A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:1-5 ESV
This Psalm is at the center of the 15 Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) sung by Jewish pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem’s heights to celebrate one of the three main harvest festivals of Israel. It is the only Psalm of Ascent written by Solomon.
The phrase “builds the house” raises common images of either a physical, residential structure or of a flourishing, extended family. The hearts of the early pilgrims also might have anticipated an experience similar to the one that occurred in Solomon’s Temple just after it was finished:
And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. I Kings 8:10-11 ESV
Note the words and phrases: “Unless the LORD”, “he gives”, “a reward”, “Blessed” and “He shall not be put to shame” – they highlight the sovereignty and protection of God over his people and his generosity to them. I imagine sizable, extended families of pilgrims pausing to dance and shout as they sang this psalm in anticipation of their arrival in the Holy City to worship at the House of the Lord.
But it’s also likely a few of them experienced moments of reflection and sobriety as the words “in vain” and “anxious toil” reminded them of failures to trust the adequate provision of their majestic God.
Psalm 127 reminds us that we are not the sole architects of our spiritual walk, nor can we generate strength to bring that walk to fruition. His indwelling Spirit is ever alert to guide and empower us to carry out his earthly assignments and bring us to our longed for destination — his glorious, unrestrained presence.
As you listen to Psalm 127 set to music, give God the vulnerability and failures you’ve experienced in projects and relationships as well as your struggles to build a desirable spiritual life. Dance, or just raise your hands, as you anticipate his guidance and power in your circumstances.
Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:1-4 NIV
Psalm 37 was written by David and has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager. It instructs us in Godly wisdom similarly to Psalm 1, 34, 73, 91, and 119. I see two dominant themes in this Psalm. The first one is the contrast between the righteous and the wicked. Another theme is — commands given to us by God describing Godly living and the promises of how God will respond if we obey His commands.
One way to see these themes clearly would be to make some charts. Put “the wicked” on one side and “the righteous” on the other. Then go through each verse and add words or phrases on each side of the chart to compare and contrast them. Did you notice that the wicked plot and scheme, default on debts, use raw power to gain advantage, and seem to flourish? But did you notice the ultimate end of the wicked?
Label another chart with “God’s commands” on one side and “God’s promises” on the other. Go through each verse and put words or phrases on each side that are commands or promises. Do you notice what kinds of commands are given to us in order for us to act righteously, to display righteousness? Some are positive commands – things for us to do, or to think. Others are actions we are not to take, things for us to not focus on with our thinking.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:5-8 NIV
Perhaps you see other themes in this Psalm. Are there words or phrases in this Psalm that stick out to you as you read it and study it? Make note of those words and phrases, listen to them, to their intent, to what God is calling you to do or not do, to say or not to say. One that gives me strength, comfort and hope is this,
The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him. Psalm 37:39-40 NIV
Marriage is the most explicit metaphor Jeremiah uses in his wake up call for Judah. This is his message: the people and leaders claimed to worship God in the temple. In reality, they had long gone off in search of other gods. Jeremiah describes Judah’s sins in such graphic detail that this book may seem irrelevant to us. If we scratch beyond the surface, however, we’ll realize we need this wake up call too.
Jeremiah, speaking for God, describes the single minded love the nation of Judah had had toward Him:
“I remember your youthful loyalty, our love as newlyweds.
You stayed with me through the wilderness years, stuck with me through all the hard places.”
Jeremiah 2:2b (The Message)
When Jeremiah arrived on the scene, Judah had become corrupted by the worship of Baal. God was the perfect spouse, yet Judah had grown bored of worshiping Him:
“Have I let you down, Israel? Am I nothing but a dead-end street?
Why do my people say, ‘Good riddance! From now on we’re on our own?’” Jeremiah 2:31 The Message
The prophet doesn’t mince words. The people and leaders of Judah have become shameless in their search for new gods to worship:
“A long time ago you broke out of the harness.
You shook off all restraints.
You said, ‘I will not serve!’ and off you went,
Visiting every sex-and-religion shrine on the way, like a common whore.”
Jeremiah 2:20 The Message
What’s worse, they deny any wrongdoing:
“How dare you tell me, ‘I’m not stained by sin.
I’ve never chased after the Baal sex gods!’”
Jeremiah 2:23 The Message
Rather than listening to the prophet and changing their ways, the nation dooms itself to exile in Babylon.
Judah’s root-sins are idolatry (which Jeremiah describes as neglecting their first love for God), and their unrepentance. Judah seems so much more sinful than we could imagine being. If we are honest, however, we also commit the sin of idolatry and have unrepentant hearts.
Are there ways that you’ve stopped loving God? Do other ways of living seem more attractive? There are so many idols that can take first place in our lives-–busyness, self importance, material success, comfort and security, pleasing others, career, family,… In fact anything, even good things, can become idols when we make them all-important. Take a moment to reflect on where your thoughts routinely lead you. Confess any thoughts and actions that detract from loving God. Then, keep it up! He will welcome us with open arms when we repent.