Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
WITHOUT GOD; MAN'S LABOR IS IN VAIN
This is the central psalm in the Little Psalter and the only one ascribed to Solomon. As Rawlinson remarked, the arrangement of these psalms could hardly have come about accidentally. There appears to be an artificial arrangement separating the ascribed psalms by those considered anonymous.
This is the amazing pattern that emerges: A ... A ... D ... A ... D ... A ... A ... S ... A ... A ... A ... D ... A ... D ... A. (A = Anonymous, D = David, and S = Solomon).
Solomon, according to the superscription, is the author of this psalm. As Leupold said, "There is a strong disinclination on the part of many interpreters to accept this; but there are good reasons for accepting it as reliable." There is absolutely nothing in the psalm itself which casts any doubt on Solomon's authorship.
Besides this, very reliable scholars have pointed out a number of reasons why the Solomonic authorship should be accepted. Delitzsch listed three of these. (1) In the Hebrew text, there is found in Psalms 127:2 here an allusion to the name Jedidiah, which Solomon received from Nathan (2 Samuel 12:25). That reference is in the English words "his beloved"; and Kidner referred to this as perhaps Solomon's "concealed signature." (2) The second reason cited by Delitzsch is that the giving of his beloved "sleep" may be construed as a reference to the great wisdom which God gave to Solomon in that dream (while he slept) "At Gibeon (1 Kings 3:5ff)." (3) The third reason is "The Proverbs-like form of the psalm." (4) A fourth reason for accepting the ascription of the psalm to Solomon was cited by Rawlinson.
The words `[~'etseb],' `[~ne'urim],' and `[~yedidow]' are Solomonic words; also, this psalm agrees with the sentiment of Proverbs 10:22.
"Except Jehovah build the house,
They labor in vain that build it:
Except Jehovah keep the city,
The watchman waketh but in vain."
It was this writer's privilege to attend the inauguration of Dwight David Eisenhower as president of the United States of America. My wife and I had seats No. 113 and No. 114 for the swearing-in ceremonies in front of the capitol, and it was upon this verse that President Eisenhower laid his hand for his taking the oath of office.
Along with the first clause of the following verse, there is a triple affirmation of "vanity" in this psalms upon all the affairs of men unless they receive the blessing of God.
Three areas of human endeavour are reviewed here: (1) building one's house (family, estate, etc.); (2) keeping the security of a city (or nation); and (3) the begetting of children.
"Labor" (Psalms 127:1) is a reference to the most diligent and persistent toil. The simple point is, that no matter how hard a man may work, if God's blessing is not upon him, it will all go for nothing.
"The watchman waketh but in vain" (Psalms 127:1). This does not mean that a city does not need watchmen, or that such a vital service should be discontinued. It simply means that no amount of diligent concern can save a city without the blessing of God. This is just as true now as it was when written. Unless God shall bless our great American cities, the last one of them shall be destroyed.
"Verse one here is universal in its meaning, indicating that dependence upon God is vital in all human undertakings."
"It is vain for you to rise up early,
To take rest late,
To eat the bread of toil;
For so he giveth unto his beloved sleep."
Of course, there is no prohibition here against getting up early, or working late, the point being simply that without the blessing of God, it will do no good at all.
This writer was in Japan as a guest chaplain of the USAF shortly after World War II, and he visited sister Nettie Andrews, who had lived in Shizuoka for thirty years, serving the Lord as a missionary. She survived the pitiless bombing of that great city by the USAF, which left the major part of it in total ruins, but when I asked her about her terror during the bombing she remarked, "He giveth his beloved sleep." She had slept without interruption through that whole terrible night!
We have already noted in the chapter introduction that these first two verses are supposed to have applied particularly to Solomon in the matter of his building the Temple (house) and in that sleep at Gibeon in which God, by means of a dream, conveyed to Solomon remarkable wisdom and understanding.
However, we must not leave this without remembering, as Kidner suggested, that, "Like much of Solomon's wisdom, the lessons of this psalm were mostly lost on him. His building, both personal and in the temple, became reckless (1 Kings 9:10ff, 19), his kingdom a ruin (1 Kings 11:11ff), and his marriages a disastrous denial of God (1 Kings 11:lff). In fact, Solomon's reign over Israel was an unqualified disaster, the scandal of forty generations. The most pitiful thing of all being that the Jews fell in love with it, a love that blinded their eyes to the Christ when he came. Their rejection of the Messiah was solely because the leaders of the nation wanted nothing, either in heaven or on earth, as much as they wanted the restoration of that godless earthly kingdom.
Before leaving this portion of the psalm, there is a quotation from Leupold which many Christians have found to be true: "Those who have put their trust for success in what it may please God to give have found it to be true, as the psalm says, that, `He will give what is right to his beloved while he sleeps.' We cannot understand exactly how Leupold came up with this understanding of the passage; but we can find no fault with the statement as it stands. There are countless examples of where it has happened exactly that way.
"Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah;
And the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows in the hand of a mighty man,
So are the children of youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
They shall not be put to shame,
When they speak with their enemies in the gate."
The imagery here is that of a large family, a special inheritance from God, "Enabling a man to meet his enemies in the gate of his city."
"As arrows in the hand of a mighty man" (Psalms 127:4). "A large family gave a man a strong position in the ancient community." The comparison of children to arrows is common, especially in the poetry of the Arabs.
"So are the children of youth" (Psalms 127:4). This especially refers to "Sons in their youth, in their prime and vigour of life."
"Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Psalms 127:5). A "quiver" was the device in which arrows were carried; and what us praised here is a large family.
"When they speak with their enemies in the gate" (Psalms 127:5). The whole implication here is that of a warlike society in which personal and family wars were the order of the day.
Before leaving this, it should be pointed out that children are "of the Lord." Only the Lord is able to give them; and, although they come "through" earthly parents, they still belong to God; and the parents who fail to recognize this and to rear their offspring in the fear and admonition of the Lord are of all human beings the most reprehensible.
More than once, this writer has observed children which were reared, not to fear God, but as mere animals, who turned upon their aging parents, oppressing them, deserting them, and in one instance murdering them. Parents who neglect to bring up their children as God has commanded are merely kindling the fires of their own hell.
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