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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 128

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-6

Psalms 128:1-6

Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord.

The blessed tendency of true piety

The subject is the blessed tendency of true piety, and the truly pious man is described as one that “feareth the Lord” and “walketh in His ways.”

Its tendency is to make business prosperous (verse 2). This stands in splendid contrast to the terrible threat which Moses addressed to the Israelites of old, should they break God’s law (Exodus 25:35; Deuteronomy 18:40).

Its tendency is to make the family happy (verse 3). Ungodly families are stars wandering from their orbits, but a truly pious family, small though it be, is an orb rolling round the eternal Sun of Righteousness, and from it deriving its life, its light, and its harmony.

Its tendency is to make the country blessed (verses 4, 5). “Righteousness exalteth a nation.”

1. In material wealth. Truth, honesty, integrity, in a people; are the best guarantees of commercial advancement. Credit is the best capital in the business of a nation as well as in the business of an individual, and credit is built on righteous principles.

2. In social enjoyments. According as the principles of veracity, uprightness, and honour, reign in society, will be the freeness, the heartiness, and the enjoyment of social intercourse.

3. In moral power. The true majesty of a kingdom lies in its moral virtues.

Its tendency is to make the life long (verse 5). There should be a full stop after the word “Children,” and the word “and” is not in the original. Genuine piety tends to long life.

1. Long life depends upon obedience be the laws of our constitution, physical, mental, and moral laws.

2. In order to obey the laws of our constitution, those laws must be understood.

3. In order to understand those laws, man must study them. They will not come to him by intuition, inspiration, or revelation. He must study them, study nature.

4. In order to study them effectively he must have supreme sympathy with their Author. (Homilist.)

The labour question and Christianity

Prevailing distress among the poor, calamitous conflicts between Labour and Capital, call for earnest thought, and wise and faithful utterance from the Church of Christ. Working-men claim their right “to secure the full enjoyment of the wealth they create,” and they certainly have a right to a larger “share in the gains of advancing civilization.” How is this to be realized?

Not by Socialistic revolution and Communistic confiscation and redistribution. These methods are contrary alike to nature, reason, revelation and experience.

Organization, bureau registration, co-operation, arbitration, legislation, etc., are largely empiric and artificial expedients, productive at best of only partial and superficial amendment.

The Christian religion will secure whatever is good in the above, and, besides, will produce the only radical and permanent cure.

1. It teaches and realizes a Brotherhood of Humanity, embracing rich and poor, in which, it one member suffer, all suffer.

2. Its golden law strikes at the selfishness of the rich in refusing to consider the poor, secures the immediate relief of Christian philanthropy, and the permanent improvement of “things just and equal” (Colossians 4:1). “A fair day’s work, etc., fair day’s wage.”

3. It gives best promise of regulating the labour-market by checking over-crowding in the easier callings, substituting conscientious choice and providential guidance for the unreasoning selfishness which makes time and means for pleasure the great consideration--e.g. City factory and sewing-room always crowded, farm and domestic service rarely if ever fully supplied.

4. It imparts dignity and self-respect through union and fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, a brother mechanic, and the only perfect model of what the working-man may be and ought to be. Thus alone can he realize his ideal aristocracy of “industrial and moral worth,” instead of wealth and birth.

5. It secures him the best of all help, Self-help, and puts him in the way of working out his own salvation. The fruition of such culture will be, from his own stock, trusty and efficient representatives who “shall stand before kings.”

6. It will make his home the scene of highest comfort, purest and most stable domestic happiness and family welfare. (W. M. Roger.)

Piety in its principle, development, and blessedness

Here we have--

Piety in principle. The love to God that constitutes piety is characterized by two things:--

1. Predominancy. Most men have a kind of love for the Supreme, that flows through them with other natural emotions, but attains no ascendancy over other sentiments, no control over the other faculties. The love to God that constitutes piety must be the controlling disposition.

2. Permanency. Perhaps, in most minds, the sentiment of love to God, of gratitude, adoration, and even of reverence, arises at times: especially when moving amidst the grand and beautiful in nature, or experiencing the enjoyment of some special blessings. But this sentiment, to become piety, must be crystallized, and settled as a rock. It is the embryo of all excellence in all worlds. It is a seed out of which grows all that is beautiful and fruitful in the Eden of God.

Piety in development. How is this principle rightly developed? Not in mere songs and hymns, and prayers, and ceremonies, but in conduct. “That walketh in His ways.” “His ways,” the ways of truth, honesty, purity, and holy love. True piety is not a dormant element sleeping in the soul, like grain buried under the mountains, it struggles into form, and takes action, it walks, and its walk is onward and upward.

Piety in blessedness. (David Thomas, D. D.)

On religion

Religion is pleasant. No man ever performed an action which was wise and good, such as supplying the wants of the industrious poor, relieving the distress of the orphan, or vindicating the character of the worthy from unmerited detraction, without meeting the reward of beneficence in that very hour. He will feel a secret satisfaction, which can never be equalled by the pleasures of sense. He may not be able, it is true, to execute all his laudable designs; but the very consciousness of good intention is more delightful than the triumphs of successful iniquity. “This is the way of religion--walk thou in it.”

Religion is profitable. The very duties which religion inculcates, it cannot have escaped your observation, have a natural tendency to procure the comforts and conveniences of life. Health, honour, riches, and that good name which is better than riches, are, in many cases, part of the recompense of religion. Religion embraces both the temporal welfare of individuals, and the prosperity of states and of empires. “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord, that walketh in His ways.” Blessed are the young; blessed are the aged; blessed are the prosperous; and blessed the afflicted. (T. Laurie, D. D.)

Relation of gladness to godly fear

G. K. Chesterton remarks--“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of pleasure.” When life ceases to be a mystery it ceases to hold the secret of joy. The world that has banished awe has banished wholesome laughter. The ages that have known most of religious fear are the ages from which have come the most lyrical notes of Christian joy. Those older ages lived and breathed and rejoiced in God amidst their dark theologies. Bernard of Clairvaux had stern, stupendous ideas of the Deity, and yet it was he who sang--

“Jesus, the very thought of Thee,

With sweetness fills my breast.”

Samuel Rutherford was steeped in all the rigours of a Calvinism which touches the very springs of awe in the human breast, and yet from him came the love letters of Christianity--letters too sacred for any except our most solitary moods. The moment we cease to tremble before God we cease to know joy. (W. C. Piggott.)

Verses 2-3

Psalms 128:2-3

For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands.

Piety the charm of the poor man’s home

Here are three things which are essential materials to make a good home.

A godly and industrious father. He is blessed--

1. In himself.

2. In his business.

3. In his family.

4. In his Church.

5. In his country.

A godly, home-keeping mother. Here are two features of a Christian wife: what she is--“a fruitful vine”; and where she is--“by the side of her house.” As the fruitful vine afforded shade as well as grapes, the figure imports comfort as well as a family.

A circle of godly and home-loving children. What is it to be like “olive-plants”? The olive-branch in Scripture is the emblem of peace, and the olive oil is the emblem of grace. Peace and grace are lovely features in a child, and when peace and grace take possession of the heart of a whole family, Christian people love to visit their dwelling. (J. B. Owen, M. A.)

The morality of business

It is most likely that the psalm was written shortly after the return of the Jews from their exile in Babylon; when the nation was once more, in a sense, mistress of its destinies, and could look out on the beloved native land as its own again. We can all understand what an impulse this feeling would give to the cultivation of the soil; how cheerfully the husbandman would go forth to his daily task, expecting literally to “eat the labour of his hands”; and with what fresh interest and dignity his work would be invested, when he could look forward to enjoying the fruit of his toil in freedom and peace. But if these were, as it is likely they were, the associations of the moment, still, there is nothing that should prevent our giving the words the widest possible application. The dignity and the happiness with which the commonest hand-labour was associated in the eyes of the psalmist, are the privilege and the glory of labour always and everywhere. To suppose that we gain in true dignity and real happiness by ceasing to labour and studying to idle easily and gracefully through life, is the greatest folly that ever possessed the brain of man. We know who it was who said, “Six days shalt thou labour,”--and, doubtless, it was said in the interest of the individual, as well as of society at large. And certain it is, that he who would rest with real enjoyment on the seventh day, must labour on the six. When I speak of “The Morality of Business,” I give to the word “business” the widest possible meaning, as that which occupies a man’s energies, whether of mind or of body, and makes him busy. In considering the morality of business, then, I think we may lay it down as an invariable rule that, so far as the employer is concerned, his business should be so conducted that he himself, and every honest workman under him, shall be able to take a real interest and pleasure in it; and that, so far as the workers are concerned, they shall be dissatisfied with themselves unless they do really feel such an interest, and take such pleasure, in their work. The workman has a just ground of complaint against his employer, if he is required to do anything which tends to destroy an honest man’s pleasure in his work. I have often wondered why Trade Unions do not turn their attention to this point, and support their members in refusing to do fraudulent and dishonest work,--work which, if traced out in its results, can be proved to be ultimately in the highest degree hurtful and disastrous to the whole community, as well as to the particular employers and workpeople who are guilty of it. Such a matter as this would surely be far more worthy of the efforts of Trade Unions, as well as far more beneficial both to their members and to society at large, than are some of those which frequently claim and occupy their attention. On the other hand, if the workman has a just ground of complaint against his employer, should he be required to do anything which can destroy an honest man’s interest in his work,--undoubtedly the employer has an equally just ground of complaint against his workpeople, if, whilst he is doing his part by them, they fail to throw into their work that interest, and to take that pleasure in it, which will both further their own happiness and at the same time promote his success. A great deal of the mischief from which we are suffering is due to the fact that we overrate enormously the worth of money, and still believe, in spite of our Saviour, that “man’s life does consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” Money can command much; but it cannot command the happiness which makes life sweet, and worth having, to us. This must be sought in quite other ways;--through the daily labour, of which our psalmist says, “Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: O well is thee, and happy shalt thou be;” through patient continuance in well-doing; through the diligent discharge of our daily duties in all the various relations of life. (Canon D. J. Vaughan.)

Verses 3-4

Psalms 128:3-4

Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine.

A pattern wife

There are trailing slatterns, like brambles and nettles, who leave conspicuous in a dwelling what they should conceal, and choke with unsightliness and discomfort what ought to be kept clear; who cause what would be attractive to offend, render what is repulsive more so, and, themselves the most forbidding objects, drive their toil-worn husbands to the seat of the scornful and the bower of sin. The woman pictured in the song is not to be seen lounging at the door, an idle gossip, with something to say to every passer-by, but attends to her duties in the interior of the dwelling, and, like her husband, fears the Lord (Proverbs 9:13-14; Amos 6:10). The clinging vine is a symbol of attachment, grace, and fruitfulness, dressing the props and walls to which its curling tendrils hold, with leaves that shade the verandah and cool the house, and enriching them with clusters of juicy fruit “that maketh glad the heart of man” (Psalms 104:15). The pious and loving wife, the screen, the adornment, and crown of the God-fearing husband who is her support and strength, so spreads the table that, however plain, it is a feast; so pours the water that it turns to wine; so smiles that all the room shines with comfort and pleasure; so speaks that the house is full of charming music; so lives that the master is happy everywhere because most happy when at home. (E. J. Robinson.)

Wedded happiness

Dr. Cuyler, who has just celebrated his golden wedding, says he has made up his mind that there is no place like home. At a meeting he said, “I have just returned from my delightful golden wedding trip. And I have no desire to depart. In fact, I have the fullest sympathy for that eccentric, eloquent preacher who, during his last hours, tossed about in uneasy pain, and then summoned his family, who said to him, ‘Don’t be troubled. You will soon be among the angels.’ ‘What do I care about that?’ he answered; ‘I am satisfied with the good woman, who is better than any angel I have ever read of.’”

Verses 5-6

Psalms 128:5-6

The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion.

Blessing out of Zion

1. What measure soever of things temporal the Lord shall give to the man that feareth Him, He reserveth unto him all the promises of righteousness and life which the Lord’s Word holdeth forth to the Church, and of those he shall be sure.

2. The godly man shall not want succession, if God see it good for him, or if not children of his body, yet followers of his faith and footsteps in piety, whom he hath been instrumental to convert.

3. Whatsoever estate the Church of God be in during the godly man’s life-time, he shall behold in the mirror of the Lord’s Word, and in the sensible feeling of his own experience, he shall perceive and take up the blessed condition of the true Church of God, and rejoice therein all his days. (D. Dickson.)

And thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.--

Religion the highest good

Is Christianity a good thing for man? Has it fulfilled worthy ideals? Does it give a satisfying revelation of God? Is it pitilessly opposed to all fresh light which comes from nature and science? Would the world get on as well or better without it?

The good of Jerusalem is seen in that it speaks good of man. The Christian revelation stands supreme in the honour, worth, and dignity it puts on man; he is sacred from the first, as having been made in the Divine image; sacred, so that even in solitude, where he can do no harm to others, he can sin against himself, by sullying the Divine image in his soul. Take away the Christian ideal, and human life becomes altogether a different thing in kind!--an altogether inferior thing, a mean thing enough, something which may be made more or less civilized, more or less worth living, but bereft of loftiness and grandeur. The Gospel alone in this great universe reveals man to himself, and in doing that it transfigures all else. Walking in the light of Christ, under the influence of His Cross and under the inspiration of His Spirit, life has a noble purpose, sorrow a sweet sanctity, suffering a sublime consolation, and death itself is a stingless transition to glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life.

The good of Jerusalem is seen in that it is a present good. It is unfair to the Gospel to represent it as a system of future felicity, to be purchased at the surrender of present good, as profitable only for the life that is to come. The Christian morality has its seat within the soul. It is not a righteousness built up from without, but makes the good man out of the good treasures of the heart. Christianity rests alike its morality and its religion on the answering convictions of the great soul within us. Because we have the truth within us we can hear and know God’s voice. Thus, too, the Christian nations have had a morality of the Home, as well as of the State; a morality that has condemned slavery, even when it was sleek and profitable; a morality that has made divorce an evil; a morality that has made the thought of evil and the imagination of vice guilt before God. The Gospel has been tested, lived, and tried enough to make us say, “Thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.”

The good of Jerusalem is seen in that it is the highest good. Its ideal of good is not mere outward prosperity and pleasure. It can sacrifice these. It can feel a thrill of higher joy, as these, if needs be, are trampled under feet. It can bring a deep delight even when the crown of thorns is on the temple, and when the sword of human power is at the heart. We can get no joy of heroism, in the mere utilities and expediencies of earthly life. The highest good may be to drain the cup of sorrow; the highest good may he in bearing a cruel cross. Whether you think of the good of Jerusalem as meaning a restful conscience, a life at peace with God, or a joyful hope of immortality, it is the higher good, and could the sainted heroes and martyrs of old time come back to earth from the felicities of heaven, they would choose the good of Jerusalem to all other good which this world could offer them, did it exclude conscience and Christ.

The good of Jerusalem is seen in that it is a unique good. None can present aught like it to us, in type or kind. It stands alone. We cannot, I know, exactly analyze the morality, the honour, the civil integrity, the home fidelity, the philanthropic charity, the moral earnestness of English life; something may come from custom, something from native instinct, something from public estimate, but he must be impervious to truth who does not acknowledge how very much we owe to what my subject means by Jerusalem. There is a might of influence at work in it which has no other fountain so high, no other channel so deep, no other onward flow so vital and Divine.

The good of Jerusalem is seen in that it is a prospective good. All that goes to make a saintly character here, goes to make heaven there! The innumerable array of saints, who walk in white, surround us, like the snow-clad mountains around Jerusalem, and with them we look to enjoy through eternal ages the good of Jerusalem all the days of our life, where there are pleasures for evermore. (W. M. Statham.)

The happiness of a godly life

In every age the practice of religion and virtue has appeared to all prudent inquirers the likeliest and surest way to avoid the miseries of life, and secure the enjoyments of it. The first advantage which the psalmist promises to the pious comprehends in general health and success in their affairs (verse 2). The next is a particular blessing of the nearest concern; the possession of domestic and conjugal felicity in the midst of a large and well-ordered family (verse 3). But still, as good persons can never thoroughly relish their own private welfare, if the community suffers at the same time, or calamities are likely to befall it soon, an assurance is given them in the last place that their exemplary obedience to the laws of God will, through His mercy, contribute to their being witnesses of the prosperity, both of their country and their descendants, during a long course of years (verses 5, 6). In which concluding part of this most pleasing view even of the present condition of religious and virtuous persons, we have it signified to us--

That a large portion of their happiness consists in the flourishing state of their country. Everything hath an influence on our enjoyments, in proportion to the share which it hath in our affections. And affection to the public never fails to be remarkably strong in worthy breasts. It shows a rightness and greatness of mind, capable of being affected by a common interest: it shows the most amiable of virtues, love, towards a large part of our fellow-creatures, and implies nothing contrary towards the rest. For the real good of every people in the world is compatible with the real good of every other. To rule and to oppress is no good to any: and peace and liberty and friendly intercourse for mutual convenience all the nations of the earth may enjoy at once.

That the happiness accruing to good men from the flourishing state of their country is greatly increased by the prospect that their own posterity will continue to flourish with it. How strongly must such a hope induce them to secure by good example and instruction this highest honour and blessedness to such as are to inherit their dignities! And how warm a return of most affectionate gratitude will they merit and receive from mankind, if virtue and liberty shall not only be supported by them in the present age, but transmitted to succeeding ones, by their pious care of forming their progeny to the knowledge and the love of public good! The prospect only of “children’s children” would have little joy in it without that of “peace upon Israel”: without a reasonable expectation of their contributing to the true glory of the family, from which they spring, and the true happiness of the nation over which they are to preside. But when due provision is made for this, both sovereign and people may take up the words of the psalmist (Psalms 127:4-5).

That both depend on the Divine benediction (Psalms 127:1-2; Psalms 127:4). It is not indeed possible for us in many cases to discern particularly in what manner the providence of God conducts things: but we may plainly discern, in general, that as the whole course of nature is nothing else than the free appointment which He hath been pleased to make; as the motions of the inanimate world proceed from those which He originally impressed upon it; and all the thoughts and actions of intelligent beings are doubtless absolutely subject to the influence of their Maker; since we see they are greatly subject, and often when they perceive it not, to that of their fellow-creatures; it must be in His power by various ways--perhaps the more effectual for being unknown--to dispose of everything so as may best answer His wise purposes of mercy or correction. And as He evidently can do this, it is likewise evidently worthy of Him to do it; for the highest of His titles is that of the moral governor of the universe; and therefore we may firmly believe the Scripture assuring us that He doth it in fact; that He makes all things work together for good to them that love Him, and curses the very blessings of those who love Him not. (T. Seeker.)

Seeing the good of Jerusalem

The good of Jerusalem was an universal benefit; and it is a source of rejoicing to every believer. His interest is identified with the welfare of the Church; and God blesses him when He blesses Zion. Is it not so? There is no security for national peace, no security for domestic happiness, except through the diffusion of that truth of which the Church is the depositary. Wherever Christianity appears, she waves the olive-branch to the shouting nations, and elevates those affections which make home the scene of quiet, enduring bliss. Mankind are all lying under the curse of a broken law; and it is the belief of the Gospel alone which reconciles man to God, delivers him from the plague of his own heart, makes him holy and useful on earth, and prepares him for the blissful activity of heaven. These things being so, the Christian is delighted to see the Church raised up from the dust, and enlivened with the presence of the life-giving Spirit. A burden is taken off his mind when he beholds a breach made in some huge wall of heathenism or Mohammedanism, through which the minister of Christ may enter, unfurl the banner of redemption, and scatter abroad those leaves of the tree of life which are for the healing of the nations. He watches with intense interest the operations of Divine providence, and loves to trace the majestic steps of Him who is making all things subservient to His own glory and to the salvation of the world. For this he labours, and for this he prays. His work sends him to his prayers, and his prayers send him to his work. (N. McMichael.)

And peace upon Israel.--

Peace upon Israel

O happy land, where Home and Church and State are one system of which the common lifeblood is religion! No other nation thrives like that in which piety is pure and prosperous. Through one rejoicing citizen or household God makes many happy; and the good man is blessed in the blessedness he diffuses. It is a circle of blessing, the Lord, the saint, and the neighbour; closet prayer, family worship and temple service; the Home, the Church and the State. Like the cloud falling upon the earth, the river running to the sea, and the ocean rising to the sky, it is a perpetual round of fertility, beauty and thanksgiving, regarded with complacence by the radiant Artificer enthroned in the heavens. All goes on together. It is not the Church blest now, the government next, and then the citizen, but each supporting and supported by the rest, and all depending on God’s unfailing blessing. The Christian country is His habitation, His vine is the branching Church, and His olive-plants are God-fearing people. The profitableness of walking in the ways of the Lord is not the brightness of a transient summer. No winter comes to chill the felicity, and check its circulation. “Thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.” Those days shall not be few. Nothing so surely as holy wisdom and understanding prolongs life. It is interesting to see some aged statesman toiling for the public good, though he must soon leave all the work to others. A more beautiful and useful sight is a Christian still cheerfully praying and labouring for the Church’s and the country’s welfare as he draws near the grave. Work on, old pilgrim. Thou mayest not live to enjoy the results of philanthropic movements in which thou art taking part. The longest life closes at last; and prosperous Israel outlives the happy Israelite. Do not, therefore, fret. Thy reward will follow. The true Israelite survives the outward Israel. The land thou lovest and servest is a type of the better land which thou shalt shortly enter. According to ancient thought, not only the life that now is, but that which is to come, is indicated in the double sentence, “Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.” The Source of thy blessedness will not dry up, but gush forth more plentifully in the valley of shadows. The Spring of thy joys will more nearly reveal Himself in death. After ages and ages, more than ages will remain to thee of perfect felicity. Never declining, ever advancing, thy bliss will be eternal. For ever and ever “blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in His ways.” Religion on earth is the seed in the ground; its mighty growth is in heaven. (E. J. Robinson.)


Psalms 129:1-8

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 128". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-128.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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