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Psalms 127:1--128:6

Context
Psalm 127 1 

A song of ascents, 2  by Solomon.

127:1 If the Lord does not build a house, 3 

then those who build it work in vain.

If the Lord does not guard a city, 4 

then the watchman stands guard in vain.

127:2 It is vain for you to rise early, come home late,

and work so hard for your food. 5 

Yes, 6  he can provide for those whom he loves even when they sleep. 7 

127:3 Yes, 8  sons 9  are a gift from the Lord,

the fruit of the womb is a reward.

127:4 Sons born during one’s youth

are like arrows in a warrior’s hand. 10 

127:5 How blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

They will not be put to shame 11  when they confront 12  enemies at the city gate.

Psalm 128 13 

A song of ascents. 14 

128:1 How blessed is every one of the Lord’s loyal followers, 15 

each one who keeps his commands! 16 

128:2 You 17  will eat what you worked so hard to grow. 18 

You will be blessed and secure. 19 

128:3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine 20 

in the inner rooms of your house;

your children 21  will be like olive branches,

as they sit all around your table.

128:4 Yes indeed, the man who fears the Lord

will be blessed in this way. 22 

128:5 May the Lord bless you 23  from Zion,

that you might see 24  Jerusalem 25  prosper

all the days of your life,

128:6 and that you might see 26  your grandchildren. 27 

May Israel experience peace! 28 

1 sn Psalm 127. In this wisdom psalm the psalmist teaches that one does not find security by one’s own efforts, for God alone gives stability and security.

2 sn The precise significance of this title, which appears in Pss 120-134, is unclear. Perhaps worshipers recited these psalms when they ascended the road to Jerusalem to celebrate annual religious festivals. For a discussion of their background see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 219-21.

3 sn The expression build a house may have a double meaning here. It may refer on the surface level to a literal physical structure in which a family lives, but at a deeper, metaphorical level it refers to building, perpetuating, and maintaining a family line. See Deut 25:9; Ruth 4:11; 1 Sam 2:35; 2 Sam 7:27; 1 Kgs 11:38; 1 Chr 17:10, 25. Having a family line provided security in ancient Israel.

4 sn The city symbolizes community security, which is the necessary framework for family security.

5 tn Heb “[it is] vain for you, you who are early to rise, who delay sitting, who eat the food of hard work.” The three substantival participles are parallel and stand in apposition to the pronominal suffix on the preposition. See לָכֶם (lakhem, “for you”).

6 tn Here the Hebrew particle כֵּן (ken) is used to stress the following affirmation (see Josh 2:4; Ps 63:2).

7 tn Heb “he gives to his beloved, sleep.” The translation assumes that the Hebrew term שֵׁנָא (shena’, “sleep,” an alternate form of שֵׁנָה, shenah) is an adverbial accusative. The point seems to be this: Hard work by itself is not what counts, but one’s relationship to God, for God is able to bless an individual even while he sleeps. (There may even be a subtle allusion to the miracle of conception following sexual intercourse; see the reference to the gift of sons in the following verse.) The statement is not advocating laziness, but utilizing hyperbole to give perspective and to remind the addressees that God must be one’s first priority. Another option is to take “sleep” as the direct object: “yes, he gives sleep to his beloved” (cf. NIV, NRSV). In this case the point is this: Hard work by itself is futile, for only God is able to bless one with sleep, which metonymically refers to having one’s needs met. He blesses on the basis of one’s relationship to him, not on the basis of physical energy expended.

8 tn or “look.”

9 tn Some prefer to translate this term with the gender neutral “children,” but “sons” are plainly in view here, as the following verses make clear. Daughters are certainly wonderful additions to a family, but in ancient Israelite culture sons were the “arrows” that gave a man security in his old age, for they could defend the family interests at the city gate, where the legal and economic issues of the community were settled.

10 tn Heb “like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so [are] sons of youth.” Arrows are used in combat to defend oneself against enemies; sons are viewed here as providing social security and protection (see v. 5). The phrase “sons of youth” is elliptical, meaning “sons [born during the father’s] youth.” Such sons will have grown up to be mature adults and will have children of their own by the time the father reaches old age and becomes vulnerable to enemies. Contrast the phrase “son of old age” in Gen 37:3 (see also 44:20), which refers to Jacob’s age when Joseph was born.

11 tn Being “put to shame” is here metonymic for being defeated, probably in a legal context, as the reference to the city gate suggests. One could be humiliated (Ps 69:12) or deprived of justice (Amos 5:12) at the gate, but with strong sons to defend the family interests this was less likely to happen.

12 tn Heb “speak with.”

13 sn Psalm 128. The psalmist observes that the godly individual has genuine happiness because the Lord rewards such a person with prosperity and numerous children.

14 sn The precise significance of this title, which appears in Pss 120-134, is unclear. Perhaps worshipers recited these psalms when they ascended the road to Jerusalem to celebrate annual religious festivals. For a discussion of their background see L. C. Allen, Psalms 101-150 (WBC), 219-21.

15 tn Heb “every fearer of the Lord.”

16 tn Heb “the one who walks in his ways.”

17 tn The psalmist addresses the representative God-fearing man, as indicated by the references to “your wife” (v. 3) and “the man” (v. 4), as well as the second masculine singular pronominal and verbal forms in vv. 2-6.

18 tn Heb “the work of your hands, indeed you will eat.”

19 tn Heb “how blessed you [will be] and it will be good for you.”

20 sn The metaphor of the fruitful vine pictures the wife as fertile; she will give her husband numerous children (see the next line).

21 tn One could translate “sons” (see Ps 127:3 and the note on the word “sons” there), but here the term seems to refer more generally to children of both genders.

22 tn Heb “look, indeed thus will the man, the fearer of the Lord, be blessed.”

23 tn The prefixed verbal form is understood as a jussive of prayer (note the imperatives that are subordinated to this clause in vv. 5b-6a). Having described the blessings that typically come to the godly, the psalmist concludes by praying that this ideal may become reality for the representative godly man being addressed.

24 tn The imperative with prefixed vav (ו) conjunctive indicates purpose/result after the preceding jussive.

25 map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

26 tn The imperative with prefixed vav (ו) conjunctive indicates purpose/result after the jussive in v. 5a.

27 tn Heb “sons to your sons.”

28 tn Heb “peace [be] upon Israel.” The statement is understood as a prayer (see Ps 125:5).



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