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Psalm 127

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Prosperity Comes from the Lord
MT Intro
A Song of Ascents,
of Solomon
Laboring and Prospering with the Lord A Safe Home and A Large Family Are the Lord's Gifts
(Wisdom Psalm)
In Praise of God's Goodness Trust in Providence
127:1-2 127:1-2 127:1-2 127:1-2 127:1
        127:2
127:3-5 127:3-5 127:3-5 127:3-5 127:3-4
        127:5

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 127:1-2
 1Unless the Lord builds the house,
 They labor in vain who build it;
 Unless the Lord guards the city,
 The watchman keeps awake in vain.
 2It is vain for you to rise up early,
 To retire late,
 To eat the bread of painful labors;
 For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

127:1-2 This strophe asserts the sovereignty of YHWH. What He desires is secure! YHWH had a theological, global purpose for Israel. See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

The term "house" (Ps. 127:1) and "His beloved" (Ps. 127:2) are metaphors for the nation of Israel, which developed from YHWH's special promises to the Patriarchs (both a land and a seed, i.e., Genesis 12:1-3).

Notice the parallel between "unless the Lord builds the house". . ."unless the Lord guards the city." This strophe is built on

1. parallelism

2. sound plays (ש)

a. "in vain," Ps. 127:1 (twice), 2 - BDB 996 (see Special Topic: Vain, Empty, Nothingness)

b. guards, Ps. 127:1 - BDB 1036

c. watchman, Ps. 127:1 - BDB 1036

d. keeps awake, Ps. 127:1 - BDB 1052

e. to rise up early, Ps. 127:2 - BDB 1014

f. retire late, Ps. 127:2 - BDB 442, ישב

g. sleep, Ps. 127:2 - BDB 446, שנא, which occurs only here in the OT (AB, p. 225, suggests this could be the Syrian or Ethiopian word for "prosperity," that would fit this context, however, "sleep" also fits the context well)

 

127:2 Human efforts without God are useless, ineffective, and temporary (cf. John 15:5).

There are three participles and two infinitive constructs that form parallel phrases.

1. to rise up early

2. to retire late

3. to eat the bread of painful labors

It is interesting that AB (p. 223) sees #3 as a reference to idolatry and cites (1) Jerome's notes (Juxta Helraeos) as a support and (2) Ps. 106:36,37 and possibly Ps. 139:24, which are from the same basic root (BDB 780 I and BDB 781). However, the idea of painful labor seems to be a better parallel to #1 and #2 of strenuous human effort to bring about a desired result.

▣ "His beloved" This refers to Israel (cf. Deut. 33:12; Ps. 60:5; 108:6; Isa. 5:1; Jer. 11:14; 12:7). Because the MT and DSS introductions have "Solomon," some scholars have made a connection with 2 Sam. 12:25, where Solomon is called "Jedidiah" (i.e., beloved of Yah) by Nathan.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 127:3-5
 3Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
 The fruit of the womb is a reward.
 4Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
 So are the children of one's youth.
 5How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
 They will not be ashamed
 When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

127:3-5 This strophe at first seems unrelated to Ps. 127:1-2, but the thrust of the Psalm as a whole is God's active involvement in the life of the nation of Israel. This Psalm is addressed to the current king. A nation is only as strong as its family structure.

Healthy children are part of the "blessing" section of both Lev. 26:9 and Deut. 7:13; 28:4; 30:5. It was a sign of a healthy covenant relationship with God. Remember He is the One who commanded mankind to be "fruitful and multiply" (cf. Gen. 2:27-28; 9:1,7).

127:3

NASB, TEV,
REB"gift of the Lord"
NKJV, NRSV,
LXX"heritage from the Lord"
NJB"a birthright from Yahweh"
JPSOA"a provision of the Lord"

The word (BDB 635) basically means an inheritance (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 77) or "property," "possession."

1. inheritance of a person - Gen. 31:14; Num. 27:7,8,9,10,11; 36:3,8; Ps. 37:18

2. inheritance of Israel - Deut. 4:21; 15:4; 19:10; 20:16; 24:4; 25:19; 26:1; Isa. 54:17

3. lot or portion - Job 20:29; 27:13; 31:2

This Psalm can be interpreted as a stated truth to

1. an individual (#1 above)

2. to the king of Israel and, thereby the nation (#2 above)

I think #2 fits this Psalm best.

127:5 This line of poetry emphasizes a strong population (or tribal group) able to defend themselves because of

1. their God

2. their God-given population

It is possible this is a reference to the secure dynasty of the Davidic King (cf. 2 Samuel 7).

▣ "They shall not be ashamed" In this context of a dynastic promise to the King, I think "shame" refers to a military defeat. For "ashamed" see note at Ps. 119:6.

▣ "in the gate" This was the place of law, commerce, and social activities.

The AB (p. 224) offers another suggestion related to this last line of poetry. The basic Hebrew phrase can refer to a battle scenario where the enemy is defeated. The translation would be, "but shall drive back his foes from the gate."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. To whom is this Psalm addressed?

2. Who is "the beloved" of Ps. 127:2?

3. Define "ashamed" in this context.

4. The last line of the poem must be understood in light of who is addressed, why?