Except the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain that build it:
except the LORD keep the city,
the watchman wakes but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
to sit up late,
to eat the bread of sorrows:
for so He gives His beloved sleep.
Lo, children are a heritage of the LORD,
and the fruit of the womb is His reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man,
so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
How many of you, when you were young, received a gift for Christmas or your birthday, and then were told, “You can’t play with this. This is something very special, something to be treasured and taken care of. So let’s put it up on the shelf where we can display it, and you’ll always see it there.” That kind of takes the fun out receiving a gift, doesn’t it?
In my years as a believer, I have read Psalm 127 many times, and always it has read to me like a passage out of the book of Proverbs—a catalog of independent principles or truths. But this morning I read it with fresh eyes, asking the Lord to show me something new. I divided it visually into the three paragraphs you see above, then asked, “How are these three thoughts connected?” Here is what the Lord showed me this morning.
Actually, I see three things that are vain, or pointless, and their connection to children.
1. It is vain to build a house apart from the LORD.
This word house could refer to the building that shelters a family, but in the context, and in the Hebrew behind our translation, it actually refers to the family that lives inside the shelter. In other words, the psalmist is saying, “Unless the Lord builds the family, they labor in vain who attempt to build it on their own.” There are two parts to a family: the marriage union, and the children God gives to that union. Both must be built by the Lord and on the Lord as the foundation.
2. It is vain to protect the city apart from the LORD.
Looking at this phrase in the context of the whole, I see a figurative use of the word city, although the literal use is not wrong. “Unless the Lord protects the family, all your efforts at home security are in vain. This may be physical protection, such as from thieves or natural disasters. But it could also be applied to financial, health, social, and most importantly, spiritual protection. I am not saying insurance, retirement accounts, and home security systems are a waste of money. I am simply saying that our protection is in the Lord’s hands. The watchman still needs to watch, yet with a mind that God is the great Protector.
3. It is vain to burn the candle at both ends.
God has given us the day for work and the night for rest. I know some people work a night shift, and I’m not criticizing them. I’m talking to the people like me who work day and night, who don’t seem to know how to rest. The work is never done, and so we just keep on working. But sleep is a gift of God. Not only that, sleep is necessary for the brain and body to function properly. Although I know that, there are times when my life gets out of balance, and I deprive myself of sleep. These past few weeks have been one of those times, so I praise the Lord for the timing of this study. I needed the rebuke.
Children Are a Gift
But let’s return to Psalm 127. The final section tells us that children are a heritage [inheritance] given to us by the LORD. I believe this entire psalm has been talking about children all along. When the Lord builds the house, He adds children. When the Lord protects the city, He protects our children. When we rest as we should, we have the time and energy to enjoy our children.
Think back to the gift I mentioned at the beginning of this article. How did you feel about not being able to play with it? Did you appreciate the gift’s value as it sat there untouched on the shelf?
Let me take this another direction. What if your parents gave you a gift that was intended for play, something you asked for, something you wanted really badly. And then once you got it, you let it sit on the shelf untouched while you went off and did other things. How would that make your parents feel? What if they had to sacrifice to afford that gift? What if it took them a long time to find it? Do you think they would feel as though they had wasted their hard-earned money and their time?
Children are a gift from the Lord. If we as parents stay so busy with our own work and personal interests that we cannot make time to enjoy our children, to invest in their lives, to mold them into the adults they will become, and to show them the love of God, then how must that make our Father feel?
In short, the message is this: Trust the Lord to build and protect your family, then trust Him with your time, and take advantage of the gift of sleep that your heavenly Father knows you desperately need so that you may enjoy the gift of your children. You will be more productive—and more pleasant—in your waking hours when you get the proper rest. The Lord will bless you, and your spouse and children will thank you. Believe me. I speak from experience. ☺
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Photo taken in Chesapeake, VA, 2009