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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 127

Psalms 127

“Every thing is dependent upon the blessing of God:” in every work of man a prosperous issue does not come from his own efforts, but from the Lord. This is the contents. [Note: Calvin: It was his purpose to humble the foolish confidence of men, who, forgetting God, have the audacity to attempt any thing, in dependance only on their own wisdom or strength. . . . Whatever they attempt shall come to nought, unless prosperity be granted of mere grace. . . . For even the division which many conceive of is wicked, by which a man who has acted vigorously, leaving half of the praise to God, takes the other half to himself, but the blessing of God alone ought to be extended over the whole, and to enjoy the dominion.]

The Psalm falls into two strophes

God secured a dwelling, protection, nourishment, Psalms 127:1-2, and posterity, Psalms 127:3-5.

The Psalm is governed by the number three, as the number of the Mosaic blessing; Jehovah occurs thrice, in the first strophe שוא is thrice used, there are three things in which one’s own striving avails not, and the third strophe consists of three verses.

The superscription attributes the Psalm to Solomon, and internal reasons go to confirm the correctness of this. It is characteristically distinguished from the nameless Psalms of degrees, and so as to mark its connection with an earlier time; it exhibits no trace of the mournful depression by which they are pervaded, the language is more vigorous, and while they throughout refer to the whole of the community, the individual is here directed to the true source of blessing. The theme of the Psalm suits Solomon, who chiefly occupied the domestic-civic territory, as Calvin justly remarks; insomuch that expositors of a super-ecclesiastical spirit, have sought to thrust in by force the reference to the church, which they missed in the body of the Psalm itself (for example, Lampe). The striving after the worldly good expressed in the conclusion, Psalms 127:4-5, is not less suitable for Solomon as the author, than for its destination as a popular and Pilgrim Song. It is also a confirmation of Solomon’s being the author, the coincidence which the idea of the Psalm presents with the Proverbs; comp. especially the strikingly parallel passage, Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and labour adds nothing thereto.” Finally, we recognize in Psalms 127:2 an allusion to the personal relations of Solomon, in the words: “So gives he to his beloved in sleep.” According to 2 Samuel 12:25, Solomon received the name Jedidiah, the beloved of the Lord, and the promise made to him of the divine blessing was, according to 1 Kings 3:5-14, given when he was asleep.

The Psalm is primarily intended for such as think too highly of human efforts, a fault which is particularly apt to betray itself in the prosperous. (Hence Tilling remarks, not without reason, that the Psalm pre-supposes the Jewish commonwealth to have been in a flourishing condition.) At the same time, since it points to the divine blessing as the one source of prosperity, it is rich in consolation to those who are in adverse circumstances, paralyzed in their activity. It would undoubtedly be this bearing of the Psalm which would be more particularly contemplated when it was used after the exile, straitened and annoyed as the new colony was in many respects by the Samaritans.

Verses 1-2

Ver. 1-2.

A Song of the Pilgrimages.

Ver. 1 If the Lord does not build a house, its builders labour in vain; if the Lord does not guard a city, the watchman wakes in vain. Ver. 2. It is in vain for you who rise early, to delay sitting, to eat the bread of trouble; so gives he to his beloved in sleep.

That in Psalms 127:1 the discourse is of an actual house-building, not of carefulness for the good of the family, is manifest already from the juxtaposition of the house and the city, and then from Psalms 127:2, to the subject of which we can hardly find a transition if we understand the building of the house in a figurative sense. The בו belongs not to בוניו , but to עמלו . The contrast in the second member is not of public as opposed to private affairs; but of protection as opposed to the dwelling. The security of the city comes into consideration in so far as it conditions the security of the individual. The watchman is, as in Psalms 130:6, the common night-watch. That we are not to think of “all those, whose part it is to care for the welfare of a city, therefore also magistrates and rulers,” is clear from שקר alone, which signifies only to wake in the sense of watching; comp. Psalms 102:7, Proverbs 8:34. The Psalmist has here before his eyes those who strive and labour without God. Hence, he renders only the one side prominent. He would have spoken quite otherwise, if he had had in his eye such as, in false confidence on God, indolently lay their hands on their bosom. It is not working, which since the fall is of divine ordination, and foresight, that are condemned, but only the pernicious error, quite destructive of prayer, that one can succeed in accomplishing somewhat without the divine aid.

In Psalms 127:2 the sitting, in contrast to the standing or rising up for the purpose of working, is the resting: they hasten to go to work, and delay to leave off from it; comp. Psalms 139:2, Lamentations 3:63, Deuteronomy 6:7, Deuteronomy 11:19. The exposition of sitting by: at work (Luther: and sits long at it), with, which Isaiah 5:11 is to be compared, has, besides this passage, the fact against it, that sitting at work was unusual according to the simple manners of the Israelites. Bread of trouble is bread which is eaten amid hard labour. The words rest on Genesis 3:17: “In bitter labour shalt thou eat of it” (the produce of the earth), and Genesis 3:19: “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,”—a reference which shows that it is not the Psalmist’s intention here to reprove over-driven and excessive toil. כן So, agreeably to that, Job 9:35, 1 Kings 10:12, what they in vain strive to have accomplished through their hard toil. שנא for שנה is not the accusative, but the preposition is omitted, as is frequently the case with words that are in constant use, for example, &#ערב בקר , to which שנה here is poetically made like. The exposition: he gives sleep, instead of, in sleep (LXX. Vulg.), gives an unsuitable meaning. For the subject is not about the sleep, but the gain. Sleep is not put in opposition to labour in itself (this is common to the beloved of God with the ungodly, comp. on Psalms 60:5; to rise up early, and to be late in sitting down again, to eat the bread of trouble, is the general destination and duty of men, without complying with which no one can hope for a blessing; against laziness the strongest condemnation is uttered in the Proverbs, comp. Proverbs 6:9-10, Proverbs 31:15, Proverbs 31:27, as indeed the whole of the Old Testament, is decidedly opposed to a vicious Quietism. But the contrast is with labour as a source of prosperity and wellbeing. The righteous have sleep as a source of good, in a way that the ungodly have not, for they resign themselves to it when their work is faithfully done; they receive it without any effort of their own; by night the blessing comes to them they know not how; while the others accomplish nothing by the labour they undergo, and have no profit by all their pains.

Verses 3-5

Ver. 3. Lo, the gift of the Lord are sons, reward is the fruit of the womb. Ver. 4. As arrows in the hand of a hero, so are sons of youth. Ver. 5. Happy he who pins his quiver full of them; they shall not be put to shame, when they speak with their enemies in the gate.

The Lo, in Psalms 127:3, points to a new and particularly strikingly example of the principle, that all depends on the Lord’s blessing. Children, in whom a pious spirit has always recognised a gift of the Lord—comp. Genesis 33:5, Genesis 48:9—are thought of last, because the possession of them is only then a piece of good fortune, when a secure dwelling-place and an adequate support, Psalms 127:1-2, have already been provided יהוה נחלת prop. the inheritance of the Lord. Mich. Sicut alias bona parentum in liberos descendant, Proverbs 19:14. The expression: fruit of the womb, refers to Genesis 30:2, Deuteronomy 7:13, where, precisely under the use of this expression, the blessing of children is derived from God alone. The expression, reward, or hire, taken from Genesis 30:18, where Leah, in the birth of a son, sees a reward granted to her by God, and in consequence bestows on him the name of Issachar.

In Psalms 127:4-5, the Psalmist points to the greatness of this divine gift, the worth of a blooming posterity. Sons of youth are not youthful sons, but sons begotten in youth; comp. Genesis 37:3, Isaiah 54:6. Such are peculiarly strong, Genesis 49:3, and come then to the height of their vigour, when the declining parents need their protection. They are compared to arrows, because they provide defence against the attacks of enemies.

It is unnecessary in the words: they shall not be ashamed, Psalms 127:5, to regard the fathers as the subject. That the sons should not be ashamed, or put to the worse, when managing the affairs of their fathers, was quite appropriate as a ground for extolling the prosperity of the latter. דבר את , speak with, as in Genesis 45:15, Exodus 25:22. The gate was the place of business; comp. on Psalms 69:12. There the strength of the sons should be put forth in support of the father’s rights; and how necessary it was, even in strictly judicial matters, appears from many passages, for example, Job 5:4.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 127". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-127.html.