Friday, August 29, 2008

Vanity and Children...but Not Related Topics

The next psalm in our journey through the Psalms of Ascents is interesting. It is found in the exact middle of the fifteen ascent psalms. It is the only one of the fifteen written by Solomon. There are seven psalms before it (120-126), two of which were written by David and five which are anonymous. After Psalm 127, there are seven psalms, two of which were written by David and five of which are anonymous. With the Hebrew propensity for chiasms (see here, here, here, and here), and the symmetry that appears to be here, the psalm may be the high point of the Psalms of Ascents. It is not perfect but close enough to take a minute to examine it.

    121 David
            124 David
                     127 Solomon
         131 David
   133 David

Additionally, the psalm seems to be a bit different in that it seems to address two different issues in the psalm: The vanity of life without the Lord, and children.

Read Psalm 127 (NASB, NIV, KJV)

Here is my working outline. Once again, I would love any suggestions which may improve the flow of thought in this outline. This outline needs much improvement.

Still Working on a Title

I. Vanity (1-2)
          A. Vain labor - unless the Lord builds
          B. Vain watching - unless the Lord guards

          still working on #C.
          C. Vain vigilance - because the Lord gives in sleep
          C. Vain to do anything - unless the Lord gives

II. Children (3-4)
          A. Children are a gift
          B. Children are a defense
          C. Children are a blessing

Many people want to make this whole psalm about family. I am not sure the context will allow that. Granted, when the Hebrew author wrote about a "house", as in verse 1, it could mean a literal house or a house as in "family" or even "dynasty." However, the rest of verse one speaks of guarding a city and verse three speaks of work. I am not sure each of these could be figurative for family. It is interesting to note that verse three talks about God "giving" during sleeping and then the next verse says that children are a "gift." Perhaps this is the connection between the two sections of this psalms. However, unlike the previous psalms in this study (120-126, so far), this does not seem to have a unifying theme through the psalm. In that, it is very much like the proverbs, most of which are attributed to Solomon, just like this psalm.

As for explanation of the outline, I think verse one is somewhat self-explanatory. If a person builds or a person guards, and thinks they are doing it in their own power, they are gravely mistaken. It may be human work that builds a building phyiscally but it is God who give the strength to do so, the resources to be able to, the weather which does not blow it down, and on and on. A guard may think he is protecting the city but it is actually the Lord doing so.

Verse 2 give the idea that it is vain to do anything without the Lord. The idea of rising early and going to bed late means when we rise, when we go to bed, and everything inbetween. In fact, even when we are sleeping, God is at work. We sometimes believe that we can do great things and accomplish fantastic tasks. The fact of the matter is, anything good we have done is becasue the Lord has allowed it and He should get the credit. These versed do not discount human effort, but indicate that without the Lord's intervention, it is vain.

The topic shifts to that of children. The real issue in this section is verse 4. The question is, "How are children like arrows?" When dealing with Hebrew poetry, it is good to let the image sink in for a while. What do we think of when we think of arrows? They are long-range weapons and are not used for hand-to-hand combat. In fact, they were used for defense. The archers would not be the on the frontline but would fire a curtain of defense for those fighting on the battle front.

This is like children to those who are aged. The phrase about the "gate" in verse 5 points to the place where legal issues would be taken up with the city's leaders. If someone had wronged you, you could go to the city's gate and plead your case. If you had children, they would go with you and stand behind you to back you up, much like archers would. They would take up your defense and fight with you. Thus, they are blessing to have.

I am not sure of a song from today which would capture the heart of this psalm because this psalm seems to have two "hearts." If anyone has any insight to this, please post so we can all benefit from it.