As promised, here is the note on the second psalm of the Songs of Ascents to deal with military matters, Psalm 127, a song which is well-known and often sung or quoted, but without the full military context of this particular message being understood. Let us therefore take the time today to read a bit deeper into the military insight Psalm 127 provides us today.
The Place of Psalm 127 in the Songs of Ascents
Let us first, though, before entering into an analysis of Psalm 127, examine the place of Psalm 127 in the Songs of Ascents as a whole. The psalm itself is the midpoint in the series of psalms to be sung by worshipers of God on the way to the temple from their villages and towns. As the song itself deals with such matters as God’s sovereign control over fate as well as the role of family, it is important to realize that the visible reminders of houses and cities and families were all around the travelers during their journey, as they would go up to Jerusalem praying for the establishment of their own house, and the protection of their own towns and cities, as well as the well-being of God’s house and the city of Jerusalem.
Unless The Lord Guards The City: Psalm 127
Psalm 127 reads as follows: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake 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. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.”
This psalm can be divided easily into two parts, both of them dealing with military affairs. The first part of the psalm provides a brief examination of God’s control over events, stating that the plans of men to build houses (or dynasties) or protect cities, or eat the bread of sorrows in difficult labors is not the will of God, it will fail. God gives His beloved peaceful sleep (eventually) through His arranging of events, and no plans or plotting by mankind can thwart his will to either set up or tear down the actions and institutions of men. As God is in control, we must recognize His authority if we wish to be successful.
The second part of the psalm changes tack, slightly, and praises children as a gift or blessing from God to parents, praising those who have large families as having their quiver full of arrows. Those who have large and godly families are not going to be afraid of their enemies, but will be blessed and respected as elders in the gate (where business was discussed during the times of Israel by the elders of cities and towns, see Ruth 4:1-2 and Proverbs 31:23). Indeed, part of the control over the building of houses and the protection of cities appears to be for the blessing of godly families who serve and obey Him. As God is in the business of having children through the conversion of the faithful, so God also praises the growth of his family through believers who raise godly children of their own.
Children As Arrows
As we saw in Psalm 120, Psalm 127 also deals with the aspect of “arrows” smiting the ungodly. Psalm 127, though, compares the children of believers to the arrows, however. It is worthwhile to examine just how children are arrows in the quiver of a godly person, though. For one, in the sport of archery (itself a notable military sport), arrows are shot at targets, just as parents aim their children towards God’s kingdom and the development of godly character through training and discipline, and well-aimed children will tend to “hit” their targets.
Additionally, we must remember that there is an eternal warfare, either open or secret, between those who follow God and those who rebel against His rightful authority in support of Satan (whether they realize it or not). The armies of righteousness and the family of God expands whenever a godly child is born who is taught from youth to seek after righteousness and discern between good and evil and choose life like his parents did before him. Assuming that the child can find a godly spouse, there is the expectation of him or her growing up and starting a family of their own to continue the heritage of the godly for future generations as long as there are humans to draw breath on this earth. To choose life we must celebrate it as a gift from God rather than as a curse or as a burden, and we must rejoice in its spread as the hope of better days yet to come than we have ever seen.
A Note On God’s Sovereign Control
It is important to note, though, in closing, that a huge amount of mankind’s efforts are devoted either to building up power and prestige and institutions or to the protection of one’s positions and property and prestige from others. We spend a great deal of time writing laws, defending our honor and reputation, and a great deal of money on security guards and alarm systems, on armies and fences and walls and safe deposit boxes. And yet few of us stop to realize that all of our efforts go to waste unless it is God’s will that we should enjoy those things we guard so zealously from threat.
If we spent as much time protecting our good character and on building up the qualities of God within us as we did looking for wealth and power and prestige, we would all be much better off. Now, this does not mean that we should be careless about what we have–that is a different problem we must avoid–but to take anxious care such that it robs us of our sleep and our joy in life over what is temporary and evanescent is a waste, as such behavior springs from a forgetfulness that it is God who wills what shall occur for our benefit, and so whether we have much or little, we should sleep in the knowledge that it is God who controls the events that happen to us for His purposes.
This is as important for cities and nations to realize as it is for people. After all, it is not the size of the army that determines victory, but the will of God. If God wills a nation to be destroyed, no strength of defenses or accumulation of wealth or might of its army is going to save it from destruction. As God gives all that men possess, God can take it away without effort. Perhaps the most important aspect to learn about the biblical way of war is that God’s power and sovereignty are to be understood and accepted as a given, and that the credit to victory in any endeavor belong to God and not to men. From this initial realization all other aspects of the biblical way of war spring. God’s control over the universe is the fundamental first principle that must be understood and accounted for before anything else can be done. Let us not forget it at all in any endeavor we find ourselves involved in.