Psalm 127: Unless the Lord Builds the House
The culture in which we live is diametrically opposed to the idea of the family as set forth in Psalm 127. Here, the Psalmist refers to a household, composed of a father and mother who married early and are blessed by an abundance of children, as a direct and wonderful blessing from God.
It is, in fact, good for Christians to get married and have many children while young. It is an evil sign of modernity that family life is put off so long. Contra the opinions of secularism, children are not a burden but a blessing. Christians ought to desire a household full of offspring. After all, a household full of children is far greater and grander than a life without, no matter how Instagramable it may appear to onlookers. While it is true that, occasionally, God does not permit Christians to have children of their own, it is no less a good thing for young Christians to get married, have children, and strive toward filling a Christian household with godly, covenant children.
Of course, all such things are impossible apart from God. Building a house, like building a church, cannot be blessed if God is not laboring in the work himself. Solomon, whose inscription this Psalm bears, was a man who understood this well. His father, King David, had long desired to build a Temple for God to inhabit in a special way upon the earth. But God did not permit David to build such a House. The right to build went instead to his son, Solomon, and Solomon knew that the Lord’s blessing was essential to building both his own home and palace, and the Temple of the Lord.
Thus, verse 1 begins with the warning that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” While there are two ideas here, they are closely related. Just as it is essential for the Lord to build a house or the laboring is done in vain, so too must the Lord defend and protect a city, or the watchmen watches in vain. In other words, if the Lord does not build the house, it will crumble regardless of the materials used and craftsmanship employed. Likewise, if God does not defend a city, it will be invaded and will fall regardless of how careful and attentive the watchmen are at their posts.
There is an important lesson here for young Christians and churches alike: We must depend on God for absolutely everything and must, to the best of our abilities, seek his will to be accomplished and not our own. Therefore, men and women ought to seek godly spouses, that they be not unequally yoked to another (2 Cor. 6:14). The ministers considering a church plant, likewise, must seek God’s will, or a church will quickly perish rather than flourish.
Yes, the Psalmist makes certain that all know laboring outside the will of God is the most foolish thing a man can do. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (vs. 2). W.S. Plumer notes of this verse that, “God does not require us to kill ourselves, or fret ourselves to death, but only to use lawful industry, and then with quiet confidence in his providence to lie down and sleep. The divine blessing and not our foresight secures success.” The one who trusts in the Lord to care for him can labor joyfully and rest well, knowing that God cares for him and the needs of his household.
In fact, such a one who trusts in the Lord in this way will often be met with an even greater blessing still: Children as a heritage and reward. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (vs. 3). Again, it must be noted that children are not to be considered a burden that keep their parents from accomplishing their dreams and goals, nor should a parent see their children as leeches who only take from their resources, time, and energy. What a horrible way to view such wonderful blessings!
Children are a blessing from the Lord. They are a gift. The time spent raising and rearing little boys and girls into godly men and women is eternally worthwhile, for each babe born possesses an immortal soul. Every child saved by Christ, brought into church membership, taught to memorize Scripture, and taught to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs will live eternally in the presence of their God unto the glory of God.
But the rewards are not merely experienced in eternity. Children, as a heritage, are enjoyed upon the earth. They bring happiness and joy to their parents now. The Psalmist says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (vs. 4-5).
The man with a quiver full of arrows has no fear of missing the mark. His enemies know they have no chance of catching him unaware or even getting close to him because there’s always another arrow to fire. So too does the father and mother with a plethora of children know they will not be put to shame. Their children are a blessed heritage who will provide strength for them in old age, stand beside them in the meeting places of this world, and carry on the faith delivered to them.
The one who trusts in the Lord will, like the Psalmist, know the joys of fruitful labor and the delight of sweet rest. They will, Lord willing, know the rich blessing and heritage of an abundance of children, far greater than all other material blessings this earth has to offer. Such are the blessings when the Lord builds the house.
Jacob Tanner is pastor of Christ Keystone Church, a Reformed Baptist church plant in Central Pennsylvania. He lives with his wife and two sons and is the author of the upcoming Union with Christ: The Joy of the Christian’s Assurance in the Doctrines of Grace.
 W.S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975), 1115.