Seeing the Good of Jerusalem

Intro: Do have aspirations for the good life? As prosperous Americans we may consider ourselves as living it now. But how does God describe the good life? What does it mean to us, as Christians under the rulership and care of God?

  • Today is Mother’s Day, a day dedicated by our society to honoring mothers. It is impossible to overestimate the value of godly mothers, who humbly serve God and their families. Although I am not going to speak specifically and only about mothers today, I do want to leave our regular theme this morning and consider a lesson about the importance of the family. What is God’s evaluation of the family unit?

I. Psalm 127- Psalm 128 – These Psalms complement each other. They are from a group of Psalms titled “songs of the ascent”. There are 15 Psalms with this designation (120-134)4 of David; one (127) of Solomon. Scholars believe that these 15 Psalms were sung by Pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem for the annual feast day; others believe they were sung by Priests as they ascended the 15 steps to minister at the Temple. Still others connect them with the time of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the walls.

A. Psalm 127:1 – 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. The opening line of Psalm 127 is thematic to both Psalms – Without God’s involvement no house or city will survive. God must build it; God must guard it.

1. The phrase build the house has at least three meanings in O.T. language:

a. To build a literal dwelling place – a physical structure. Solomon was chosen to build a house for God. He was called to build it according to God’s instructions. Its value and protection were dependent upon God doing the building. It was His. The Jews could not defend the Temple against their enemies once they abandoned God for idols.

b. To build a nation – The nation of Israel was called the house of Israel 83 times in Ezekiel. God built the house of Israel when He made them a special nation for Himself. It could not have been built without Him, and its security was dependent on Him alone.

c. To build a family; especially through child-bearing. God promised David that He would build His house in 2 Sam 7:11-12 by setting up his seed after him, or giving him children and grandchildren.

2. We can see how each one these meanings connects to the time of Solomon building the temple or of Nehemiah rebuilding the city of Jerusalem.

3. But these Psalms also connect to our time. They describe for us the elements of human endeavor that still define our lives: The building of our individual families; the security of our city (nation) and the enjoyment of life. These are not disconnected from each other, but the Psalm tells us in no uncertain terms that if God is left out, we will acquire none of these things. We must have God’s blessing. 4.

4. Will America survive? Will our families survive? At times it seems doubtful. One thing is sure. Only if God blesses us. We cannot secure our own future. Burton Coffman states… “Verse one here is universal in its meaning, indicating that dependence upon God is vital in all human undertakings.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

a. We notice as well, that the house (family) and the city (nation) are considered together. In the words of these Psalms they rise and fall together. This seems thematic as well. We will notice that the Lord blesses the city, or nation, through the blessings of the individual family, and only as the individuals in the family fear the Lord.

B. Ps 127:2 – 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. This does not teach that there is no value in working hard or making provisions for one’s own protection against his enemies. But these efforts will be useless if we leave God out, and do not fear Him.

1. The last phrase of vs. 2 is powerful. It is interpreted two ways:

a. God gives His people the blessing of rest, or sleep, when the world is restless and cannot sleep. God’s protection gives assurance to the child of God that others do not have. Jesus told His apostles, John 14:27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

b. God gives His people blessings “as they sleep”The Psalmist is depicting God as one who is able to provide for His people when they are doing nothing, even while they are sleeping.

• In 2 Kings 19 Hezekiah, King of Judah prays to God to defend the city of Jerusalem from Sennacherib and the Assyrian army that right outside the city walls. He describes how all the other cities had fallen to Sennacherib, despite their high walls and formidable armies because their gods were impotent to save them. But the God of Israel, Hezekiah says, is different. He can defend the city. 2 Kings 19:17-19 – Truly, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, 18 and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands — wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. 19 Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone.” God responds to his prayer by sending an angel into the Assyrian camp at night and slaying 185,000 soldiers. 2 Kings 19:34-36 – ‘For I will defend this city, to save it For My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.'” 35 And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses — all dead. 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. God blessed His people while they slept.

II. Whom does God bless? – Psalm 128:1 – Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, Who walks in His ways. Again these words are thematic. These Psalms depict God’s blessings upon the obedient, those who fear Him and walk in His ways. Ps 128:4Behold, thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the Lord. But notice that He is not describing a whole city or nation. He is describing a single person, and the blessings that God provides to him. This is how God protects and secures the city and the nation; through the blessings he provides to the individual who fears him. What does He give? He gives children…

A. Children are a Gift: Psalm 127:3Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. The NASV says children are a gift from the Lord. The words heritage (gift), and reward (fruit) in v. 3 denote a gift given irrespective of worth or labor. In God’s estimation of the family, children are an expression of his grace towards his people. There are some implications here:

1. Parents, your children were given for your enjoyment, not the other way around. Sadly, in our culture parents are convinced that they are just around to make their children happy, indulging their every whim, and allowing the children to dictate the functioning of the family. Therefore we have a generation, maybe two, who are convinced that world revolves around them, and they want everything given to them. That is not God’s design. Ironically these self-indulgent kids fail to bring any happiness to their parents.

2. Because your kids were given to you as a gift, you are the one responsible for how they turn out. Have you ever seen Charles Manson’s baby picture? Neither have I, but I bet he was cute! They all come to us in good shape. We are the ones who mess them up.

Ephesians 6:4 …fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (NASB) Do you see who is responsible here? We might be able to convince ourselves that it takes a village to raise a child today, but that is mostly due to the fact that the persons first responsible have failed, and continue to fail. God’s plan for Israel – Deut 6:5-9You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. The pronouns here are all singular – YOU teach in YOUR House to YOUR children. If we are too busy, the world, society, and even the government will raise them for us, but God’s blessings will not come.

B. Children are Arrows: Psalm 127:4-5Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 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. I see a couple of important applications in this image: Big families are a gift from God, and a source of blessing, not a curse, as it is considered today. Fill up your quiver – they will come in handy!

1. Children, as arrows to a warrior, provide no benefit if they are not well made and shot accurately at the target. They cannot be neglected and be a blessing. Somehow we are convinced that we can ignore our children through a lack of discipline and instruction and expect them to hit the target that God has designed them to hit. So Ephesians 6:4 calls on fathers to discipline and instruction for their children. The other alternative is exasperation and rebellion – like wild arrows that come back to hurt rather than protect. David’s son, Absalom, should have been David’s arrow to protect him from his enemies when he was old, but instead he became David’s enemy, and brought him nothing but sorrow. What would it be like if you closest friend were convinced that you would be happy if your son died? Eli’s son, Phinehas and Hophni, were crooked arrows who brought only sorrow to their father, because he did not restrain them (1 Sam. 3:17)

2. Children, you have a God-given responsibility , as arrows in the hand of a warrior, to protect your parents when they need defending. The Psalmist reflects upon when the father is confronted at the gates of the city by his enemies – his many sons will stand up for him. Many parents need protection from poverty, the effects of old age and sickness. They need arrows in their quiver, but their children have abandoned them. The blessings God desires to give are not there.

C. Children are Olive TreesPsalm 128:3 – Your children like olive plants All around your table. The olive tree was a valuable asset to the Palestinian family. Its fruit provided light for the house and medicine for healing. The tree was a source of help to the house. Children today are not providers, but consumers. As consumers only, they are not a blessing to the family. One of the largest target audiences for companies today is the pre-teen and teenager (clothes, food, phones, games, things). Kids consume by the billions. Children need to be taught how to serve others. This is God’s design. Do your kids see you serving others? Visit the sick, give to the needy, teach the lost, make sacrifices for the church and others?

1. All around your table – this is a valuable picture. The parents and children around the table together. The kitchen table is a vital place for the family. Do you need some cultural reasons: Dr. Anne Fishel, writing about the benefits of families eating together said, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience.” God’s reasons are better – you need to communicate with your children. They need to hear you talk about God when you sit down in your house and when you rise up (Deut 5).

2. One author suggests that the image of children as an olive tree hinged upon the manner in which the Olive Tree reproduced. As the tree grows old, new sprouts emerge around the base of the old tree, and begin to grow in its shade. They are protected there, but are destined to take the place of the old tree that no longer produces as it once did. The encouragement (blessing) of children is they are given to us to replace us. They carry on. If we fail to teach them to fear God, how will God bless us? The tree is cut off. Charles Spurgeon’s comment on this… “The good man is glad that a pious stock is likely to be continued; he rejoices in the belief that other homes as happy as his own will be established, wherein there are altars to the glory of God.”

D. Psalm 128:3 – Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine In the very heart of your house, But children are not the only way God blesses the house. The Psalmist depicts the faithful wife as a fruitful vine. What would you trade for your wife? What would take her place? What could make you as complete as the woman (spouse) who is there beside you in all things? God blesses marriages through the person he gives you to serve. Do not neglect to care for the vine that is in the very heart of your house.

Conclusion: Before we leave these powerful Psalms, consider the last words of 128 – Psalm 128:5-6The Lord bless you out of Zion, And may you see the good of Jerusalem All the days of your life. 6 Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

  • The blessings of God come from out of ZionZion (Jerusalem) is the city of God. It depicts where God lives. In the OT it was an actual city. In the NT it stands for God’s house – His people – the church. Heb 12:22-23 – “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,” There are no blessing outside of a relationship with God through Jesus. The true blessing God desire for you is to see the good of Jerusalem – to live with God and enjoy Him all the days of your life.
  • May you see the good of Jerusalem… your children’s children – The Bible describes joy in many images, but this is one of the best. To live long enough to see you grandchildren in Zion. That is a house built by God alone.