Working Without God (Article)


Psalm 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. (Psalm 127:title–5)

What does this mean? What is going on? Solomon wrote this song of Ascent. Ascent to what? This is a song intended to be sung as worshippers are traveling up the temple mount in Jerusalem. 

These five verses have two sections. The first section talks about building a house and watching a city, and working hard. In each case, Solomon talked about the vanity of striving apart from God. It is vanity to build and watch and work without God’s help. Why is that? Verse 5. God is the one who gives sleep. Whether in construction, security, or wringing of hands, we all need to take a break at some point and rest. God gives rest as a gift to the world. Those who trust in him have real rest, I think, because we can always do more. Nothing is ever perfect.  

The second section talks about children. In the first, humanity does action, and what seems like a necessary result: a building, safety, and work ends up fruitless without God’s help. In the second, it jumps to the obvious result that can only come from God, life. God is the one who gives and takes away life (Job 1:21). What is it saying, and how does it relate to the verses that precede it? 

I think it is saying children are a blessing. 

What does it mean that he will not be put to shame? Again this is not a “name-and-claim-it” promise. I think this is connecting the person that trusts in God with the one who gives rest. It connects God with pregnancy and the blessing of grown children. To understand enemies at the gate, my study Bible points me to Ruth. Boaz, you may recall, went to the gate to resolve an issue of the kinsman-redeemer. We read about some of the things that happen near the gates in the Bible. 

In the context of the next Psalm, we see that those who are blessed are those who fear the Lord. The reality is God doesn’t shield us from all evil. We will have enemies, the Devil, for one. The world and our flesh are two other enemies. Jesus promised to not take us out of the world but to overcome the world and be with us in Spirit (John 16:33). 

In our day, we can read Psalm 127 and be reminded that we need to trust God, not our effort. He is our strength and help and hope, not our muscle or minds. What are we trusting in? Who are we trusting in? Let us trust in God.