord. Notice also that it is God who gives sleep to His beloved (verse 2). Rest is indeed a divine gift. Sleep has become a multi-billion dollar business in America. There are a variety of pills available to the insomniac. Researchers devote countless hours and resources to the study of sleep disorders. Every human being needs sleep. It is one of life’s most precious commodities. Yet it is God alone who can give peaceful sleep to His beloved. He alone can give sleep that refreshes, revives, and renews even in the midst of life’s most difficult circumstances (see Psalm 3:5 and 4:8). Those who labor in dependence upon God’s strength can go to bed at night and rest knowing that the efforts of their day were not in vain.
Practical Consideration: “Unless the Lord. . .” is an important factor in life’s endeavors.
Building a home, guarding a city, and raising a family are just three of the things man cannot properly do apart from the Lord. “Unless the Lord. . .” applies to every area of life. Our efforts are vain and fruitless “unless the Lord” is factored in.
127:3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord;
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
127:5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
These verses affirm that children are a blessing from God. They affirm the worth and significance of children in God’s eyes. As such, they are a sacred trust. Parents should care for them even as an archer cares for his arrows. They should work to insure that their lives are as straight as the shaft of an arrow. They should work to insure that they are aimed in the right direction.
Note: Not everyone who has arrows can make them do what they want. An archer must be disciplined, must know how to use a bow, how to aim, and how to judge distance and wind.
And so it is with parents. They must be disciplined before they can discipline their children. They must take the time to study their children and God’s instructions regarding how to lead and guide their children.
Biblical scholar Derek Kidner comments, “And it is not untypical of God’s gifts that first they are liabilities, or at least responsibilities, before they become obvious assets. The greater their promise, the more likely that these sons will be a handful before they are a quiverful.”
Notice also that children can be a source of blessing and support to their parents. A man with many children did not stand alone at the gate, the place where differences were settled. He had the security of knowing that others, namely his children, stood with him. The Chinese have a proverb: “When a son is born into a family, a bow and arrow are hung before the gate.” The Chinese stress that people fear to offend a man with many sons lest those arrows (the many sons) be sent at them.
Practical Consideration: Parents should be sensitive to the needs of their children.
Parents are stewards of the young lives entrusted into their care. They must live godly lives before their children. They must nurture and educate them in the ways of the Lord. Children are living souls who will live forever. Parents should be concerned about the spiritual welfare and salvation of their children.