Psalms of Ascent: 127

1   Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2   It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

3   Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4   Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
5   Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

The two sections of Psalm 127 seem random. The first half is about our work being in vain if we don’t work for the Lord. The second half is about the blessings of children. How are they connected? The answer to this question teaches us what godly work looks like.

There's wordplay in the original language that helps us understand the connection. In verse 1, the word for “those who build it” is bonim. In verse 3, the word for "children" is banim. In fact, in Hebrew the words for son (ben), daughter (bath), and house (beith) all come from the same root word (banah) which means “to build”. The idea here is that as stones are the building blocks of the house, children are the building blocks of the family.

The psalmist is connecting the ideas of work and family because the Ancient Near Eastern readers were already doing so. The house being built in verse 1 is for the family. The watchmen are guarding the city to protect the families inside. The work we do, our labor, is supposed to benefit our family. But without God’s help, our work is in vain and our families will suffer for it.

Some of you reading this may be single, childless, or have experienced loss or a strained relationship with your family. This Psalm still applies to you! Jesus teaches us that we have a family in the church. In Christ, the people of God become our brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers. This is not just a sentimental consolation, but a deeply true and beautiful reality that the American church often fails to practice.

Godly work benefits our family, the church. And then out of our work, we receive blessings as our family flourishes and is able to take care of us in times of need. But all of this work is worth nothing unless it is not us who work, but God at work within us. Things built by us will eventually be destroyed, but things built by God will last forever.

What does it look like to work for the Lord? We see 3 things in this passage. (1) Work without anxiety. If we believe our work is what will provide for us, we are sorely mistaken. The Lord is our provider and our sustainer, which means we should (2) rest often, “for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Taking a weekly Sabbath is a practice that teaches us how to rely on God. And finally (3) do not work for selfish ambition or greed, but work for the benefit of your family and your church. This will lead to more blessing and prosperity than money or power ever could.