For our worship preparation this Lord’s Day we turn together to our next “song of ascent”, Psalm 127. This one is attributed to Solomon, the wise king of Israel, and along with Psalm 128 contains wise counsel for godly families in the midst of the church.
We are accustomed to treating these psalms simply as God’s Word on the covenant family, and they certainly do have much to say about the look and life of a believing home. Yet we must not isolate these psalms from their context or from their original purpose, which was that they be sung as the pilgrim people of God made their way to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Keeping this in mind, we will see that at the heart of the church is the covenant family, God-fearing parents with their covenant children. And so, when the covenant community of the church comes together to worship, at the heart of that community are the communities of worshiping families.
Which is why we do not believe that the children of the church ought to be taken out of the worship service, no matter how young and small. They must be kept with their families and preserved within the broader fellowship of the church. They must worship and serve the Lord with all the other covenant church members, for they belong to God’s church and covenant by His covenant grace.
Now, picturing the covenant families of the OT travelling together to go up to Jerusalem for worship, hear them singing this song of ascent together:
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.
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 reward.
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.
When covenant families are preparing for worship in the Lord’s house, it is good for them to remember the vanity and futility of building their home without the Lord. If we believe that God is our sovereign Savior and Lord, that He is the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God (the great, unchanging “I am” – Jehovah – notice the name used here.) , that our children are His gift and blessing, then it is vain to construct our homes spiritually without Him. Yes, the Lord is pleased to use us as parents to build a covenant home. Yes, we are laborers together with the Lord. Yes, we must be faithful and diligent builders of a godly home and trainers of our covenant children. But HE builds it; He blesses it; He makes our efforts useful and profitable. Without Him and without dependence on Him our work is all for naught.
And to remind ourselves of this we ought to sing Psalm 127, even as we are going up to the Lord’s house! For we are going to stand in His presence and worship Him, and shall we boast of our labors, of the work of our hearts and hands, of our successes with our covenant homes? Or shall we say, “Unless the Lord is building my house, we labor in vain”?! “These children whom we have taken with us for worship are the Lord’s heritage and His reward. We will bless the Lord alone together! We will teach them to praise God alone for all our covenant blessings!”
And we can extend that principle to the building and defense of the church too. It is the Lord and the Lord alone Who builds His church (Matt.16:18; 1 Cor.3:5-11). Not pastors, not elders, not deacons, not covenant families or individual church members. God lays her foundation (Jesus Christ! Eph.2:20-22); God makes the stones and set them where He wills (1 Pet.2:5-6); God establishes and constructs His Zion and His Jerusalem! She is His building, His house, His temple.
And He alone guards and defends her too! Note how v.1 speaks to this too. Yes, the city of God has watchmen, and they must maintain their post and guard the Lord’s citizens against spiritual harm. Especially pastors, professors of theology, elders, and deacons are given this charge. But if they are trying to do this without the Lord of the city and without dependence on the great Gate-Keeper, they are watching and guarding in vain!
Which means that they must be godly men of prayer. But also, that we who are being protected by the Lord through them must pray for them, in humble dependence on the Lord of the church. Are we? Already this morning? Shall we do that right now as we prepare?
If you wish to reflect on Psalm 127 through the music of our Psalter, we point you to this special versification of it. The lyrics are also posted here, but you will find the piano accompaniment (media file) at the link provided.
1. Unless the Lord the house shall build,
The weary builders toil in vain;
Unless the Lord the city shield,
The guards a useless watch maintain.
2. In vain you rise ere morning break,
And late your nightly vigils keep,
And of the bread of toil partake;
God gives to His beloved sleep.
3. Lo, children are a great reward,
A gift from God in very truth;
With arrows is his quiver stored
Who joys in children of his youth.
4. And blest the man whose age is cheered
By stalwart sons and daughters fair;
No enemies by him are feared,
No lack of love, no want of care.