Unless the LORD Builds the House

Learning from Psalm 127

The soil conditions in parts of the city where we live require builders to pay special attention to how they construct foundations. Occasionally, we hear of people who have bought new houses only to find that they have not lived in them long before their houses began to fall apart. They were disappointed. The tradesmen had laboured in vain. The builders did not have the knowledge of the proper foundation requirements, or they didn't care, or both. Building a house to last requires knowledge and caring. It requires attention to detail.

Psalm 127 tells of a builder who has the knowledge to build a house on proper foundations; He cares; He pays attention to detail. His active participation in the process of building our lives and families is absolutely essential.

Our writer begins this teaching/wisdom psalm by declaring,

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labour in vain who build it.
"Unless" is a strong word, there is no other way. If the LORD, the builder of the universe, is not involved in the construction, the labourers are working "in vain," their efforts are useless.

To an Israelite, "house" could mean his family, or a whole line of ancestors, as in the "house of David." God wants to build our families. He wants to pay attention to the details: how we talk to each other, how we spend our money, how much rest we get, how we care for the souls of our children.

When the Lord builds a house, His order of love prevails from top to bottom: in the marriage, husband and wife love and respect one another; they raise children in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4b), their spiritual and practical affairs are submitted to the Lord; their lives are an example of His grace; children, in turn, obey their parents in the Lord (Ephesians 6:1).

The psalmist continues with a parallel thought,

Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
Watchmen were strategically important to the safety of walled cities in the Ancient Near East. They did not have radar, motion detectors or satellites to warn of intruders. They depended on the vigilance of the lookouts. Again, unless the Lord is looking out for us and our civic affairs, our watchmen are staying awake for nothing. They will not protect us. When the Lord is involved in building a nation, His dominion extends to the affairs of our cities and capitals "from sea to sea" (Psalm 72:8b, the source of Canada's national motto). We need to be in prayer for those in positions of authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1-8).

The third vanity our psalmist mentions in verse two is exhausting and fretful labour:

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labours;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.
Surely North Americans can identify with this. Research indicates that many of us are sleep deprived and exhausted. All of this is vain. Notice this: the Lord "gives to His beloved even in his sleep." Some translations say that He gives us sleep, rest from futile pursuits. God is blessing us, working on our behalf, and giving to us in ways we do not even know, if He is the One in charge of building our lives. When the Lord builds a house, it is a place of rest; he has dominion over our rest and "re-creation."

If we do not yet believe that the Lord works on our behalf, the psalmist opens the second part of his wisdom song in verse three with an imperative to realize that,

"Behold, children are a gift of the LORD;
The fruit of the womb is a reward."
The Lord is the One who provides, as His heritage, the "building blocks," in fact the future of the house (the family line) when he gives us children. They are not just a bi-product of biology, they are a gift and a reward from the Builder of the universe. When the Lord builds a house, he provides blessings for the present and surety for the future.

Notice the last two verses of Psalm 127:

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
We are told that children are like arrows. Arrows are straight and swift. They provided protection for people who did not have security alarms and police forces. Arrows are held in a hollow carrier called a quiver. The one with his quiver full of arrows was ready and confident of protection. For us, though perhaps to a lesser degree on the military front, children are one assurance for comfort and care in the future. When the Lord is allowed to build a family there should be many generations to love and care for each other.

Gates in the walls of ancient cities had rooms and benches in them where people could meet to discuss current events and settle disputes. The children raised in a home where the Lord's wisdom was taught could contend with their enemies there and win. Their parents could tale delight in them. When the Lord builds a child, the parents are confident their children will live by what is right.

Do we believe that God's principles still work in the home? Certainly they will, if we follow them. If, however, we do not allow the Lord to build the houses of our lives, our own efforts will be vain: in the home, in the land and in our souls; the evidence is all around us. If we want trouble, ignore the Lord's plans and it will come. On the positive side, God's plan is to build us into His "spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:5), the church that His Son Jesus is building, the church of Christ.

Building is a process that takes time. Give God the time to work in your life. Let him put together the details. Be part of His house. When the Lord builds a house, and we cooperate with Him in that building, there is love, order, rest, and confidence in Him.

Paul Birston

September 1999©

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