Psalms 127


The necessity of God's blessing on every undertaking, without

which no prosperity can be expected, 1, 2.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, 3, 4.

A fruitful wife is a blessing to her husband, 5.


The Hebrew, Chaldee, and Vulgate attribute this Psalm to

Solomon. The Syriac says it is "A Psalm of David concerning

Solomon; and that it was spoken also concerning Haggai and

Zechariah, who forwarded the building of the temple." The

Septuagint, AEthiopic, Arabic, and Anglo-Saxon have no title,

but simply "A Psalm of Degrees." It was most likely composed for

the building of the second temple, under Nehemiah, and by some

prophet of that time.

Verse 1. Except the Lord build the house] To build a house is

taken in three different senses in the sacred writings. 1. To

build the temple of the Lord, which was called habbeith, the

house, by way of eminence. 2. To build any ordinary house, or

place of dwelling. 3. To have a numerous offspring. In this sense

it is supposed to be spoken concerning the Egyptian midwives; that

because they feared the Lord, therefore he built them houses. See

the note on Ex 1:21. But, however, the above passage may be

interpreted, it is a fact that ben, a son, and bath, a

daughter, and beith, a house, come from the same root

banah, to build; because sons and daughters build up a

household, or constitute a family, as much and as really as stones

and timber constitute a building. Now it is true that unless the

good hand of God be upon us we cannot prosperously build a place

of worship for his name. Unless we have his blessing, a

dwelling-house cannot be comfortably erected. And if his blessing

be not on our children, the house (the family) may be built up,

but instead of its being the house of God, it will be the

synagogue of Satan. All marriages that are not under God's

blessing will be a private and public curse. This we see every


Except the Lord keep the city] When the returned Jews began to

restore the walls of Jerusalem, and rebuild the city, Sanballat,

Tobiah, and others formed plots to prevent it. Nehemiah, being

informed of this, set up proper watches and guards. The enemy,

finding this, gathered themselves together, and determined to fall

upon them at once, and cut them all off. Nehemiah, having gained

intelligence of this also, armed his people, and placed them

behind the wall. Sanballat and his company, finding that the Jews

were prepared for resistance, abandoned their project; and

Nehemiah, to prevent surprises of this kind, kept one-half of the

people always under arms, while the other half was employed in the

work. To this the psalmist alludes; and in effect says, Though you

should watch constantly, guard every place, and keep on your

armour ready to repel every attack, yet remember the success of

all depends upon the presence and blessing of God. While,

therefore, ye are not slothful in business, be fervent in spirit,

serving the Lord; for there is no success either in spiritual or

secular undertakings but in consequence of the benediction of the


Verse 2. It is vain for you to rise up early] There seems to be

here an allusion to the daily and nightly watches which Nehemiah

instituted. The people are worn out with constant labour and

watching; he therefore divided them in such a manner, that they

who had worked in the day should rest by night, and that they who

worked by night should rest in the day; and thus his beloved, a

title of the Jews, the beloved of God, got sleep, due refreshment,

and rest. As for Nehemiah and his servants, they never put off

their clothes day or night but for washing.

Verse 3. Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord] That is, To

many God gives children in place of temporal good. To many others

he gives houses, lands, and thousands of gold and silver, and with

them the womb that beareth not; and these are their inheritance.

The poor man has from God a number of children, without lands or

money; these are his inheritance; and God shows himself their

father, feeding and supporting them by a chain of miraculous

providences. Where is the poor man who would give up his six

children, with the prospect of having more, for the thousands or

millions of him who is the centre of his own existence, and has

neither root nor branch but his forlorn solitary self upon the

face of the earth? Let the fruitful family, however poor, lay this

to heart; "Children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of

the womb is his reward." And he who gave them will feed them; for

it is a fact, and the maxim formed on it has never failed,

"Wherever God sends mouths, he sends meat." "Murmur not," said an

Arab to his friend, "because thy family is large; know that it is

for their sakes that God feeds thee."

Verse 4. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man] Each child

will, in the process of time, be a defence and support to the

family, as arrows in the quiver of a skilful and strong archer;

the more he has, the more enemies he may slay, and consequently

the more redoubted shall he be.

Children of the youth.] The children of young people are always

more strong and vigorous, more healthy, and generally longer lived

than those of elderly, or comparatively elderly persons. Youth

is the time for marriage; I do not mean infancy or a comparative

childhood, in which several fools join in marriage who are

scarcely fit to leave the nursery or school. Such couples

generally disagree; they cannot bear the boyish and girlish

petulancies and caprices of each other; their own growth is

hindered, and their offspring, (if any,) have never much better

than an embryo existence. On the other hand age produces only a

dwarfish or rickety offspring, that seldom live to procreate;

and when they do, it is only to perpetuate deformity and disease.

It would be easy to assign reasons for all this; but the

interpretation of Scripture will seldom admit of physiological

details. It is enough that God has said, Children of the youth are

strong and active, like arrows in the hands of the mighty.

Verse 5. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them]

This is generally supposed to mean his house full of children, as

his quiver if full of arrows; but I submit whether it be not more

congenial to the metaphors in the text to consider it as applying

to the wife: "Happy is the man who has a breeding or fruitful

wife;" this is the gravida sagittis pharetra "the quiver pregnant

with arrows." But it may be thought the metaphor is not natural. I

think otherwise: and I know it to be in the Jewish style, and the

style of the times of the captivity, when this Psalm was written,

and we find the pudendum muliebre, or human matrix, thus

denominated, Ecclus 26:12: κατεναντιπαντοςπασσαλουκαθησεται

καιεναντιβελουςανοιξειφαρετραν. The reader may consult the

place in the Apocrypha, where he will find the verse well enough


With the enemies in the gate.] "When he shall contend with his

adversaries in the gate of the house of judgment."-Targum. The

reference is either to courts of justice, which were held at the

gates of cities, or to robbers who endeavour to force their way

into a house to spoil the inhabitants of their goods. In the first

case a man falsely accused, who has a numerous family, has as many

witnesses in his behalf as he has children. And in the second case

he is not afraid of marauders, because his house is well defended

by his active and vigorous sons. It is, I believe, to this last

that the psalmist refers.

This Psalm may be entitled, "The Soliloquy of the happy

Householder:-The poor man with a large loving family, and in

annual expectation of an increase, because his wife, under the

Divine blessing, is fruitful." All are blessed of the Lord, and

his hand is invariably upon them for good.


The Jews were at this time very busy in rebuilding their temple,

and the houses and walls of their city; and the prophet teaches

them that without the assistance of God, nothing will be blessed

or preserved, and that their children are his especial blessing

also. This the prophet shows by these words repeated, nisi, nisi,

frustra, frustra, and proves it by an induction.

I. In civil affairs, whether in house or city.

1. "Except the Lord build the house," &c. God must be the chief

builder in the family; his blessing and help must be prayed for,

for the nourishment of wife, children, servants, cattle, &c.

2. "Except the Lord keep the city," &c. And so it is in kingdoms

and commonwealths. The Jews had now a trowel in one hand, and a

sword in the other, for fear of their enemies: but the prophet

tells them that the Lord must be their protector and keeper, else

their watch, magistrates, judges, &c., would be of little value.

And this he illustrates by an elegant hypothesis of an

industrious man who strives to be rich, but looks not to God.

1. "He riseth early." He is up with the rising of the sun.

2. "He sits up late." Takes little rest.

3. "He eats the bread of sorrow." Defrauds himself of necessary

food. His mind is full of anxiety and fear: but all this without

God's blessing is vain: "It is vain for you to rise up early," &c.

On the contrary, he who loves and fears God has God's blessing:

"For so he gives his beloved sleep," in the place of fear and


II. The prophet then sets down the blessing a man possesses in

his children. In reference to their birth,

1. "Lo, children are a heritage," &c. They are alone the Lord's


2. As regarding their education: being brought up in the fear of

the Lord, they become generous spirits: "As arrows are in the hand

of a mighty man," &c. enabled to do great actions, and to defend

themselves and others.

And the benefit will redound to the father in his old age.

1. "Happy is the man that hath," &c. Of such good children.

2. "He shall not be ashamed," &c. He shall be able to defend

himself, and keep out all injuries, being fortified by his

children. And if it so happen that he has a cause pending in the

gate, to be tried before the judges, he shall have the patronage

of his children, and not suffer in his plea for want of advocates:

his sons shall stand up in a just cause for him.

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