Dear Radio Friends,
In the next three broadcasts we are going to examine Psalm 128. It describes for us a believing home and family. It is not my intention, as is so often the case when preaching on the family, to ignore the place and value of single men and women in the church. But the axiom of Psalm 68:6 is often the case in the church: “God setteth the solitary in families,” and therefore there is indeed a need to address the subject of godly homes and families.
Before explaining the various verses of this Psalm in particular, we must first examine the Psalm as a whole. We really cannot understand properly the instruction of the various verses of this Psalm without having before us the intent and purpose of the psalmist in the writing of it. It is obvious, first of all, that this Psalm is coupled with Psalm 127. Psalm 128 follows closely upon the logic of Psalm 127. In Psalm 127 the Word of God points out to us the joy found in having children. A believing man and his wife truly view children as the most precious of gifts given them in their marriage. Not only do our children carry on our name. Not only do our children stand for our defense and that of the church. But our children are a heritage of the Lord! They are God’s children, given to us for a time to raise unto the Lord. We view them as most precious because they belong to God. He gives them to us as an inheritance.
But to experience the joy found in children, there must be a proper family into which they are born. So the psalmist takes it upon himself in Psalm 128 to sing of just such a family: a man who labors, a wife who is as a vine by the sides of his house. And now back to those children, once again, they are like olive plants around a man and his wife’s table! This is what makes up a godly home and what goes on in it.
About Psalm 128 in general we must make a few observations. First, it is written to the man who is the head of the household. It is written to the husband or the father of the family. This may not seem true from verse 1 of this Psalm, where it states, “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord.” But, first of all, that term everyone can also be translated “every man.” And secondly, in the verses following we find that the man of the household is addressed. Verse 2: “For thou shalt eat the fruit of thy labor.” Verse 3: “Thy wife shall be as a vine.” Or again, in that verse: “thy children like olive plants,” and so on. In the third place, we read specifically in verse 4, “Behold that thus shall the man be blessed that fears the Lord.” So, this Psalm is written in particular to the man who is the head of his household.
The second general observation we make about this Psalm is that it is written to describe what makes a home a happy and spiritually prosperous one. The term “blessed” that is used in several of the verses of this Psalm literally means both happy and prosperous. In other words, we learn in this Psalm what makes up a functional family as opposed to a dysfunctional family. Our society likes to talk in its psychological jargon of functional and dysfunctional families. Truth be told, not many in our society truly know what makes a functional family. We will learn in this Psalm what does—and, as a result, what makes the members of that family happy.
A third observation concerning this Psalm is that the life and joy of a family revolves around the home. In our present society that seems to be a foreign concept. People buy their huge and elaborate houses but really spend very little quality time there. Jobs, recreation, and friends all seem to place a huge demand on our lives. They draw families out of the home. As a result, life in the home becomes chaotic and disorderly. Little time is left for each other. This Psalm speaks of joy revolving around the home and family.
Then, one last observation. The psalmist nowhere in this Psalm places before us a command or a demand. Our sinful flesh is not admonished here. The psalmist instead appeals to the new life in Christ that dwells in us. He appeals to the spiritual desires of a believer. He presents us with the way of wisdom. It is as if he says, “Look! Behold! You want to be happy, believing man? Do you want to be happy in your place in the church? Do you want God to bless you out of Zion? Then, here is the way! It is not hard to find! It does not take a rocket-scientist to discover it! It is simple: if only you are wise enough to follow in this way: live in your home with your family! And make that home a spiritual haven of rest, peace, and joy! Let the world pass you by! Live in your home with your wife and children, and you will find happiness.
Now we consider verses 1 and 2 of this Psalm. We read: “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.”
I. The God-Fearing Man
Here, dear friends, is the one prerequisite to a happy home environment: the members of the family fear Jehovah. And this begins with the husband and father of the home. God requires this of him, first of all. He sets the spiritual tone of his family. This Psalm is founded upon the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
Ah, yes, the fear of Jehovah. The basic meaning of this term is “to tremble.” This idea may not be removed or brushed aside from the term. Here is the idea expressed in the word “fear” as it applies now to God.
Number 1: God is in Himself all glorious. He shines forth in all His marvelous dignity. Terrible is He in His dignity! God dwells in a light of holiness and perfection unto which no man can approach without being consumed. God is arrayed in His majesty and sovereignty. In His hands He holds the deep places of the earth. All the inhabitants of the earth are less than nothing in His sight. God holds the keys of heaven and hell in His hands. He has the power, and He will exercise that power in the day of judgment, to allow into heaven and to cast into hell. Who but a fool would dare stand in the presence of a raging wave of water that would swallow him up and destroy him in a moment? Who, but a fool, would dare to stand in the presence of God without trembling?
Number 2: Consider the works and ways of this God. He sent the desolations that destroyed the land of Egypt. He sent plagues upon His own people when they walked in rebellion against Him. God makes peace and creates war. God destroyed kings and nations in His just judgment over them. Who would dare stand in His venerable and august presence and accuse Him of injustice? It is easy to be defiant against a God whom we do not see or who delays His punishment over men until after death. But accuse God to His face once, oh foolish man! Bow before God and His Son and kiss their feet lest they be angry and you perish in your way. Fearing is trembling!
But the man who fears Jehovah in this Psalm is not merely a man who knows God and trembles before such knowledge. The man of this Psalm stands before this God and worships Him. He loves this God and therefore deeply reverences Him. He clings to this God because he is assured that this God is on his side. This God loves him too. That does not change who God is, of course. He is still a God before whom we tremble. We cannot help but do that. But the man who fears Jehovah enters God’s presence with the confidence that his God will hear him when he prays and that this God will turn all things to his advantage. So he highly respects and bows in reverence before God. And he does so because this God whom he fears is Jehovah.
The name Jehovah, or Jaweh, literally means “I AM.” The one characteristic of God that stands on the foreground with this name is God’s immutability, that is, His unchangeableness. God is forever the same. He does not change His mind. He does not change His eternal purpose for all things. What is especially of significance to us is this: God does not change His mind about His people in Christ! He has chosen them from eternity to be a people unto Himself. He has in His grace sent Jesus Christ into this world to die for them. Christ accomplished the work of their salvation once and for all time at the cross. He has secured their righteousness. At the cross all of God’s people were declared righteous.
When we believe that to be true of us, then we know too that God has sent forth the Spirit of Christ to take up His abode in our hearts. The Spirit works in us the salvation that Christ has earned. All of this is an accomplished fact! And from that God will never turn! Once chosen, once saved, once having had the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we can be sure that God will never, ever, ever take that from us! Never! Why? Because God is Jehovah—the I Am! That means God will never remove from us His love and fellowship. He will never leave or forsake us in our times of need or even when we sin against Him. God is faithful. His mercies are new every morning!
For that reason, we fear God. We stand before Him in the deepest adoration and love. This God who is so high in the heavens has condescended to men of low degree and dwells with us. Wow! With reverence and godly fear we fall upon our faces before Him and in thankfulness praise Him for His faithfulness to us. In that fear we worship Him. That fear of God is a prerequisite to happiness—even in the home and family. Live outside of that fear and to that degree we begin to lose our joy.
To this the psalmist adds: “and walketh in his ways.” Blessed is the man who fears God and walks in His ways. Now, walking in God’s ways is not something different than fearing God. It is simply an outward manifestation of our fear for God. When we fear God in our hearts, then we walk in His ways in our lives. So, this is really a given here in verse 1. What is meant by God’s ways is not simply His commandments. It includes God’s commandments, of course. We are always happy when we walk in the way of God’s commandments. But the ways of God referred to here are broader than simply God’s commands. It refers to the wise instruction that we are given in God’s Word in general. There are certain prescribed ways that we need to follow in our homes and families and in our individual lives. For example, the commandments of God do not say: “You must read your Bible at least once a day.” But, certainly, reading our Bibles on such a consistent basis is a way of God in which we must follow. We are told in the Word of God: Pray without ceasing. That is a way of God. Fellowship with God’s people. That is one of the ways of God. Seek the things above and not the things below. And so the list can go on. There are many ways of God.
One who fears God walks in those ways. He plants his feet on the path of God’s Word and he determines that he is going to walk in the ways of God. He does not choose to walk the ways of this world. He does not try to blend together, to synthesize, God’s ways with the ways of this world. He lives the life of the antithesis, saying no to the ways of the wicked and yes to the ways of God.
But let us keep in mind the focus of this Psalm. The psalmist is addressing the life of the God-fearing man in the home and family. The ways, then, to which God’s Word here refers are the ways of God that will lead a man’s house in a godly and orderly way. It refers to a God-fearing man walking in his home and family in the ways of God. The husband and father of the house must walk in his home in a godly manner. If he does not, his house is not spiritually functional. It will become spiritually dysfunctional! The home and family will “derail,” so to speak, from the track or way that leads to happiness. Blessed, or happy, is the man who fears Jehovah and walks in the ways of Jehovah in his home with his wife and children. A spiritually-functional home is founded on the prerequisite that a man fears God and walks in God’s ways.
II. His Labor
Now the Psalm turns to the specific work or task of that God-fearing man in the home and family. He works. We read in verse 2, “For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.” We need to get the proper idea of this verse before us. Properly translated, this verse teaches us a profound truth about the place of a husband and father in the home. We would read this: “for when you eat the labor of your hands you will be happy and it will be good to you.” There is nothing better in establishing a happy home than when a father is content with the hard labor of his hands and with the provisions it provides for his household. Ask a person today: What is it that will make you happy? Without a lot of thought he would answer, money, or ease—vacations, pleasures, fun. Others might say: fame and fortune. John Calvin writes, “No sooner is the name of happiness pronounced, than instantly every man breaks forth into the most extravagant ideas of what is necessary to it, so insatiable a gulf is the covetousness of the heart.”
You know what? None of these things brings true happiness! You can fill your life with the pursuit of fame, money, ease, and pleasure. You can make yourself busy every day wining and dining, vacationing, attending this function or that, but these do not make a person truly happy. There is nothing more satisfying than for a man to come home to a loving wife and happy children after putting in a hard day’s labor at work. There is nothing that will bring greater joy to a God-fearing man’s heart than to know he fulfilled his calling toward God and family in the work he did again that day. It is not as if the man of the home is a sluggard. He is no slouch when it comes to work. He does not simply seek to “get by,” so that he can live in slothfulness and laziness. He works with his hands. Included in this clause of our text is, of course, mental labor as well. Many men of the church are tradesmen who labor with their hands. Others are businessmen or professionals who labor with their minds. But it does not make any difference. Satisfaction can be found in this: that at the end of the day, being dog-tired at times from the work performed, a man comes home to his family knowing that he has done what he was called to do.
His family will then eat the fruit of his labors. That father and husband labors and puts food on the table and clothes on the back of his children. He labors to put a roof over the heads of his family. And when he accomplishes this, it does not matter how much money he has left over for extras, he has reason to be satisfied. A wife and children do not require of him a mansion or all kinds of toys and vacations. They are happy with a husband and father that fears God and walks in his ways, laboring hard to provide them with the necessities of life. This will be good to you, men! This is enough to give happiness to you so long as you and your family are living in the fear of God.
Wives and children, how often do you thank God for that kind of a husband and father? How much do we take time out to thank our husbands and fathers for the hard work they do on our behalf? A man is happy when his family is happy. If wife and children are always in his face about buying them more—a wife nagging in discontent for what she has and children always complaining that their friends have this and that and they don’t—it is a slap in the face of the provider of the home. When we are content with what God has provided and praise our husbands and fathers for working hard every day, then this is his reward.
All of this is true, of course, provided the proper foundation of the family is there—provided husband, wife, and children fear God. This is the home that is described for us in this Psalm. When a man walks in God’s ways, fulfilling his calling to labor with his hands to provide for his family—then there will be happiness.
III. His Blessedness
That is what the term blessedness means—happiness. In fact it is translated in this way in verse 2. But the happiness this term refers to is not the outward, frivolous, superficial laughter that can be heard from the bar rooms and the sports arenas of our world. It is not the smile, playful banter, and joking that people assume when they are around others. It is not the fake joy portrayed in the movies of today. An outward smile, or loud raucous laughter does not mean a person is happy—neither ought we to mistake these things to mean we are happy. The happiness of the God-fearing man is truly blessedness. It is a joy and peace that is found in the heart. It is a joy that is ours even when we are sad and tears stream down our faces. It is a happiness that is stable and sure because it is rooted in the God whom we fear. It is rooted in Jehovah, the ever-faithful, ever-sure God who dwells with us and loves us.
Truly, that man who fears God and walks in His ways in his home and family, that man who labors with his hands the thing that is good—that man is happy. He is blessed. And he will find that blessedness in his home.