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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 127


psa 127:0

Everything Depends upon the Blessing of God

(Note: An Gottes Segen ist alles gelegen.)

The inscribed לשׁלמה is only added to this Song of degrees because there was found in Psa 127:2 not only an allusion to the name Jedidiah, which Solomon received from Nathan (Sa2 12:25), but also to his being endowed with wisdom and riches in the dream at Gibeon (Kg1 3:5.). And to these is still to be added the Proverbs-like form of the Psalm; for, like the proverb-song, the extended form of the Mashal, it consists of a double string of proverbs, the expression of which reminds one in many ways of the Book of Proverbs (עצבים in Psa 127:2, toilsome efforts, as in Pro 5:10; מאחרי, as in Pro 23:30; בּני הנּעוּרים in Psa 127:4, sons begotten in one's youth; בּשּׁער in Psa 127:5, as in Pro 22:22; Pro 24:7), and which together are like the unfolding of the proverb, Pro 10:22 : The blessing of Jahve, it maketh rich, and labour addeth nothing beside it. Even Theodoret observes, on the natural assumption that Psa 127:1 points to the building of the Temple, how much better the Psalm suits the time of Zerubbabel and Joshua, when the building of the Temple was imperilled by the hostile neighbouring peoples; and in connection with the relatively small number of those who had returned home out of the Exile, a numerous family, and more especially many sons, must have seemed to be a doubly and threefoldly precious blessing from God.

Psalms 127:1

psa 127:1

The poet proves that everything depends upon the blessing of God from examples taken from the God-ordained life of the family and of the state. The rearing of the house which affords us protection, and the stability of the city in which we securely and peaceably dwell, the acquisition of possessions that maintain and adorn life, the begetting and rearing of sons that may contribute substantial support to the father as he grows old - all these are things which depend upon the blessing of God without natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labours to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance. Many a man builds himself a house, but he is not able to carry out the building of it, or he dies before he is able to take possession of it, or the building fails through unforeseen misfortunes, or, if it succeeds, becomes a prey to violent destruction: if God Himself do not build it, they labour thereon (עמל בּ, Jon 4:10; Ecc 2:21) in vain who build it. Many a city is well-ordered, and seems to be secured by wise precautions against every misfortune, against fire and sudden attack; but if God Himself do not guard it, it is in vain that those to whom its protection is entrusted give themselves no sleep and perform (שׁקד, a word that has only come into frequent use since the literature of the Salomonic age) the duties of their office with the utmost devotion. The perfect in the apodosis affirms what has been done on the part of man to be ineffectual if the former is not done on God's part; cf. Num 32:23. Many rise up early in order to get to their work, and delay the sitting down as along as possible; i.e., not: the lying down (Hupfeld), for that is שׁכב, not ישׁב; but to take a seat in order to rest a little, and, as what follows shows, to eat (Hitzig). קוּם and שׁבת stand opposed to one another: the latter cannot therefore mean to remain sitting at one's work, in favour of which Isa 5:11 (where בּבּקר and בּנּשׁף form an antithesis) cannot be properly compared. Sa1 20:24 shows that prior to the incursion of the Grecian custom they did not take their meals lying or reclining (ἀνα- or κατακείμενος), but sitting. It is vain for you - the poet exclaims to them - it will not after all bring hat you think to be able to acquire; in so doing you eat only the bread of sorrow, i.e., bread that is procured with toil and trouble (cf. Gen 3:17, בּעצּבון): כּן, in like manner, i.e., the same as you are able to procure only by toilsome and anxious efforts, God gives to His beloved (Psa 60:7; Deu 33:12) שׁנא (= שׁנה), in sleep (an adverbial accusative like לילה בּּקר, ערב), i.e., without restless self-activity, in a state of self-forgetful renunciation, and modest, calm surrender to Him: "God bestows His gifts during the night," says a German proverb, and a Greek proverb even says: εὕδοντι κύρτος αἱρεῖ. Bttcher takes כּן in the sense of "so = without anything further;" and כן certainly has this meaning sometimes (vid., introduction to Psa 110:1-7), but not in this passage, where, as referring back, it stands at the head of the clause, and where what this mimic כן would import lies in the word שׁנא.

Psalms 127:3

psa 127:3

With הנּה it goes on to refer to a specially striking example in support of the maxim that everything depends upon God's blessing. פּרי הבּטן (Gen 30:2; Deu 7:13) beside בּנים also admits of the including of daughters. It is with בּנים (recalling Gen 30:18) just as with נהלת. Just as the latter in this passage denotes an inheritance not according to hereditary right, but in accordance with the free-will of the giver, so the former denotes not a reward that is paid out as in duty bound, but a recompense that is bestowed according to one's free judgment, and in fact looked for in accordance with a promise given, but cannot by any means be demanded. Sons are a blessed gift from above. They are - especially when they are the offspring of a youthful marriage (opp. בּן־זקנים, Gen 37:3; Gen 44:20), and accordingly themselves strong and hearty (Gen 49:3), and at the time that the father is growing old are in the bloom of their years - like arrows in the hand of a warrior. This is a comparison which the circumstances of his time made natural to the poet, in which the sword was carried side by side with the trowel, and the work of national restoration had to be defended step by step against open enemies, envious neighbours, and false brethren. It was not sufficient then to have arrows in the quiver; one was obligated to have them not merely at hand, but in the hand (בּיד), in order to be able to discharge them and defend one's self. What a treasure, in such a time when it was needful to be constantly ready for fighting, defensive or offensive, was that which youthful sons afforded to the elderly father and weaker members of the family! Happy is the man - the poet exclaims - who has his quiver, i.e., his house, full of such arrows, in order to be able to deal out to the enemies as many arrows as may be needed. The father and such a host of sons surrounding him (this is the complex notion of the subject) form a phalanx not to be broken through. If they have to speak with enemies in the gate - i.e., candidly to upbraid them with their wrong, or to ward off their unjust accusation - they shall not be ashamed, i.e., not be overawed, disheartened, or disarmed. Gesenius in his Thesaurus, as Ibn-Jachja has already done, takes דּבּר here in the signification "to destroy;" but in Gen 34:13 this Piel signifies to deal behind one's back (deceitfully), and in Ch2 22:10 to get rid of by assassination. This shade of the notion, which proceeds from Arab. dbr, pone esse (vid., Psa 18:48; Psa 28:2), does not suit the passage before us, and the expression לא־יבשׁוּ is favourable to the idea of the gate as being the forum, which arises from taking ידברו in its ordinary signification. Unjust judges, malicious accusers, and false witnesses retire shy and faint-hearted before a family so capable of defending itself. We read the opposite of this in Job 5:4 of sons upon whom the curse of their fathers rests.

Next: Psalms Chapter 128