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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 127

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-5

Psalms 127:0

A Song of Degrees for Solomon

          Except the Lord build the house,
They labour in vain that build it:
Except the Lord keep the city,
The watchman waketh but in vain.

2     It is vain for you to rise up early,

To sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows:

For so he giveth his beloved sleep.

3     Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord:

And the fruit of the womb is his reward.

4     As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man:

So are children of the youth.

5     Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:

They shall not be ashamed,
But they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.


Contents and Composition.—All help, all protection, and all blessing come from God; without Him all labor, care, and trouble are vain. This thought, related to Proverbs 10:22, and expressed in the form of a mashal is individualized by the building of a house, the watching of a city, and the earning of bread (Psalms 127:1-2), and the Divine blessing of a numerous offspring (Psalms 127:3-5). There is no definite allusion to the building of the Temple by Solomon (most of the older expositors after the Rabbins), or to that after the Restoration (many since Theodoret). Nor is there any trace of a special connection with the two following Psalms (Hitzig). There is nothing to falsify the reference to Solomon as the author in the superscription. [The title should be rendered: by Solomon] This statement, however, is not found in the Sept. Nor is it decisive of itself that in 2 Samuel 12:25 the name Jedediah, beloved, is given to Solomon, and that he was promised prosperity, 1 Kings 3:5, in a dream (Hengst.) It may have been just from these resemblances that the inference of a Salomonic authorship was made (Olsh., Delitzsch, Hitzig). It is purely arbitrary to infer (Stier), from the aphoristic form that David here speaks of Solomon (Syr.) although the forcible language and vivacious tone, if not, in the absence of all political allusion, necessarily indicating a highly flourishing state of the kingdom (Hengst. after the older commentators), yet do argue a prosperous period in the life of the author and a soul satisfied in God. The assumption that the Psalm is a fragment is devoid of all support. [If it was the Collector who inserted the statement with regard to the authorship, he probably had better reasons for his opinion than those which have led so many critics (in whose wake Perowne again seems inclined to follow) to fancy that Solomon was not the author.1—J. F. M.]

Psalms 127:1-2. Build the house—It is not the laying of the foundation of a patrimony (Calvin, Geier, Calov., et al.) but of house building in its strict sense. [Translate: They have labored, they have watched. “The writer places himself at the end of the work and sees its result” (Perowne)—J. F. M.] In Psalms 127:2 the sitting down is to be closely connected with what follows. They come late to sit down to eat (Hitzig, Del.); they get their bread by toiling and moiling. Others take the expression as equivalent to lying down, so that by rising up early and retiring late, they lengthen the natural day by artificial means (Sept., Syr., Calvin, Geier, et al., Hupfeld). Sitting at meals was customary (1 Samuel 20:34) before the Greek custom of reclining was introduced among the Jews. The words do not refer to sitting at work until late at night (Aben Ezra, Luther, et al.) כֵּן does not mean: for (Luther) but: thus. This means: without more trouble, (Böttcher) or: in like manner, and passes over into the notion: such, or: the same.—Sleep is here not contrasted with labor but with trouble and care, and expresses the freedom from trouble and the peace of the man who reposes in God’s protection. A false translation is: when he giveth His beloved sleep (Sept., Vulg.) [The explanation of the last clause of the verse which is now generally followed is this: God is represented as giving to those whom he loves “in sleep,” that is without any fatiguing toil on their part, all things that are for their own good. Sleep is evidently contrasted with the late working of those who do not give themselves up to God’s protection, and who are alluded to in the first part of the verse. The following is probably the correct translation: “It is vain for you rising early, sitting down late, eating the bread of toil; thus (the things thus sought for) He giveth His beloved in sleep.”—J. F. M.]

Psalms 127:4-5. The children of youth are not young children (Luth., Rudinger, Rosenm.), but they are contrasted with the children of old age (Genesis 37:3). As such they are already grown up when their father is growing old, and are therefore able to assist him (Geier). The gate (Psalms 127:5) is used for the places of public resort (Psalms 5:9), especially those where justice is administered (Deuteronomy 21:19 and elsewhere). A taking part in such affairs, in general, therefore, judging (Isaiah 20:4; 2 Samuel 19:30; Jeremiah 12:1) is probably meant here also, and not specially a struggle in defence of the fatherland (Rudinger, Rosenm., Umbreit). The subject of the statement is not merely the sons as defenders (Calvin, Geier, De Wette, Hengst.), or the fathers as accused but not pronounced guilty (Grotius, Köster), but both in common (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Grotius, and most).—In the translation: sons of the outcasts (Sept., Vulg.), an allusion was perceived to those born in the captivity. The translation in Psalms 127:5 : blessed is he whose desire is fulfilled by them, weakens the sense.


Through God’s blessing our labor prospers without harassing trial and without anxiety.—Parents have not given their children to themselves. God has presented them to them; are they also treated and educated accordingly?—We must gratefully and humbly ascribe to God every successful result, and nothing to our own strength, ability, or endurance, and employ all our strength, time, and gifts in reliance upon God’s assistance, and according to His will, so that we may not be ashamed.—To begin and end with God, takes from every day its burden.

Starke: Let God be the beginning and the end in all things, and thou wilt walk securely on thy way so that thy foot shall not stumble.—God’s servants in the ministry of His Church built Him a spiritual house. If it is to be built rightly, God Himself must be the Master-builder—Be first a friend of God, and then do what is commanded thee, leaving the rest to Him. He will prosper thy affairs even while thou sleepest, if thou dost lie down with full trust in Him.—To be able to sleep quietly in the midst of much labor, is a blessing of God.—Gifts are not to be forced from the giver.—Parents act sinfully who murmur against God, if He does not bless their married life with offspring.—It is an affliction of married life to have no children; but to have spoiled children is much worse. Prayer and wisdom are necessary to educate them rightly.

Frisch: All the servants of God have to build up the house of the Lord, that is, the Church of God. But God must be the Master-builder, and give success from above to the work of His servants.—Rieger: In all situations, success does not depend upon diligence, skill, or natural sagacity, but upon God’s blessing and providence. Men should therefore not lose their trust in God by immoderate application, or suffer themselves to be annoyed by difficulties which meet them, or become self-exalted with success.—Richter: Sons well brought up are a protection, honor, and blessing to their father.—Guenther: Lord, do Thou thus build our houses, defend our city and country, bless our exertions, educate our children to become citizens of the city of God, and at last show us mercy in the final judgment—Taube: The secret of domestic blessing, how it rests, not upon our labor or care, not in human watching and power, but only in the gifts of mercy from above.

[Matt. Henry: Such children are arrows in the hand, which with prudence may be directed aright to the mark, God’s glory and the service of their generation, but afterwards when they are gone out into the world, they are arrows out of the hand; it is too late to bend them then. But these arrows in the hand prove often arrows in the heart, a constant grief to their godly parents, whose grey hairs they bring with sorrow to the grave.—Bishop Horne: If God’s aid be called in, if part of our time be spent in prayer, not the whole of it in prayerless toiling and moiling, our work will become easier and go on better.—Scott: Children should also remember their obligations to their parents, and study to requite them by laboring to supply their wants, to vindicate their characters, and to protect them from oppression in their old age.—J. F. M.]


[1][Mr. Perowne, following an opinion alluded to above, asserts (I. p. 95) that “a misunderstanding of the words: ‘except Jehovah build the house,’ which were supposed to allude to the building of the Temple, led the Psalm to be ascribed to Solomon.” In other words, the Collector committed a blunder in interpretation, of which no unlearned reader of our day is guilty. On the other hand, why should he ignore the possibility that Solomon, who was something of a house-builder in his time, apart from his connection with the Temple, and who speaks elsewhere so feelingly of the vanity of unaided human labor, might have generalized his own experience for the benefit of his nation; and that, being something of a moralist and proverbial philosopher, he might have presented this and some kindred thoughts in the form of an apophthegmatic Psalm; and that, being an acknowledged teacher in his kingdom, he might, in accordance with a custom not unusual with him, have accompanied this utterance with his own name? The unqualified assertion just quoted simply assumes the impossibility of this. As to why Solomon should not have been the author we are left by Mr. Perowne entirely in the dark, nothing approaching to an argument being found in his discussion of the subject.—J. F. M.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 127". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-127.html. 1857-84.
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