New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Psa 127:1

A Song of Ascents. By Solomon-
Ecclesiastes is so packed with contradictions. Solomon knew and perceived God’s truth, and yet felt it meant nothing to him personally. Thus he teaches truth in Ecclesiastes, but intersperses it with his own personal depression and sense that none of it really has any meaning for him personally. The themes of labour, vanity, sleep and children which are found in Ecclesiastes all occur in Psalm 127, a Psalm of or for Solomon- where the message is clearly given that unless the Lord builds the temple, all this labour is in vain. And yet knowing this Solomon did labour for it so hard, and then came to the conclusion that it was indeed in vain. If only he had believed the words he earlier composed and sung in Ps. 127, he needn’t have had to come to that sad conclusion. 

Unless Yahweh builds the house, they labour in vain who build it. Unless Yahweh watches over the city, the watchman guards it in vain-
The songs of ascents, part of the restoration Psalms, are relevant to any ‘ascent’ or ‘going up’ to the Lord’s house. They are full of reference to God’s eternal purpose with Jerusalem and the temple. It seems to me that they may have been re-written under inspiration with reference to God’s people returning from Babylon to Jerusalem. Psalm 127 has obvious relevance too: “Except the Lord build the house [the temple], they labour in vain that build it… the watchman [cp. Nehemiah placing watchmen on the rebuilt walls] waketh but in vain… it is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late [cp.  working so hard on the wall they had no time to even change their clothes]… they shall speak with their enemies in the gate” [cp. Nehemiah talking to the Arab traders and enemies in the rebuilt gate of Jerusalem, and setting watches over the city].

Perhaps the Psalm originated in Solomon's reflections as he began building the temple, and was then rewritten and reapplied to the exiles rebuilding it. More likely it is God's inspired advice to him as he began the building work. To build a house and not live in it was a curse for breaking the covenant (Dt. 28:30; Zeph. 1:13), and this was to be the curse if the house of the temple was built but not inhabited by the shekinah glory. And this is indeed how it worked out; the temple was rebuilt, but the glory didn't return to it as foreseen in Ezekiel's visions of Ez. 40-48, because the exiles weren't obedient to that vision.

But God didn't really want a physical house built for Him; rather had He promised to build up the house or seed of David (2 Sam. 7:27 s.w.). And this is why this Psalm goes on in :3-5 to say that God will build up the family / house of the faithful. Solomon correctly perceived all this, as noted on :1, and yet insisted on going ahead with the grandiose building program which was not really what God wanted.  

Psa 127:2

It is vain for you to rise up early, to stay up late, eating the bread of toil; for He gives sleep to His beloved ones-
Ps. 132:4  "I will not give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids" therefore appears to be a studied disregard for the revelation of Ps. 127:2, which urges David and his seed not to stay up late planning to build a physical temple, but to accept sleep from God and trust Him to build him a house in the sense of a Messianic seed and family / kingdom.

David seems to have recognized that the building of the temple was conditional on Solomon's spirituality, but he overlooked this in his enthusiasm for Solomon to be the Messiah. He tells Solomon to show himself a man (1 Kings 2:2), and goes on in v. 4 to speak of how “a man” would eternally reign on his Messianic throne. He was encouraging Solomon to be and act like Messiah. Ps. 127 is "For Solomon" (v.2 "beloved" = Heb. Jedidiah), and warns him that his labour for the temple will be in vain unless God  builds it. The Psalm basically says that God will build Solomon a house in the sense of a family centred in the beloved seed who would die [“sleep”] to enable it; and therefore Solomon should not be so sweating himself day and night to build God a house / temple. This is the very message which God had given David earlier. David and Solomon evidently shelved their knowledge of the fact that Heaven is God's dwelling place.

But more than this; the idea may be that instead of building the temple / house for Yahweh, Solomon is advised to let Yahweh build up his house / family as the seed of David (Ps. 127:3-5). God would give sleep to the beloved, "Jedidiah", Solomon, and he would awake and find his house / seed built for him by God- rather than Solomon frantically building a house for God. The same phrase is only used of Solomon not giving sleep to his eyes in his mad addiction to works (Prov. 6:4; Ecc 8:16). Ps. 127 was "for Solomon" rather than necessarily "by" him. And it seems he refused the offer of having his house / seed built up for him, but rather chose to try to build God a house. Hence LXX "It is vain for you to rise early: ye rise up after resting, ye that eat the bread of grief; while he gives sleep to his beloved".

It could be that initially, Psalm 127 was David’s Psalm for Solomon written at the very end of his life; he tells Solomon that unless God builds this house / temple, it will all be “in vain” and Solomon will but eat the bread of sorrows, labouring hard all his days for nothing. And this is very much the picture of Solomon in Ecclesiastes. David said that such labour in vain was made unnecessary by the fact that “So he giveth his beloved sleep” (Ps. 127:2). ‘David’ means ‘beloved’, and it could be that David was gently trying to focus Solomon’s attention on the future David who would be made to sleep / due by the Father, in order to build the real house.  

Psa 127:3

Behold, children are a heritage of Yahweh. The fruit of the womb is His reward-
We are God's heritage, His reward / wages (Heb.), His recompense for all His labour for us (Ps. 127:3 Heb.). "Heritage" is literally "possession". Our children are His. This development of the theme of God given children is continuing the theme raised in :1. God didn't really want a physical house built for Him; rather had He promised to build up the house or seed of David (:1 = 2 Sam. 7:27 s.w.). See on :2. And this is why this Psalm goes on now in :3-5 to say that God will build up the family / house of the faithful. Solomon correctly perceived all this, as noted on :1, and yet insisted on going ahead with the grandiose building program which was not really what God wanted.

Psa 127:4

As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of youth-
LXX "As arrows in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of those who were outcasts". The reference is clearly to the restoration of the children of Zion after the restoration. Their children were to inherit the Kingdom- potentially. This scenario was precluded by the impenitence and disobedience of the exiles and their intermarriages. I suggested on :1-3 that Solomon was initially being told to allow God to build up his house / seed whilst he "slept", unable to do any works, rather than him building a house for God. But he refused this, not wanting to see the spiritual side of things, but rather only the external and material, centered around his own works.

Psa 127:5

Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they won’t be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate-
“Happy is the man that has his quiver full of” children is surely to be connected with Ps. 126:6, where the sower [the preacher] returns with joy, “bringing his sheaves [converts] with him”.  In the restoration context, these were to be the children of Zion, the new generation of returned exiles who would rise to govern a Messianic kingdom which would dominate the peoples who were their former enemies. But instead they allowed their enemies in through the gates, Tobiah even having his own chamber in the temple, and they intermarried. The fulfilment of the Abrahamic promises of possessing the gate of their enemies would only come about by God building up the house / seed of David (see on :1-3). But Solomon thought he could bring it about in his own strength by building a temple. We see here the contrast between God's grace and work for men, and man's desire to trust in his own works and thereby spurn God's grace and potential activity.