Tom Lowe


Psalm 127: Building House and Home

Theme: The writer’s theme is that Yahweh’s Presence is essential in every aspect if life which is to succeed

Text: Psalms 127:1-5 (KJV)

  1. {A Song of degrees for Solomon.} Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
  2. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
  3. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his
  4. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
  5. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.



Psalm 127 is in the middle of the group of fifteen psalms that are known as the “Songs of Degrees.” “A Song of degrees for Solomon” does not appear in the Septuagint version. According to verse 1, it is a psalm for (or by) Solomon. Much in this little song clearly relates to Solomon; however, much of it can also be applied to Hezekiah’s day. There are those who hold that the expression “his beloved” refers to Solomon, but the son of David mentioned here is not Solomon; He is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is likely that Solomon composed this psalm and that when Hezekiah added it to the Hebrew hymnbook; he did so because it ministered to him in such a wonderful way, thereby proving its divine origin.

The circumstances described in this psalm, both the external and internal threats to the line of David, suited Hezekiah’s situation. With Sennacherib and his hosts threatening the demise of the Promised Land and the king’s princely line, Hezekiah needed some word from God. He found it in this word out of the past. This poem spoke to his need, as the voice of God speaks to his soul.

When he came to make up his collection for the “songs of degrees” this psalm naturally found its way into the anthology (collection) and thence (henceforth) into the book. As we can see for ourselves when we read it, it speaks with the voice of divine authority. The wonder is that it should have taken so long to be adopted into the Hebrew hymnbook. It is another indication of how cautious the Hebrews were before adding anything to the recognized Word of God.

No amount of human sacrifice or toil can accomplish much unless God’s blessing is upon His people. That is the major message of this psalm. Though the psalm is assigned to Solomon, it also seems to fit the post-exilic times of Nehemiah. The population of Jerusalem was small and the people had to build and repair the buildings and walls. Houses were desperately needed for families or else the struggling Jewish nation had no future (Neh. 7:4). Surrounded by numerous enemies, Jerusalem needed strong gates and walls and watchmen on alert day and night (Neh. 4:9; 7:3).

Commentary: Psalms 127:1-5 (KJV)

1. {A Song of degrees for Solomon.} Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

“Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”

“Build the house,” means assist and bless those that build the house; an artificial house, the temple, or the royal palace; or any of those numerous structures which Solomon had built; or a natural or civil house, a family, or kingdom, or a state. A thought similar to this may well have been on Solomon’s mind when he hired Hiram’s craftsmen, drafted his enormous levies, opened up the vast and incalculable treasures of David, set about quarrying the massive stones for the foundations, and launched his ambitious seven-year plan to build the temple of David’s dreams in Jerusalem. Over and over again, he followed the blueprints David had received from heaven. Like the tabernacle before it, the temple was to be built to divine specifications.

David challenged the leaders of the nation to follow his example and give. And give they did―abundantly. Again, the Holy Spirit writes it down: “And gave for the service of the house of God of gold five thousand talents and ten thousand drams, and of silver ten thousand talents, and of brass eighteen thousand talents, and one hundred thousand talents of iron. And they with whom precious stones were found gave them to the treasure of the house of the LORD, by the hand of Jehiel the Gershonite.

So when Solomon began to build the house, he had no lack of materials; David had seen to that. David could not build the temple, but he could certainly give. Then Solomon went to work (2 Chron. 3:1-4; 22; 1 Ki. 5:7). He drafted thirty thousand Hebrews and sent them to Lebanon, ten thousand at a time, to cut wood. Massive stones were quarried, shaped, and transported to Jerusalem for the foundation. All that wealth could command, all that skill and craftsmanship could devise (within the framework of the blueprints), all the zeal and enthusiasm could do, went into the building of that house. God expects you to work and watch. But He wants to work in you and to accomplish His will (Phil. 2:12-13).

“Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” It is not going to be built by super-programs, by slick advertising, by TV commercials; it is not going to be built by oratory in the pulpit or by excellence in the choir; it is not going to be built by high-pressure evangelism, by vast sums of money, by well-organized missions. It is going to be built by the Holy Spirit, by Christ living in and through believers.

The word “vain” is used three times in these verses. My friend, everything is vain unless God is in it. Everything is dependent on Him and on His blessings. An old German proverb says, “Everything depends on the blessing of God.” I wish we looked at things like that.

The apostle Paul saw himself as a builder (Rom 15:20, 17), and he warned that it is a dangerous thing to destroy the local church (1 Cor. 3:11-17). Whether we are building structures with bricks and mortar and steel or building lives, families, and churches with truth and love, we cannot succeed without the help of the Lord. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

The people of Jerusalem believed their city, sheltered by mountains and hills, to be virtually invincible. Certainly none of the petty princelings of Canaan would be able to take Jerusalem. The enemy’s supply lines would be long and vulnerable, his need for water a constant problem. The enemy’s troops would become dispirited and discouraged long before they reached the city. Then its towering walls would face him with a new set of problems calculated to give pause even to the most determined foe. But even those battlements were not Jerusalem’s best defenses. Jerusalem’s real defense was its God.

The poet sets forth his theme first by reference to three necessary activities of an industrious life: building, protective care, and disciplined toil. If Yahweh does not build a house the labors of the carpenters is in vain or worthless. Worthless also are early rising and loss of sleep in pursuit of unremitting toil, without the blessing of Yahweh, who gives to those He loves even while they sleep more than they can ever gain with all their work.

The point is not that any of these activities is unworthy, but rather that any and all of them must have the sanction of Yahweh if they are to succeed.

Strong walls around the city and alert watchmen on those walls are essential. If we are to protect what we have built―and how foolish it is to build and not protect. Building and battling go together; this is why Nehemiah’s men had their tools in one hand and their swords at their side (Nehemiah 4:17-18). Jesus joined the two in Luke 14:25-33. If parents, teachers, and church leaders do not courageously maintain the walls, God will stop blessing and His church cannot thrive. I firmly believe this is what is happening today, and it has contributed to the decline in church attendance.

When the armies of Syria deployed before Jerusalem’s walls, the city was up against a new kind of foe, a world super-power well versed in storming the highest battlements and breaching the strongest walls. When Sennacherib’s Battle-hardened veterans flung their cordons around the city, and put in place their proven siege artillery, the watchman might well have stayed awake in vain.

The only other super-power the Hebrews had known was Egypt, but the Egyptians were children compared with the Assyrians. The Assyrians were experts at sacking cities. The thorough way they went about preparing to take Jerusalem must have caused the bravest hearts to tremble. War was hazardous business at best. Nobody knew better than Hezekiah that it was really the Lord who kept the city.

 2. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.

Many of us are anxious about many things. We worry a lot. Solomon points out three things about worrying. (His speech is directed to those he mentioned before, builders and watchmen.)

  • It is an exacting thing. “It isvain for you to rise up early, to sit up late.” That does not help matters. If a developing situation is beyond our control; it is beyond our control. But somehow worry comes in and compounds the problem by harassing us.
  • It is an excruciating thing. “It is vain to eat the bread of sorrows.” A person in the grip of anxiety and worry is a person in torment. Worry has a way of preying on the person and driving the victim to distraction.
  • It is an exhausting thing. “For so he giveth his beloved sleep.” The Lord has the solution. All worry does is wear us out until our nerves are frayed, our tempers short, and our health gives away. Our worry is in vain. When we have worried ourselves sick, we have not changed the situation at all; it is still there. All we have done is decrease our ability to cope with it.

Coming back to the situation in Hezekiah’s day, we can well imagine the worry that gnawed at the good king’s heart when he learned that diplomacy and defiance alike had failed. The enemy was at the gates. One can well imagine the sleepless nights in Jerusalem.

First, the news had come that Sennacherib’s invincible troops are on the march. Destination: Jerusalem. The northward walls of Jerusalem would be thronged with anxious watchers. News would filter in as refuges came straggling down the northern highway, dreadful news of the cities taken, ravaged populations, rape, and torture and mass deportations. People would rise up early in the morning to scan the horizons anxiously, to exchange whispers with the watchmen. They would stay up late at night, reluctant to go to bed, in case their enemies would attack during the night. They would eat the bread of sorrows, ―which is that eaten amid hard labor―thinking, as they ate, of tails of atrocity. Their sleep―”Sleep refers to a quiet rest, both of body and mind, which many of those greedy worldlings cannot enjoy―would be haunted by nightmares. Mothers and fathers would slip into children’s rooms when they were asleep, look at their little faces and a thousand fresh fears would arise.

Then the day came when the watchmen on the walls sounded the alarm. The flags and banners were visible on the distant hills. The enemy was in sight. In horror and dismay, people would watch the greatness of the approaching army, observe the efficient way they set up camp and sealed up the highways of escape. Then would come the great engines designed to batter walls and burst gates, open and breach defenses.

Sleep? Sleep was impossible. Next came Rabshakeh’s insolent propaganda, One can imagine the rumors, alarms, the undercurrent of whispered talk, the mounting fears, despair, the efforts of the king to counteract the demoralization of his defenses by the psychological warfare of the foe.

This verse does not say it is wrong for people to get up early, work hard, and make sacrifices (2 Thess. 3:6-15). It only warns us that our work must be a blessing that we enjoy and not a burden we endure. Both physical and mental toil are a part of this fallen world (Gen. 3:17), but doing God’s will is nourishment, not punishment. God gives us “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17), and this includes earning our daily bread,

God’s special name for Solomon was “Jedidiah―beloved” (2 Sam. 12:25). But all of God’s people are “God’s beloved” (Romans 1:7; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13) because they are accepted and blessed in the Beloved One, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:6; Matt. 3:17; 17:5). The last line of verse 2 is translated and interpreted several different ways, but the thrust of it seems clear. We get tired in God’s work but we do not get tired of God’s work, because the Lord who gives us the strength to work also gives us the rest we need. “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet” (Eccl. 5:12). But even as we sleep, God works for us in different ways, for He never slumbers or sleeps (Mark 4:26-29).

3. Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his

Verses 3-5 follow the same line of reasoning as verses 1 and 2: People should acknowledge their children as blessings from God, not merely as products of their own biological design. In the ancient culture, sons were highly valued. As male children grew, they provided help on the farms, protection against danger, and representation for the family. The more sons that parents produced, the more they felt that God had blessed them.

Whether the topic is domestic life, national security, or family trees, God should be acknowledge as the source of all success and contentment.

There were few people living in Jerusalem in the post-exilic age (Neh. 7:4), and it was important that the young people marry and have families. Among the Jews it was unheard of that a husband and wife did not want children or that a child be aborted. “Children are a blessing for the Jew,” writes Rabbi Leo Trepp. “Each child brings a blessing all its own, our ancestors would say. We rejoice in people because we are a people, a historical people.” Children are precious―a heritage―and make the home a treasury. But they are also useful―like fruit and arrows―and make the Home a garden and an armory. They will be their Father’s strength in his old age, as arrows are in the hand of a mighty man (v. 4),” a defense against his foes. A man’s numerous sons would be his strength and security, a source of satisfaction and joy to him.

If we do not raise our children to know and love the truth, who will plant the seeds of truth and fight the battles against lies and evil in the years to come.

4. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.

Sons are Yahweh’s legacy; children, his reward. Sons are to a father what sharp arrows are to a great warrior, and the man who has a house full of them is blessed. Such men may speak with impunity to enemies “in the gate,” where differences are settled, because their adversaries will know they do not stand alone. Yet this security too is a blessing from Yahweh.

 “Children of the youth” refers to children who are born when their parents are young.

What good are a big income and a lovely house if the people in your life are robbed of the joys of a happy home? Children are a gift and a heritage, so appreciate them and guard them. They are like fruit, so lovingly cultivate them. They can be arrows for fighting the Lord’s battles, so keep them polished and sharp and aimed in the right direction. Give yourself to building a home, not just a house, and building for the future, not just the present.

5. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

The city gate was the place where important legal business was transacted (Deut. 21:19; Ruth 4:1; Amos 5:12), and it was helpful to have a godly family to back you up. Also, the enemy would try to enter at the city gate, and the more sons to fight at your side the better was the opportunity for victory. Contending armies of a besieged city would meet at the gate (Jud. 16:2; Isa. 22:7).

It is in the family that we preserve the best of the past and invest it in the future. Every baby born is God’s vote for the future of humankind and our opportunity to help make some new beginnings.

The word “happy” here is the word “blessed.” Literally, the expression is, “Happy, happy, is the man . . . “The parents who have many children have many happiness’s. Jesse was such a man; imagine having a son like David. Happy, happy was Jesse, down there on the farm, when the prophet Samuel appeared with the news that Israel’s next king was to be chosen from Jesse’s sons. “Well,” Jesse might have said, “you will have plenty to choose from.” And what a handsome, strapping, impressive group of sons he was able to parade before the prophet. As each one, big, burly, and commanding, stood before the prophet he said: “Surely, this is the one.” As far as Samuel was concerned, any one of Jesse’s sons, humanly speaking, was suited to be a prince of Judah.

Not everyone is supposed to get married, nor are all couples able to have children. But all adults can value children, pray for them, be good examples to them, and see that they are protected and cared for and encouraged in their spiritual upbringing. You can read what Jesus said about this in Matthew 18:5-6.