“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” ~Psalm 127:1-2 (NRSV).
Finding our way to the middle of the Songs of Ascent, this one goes to the heart of the truth surrounding investment—time, effort, resources etc.
Reading this psalm there is a strong reminiscence of Psalm 1.
There are five verses; two of which (above) speak to the negative as a warning—effort without God’s anointing goes unrewarded, ultimately—whilst three more speak of the blessings enfolded to the family man and woman trusting in the basics-of-abundance of the Lord.
The only difference is Psalm 1 speaks about blessing first; then concludes in cursing of the sinner who hasn’t heeded the warnings of life. The theme, however, is strikingly similar:
Blessings there will be for the faithful; curses will be the lot of the unfaithful.
Work Wisely Not Wastefully
The two verses profiled atop speak such a valuable Proverbs-like truth.
There are infinite ways to make a quick buck, or even swindle our way through life, but that way is destined to failure.
Not only that; even if we set out on a path to serve God by our works, those works won’t be blessed if our motive was wrong in the beginning—if we, by our works, had an agenda for ourselves.
As is the recurrent theme through the Old Book, the Lord seeks our love, not our loveless but hard-worked sacrifice.
Working wisely and not wastefully, therefore, is about understanding God’s purposes for us, knowing the ways we are to achieve these purposes, obeying the Almighty in that, and always nurturing a heart to follow the Lord; every good path.
One underestimated way of working wisely is through the cherishing and cultivation of our families.
Invest in Family
Verses 3-5 offer immense encouragement to devoted family men and family women; fathers and mothers. The enemy of God, instead, sows a seed in our minds that family isn’t enough.
Ambition gets in the way, due to envy, pride, or greed; or comfort via motives of sloth. For many, the blessings of family are not enough or too much work.
But as we learned in the first two verses, the Lord can strip to null all the outputs of years—even decades—of our toil. This is accorded to the generalisation that we haven’t worked for the Lord’s purposes. (Of course, some very godly people have worked hard in the Kingdom and have still lost all; as an exception, this psalm doesn’t apply there.)
The ancient Near-East culture, which is the founding context of this psalm, valued at the pinnacle, family. The family name in the community was paramount, as was the community itself. This was no individualistic culture that we find in our world, in most westernised countries, today.
For an ancient Near-East person to read the words of this section was a strong encouragement and affirmation to build and blossom the family. A great blessing it was to have children in abundance and to earn peace for a good night’s rest.
Humility is the message of this psalm.
If we walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8) we will be blessed with the finest of blessings—generally, in the form of family. There may be no finer blessing, in this world, than the enrichment of family. Simple blessings are the best of blessings.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.