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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalms 128





The last psalm taught in a homely way the great lesson of cheerful content, and this, while announcing the promises attached to fidelity to Jehovah, still confines itself to the domestic circle—with the implied truth that national prosperity is bound closely up with domestic happiness, and depends on the cultivation of domestic virtues. And what an idyllic picture is here of peace and happiness!—the natural effects of that spirit of simple piety which often preserves itself through many generations under a humble roof. We see the father of the family, working hard no doubt, but recompensed for all his pains by an honourable competence, and the mother, instead of seeking distraction outside her home, finding all her pleasures in the happiness of her numerous children, who, fresh and healthy as young saplings, gather daily round the simple but ample board. Happy the family, poor or rich, whose annals tell such a tale! But the happiness could not be real or sincere which did not look beyond the home circle, to the prosperity of the larger circle of the nation of which it forms part; and so, like Burns’ famous poem, which, in telling the story of the Scottish peasant’s home-life, has caught the very spirit of the old Hebrew song, the psalmist ends with a patriotic prayer. The parallelism is here and there perfect.

Verse 2

(2) For thou.—The Hebrew by the position of the particle is more emphatic:

“For it is the labour of thine hands thou shalt eat.”

(See Note, Psalms 116:10.) This picture of a successful and peaceful husbandry, which itself throws a whole flood of light on the condition of Palestine and of the people, now not nomadic but agricultural, is rendered still more emphatic by references to the numerous passages where it is foretold that enemies would devour the harvests (Deuteronomy 28:30-33; Leviticus 26:16).

Happy.—The same word translated blessed in Psalms 128:1.

Verse 3

(3) By the sides—No doubt the inner part of the house is meant (see Psalms 48:2)—the gynecœum or woman’s quarter—or perhaps the sides of the inner court or quadrangle. This is no more out of keeping with the figure of the vine than the table is with that of olive plants. Though the Hebrews had not yet developed the fatal habit of secluding their women, as later Orientals have done, still there was a strict custom which allotted a more private tent (Genesis 18:9) or part of a house to them. And doubtless we are here also to think of the good housewife who is engaged within at the household duties, and is not like the idle gossip, sitting “at the door of her house on a seat in the high places of the city” (Proverbs 9:14). The vine and olive are in Hebrew poetry frequent symbols of fruitfulness and of a happy, flourishing state. (See Psalms 52:8; Jeremiah 11:16.) The comparison of children to the healthy young shoots of a tree is, of course, common to all poetry, being indeed latent in such expressions as “scion of a noble house.” (Comp. Euripides, Medea 1,098: “a sweet young shoot of children.”)

Verse 4

(4) Behold, that.—Better, Look! for thus, &c. The poet calls attention to the charming picture he has drawn of domestic bliss and then points his moral.

Verse 5

(5) Shall . . . shalt.—Here and in the next verse the optative is plainly required: “May Jehovah,” &c; “mayst thou see,” &c. The patriotic sentiment could not wait long for expression in such a psalm. No people ever perceived more strongly than the Jews the connection between the welfare of the state and that of the family.

Verse 6

(6) Children’s children.—Dr. Perowne illustrates from Virgil: “adspicies . . . natos natorum et qui nascentur ab illis.” (Comp. Zechariah 8:4-5.)

And peace . . .—The conjunction spoils the passage. The psalm concludes with the prayer, “Peace upon Israel.” (Comp. Psalms 125:5.)


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 128:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 19th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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