First, a translation:
A Song of Ascents, of Solomon
If YHWH does not build a house, the builders exert themselves in vain.
If YHWH does not watch over a city, the watchman is vigilant to no avail.
It is worthless for you to get up early, to delay sitting down,
you who eat the bread of hardship, for He will give sleep to His beloved.
You see, children are given by YHWH; the fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a hero, so are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the young, strong man who fills his quiver with them.
They will not be ashamed, for they will speak to their enemies at the gate.
When one becomes a parent, this is truly a gift from the Lord. Although we can explain the whole process of reproduction biologically, something about the privilege of being used by God to create a new life is truly breathtaking. In fact, seeing the face of one’s child is one of the greatest joys in life. To quote cartoonist Stan Lee, however, “with great privilege comes great responsibility.” Post-baby, life has suddenly changed. We are no longer free to follow our own whims and to live footloose and fancy free. This 8 pound bundle changes everything.
As a husband and a father, my main concern is to be a provider and a protector for my family. Safety and security are basic human needs, and it is our job as parents to provide them for our children. As breadwinners, we earn money to feed and clothe our children. As nurturers, we build their self-esteem and give the needed assurance that they are loved. We teach and train them, and we hope that they will grow up to be good, responsible citizens. But there are no guarantees.
So what does this have to do with Psalm 127? Everything! I think that the whole psalm is about childrearing. At first reading, it appears that verses 1 and 2 have little to do with verses 3-5. In fact, some interpreters have speculated that these are two different compositions that have been joined to form this short psalm. However, this conclusion seems unwarranted.
Verse 1 speaks of “building a house.” Is it a stretch to relate this to building a home (a family)? I don’t think so. In Genesis 16, for example, Sarai refers to having children as “building a family”. In fact, the verb “to build” (bana) may derive from the noun for “son” (ben). Providing (v. 1) and protecting (v. 2) are integral parts of building a family.
How do I as a dad relate to building a home? I immediately think of being a breadwinner (verse 2) and providing for the material needs of my family. In addition, I want to establish in my children a sense of responsibility, of morality, of kindness, and of self-esteem. I want my children to be established in the faith; thus, I must not only teach, but model a life built in relationship with Jesus. If I hope for such a home, the Lord needs to be the architect and the contractor.
"Unless the LORD build the house..."
What about the lengths we go to in trying to make our family safe? There are so many baby safety products, so many rules, so many precautions, so many doctor visits, and so much advice. So do I rely on Parent’s magazine, immunizations, and 5-point safety harnesses to “guard” my family? Am I to put my trust in teachers, extracurricular activities, and sex-ed programs to guide my children’s choices? Unless the Lord is watching over them, all our precautions are worthless.
"Unless the LORD guard the city..."
In fact, all of our efforts, our strivings, are useless if the Lord doesn’t mold and protect our families. We need Him. He is not an optional extra. He is the foundation, the only source of the Life that is truly Life. It is a matter of entrusting the home building to Him. It is a matter of trust. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on this psalm, points to a parallel in Genesis 11. While men rely on their own ability to build a tower that reaches the heavens, God is choosing a man whom He would bless with a son, through whom He would build a great nation.
Verse 2 speaks about the uselessness of breaking one's back to "get ahead" in life and pile up possessions. The psalmist contrasts the "bread of hardship" (or pain) with "sleep." The frenzied striving of the overachiever is shown to be ultimately fruitless.
Luke 12:20 But God said to him, "Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?"
The beloved of God can close his eyes and sleep, knowing that God will provide for all of his needs.
Luke 12:24 Think of the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. And how much more you are worth than the birds!
Luke 12:27-31 Think how the flowers grow; they never have to spin or weave; yet, I assure you, not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of them.
Now if that is how God clothes a flower which is growing wild today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he look after you, who have so little faith! But you must not set your hearts on things to eat and things to drink; nor must you worry. It is the gentiles of this world who set their hearts on all these things. Your Father well knows you need them. No; set your hearts on his kingdom, and these other things will be given you as well.
As the saying goes, the best things in life are free. Children are one of those blessings, a gift from the Lord. We do not deserve them. We did not earn them. They are graciously entrusted to us, and yet do we dare try and raise them on our own? Do we trust in our own power and wisdom to rear our children? No, we dare not. They are a blessing, but they must be given back to the Lord's care. We must teach them to walk in the fear of the Lord. We must cover them in prayer. We must ask the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in them. We must train them up in the way they should go. We must speak the strong name of Jesus over them as a shield. In short, we must lift them up and give them over to God. As Abraham surrendered Isaac, and Hannah devoted Samuel, so must we entrust our children to the care of the Lord.
Only in the Lord can we have the assurance that they will be well. Only in God is our soul at rest (Ps. 62:1). He is the Father, the Daddy who can look after our children and provide for them in ways that our sins and shortcomings would never allow. He gives grace in our parenting flaws. He can understand, comfort, guide, shape, and protect our children in ways that we could never imagine. Trust Him. They will deal with their enemies and will not be put to shame (verse 5). They will be established by the Lord. They will not be moved.
Love them. Pray for them. Teach them the fear of the Lord. Then sleep, knowing that He who gave those little blessings to you is faithful. So shoot your arrow. Let God guide, build, and protect your home.