The House Yahweh is Building

[This sermon preached at Providence Church of Caro, MI (CREC) on July 15, 2012. I am indebted to friend and former professor, Jeremy Farmer, for my interpretation of this psalm.]

Our sermon text this morning is the 127th Psalm, a psalm written by King Solomon. Let’s look to the Word of the Lord:

Unless Yahweh builds the house,

Those who build it labor in vain.

Unless Yahweh watches over the city,

The watchman stays awake in vain.

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.

 

Behold, children are a heritage from Yahweh,

The fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

Are the children of one’s youth.

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. 

Introduction

As we look to this psalm, we will be seeking to hear all that is being said by the psalmist. We will be looking at the greater biblical themes that come out in Solomon’s writing as well as the way that those themes and this psalm are fulfilled in Christ and His people. In so doing, we will find that this psalm speaks of the mission of God to build His kingdom, and how He uses us in His kingdom-building.

Contextual Themes

This psalm finds its place in the context of two particular (and interwoven) themes that run throughout the Bible. To understand the full meaning of the psalm, we must understand these big-picture themes. They are the themes of the promised offspring who would save the world and the house of David.

God has set Himself to carrying out a certain agenda in redeeming His fallen world. He has committed Himself to, as we see described in this psalm, a building project; the house that He is building is the house, or dynasty, of David, the house over which His Son rules eternally.

In 2 Samuel 7, we find the story of how God established His covenant with David and promised to build the house and line of David forever. In fact, during this interaction, God has turned the tables on David; David expressed his desire to build a house for the Lord, but God told Him that He would instead build a house for David, “a house for my name.” This house is not simply a dwelling, but a dynasty. God is establishing not only David himself, but His line. He tells Him that one of David’s offspring will rule on the throne forever, and He will be to God a son.

(Already, we can see that this son of David is no normal son. He will rule over His kingdom forever; God is His father, and He is God’s son.)

This covenant God has made with David finds its place in a string of promises of a coming offspring who would be the hope and deliverance of the world. The first promise is given immediately after the fall of man; in Genesis 3:15, Yahweh God promises that the offspring of the woman will crush and defeat the serpent, thus restoring God’s creation and bringing the world to rights. The promise is narrowed, and our eyes are on Abraham’s line, as God has promised him that his offspring will mediate blessing to the nations. Now, David’s line has become the hope of the world; David’s son will rule, save, and bless the earth. God’s intention is to bring salvation to the Gentiles, to the nations, through the line of David.

Thus, when Solomon writes a psalm about building a house and about the Lord giving children, it is clear that he is speaking of more (although not less) than simply any house and simply an children. (I say “not less” because Psalm 127 does teach us how to build our households, and it does teach us about the blessing of children.) Psalm 127, then, is about the household of David, and about the offspring of David who will be the hope of the world. Ultimately, Psalm 127 is about Christ and His body.

Exposition

Solomon organized this psalm into two main sections; one speaking of the attitude of builders and watchmen, and the other speaking of God’s gift of children. The psalm is about establishing a house for Yahweh, and a family who seeks after God’s glory. It is about God’s driving mission to build a house where God and man may dwell together.

Part One (vv. 1,2) –Make God’s Agenda Your Agenda.

“Unless Yahweh builds the house,

Those who build it labor in vain.

Unless Yahweh watches over the city,

The watchman stays awake in vain.

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.” 

This text teaches us that all of our working and striving, however much effort we give, is in vain unless we are working within God’s will and by His might. As we build up and guard our households, as we set to our life work, we may give our best efforts, but if we are not seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, our efforts are in vain.

“Unless Yahweh builds the house…” (v.1)

Solomon first addresses the agenda of workers in the kingdom of God.

The psalmist uses language of building and guarding to describe the agenda to which our lives are set. “Unless Yahweh builds the house,” or “Unless your goals are aligned with Yahweh’s goals,” your work will be in vain. The work depends on God, and our goals must be aligned with His. This psalm speaks to the goals of God’s people. Through this psalm we are called to check our goals with the goals of God.

            God’s agenda, as we have seen from the background of the psalm, is establishing the kingdom of Christ, the Son of David, and building His house. Solomon would naturally have in mind the house and city of David as he penned this psalm.

God is incorporating into His house people from every tribe, tongue, kindred, and nation (Gen. 12:3; Is. 66:18; Rev. 15:4, 21:24), and He has commissioned us to make this our agenda to, as we go making “disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19) The goal of bringing glory to Himself through the growth of His kingdom; the goal of the salvation of all nations is what drives God’s mission; this same goal must be the driving force of our lives, as well.

God has committed Himself to the building of the house of David and that commitment has implication for us and for the whole world. So, we must check our priorities with God’s agenda. How are we doing? What is the agenda of our church? What is the agenda of your household; of you, personally and vocationally? Does this mean that we all must leave our careers and go to the mission field? Perhaps that is what God is calling some of us to do. That certainly is not what God has for all of us to do. However, whatever our vocation may be, whether plumber or career missionary or mother or pastor or computer technician, it must be a means to an end; namely, the end of bringing glory to God by spreading His kingdom, by spreading the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to our community and to all nations. As we engage in our labor, if our goals are in line with God’s goals, we can be assured that God is with us in our efforts. We are assured of ultimate (though not always temporal) success.

“…He gives to His beloved sleep…” (v.2)

In v. 2, Solomon warns us against a certain mindset that is inappropriate on the part of the builders and watchmen of the city of God: the mindset of anxious toil.

Worry and anxiety will accomplish nothing; if Yahweh is in our work, our anxious toil is in vain. If our goals are aligned with God’s, we can rest assured of His blessing and presence; we know that He will accomplish what He has set out to do. We have no need for worry.

The mindset of worry and anxiety creeps in when we come to believe that accomplishing God’s will is up to us and within our power. However, in ourselves we are wholly unable to carry out God’s commands; He is the one who works in us, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) Knowing that God is carrying out His purposes in and through us, when we are doing what He has told us in obedience, we can rest in the knowledge that He gives to us even in our sleep.

Part Two (vv.3-5) God gives the means for accomplishing His agenda.

“Behold, children are a heritage from Yahweh,

The fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

Are the children of one’s youth.

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.” 

If David is going to have a dynasty and an offspring that will bless the earth, the most fundamental thing he needs is obvious: he needs sons. In this text, we see that God, who has committed to establishing David’s dynasty, is the one who gives children; they are a heritage and a reward.

This second part of the psalm lays out to us the truth that giving children is in God’s hands alone. In His sovereignty He opens and closes the womb. Children are a gift that He chooses to give or withhold according to His wisdom.

For David, children were the building blocks of the promise of God: if God’s promise of a house and dynasty of David is to come true, then children will be the means by which that promise comes to fulfillment. Children are described here as “arrows in the hand of a warrior” because children, especially in Old Testament culture, provided security to the future of their families.

God provided offspring for David so that he would always have a son on the throne, ultimately providing Jesus, the Son of David who is the Son of God. So He provides for us the means to accomplishing the ends of building His kingdom. We can rest assured that He will provide all we need as we pursue His agenda.

 Christological Application

Each one of the major biblical themes mentioned that inform our understanding of Psalm 127 are, of course, fulfilled in Jesus. He is the promised offspring of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent. He is the son of David who rules from his throne over His people, and is the head of the household of David.

The promise of the coming offspring who would bring to rights God’s good world that had fallen is a major focus of the whole Old Testament; but, is this offspring a group of people, or an individual? We find now that the answer is “both.” Throughout the Old Testament, it looks like Israel as a nation is this offspring who will bring blessing to the world; the prophets and the life of Christ, however, teach us that Jesus Himself is the true Israel, the real promised offspring. Yet, we become a part of this offspring as we are united with Christ, born of water and the Spirit. The Christ who fulfills these themes of Scripture is the whole Christ: it is not just Christ Himself, but the whole body. He is the head, and we, His people, are His body.

St. Peter tells us that that the house God is building is built with living stones:

“As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:4-5)

We are a bricks in this building; God is building a house made of people. And our call, as living stones, is to go and bring in more people to become disciples and be incorporated into this spiritual building. The Lord has told us “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18)

In Christ, we are brought into the mission that God is working out through His Son. As we have been baptized into union with Christ, we become, in our new birth, offspring of the Spirit. Christ is the promised offspring through which the world is blessed, and so we, in our new life in Christ, mediate His blessing to the nations. His mission has become our mission, to do battle with the forces of sin and death and to bring the gospel of peace and salvation to the nations.

Conclusion

We are to embrace God’s agenda of building the kingdom of God, trusting that He will accomplish the work and provide the means to do His will. May God grant us grace to lay down all to join in His work of bringing salvation to all nations.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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