These two psalms speak of the everyday blessings of home, spouse, and children. God cares not only for the cosmos and the nation, but for families as well, anonymous to all but God.
The psalmist speaks in an ancient oriental culture that is generally male-centered, where the fertility of the wife and the gift of many children are particularly highly regarded (127:3-5; 128:3). That culture assumes marriage and children as the norm for all--and, of course, it still is for most people of the world. Children are valued as a blessing from God, a gift especially in times of danger when it would be dangerous to be alone (127:5) and the only real way to achieve "immortality" (128:6). A large family is treasured especially in a time when all members of the family must work to sustain daily life and when disease might easily take children without warning--again, still true for much of the world. In other cultures, like our own, children are still God's blessing, of course, but they are no longer an economic necessity; women have significant roles other than their important place within the family and, for a variety of reasons, many people do not or cannot choose to marry. We will need to "translate" this psalm to address not only familial roles and male concerns, but to remind us that God's care is for the everyday affairs of all, which is surely the case (see, for example, Psalm 113:7-9).
Perhaps in our present busy culture, the psalm's most important reminder is that we "rise up early and go late to rest" in vain, unless we build our lives around the care and call of God (127:1-2).
1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch 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 sleep to his beloved.*
3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons of ones youth.
5 Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
1 Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways.
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands;
you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the Lord.
5 The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
6 May you see your childrens children.
Peace be upon Israel!
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011