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.