Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord . The teaching is enforced by an example. The prosperity, alike of states and of individuals, depends on nothing so much as on an abundant progeny of children. But children are manifestly the free gift of God. And the fruit of the womb is his reward. One of the ways in which he rewards his faithful ones (see Deuteronomy 28:10 :11).
The blessing of God.
The psalm is in keeping with that prevalent piety which led the devout Israelite to trace God's hand in everything, and ascribe both good and evil, both joy and sorrow, to his directing power.
I. UNBLESSED LABOR .
1. We can do nothing at all without the Divine co-operation. We constantly depend on the presence of his material, on the action of his laws, on the activity of the forces he keeps in play. We all recognize this in agriculture; that it is vain for the husbandman to sow his seed, unless God sends his rain and wind and sunshine, etc. It is also true of our other occupations. The sailor and the builder depend on the constancy and regularity of Divine laws and forces. We are always assuming their existence, though we may think nothing of their Author.
2. We can effect nothing without the Divine permission. If God means that the guilty city shall fall, the watchman will wake and the soldier will fight in vain. If God intends to humble a man whose pride needs to be brought down, his utmost exertions in his trade or in his profession will not bring success. Many a man has found, as he at first thought to his cost , but as he afterwards knew to his great advantage , that when God's wise and faithful providence is against his prosperity, he wakes early and works hard in vain. But how much more blessed is he in a corrective adversity, than he would be in a hardening prosperity! We do well to ask that God's blessing may wait upon and crown all our activities; we do well, also, to remember that it may happen that, for our own sake, God will not grant us our desire in the form of temporal success.
3. We find no blessedness in a prosperity which is not hallowed by devotion. It is a vain thing for a man to strive hard and to attain the immediate object of his pursuit, if he is not making his life a life of holy service. Even if the bread he eats is not "bread of sorrows" in the sense that it is scanty, yet it will be such in the sense that it yields no abiding joy; for it is abundantly clear that a life of even prosperous labor, apart from the service and without the friendship of God, selfish and earthbound, is a life of dissatisfaction and practical defeat. The springs of pure and lasting joy do not rise on that lower ground.
II. NEEDLESS ANXIETY . "It is vain that ye rise up early," etc.; "for he giveth to his beloved in sleep and without labor, 'so,' i . e . just as, even as to those who vainly harass themselves with labor and think not of him" ('Speaker's Commentary'). To those who serve God and are beloved of him he will grant sufficiency, though they do not turn labor into hard toil, but take the rest they need. It is not godless struggle, but reverent activity, that attains the goal and receives the prize of happy life. The two elements of success are
III. THE FULNESS AND OVERFLOW OF DIVINE BLESSING . "So he giveth to his beloved in sleep."
1. What great things God does for our bodily well-being in sleep! Every night he lays his restoring hand upon us, refreshes us, renews our muscular and mental powers, gives back to us the vitality and strength which had been exhausted. Every morning we owe to him a "new song" of praise.
2. What great things God does for us in the outside world during our unconsciousness! Our Lord reminds us that, while we are otherwise occupied, " night and day," the seed we have sown springs and grows, we "know not how." Many things God does for us when we are as unconscious of his action as if we were "in sleep." It is an unseen hand, working with such silence that no ear hears the sound, that is carrying on those wonderful operations by which he " satisfies the wants of every living thing."
3. What great things he does for us in the human world in which we take no part! His hand was working and overruling in all the toil and strife of the nations of the earth, leading the world up to, and making it ready for, the great advent of the Redeemer. Unknown to us, while we are practically "in sleep," he is directing all our strife and all our labor to a beneficent result.
4. We are hoping that God will make our past life effective for good in many hearts and through many generations when we "fall on sleep." When our body rests in the grave, the influences he enabled us to exert in life will, under his gracious guidance, be telling and bearing fruit. To those who love and serve him now he will give the blessing of the workman whose labor is producing and reproducing long after he has left the field.
IV. THE BLESSING OF PARENTAGE . (See next psalm.)
The builder's psalm.
Our ignorance of the exact reference of this psalm enables us to apply it, as perhaps otherwise we might not be able, to all builders whatsoever. Four such seem to be pointed at here.
I. THE TEMPLE - BUILDERS .
1. We know that this was one of the solicitudes of the returned exiles—to uprear again the temple of the Lord. And in the books written after the return from Babylon we read about this and the difficulties they had to encounter, and the success they at length achieved. Continually they needed to remember that "except the Lord build," etc.
2. And in the gathering together the living stones which are to form the Church of God , how we need to remember this same truth! Her builders are perpetually tempted, and some are all too prone, to try other methods in this work than those the Lord employs. We are apt to rely on wealth, eloquence, learning, talent, and all other such things, and to forget that it is the Lord alone can really make our work successful.
II. THOSE OF THE CITY . ( Psalms 127:1 .) Jerusalem is doubtless meant, and, surrounded as she was by relentless and ever-watchful foes, the sentinels and guards needed ever to be on the alert. But again the same reminder comes in. And it does so still. This is the age of great towns and cities, of municipal corporations who naturally and properly take pride in the cities over which they are placed. They cannot but know how much depends upon wise administration and rule, on the sagacity and wisdom which the citizens can supply. And they who know the history of municipalities know how eager corruption and vice are to assert their power. And often it seems that to pander to them would help on the city's prosperity. But the city-builders need to recollect the truth of this psalm. What is all man's wisdom apart from God?
III. THE BUSINESS . ( Psalms 127:2 .) "Our house," "our firm,"—these are well-known expressions for business associations—how many are hard at work to build such houses? And in the keen competition of the day, how difficult this often is I what temptations are on every hand, by tricks of trade, by what is called smartness, to get on, it matters not much by what means. How many succumb to such temptations, and try to keep one conscience for Sundays and quite another for weekdays! They have little faith in what this psalm says, "Except the Lord," etc. Their faith is in strenuous hard work, rising early, sitting up late, eating the bread of toil, and so to win rest and repose for themselves. But it is not so, the psalmist declares; for all that toiling and moiling is "vain;" the Lord giveth to his beloved that which they need without all that restlessness and anxiety; their souls repose in him; he keeps them in perfect peace. Let the Lord, then, be the predominant partner in every firm; so shall the house be built.
IV. THE HOME . ( Psalms 127:3-5 .) People marry, and then begins the upbuilding of the family. What strenuous exertion does many a father put forth for the sake of his family! If the children be numerous, the parents are often very slow to appreciate the congratulations of these verses (3-5). The reason is that they are counting most precious for their children what the Lord scarcely counts precious at all. Of course, only a fool would despise secular advantages for his children, if they may be had; but infinitely more important for them is the grace of God possessing their hearts. Then no real ill can come to them, but eternal good shall be their portion.—S.C.
Children a man's reward.
The picture presented is of the Hebrew man in mid-life, at rest in his country home, with his sturdy sons about him; his wife is still young; her fair daughters are like cornices sculptured as decorations for a palace" (Isaac Taylor). The Jews at all times of their history esteemed a large family one of the chief of blessings. "The Oriental view interweaves itself with the religious creed of the Brahmins, according to which a son, by offering the funeral libation, is said to procure rest for the departed spirit of his father." By "reward" we may understand "sign of Divine favor." The reward of a whole life's goodness cannot come until the life is completed. Signs of Divine favor cheer and encourage as life progresses. Some married people do not have families, but we have no right to regard the withholding as a judgment. We need only say that, when children are sent, they are a sign of Divine favor. And this is not saying that all children who come into the world come as a Divine reward. We are exclusively dealing with the families of God's people, and all we have said is strictly true of them . There is a great compensation for persons who have no children, in the fact that they often have an unusual love for other-people ' s children, and skill in ministering to them. This is illustrated in Sunday schools, ministers, orphan and outcast institutions, etc.
I. CHILDREN REWARD A MAN IN WHAT THEY THEMSELVES ARE . A man has no pleasure in life that can equal his joy in his children, who bear his image, and in miniature reproduce himself. Their ways, their talk, their crudities, their innocence, their unfolding, their very frailties, are a perpetual interest, relief, and pleasure. The child-ministry of childhood is seldom sufficiently estimated. Illustration may be taken from McLeod's 'Wee Davie;' or the more recent story of 'Bootle's Baby.'
II. CHILDREN REWARD A MAN IN WHAT THEY BECOME . For a man lives over again in the success of his children. He is proud of their well-grown healthy bodies; of their developed, and cultured minds; of their honorable and useful positions. A man never feels to have lived in vain when he leaves a respectable and well-ordered family behind him.
III. CHILDREN REWARD A MAN IN WHAT THEY DO FOE HIM . This is especially in the psalmist's mind. The good man who has good children has a fortune laid up against old age and infirmity safer far than shares in joint-stock companies. His every need will be safely met by the response child-love will make to all his sacrifices in days gone by.—R.T.