The psalms of ascent describe the care of God to His pilgrim people as they dwell on the earth. Today’s episode focuses on Psalm 128, which describes God’s people as people full of joy and trembling. We are told that God blesses those who fear the Lord and displays Himself in their corporate lives, including their families and their churches. This Psalm is a great encouragement for Christians to live as a city on a hill in the midst of a world that has a low view of marriage, children, and Christian community. This is episode 73 of the Better Bible Reading Podcast with Kevin Morris!
When Jesus warned of the abomination of desolation in the destruction of Jerusalem which would come in 70 AD, He warned that His listeners should flee to the mountains. This sentiment has been appropriated and somewhat distorted as a mantra which now says “head for the hills”. But however appropriate this is for residents in a city that is on fire, it turns out that this is not how the Lord would have us to live. Rather than being megaphones in a street or voices from rooftops, God has called us to be a spectacle in the theater of God- a shining city on a hill for the world to see. And this Psalm demonstrates one way where this is true.
This verse speaks fits nicely with our 3rd shorter catechism question “what do the scriptures principally teach”. The answer is “what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man”.
What man is to believe concerning God is spoken of by the psalmist as “everyone who fears the Lord” and what duty God requires is “who walks in his ways”.
It’s always helpful to make correlations to a text by looking at the other testament. Another way to correlate this verse in a helpful way is speaking of Jesus’ words: “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. We must seek to define this fear, especially over against John’s words that “perfect love cast out fear” and “fear has to do with punishment”
Lest we miss the significance, note the universal inclusion of this passage- that it is a blessing to “everyone” excluding ethnicity and genealogy. Rather, the blessing is a matter of fear and a walking in (not a mere familiarity with).
Moving into the subject matter of the blessing, We see that it is expressed as a two-fold fulfillment of earlier promises: A blessing in the new Adam and in the seed of Abraham. For those who are part of this promise, we will reap and we will be blessed. We shall enjoy fruit rather than thorns and blessing rather than a curse
Before the coming of the second Adam, thorns and thistles was the inheritance of man. And before the promise of Abraham, there were no nations positioned to receive God’s blessing.
Note the certainty of receiving these benefits:
As believers, we enjoy God’s blessing in the midst of a fallen world. While turmoil, division and angst plague those who despise the things of God, we sit peaceably at His feet. And while we are subjected to a world of thorns and curses, not even death can steal this blessing from us. In fact to die is gain. (i.e. James 1:17). God is the inexhaustible gift, as eternity in with Him testifies.
This of course is in stark contrast to the world. If you want to know the legacy of the world, look no further than Ecclesiastes. We have a lot to say about this verse in light of our modern culture. While we might say “carpe diem” is the phrase of the day, it is actually “carpe obcasio” sieze the occasion or opportunity”
How is this expressed? abortion on demand, delayed or refrained marriage, a rejection of the past in history and little thought of the future consequences of present trajectories.
There is nothing more vanishing and vain than the present moment; by the time you even think about the present, it is gone. Yet our culture has placed all their bets on the present. They are involved in a singular devotion to vanity.
But we Christians are a spectacle to the world. We have been given the copyright to marriage and family in its purest expression. i.e. Pilgrim’s Progress in Vanity Fair.
With the cultural rejection of both marriage and children, what should Christians do practically? We should not “run for the hills” and surmise as many do that the world is too wicked to bring children into.
Rather, it is our marrying and having children that are the highest level of gospel analogies: Christ and His heavenly bride on the one hand, and having God as Father on the other. Our Christian lives are meant to reflect these truths and there are no higher analogies than these.
This is why among the qualifications of an elder, poor parenting and poor service as a husband are grounds for disqualification. We have a kingdom to testify to and a stage to display it. We should remember the language of Ps. 127:3
The Summary Statement
But we always need balance to our conclusions.
If such a high premium is placed on marriage and children, what is said of those who are single or without children?
“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Gen. 17.7)
Verse 4 should then be understood as exemplary, with verse three as one example of summarizing the blessing. Remember, the blessing is for everyone who fears the Lord. The example of the man who is married with children is one example of the blessing.
With the conclusion statement of verse 4, we’re reminded that although there is a literal truth to verse 3, it is presented in analogous language of belonging to the covenant. It’s a certainty of blessing in Abrahamic language. We know that the blessing isn’t tied to a husband and father, otherwise it is withheld from women and children.
In trying to do justice to the text, we must be responsible enough to ask: How is it that the blessing is extended to all in verse 1 with no respect to ethnicity, yet it is situated in a reserved context of Zion, Jerusalem and Israel in verses 5 and 6?
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb 12.22-23)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places […] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1.3, 2.6)
For neither circumcision counted for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk b y this rule, peace and mercy by upon them, even the Israel of God” (Gal. 6.15-16)
Zion is the manifestation of God’s kingdom. Thus Zion is the place of God’s people. And the assembling of God’s people is the medium of God’s blessing.
We are called here in this psalm just as in Psalm 2 to serve the Lord with fear and to rejoice with trembling. We are called out of this world to be a people full of joy and trembling. It is a fearful thing to gather weekly, approaching the only Sovereign who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.
Yet it is a joy to know that we are encouraged and enabled in Christ to draw near to the throne of grace with confidence! This truly is peace that passes all understanding, as we commune with a God who continually cares for His pilgrim saints.