Bible Commentary: Psalm 127

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Psalm 127

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Psalm 127, the central psalm of the songs of ascents, is one of only two psalms with Solomon's name in the title (the other being Psalm 72). As the second song of ascents in the third set of three, Psalm 127 is one of trust in God--acknowledging Him as the source of security and posterity. The key word here is the thrice-repeated "vain" (verses 1-2)--showing the futility of life apart from God. "It reminded the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem that all of life's securities and blessings are gifts from God rather than their own achievements (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14 [compare 8:10-18])" ( Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 127).

The building of the house in verse 1 perhaps calls to mind the work that Solomon did on building God's house--the temple--as well as his own house or royal palace and other great building projects in Jerusalem and throughout the land of Israel. Yet the meaning of "house" here could also signify a family--on which the latter part of the psalm concentrates. It could even mean a nation--a family grown large--such as the whole house of Israel or house of Judah. Moreover, God had promised David an enduring house--meaning his royal dynasty, Solomon himself being the first successor. In building a house of any sort, the idea is to provide shelter or protection, promote community or family within and ensure perpetuity. Yet without God's involvement, such building is ultimately wasted effort--for only He can give true and lasting security, belonging and permanence.

If God is not the One doing the safeguarding, as verse 1 shows in the example of city watchmen, there is no guarantee of safety. Furthermore, apart from God, working from early morning to late at night to make ends meet is an uncertain venture--the earned sustenance being accompanied by the anguish of life's worries. Conversely, God's vigilant care for His people who trust Him frees them from restlessness and allows them the blessing of peaceful slumber (verse 2; Psalm 128:2; compare Matthew 6:28-34).

God is the One who perpetuates home and family--through His overseeing care and, as related in the song's second stanza, through the miracle of childbirth. Children are, in fact, His gifts--an inheritance and blessing from Him (Psalm 127:3; compare Psalm 128:3). They build and bring joy to a family, they help with family responsibilities, they guard against loneliness and abandonment in old age, they perpetuate and bring honor to the family name. "In ancient times, having many children was regarded as a symbol of strength. This was particularly true in an agricultural economy, since the extra hands of children increased the productivity of the farmer" ( Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 3-5). A man with a large family enjoyed a measure of respect and recognition among his peers. When citizens met at the city gates to discuss business, such a man was not ashamed to speak his mind--even to enemies, who would think twice before acting against a person with a large family, fearing his many defenders against accusations, an increased possibility of retribution and the perceived evidence of God's favor (verse 5).

The blessing of family, a theme carried over into the next psalm, is an important focus of the annual festivals of God, during which the songs of ascent were sung. For not only do the feasts look forward to the redemption and restoration of the family of Israel and that of all mankind (which truly is one great family), but this is all part of God's plan of building His spiritual family-an eternal inheritance in which we may all share.