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The Builder's Psalm

Psalm 127
Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman stays awake in vain.

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127 is commonly known as the Builder's Psalm. In the King James Version, it is entitled, "A Song of Degrees for Solomon." As such, it is most likely that David wrote it for his son, Solomon, in whom he loved dearly. Solomon had another name given by the LORD Himself - Jedidiah, which means "beloved of the LORD."

Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah.(2 Samuel 12:24-25)

In this psalm, we are exhorted to have a continual dependence on God for His divine providence in all the matters of life. Solomon cried up to God for wisdom. He became a man, full of wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Being a very wise man, he was inclined to lean to his own understanding and human wisdom. Therefore, his father, a man after God's own heart, instructed him how to manage his life, family and kingdom under the divine direction of God.

David taught Solomon this precious lesson that in everything he did, he must depend on God. True success is obtainable through the 100% partnership of God and man! It is God and man working wholeheartedly together in unity! It is 100% God and 100% man, not 50% God and 50% man. In all the affairs and businesses of life, we must do our part, and we must let God do His part. We must depend upon God for His blessing and providence, which come not through our human strivings and struggles.

Being one of the most practical passages in the Bible, this psalm deals with three major areas of our life. These three areas constantly demand and compete against one another for our attention, time, efforts and energy. They cause a lot of heartaches and headaches. They are basically our family, our work and our faith in God.

In our society today, most of us have become workaholics. We have misplaced priorities and responsibilities. Some of us have pursued our careers at the expense of our families and our relationships with God. Some of us have pursued our families at the expense of our careers and faith, and some of us have pursued our faith at the expense of our families and careers. This was never the intention and plan of God.

God is interested in building our families and careers as well as our relationships with Him. He desires to see us succeed in bringing up godly children, and building healthy families and careers. But the problem with many of us is that we have misplaced goals and priorities.

In desiring to have a prestigious house and to live a luxurious life, many husbands and their wives have chosen to both work in order to earn the required money to finance their housing loans and credit card purchases. Our pursuits have sometimes consumed us at the expense of our families, and our relationships with the Lord. In the process of striving for a lovely house, the home and the loved ones are neglected. And in many cases, the marriage is also being destroyed. God is interested in everything we are doing. He desires that we set our priorities right. He desires us to seek Him and His Word for godly counsel and advice.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:28-34)

God cares for us. He is interested in our total well-being - physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. He checks our motives in building a house. A house has somewhat become a symbol of status in our society. Some of us want to buy the best and biggest house in the most prestigious district. When our security is intertwined with earthly possessions, we then trust more in material things than in God. The building of a house becomes in vain when we engage in building it without God. We have the wrong priorities, motives and methods. God cares about what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. It is here we will get to know who our true Master is. Are we serving God or mammon?

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

Work is vain whenever it goes beyond the limits that God has set for it. Our labor is in vain when it becomes excessive and obsessive. Our work also becomes vain when we engage in wrongful activities. In Ecclesiastes 3, the Preacher, Solomon, told us that there is a time for everything. When our work totally consumes all of our hours, we do not have any time left to fulfill other vital roles and responsibilities.

Too much work is counterproductive. When our work causes us to get up daily very early and retire very late, it is in vain. However, there are exceptions to this. There are times in life when it is all right and necessary to burn the midnight oil. In fact, the virtuous and prudent woman is praised for doing this (Proverbs 31:15,18). She is commended for being hard-working, not slothful. There are some occasions in life that require extra efforts and longer working hours such as harvesting times and celebration times. But the workaholic is one who has made this into a daily pattern and routine. The man has become a machine.

God is interested in everything we do in regards to our family, work and faith. But the real problem is: Are we interested in everything that we are doing? In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul told us, "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Everything we do, we do it unto the LORD!

Unless the Lord is in the building of our homes and careers, our efforts are in vain. This word "vain" is repeated thrice in the first two verses of this psalm. This goes to show how futile our efforts and works could become without the involvement of God. Hereby we are also talking about physical buildings. If the LORD does not bless the project, it might not even stand. One good example is the Tower of Babel. The builders of Babel attempted to build it in rebellion against God. Their foundations were laid in arrogance, pride and vanity. Without any regard and respect to their Creator and Chief Builder, their building was indeed being built in vain! Even the best-planned and noblest project will fail unless the LORD crowns it with His blessing and success!

David was not against building families, houses and careers. In fact, he was very hardworking even when he was just a shepherd boy. He was lovingly shepherding his flock. When he became the king of Israel, he was shepherding his people. He did such a great job that his people loved him. While David was doing his shepherding, whether sheep or people, he was also having sweet fellowship with the Lord! The Lord was in everything that David did. David was not sluggard or lazy. He was both diligent and meticulous.

Even in the matters of building God a dwelling place, David had to seek God's advice and permission. He was not presumptuous in demanding his ways, even though his intentions were very noble and godly. The prophet Nathan initially gave him the wrong advice to go ahead and build, but the LORD intervened. David was told not to build God a house in his lifetime. God enjoyed the sweet communion He had with David in His tent.

When the Lord finally sent peace upon the land, and Israel was no longer at war with the surrounding nations, David said to Nathan the prophet, "Look! Here I am living in this beautiful cedar palace while the Ark of God is out in a tent!"

"Go ahead with what you have in mind," Nathan replied, "for the Lord is with you."

But that night the Lord said to Nathan, "Tell My servant David not to do it! For I have never lived in a temple. My home has been a tent ever since the time I brought Israel out of Egypt. And I have never once complained to Israel's leaders, the shepherds of My people. Have I ever asked them, 'Why haven't you built Me a beautiful cedar temple?' Now go and give this message to David from the Lord of heaven: 'I chose you to be the leader of My people Israel when you were a mere shepherd, tending your sheep in the pastureland. I have been with you wherever you have gone and have destroyed your enemies. And I will make your name greater yet, so that you will be one of the most famous men in the world! I have selected a homeland for My people from which they will never have to move. It will be their own land where the heathen nations won't bother them as they did when the judges ruled My people. There will be no more wars against you; and your descendants shall rule this land for generations to come! For when you die, I will put one of your sons upon your throne, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who shall build Me a temple. And I will continue his kingdom into eternity. I will be his father and he shall be My son. If he sins, I will use other nations to punish him, but My love and kindness shall not leave him as I took it from Saul, your predecessor. Your family shall rule My kingdom forever.'" (2 Samuel 7:1-16)

God is more interested in dwelling and tabernacling with men than having great physical but empty dwelling places and tabernacles! How many times have men built gigantic beautiful cathedrals and churches without seeking His approval? Building cathedrals and churches are acceptable only to God when God is involved in the master plan, decision-making and approval committee. Otherwise, the whole building project is in vain! In David's case, he was staying in a beautiful cedar palace while the house of the LORD was still in a tent. God preferred to live in a simple tent where true worshippers could worship Him in spirit and in truth, having this one desire:

One thing I have desired of the LORD,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD
All the days of my life
To behold the beauty of the LORD,
And to inquire in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)

In contrast to the heart of worship in David, we have a different case in the Book of Haggai showing that the LORD was angry when His house was lying in ruins, and true worshippers were hard to find.

Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?" Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways!"

"You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes."

Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified," says the LORD. "You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?" says the LORD of hosts. "Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands." (Haggai 1:3-11)

At this time of their history, the people of Israel had returned from their captivity in Babylon. At first, those who returned worked diligently in rebuilding the Temple. But they soon grew tired of the tedious task, and gave it up altogether. They then became fully engrossed in building their own houses and businesses that they forgot totally about the house of the LORD. The prophet Haggai delivered God's messages to motivate the people to resume the project. God asked them twice to consider their ways. Because of what they did, they did not have enough to eat, drink and wear. Their pockets were full of holes.

Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. The job of a watchman is to ensure the security of a city against intruding enemies and invaders. In ancient times, huge walls were built around a city. At various points along the wall were elevated towers. Watchmen were stationed there at all hours, night and day. Unless the Lord protects and preserves us, no amount of watchmen, watchtowers, watchdogs and sophisticated electronic devices would be useful in defending our cities, homes and businesses effectively.

It is vain for us to rise up early, to sit up late, and to eat the bread of sorrows. While others are toiling night and day, and labouring in vain, the Lord gives His beloved sleep.

Bible Version

Psalm 127:2

Contemporary English

God takes care of His own, even while they sleep.

New American Standard

For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

New International

for He grants sleep to those He loves.

New King James

For so He gives His beloved sleep.

The Living Bible

for God wants His loved ones to get their proper rest.

His beloved will get his proper rest. Hereby, David was reminding Solomon that he was the beloved of the LORD, and the LORD would give him sleep. As we are the children of God, we too are the beloved of the LORD! Another interesting truth is that God takes care of His beloved while he sleeps. God gives and provides every need of His beloved while he is asleep. This is a foundational truth from the very beginning of time. God gave Adam a wife by putting him to sleep! His wife became his love, companion and helpmate.

When God is involved in the building, everything will be provided. Even the heathen will be involved in contributing finances, resources and labour towards the project. We will not have to worry about this and that. In the building of the First Temple of God in Jerusalem, Solomon had divine assistance from God, and favorable assistance from men. His father David had done a lot of ground works for him, and also provided for almost all the resources needed.

King Hiram of Tyre had always been a great admirer of David, so when he learned that David's son Solomon was the new king of Israel, he sent ambassadors to extend congratulations and good wishes. Solomon replied with a proposal about the Temple of the Lord he wanted to build. His father David, Solomon pointed out to Hiram, had not been able to build it because of the numerous wars going on, and he had been waiting for the Lord to give him peace.

"But now," Solomon said to Hiram, "the Lord my God has given Israel peace on every side; I have no foreign enemies or internal rebellions. So I am planning to build a Temple for the Lord my God, just as He instructed my father that I should do. For the Lord told him, 'Your son, whom I will place upon your throne, shall build Me a Temple.' Now please assist me with this project. Send your woodsmen to the mountains of Lebanon to cut cedar timber for me, and I will send my men to work beside them, and I will pay your men whatever wages you ask; for as you know, no one in Israel can cut timber like you Sidonians!"

Hiram was very pleased with the message from Solomon. "Praise God for giving David a wise son to be king of the great nation of Israel," he said. Then he sent this reply to Solomon: "I have received your message and I will do as you have asked concerning the timber. I can supply both cedar and cypress. My men will bring the logs from the Lebanon mountains to the Mediterranean Sea and build them into rafts. We will float them along the coast to wherever you need them; then we will break the rafts apart and deliver the timber to you. You can pay me with food for my household."

So Hiram produced for Solomon as much cedar and cypress timber as he desired, and in return Solomon sent him an annual payment of 125,000 bushels of wheat for his household and 96 gallons of pure olive oil. So the Lord gave great wisdom to Solomon just as he had promised. And Hiram and Solomon made a formal alliance of peace.

Then Solomon drafted thirty thousand laborers from all over Israel, and rotated them to Lebanon, ten thousand a month, so that each man was a month in Lebanon and two months at home. (Note the balance between work and family.)

Adoniram was the general superintendent of this labor camp. Solomon also had seventy thousand additional laborers, eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, and thirty-three hundred foremen. The stonecutters quarried and shaped huge blocks of stone-a very expensive job-for the foundation of the Temple. Men from Gebal helped Solomon's and Hiram's builders in cutting the timber and making the boards, and in preparing the stone for the Temple. (1 Kings 5:1-18)

So all the work that King Solomon had done for the house of the LORD was finished; and Solomon brought in the things which his father David had dedicated: the silver and the gold and the furnishings. He put them in the treasuries of the house of the LORD. (1 Kings 7:51)

God not only gives sleep to His children, He also gives to His children when they are asleep. There is no toiling and striving, only resting in His love, goodness and faithfulness.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Children are a gift from God. They are our great reward. When we work, we earn wages. But wages are not gifts. Gifts cannot be earned. Gifts are given freely out of love like the gift of salvation. Gifts are given generously and graciously from one to another. The gifts of children differ greatly from the wages of men. Wages are what we produce with the work of our hands. But children are what God give to us when we sleep with our spouses.

God gave Adam a wife while he slept. God also gave mankind children while they slept. Children are given by God as they are conceived in their mother's wombs when their parents were at rest. They did not have to toil night and day to produce babies. Children are given when their parents sleep together. God gives to His loved ones while they sleep. Solomon, the beloved of the LORD, was a gift of God when David laid down with Bathsheba. Truly, children are a heritage from the LORD, and the fruit of the womb is a reward from Him.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. By giving us children, God firmly builds our home. Besides bringing us great joy and gladness, God gives us a greater and better security and protection. He is our best insurance and protection. The children born in a man's youth will become strong, matured and well-established by the time the man has reached old age. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed. A home full of godly grown up children is blessed because the children will look after their aged parents.

Having many children will be an added advantage when speaking and contending with enemies in the gate. The city gate was the place where all kinds of businesses were conducted. It was also the place where justice was administered. Widows and orphans were most vulnerable because they had no one except the Lord to safeguard and protect their interests. The elderly parents of many children had no such worry. Their children would see to it that their parents were treated with due respect, fairness and justice. Their enemies would find it difficult to take any advantage of them!

In conclusion, God is interested in the long-term building of our families and careers. He desires us to lay the right foundations. He is not pleased with short-term gains. He does not want us to trade our birthrights for a bowl of stew like Esau. He is interested in giving us a future and a hope.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

And we must trust in the LORD with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding. In all our ways, we must acknowledge Him, and He shall direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). In so doing, the LORD will build, the LORD will protect, and the LORD will provide. At the same time, we will get to enjoy both His perfect rest and His heavenly blessings! And we will also have good success, not only now and also in times to come.

Matthew Henry's Commentary

Written On:

17 February 2005