Treasury of David
Title. A Song of Degrees. There is an evident ascent from the last Psalm: that did but hint at the way in which a house may be built up, but this draws a picture of that house built, and adorned with domestic bliss through the Lord's own blessing. There is clearly an advance in age, for here we go beyond children to children's children; and also a progress in happiness, for children which in the last Psalm were arrows are here olive plants, and instead of speaking "with the enemies in the gate" we close with "peace upon Israel." Thus we rise step by step, and sing as we ascend.
Subject—It is a family hymn—a song for a marriage, or a birth, or for any day in which a happy household has met to praise the Lord. Like all the songs of degrees, it has an eye to Zion and Jerusalem, which are both expressly mentioned, and it closes like Psalm 125:1-5, Psalm 130:1-8, and Psalm 131:1-3, with an allusion to Israel. It is a short Psalm, but exceedingly full and suggestive. Its poetry is of the highest order. Perhaps in no country can it be better understood than in our own, for we above all nations delight to sing of "Home, sweet home."
1 Blessed is everyone that fears the Lord; that walks in his ways.
2 For you shall eat the labor of your hands; happy shall you be, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of your house, your children like olive plants round about your table.
4 Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that fears the Lord.
5 The Lord shall bless you out of Zion: and you shall see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
6 Yes, you shall see your children's children, and peace upon Israel.
"Blessed is every one who fears the Lord." The last Psalm ended with a blessing—for the word there translated "happy" is the same as that which is here rendered "blessed"—thus the two songs are joined by a catch-word. There is also in them a close community of subject. The fear of God is the corner-stone of all blessedness. We must reverence the ever-blessed God before we can be blessed ourselves. Some think that this life is an evil, an infliction, a thing upon which rests a curse; but it is not so, the God-fearing man has a present blessing resting upon him. It is not true that it would be to him "something better not to be." He is happy now, for he is the child of the happy God, the ever-living Jehovah; and he is even here a joint-heir with Jesus Christ, whose heritage is not misery, but joy.
This is true of every one of the God-fearing, of all conditions, in all ages: each one and every one is blessed. Their blessedness may not always be seen by carnal reason, but it is always a fact, for God himself declares that it is so; and we know that those whom he blesses are blessed indeed. Let us cultivate that holy filial fear of Jehovah which is the essence of all true religion—the fear of reverence, of dread to offend, of anxiety to please, and of entire submission and obedience. This fear of the Lord is the fit fountain of holy living, we look in vain for holiness apart from it. None but those who fear the Lord will ever walk in his ways.
"Who walks in his ways." The pious life which God declares to be blessed, must be practical as well as emotional. It is idle to talk of fearing the Lord, if we act like those who have no care whether there is a God or not. God's ways will be our ways if we have a sincere reverence for him. If the heart is truly joined unto God, the feet will follow hard after him. A man's heart will be seen in his walk, and the blessing will come where heart and walk are both with God.
Note that the first Psalm links the blessing with the walk in a negative way, "Blessed is the man that walks not," etc.; but here we find it in connection with the positive form of our conduct. To enjoy the divine blessing we must be active, and walk; we must be methodical, and walk in certain ways; and we must be godly, and walk in the Lord's ways.
God's ways are blessed ways; they were cast up by the Blessed One, they were trodden by him in whom we are blessed, they are frequented by the blessed, they are provided with means of blessing, they are paved with present blessings, and they lead to eternal blessedness. Who would not desire to walk in them?
"For you shall eat the labor of your hands." The general doctrine of Psalm 128:1 here receives a personal application note the change to the second person, "you shall eat," etc. This is the portion of God's saints—to work, and to find a reward in so doing. God is the God of laborers. We are not to leave our worldly callings because the Lord has called us by grace, we are not promised a blessing upon romantic idleness or unreasonable dreaming, but upon hard work and honest industry.
Though we are in God's hands we are to be supported by our own hands. He will give us daily bread, but it must be made our own by labor. All kinds of labor are here included; for if one toils by the sweat of his brow, and another does so by the sweat of his brain, there is no difference in the blessing; save that it is generally more healthy to work with the body than with the mind only.
Without God it would be vain to labor; but when we are laborers together with God a promise is set before us. The promise is that labor shall be fruitful, and that he who performs it shall himself enjoy the recompense of it. It is a grievous ill for a man to slave his life away and receive no fair remuneration for his toil, as a rule, God's servants rise out of such bondage and claim their own, and receive it—at any rate, this verse may encourage them to do so.
"The laborer is worthy of his hire." Under the Theocracy the chosen people could see this promise literally fulfilled; but when evil rulers oppressed them their earnings were withheld by churls, and their harvests were snatched away from them by marauders. Had they walked in the fear of the Lord they would never have known such great evils.
Some men never enjoy their labor, for they give themselves no time for rest. Eagerness to get, takes from them the ability to enjoy. Surely, if it is worth while to labor, it is worth while to eat of that labor. "Happy shall you be," or, Oh, your happiness. Heaped up happinesses in the plural belong to that man who fears the Lord. He is happy, and he shall be happy in a thousand ways.
The context leads us to expect family happiness. Our God is our household God. The Romans had their idol-gods, but we have far more than they in the one only living and true God. "And it shall be well with you," or good for you. Yes, good is for the good; and it shall be well with those who do well.
"What cheering words are these!
Their sweetness who can tell?
In time, and to eternal days,
'Tis with the righteous well!"
If we fear God, we may dismiss all other fear. In walking in God's ways we shall be under his protection, provision, and approval; danger and destruction shall be far from us; all things shall work our good.
In God's view it would not be a blessed thing for us to live without exertion, nor to eat the unearned bread of dependence. The happiest state on earth is one in which we have something to do, strength to do it with, and a fair return for what we have done. This, with the divine blessing, is all that we ought to desire, and it is sufficient for any man who fears the Lord and abhors covetousness. Having food and clothing, let us be therewith content.
"Your wife." To reach the full of earthly felicity, a man must not be alone. A helpmeet was needed in Paradise, and assuredly she is not less necessary outside of it. He who finds a wife finds a good thing. It is not every man that fears the Lord, who has a wife; but if he has, she shall share in his blessedness and increase it.
"Shall be as a fruitful vine." To complete domestic bliss children are sent. They come as the lawful fruit of marriage, even as clusters appear upon the vine. For the grapes, the vine was planted; for children was the wife provided. It is generally well with any creature when it fulfills its purpose, and it is so far well with married people when the great design of their union is brought about. They must not look upon fruitfulness as a burden, but as a blessing.
Good wives are also fruitful in kindness, thrift, helpfulness, and affection. If they bear no children, they are by no means barren if they yield us the wine of consolation and the clusters of comfort. Truly blessed is the man whose wife is fruitful in those good works which are suitable to her near and dear position.
"By the sides of your house." She keeps to the house—she is a home bird. She is a fruitful vine, and a faithful house-keeper; if you wish to find her, she is within the house—she is to be found both inside and outside the home, but her chief fruitfulness is in the inner side of the dwelling, which she adorns. Eastern houses usually have an open square in the center, and the various rooms are ranged around the sides—there shall the wife be found, busy in one room or another, as the hour of the day demands. She keeps at home, and so keeps the home.
It is her husband's house, and she is her husband's; as the text puts it—"your wife," and "your house"; but by her loving care her husband is made so happy that he is glad to own her as an equal proprietor with himself, for he is hers, and the house is hers too.
"Your children like olive plants round about your table." Hundreds of times have I seen the young olive plants springing up around the parent stem, and it has always made me think of this verse. The Psalmist never intended to suggest the idea of olive plants round a table, but of young people springing up around their parents, even as olive plants surround the fine, well-rooted tree.
The figure is very striking, and would be sure to present itself to the mind of every observer in the olive country. How beautiful to see the gnarled olive, still bearing abundant fruit, surrounded with a little band of sturdy successors, any one of which would be able to take its place should the central olive be blown down, or removed in any other way.
It is not the olive plants, but the children, that are round about the table. Moreover, note that it is not olive branches, but plants—a very different thing. Our children gather around our table to be fed, and this involves expenses: how much better is this than to see them pining upon beds of sickness, unable to come for their meals! What a blessing to have sufficient food to put upon the table! Let us for this benefit praise the bounty of the Lord. The wife is busy all over the house, but the youngsters are busiest at meal-times; and if the blessing of the Lord rest upon the family, no sight can be more delightful.
Here we have the vine and the olive tree blended—joy from the fruitful wife, and solid comfort from the growing family; these are the choicest products earth can yield, our families are gardens of the Lord. It may help us to value the privileges of our home if we consider where we would be if they were withdrawn. What if the dear partner of our life were removed from the sides of our house to the recesses of the sepulcher? What is the trouble of children compared with the sorrow of their loss? Think, dear father, what would be your grief if you had to cry with Job, "Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when my children were about me!"
"Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord." Mark this. Put a Nota Bene against it, for it is worthy of observation. It is not to be inferred that all blessed men are married, and are fathers; but that this is the way in which the Lord favors godly people who are placed in domestic life. He makes their relationships happy and profitable. In this fashion does Jehovah bless God-fearing households, for he is the God of all the families of Israel. We have seen this blessing scores of times, and we have never ceased to admire in domestic peace the sweetest of human felicity. Family blessedness comes from the Lord, and is a part of his plan for the preservation of a godly race, and for the maintenance of his worship in the land. To the Lord alone we must look for it. The possession of riches will not ensure it; the choice of a healthy and beautiful bride will not ensure it; the birth of numerous lovely children will not ensure it: there must be the blessing of God, the influence of piety, the result of holy living.
"The Lord shall bless you out of Zion." A spiritual blessing shall be received by the gracious man, and this shall crown all his temporal mercies. He is one among the many who make up God's inheritance; his tent is part and parcel of the encampment around the tabernacle; and therefore when the blessing is pronounced at the center it shall radiate to him in his place. The blessing of the house of God shall be upon his house.
The priestly blessing which is recorded in Numbers 6:24-26, runs thus: "May the LORD bless you and protect you. May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you. May the LORD show you his favor and give you his peace." This is it which shall come upon the head of the God-fearing man. Zion was the center of blessing, and to it the people looked when they sought for mercy, from the altar of sacrifice, from the mercy-seat, from the Shekinah-light, yes, from Jehovah himself, the blessing shall come to each one of his holy people.
"And you shall see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life." He shall have a patriot's joy as well as a patriarch's peace. God shall give him to see his country prosper, and its metropolitan city flourish. When tent-mercies are followed by temple-mercies, and these are attended by national-mercies—the man, the worshiper, the patriot is trebly favored of the Lord. This favor is to be permanent throughout the good man's life, and that life is to be a long one, for he is to see his sons' sons. Many a time does true religion bring such blessings to men; and when these good things are denied them, they have a greater reward as a compensation.
"Yes, you shall see your children's children." This is a great pleasure. Men live their young lives over again in their grandchildren. Does not Solomon say that "children's children are the crown of old men"? So they are. The good man is glad that a pious stock is likely to be continued; he rejoices in the belief that other homes as happy as his own will be built up wherein altars to the glory of God shall smoke with the morning and evening sacrifice. This promise implies long life, and that life rendered happy by its being continued in our offspring. It is one token of the immortality of man that he derives joy from extending his life in the lives of his descendants.
"And peace upon Israel." With this sweet word, Psalm 125 was closed. It is a favorite formula. Let God's own heritage be at peace, and we are all glad of it. We count it our own prosperity for the chosen of the Lord to find rest and quiet. Jacob was sorely tossed about; his life knew little of peace; but yet the Lord delivered him out of all his tribulations, and brought him to a place of rest in Goshen for a while, and afterwards to sleep with his fathers in the cave of Machpelah. His glorious Seed was grievously afflicted and at last crucified; but he has risen to eternal peace, and in his peace we dwell.
Israel's spiritual descendants still share his chequered conditions, but there remains a rest for them also, and they shall have peace from the God of peace. Israel was a praying petitioner in the days of his wrestling, but he became a prevailing prince, and therein his soul found peace.