Work and Family

Scripture: Psalm 127


Title: Work & Family



  • Introduction
  • Work
  • Family
  • Conclusion



This morning we are starting with a short (2 question) quiz

–         The first question is for those under 40 and the second question is for those over 40


On the wall here are the lyrics to a song

–         I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me Radio reminds me of my home far away Driving down the road I get a feeling That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday


Since this is an easy question for those who are over 40 I thought we would ask those under 40 – what is the name of this song and who wrote it?  [Wait]

–         That’s right – ‘Country Roads’ by John Denver

–         ‘Country roads, take me home to the place where I belong…’


Ok – here’s the second question – this is for those who are over 40 (if you’re under 40 then it will offer little challenge)

–         I’m on my way Driving at ninety down those country lanes Singing to “Tiny Dancer” And I miss the way you make me feel, it’s real


What’s the name of this song and who wrote it?  [Wait]

–         That’s right – ‘Castle on the hill’ by Ed Sheeran


The song Country Roads was released in 1971

–         And Castle on the Hill was released in January this year

–         Despite being written roughly 46 years apart by two different artists from different countries, both songs share the same theme

–         They are about coming home

–         There is something in us as human beings (a drive or a pull or something) which draws us home when we’ve been away for a while


This morning we continue our series on the Songs of Ascents

–         These songs were probably sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to the temple in Jerusalem – they are songs about coming home

–         In particular coming home to God


Last week we explored the meaning of psalm 125

–         Our focus today is psalm 127

–         We are missing out psalm 126 because we did that only 15 months ago and it feels too soon to repeat it

–         Anyway, psalm 127 is attributed to Solomon the philosopher king

–         From the New Revised Standard Version, we read…


Unless the Lord builds the house,     those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city,     the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early     and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil;     for he gives sleep to his beloved.


Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,     the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior     are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has     his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame     when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this song for us


Broadly speaking, psalm 127 deals with two of the biggies in this life:

–         Work and family

–         Verses 1-2 deal with work and verses 3-5 with family

–         Work & family are typically the two human endeavours that occupy most of our time & tend to be what most people look to for meaning in this life

–         Let’s start with work in verses 1 & 2



Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk (a Christian) was the one who came up with the now famous line…


“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”


Thomas Merton (an American) was born in 1915 and entered the monastery in 1941, just days before Pearl Harbour was bombed

–         Although Merton was looking forward to a life of obscurity, silence and contemplation his first book, ‘The seven story mountain’ (published in 1948) was (ironically) a huge success

–         At a time when the pursuit of materialism was on the rise in Western culture, Merton’s message was:

–         There’s more to life than a house in the suburbs and a new car


In a nutshell this is what king Solomon was getting at in the opening verses of psalm 127, when he wrote…


Unless the Lord builds the house,     those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city,     the guard keeps watch in vain.


The house in view here could be a physical building or it could be a household, as in an extended family

–         The city reminds us of the wider community (or society) of which each house (or household) is a part

–         Perhaps Solomon (the author of this psalm) had in mind the house of the Lord or the temple in Jerusalem, which God used him to build


‘Building’ is about creating and ‘guarding’ is about conserving [1]

–         If the Lord isn’t involved in these endeavours then what’s the point?

–         Without God anything we do is like building a house of cards or setting up a row of dominoes or leaning our ladder against the wrong wall

–         Unless our projects are embedded in the purpose of God they are doomed to failure and frustration


At a deeper level verses 1 & 2 bring into focus the two attitudes we can have toward God: dependence or independence


To depend on God is to remain connected to him

–         To abide in him, rely on him and allow him to be the boss

–         Take our lead from him, allow him to govern our lives


To seek independence from God is to separate ourselves from the Lord

–         To try and survive apart from God, rely on ourselves and be our own boss, to govern ourselves (that’s independence)


When we choose independence from God we cut ourselves off from the source of life and meaning


To choose independence from God is like a fish choosing to be independent of water – the fish will surely die

–         To choose independence from God is like a doctor trying to practice medicine without science

–         Or a preacher trying to write a sermon without the Bible

–         Or a bank trying to trade without money

–         Or a glacier trying to survive apart from a mountain

–         Or a pen trying to write a book without the author

–         Or a branch trying to be fruitful while cut off from the tree

–         Just as a doctor depends on science and a preacher depends on the Bible and a bank depends on money and a glacier depends on the mountain and a pen depends on the writer, and a branch depends on the tree, so too human beings depend on God

–         God is the ground of our being

–         God gives our lives meaning and purpose


Building a house without the Lord is like the hammer saying to the carpenter…

–         “I don’t need you. I can build this house myself”

–         That’s ridiculous – the hammer can’t do anything by itself

–         The hammer can only fulfil its purpose in the hand of the carpenter

–         The hammer gets its meaning from the carpenter


Likewise, keeping watch over the city without the Lord is like the binoculars saying to the eyes of the watchman…

–         “I don’t need you. I can see very well myself”

–         A pair of binoculars can’t do anything by itself

–         It is the eyes of the watchman which fulfil the purpose of the binoculars

–         The binoculars get their meaning from the eyes, not the other way around


The classic Biblical story of humanity leaning the ladder against the wrong wall (or building without God) is the story of the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11 [2]

–         This happens after Noah and the flood when the peoples of the world said, “Let’s build a city with a tower that reaches to the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves”

–         When God came down to see the city and the tower that they were building, independently of him, he mixed up their language so they couldn’t understand each other

–         Then the building stopped and the people were scattered

–         The city was called Babylon

–         They did make a name for themselves but it wasn’t a name anyone would want to be known by


The story of the tower of Babel highlights the futility of working independently from God


Independence from God is the very definition of Sin (with a capital ‘S’)

–         It is Sin at its most fundamental level

–         Independence from God is what leads us to do bad things like, lying and stealing and adultery and murder and so on


Jesus came to save us from Sin and death

–         That doesn’t just mean that Jesus came to absolve our guilt, as important as that is

–         It means that Jesus came to restore a right relationship between us & God

–         He came so that we might learn to depend on God once more and fulfil our purpose in life


If we are the pen then Jesus puts us back into the hand of God (the author) so that our lives have meaning and purpose again

–         If we are the glacier then Jesus restores us to the mountain of God

–         Or if we are the doctor trying practice medicine without science then Jesus reminds us of the principles of God who invented chemistry


In verse 2 Solomon gets personal and addresses his audience directly saying…


It is in vain that you rise up early     and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil;     for he gives sleep to his beloved.


“The bread of anxious toil” is about hard labour driven by fear

–         Verse 2 speaks of burning the candle at both ends just to keep the wolf from the door

–         This is not a criticism of working – work is good and we need to work

–         This is a criticism of working independently from God


Solomon is addressing those who exclude God from the equation

–         Those who work anxiously like this may have bread to show for it – they may have full stomachs – but they don’t have rest


I’m not sure how well received his message would have been – especially given that Solomon lived a life of privilege and luxury

–         What would a king know about hunger – all he had to do to feed himself was raise taxes

–         Nevertheless there is a certain wisdom in Solomon’s words

–         Jesus (who did not live a life of privilege or luxury) preached about the futility of worry and anxious toil in Matthew 6 where he says…


25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…

27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…

33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


Jesus is not saying you don’t need to work to support yourself – we still need to do our part

–         He is simply preaching dependence on God in contrast to the futility of depending on ourselves


Perhaps the application for us with our busy, pressured, tech heavy lives is…

–         ‘Don’t forget the Lord. Don’t work too hard. Get some work / life balance. Make sure you get the rest you need and enjoy your family’


Returning to psalm 127 – the big picture is work and family

–         Verses 1-2 deal with work and verses 3-5 with family



Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,     the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior     are the sons of one’s youth.


In these 2 verses Solomon gives us three images of children

–         He says sons are a heritage

–         The fruit of the womb (or children generally) are a reward

–         And sons are like arrows

–         Heritage, reward and arrows – they are Solomon’s 3 images of children


We may have heard these verses so often that their meaning is lost on us

–         Actually Solomon’s 3 images of children turn our thinking upside down


A ‘heritage’ is something that has been handed down from the past

–         It might be a wise tradition or a piece of land or a family heirloom

–         Another word for heritage is inheritance [3]

–         Whatever form it might take ‘heritage’ is an asset which is gifted to us

–         It is something we don’t do anything to earn and yet it benefits us


Now we wouldn’t normally think of children as an inheritance – we wouldn’t think of them being handed down to us from the past

–         In fact we would be more inclined to think of children as the future with ourselves being a heritage to our children

–         We think of our kids as beneficiaries of the estate

–         Whereas Solomon is saying, ‘No, no. Children aren’t the beneficiaries of the estate – they are the estate’

–         Parents are the beneficiaries, God is the giver of the inheritance and children are the assets

–         That flips our thinking on its head


Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying

–         It’s not that children are the property of parents

–         Children are not to be treated like chattels

–         Rather it is that children are a valuable gift from God


If your parents leave you a watch or a ring in their will then you treasure that inheritance – you value it, you take care of it because of who gave it to you

–         It’s similar with children

–         When a child is born the parents are inheriting a gift from God – a gift far more valuable than a watch or a ring

–         Therefore parents have a responsibility to take care of God’s precious gift to the best of their ability


Given our track record for child abuse in the modern world we would do well to think of children as an inheritance from God


The second image Solomon uses is that of ‘reward’

–         Children (boys and girls) are a reward

–         Not a reward in the sense of a prize for good behaviour

–         But a reward in the sense of a payment, like income [4]


Again this flips our idea of children on its head

–         We tend to think of children as expensive – they cost money right?

–         But Solomon is saying – No, no. Children are a payment from God, like wages or dividends, except you don’t do anything to earn them


In ancient Israel children were your superannuation scheme

–         Children were expected (when they grew up) to provide for their elderly parents – so there was a sense in which it was literally true to say children are a reward or a payment


But we need to be careful not to apply a mercenary attitude to this image of reward

–         The point isn’t so much that children can provide parents with an income stream when they are old

–         The point is rather that children give us something far more valuable than money

–         With the presence of children we often have joy and a sense of hope

–         Children soften us – they remind us what it is to be human

–         In fact Jesus pointed to children as an example of how we enter the kingdom of God because children teach us how to depend on God


The third image Solomon uses to is that of an ‘arrow’

–         Sons are like arrows in the hand of a warrior


We need to be careful not to press this image too far

–         Sons are not like arrows in every sense

–         Sons are not to be literally used as ammunition for killing your enemies

–         Rather, ‘arrows’ are a symbol of strength

–         A quiver full of arrows keeps your enemies honest without you needing to shoot a single one

–         People won’t try to cross you if they see you are well armed


The city gate was the place where people gathered to settle disputes

–         If a man turned up to settle a dispute accompanied by 4 or 5 strapping boys, the adversary would think twice about taking advantage


Arrows are also something that require certain skill to guide.

–        Parenting (guiding children) requires skill.


The point is, children are not a liability – they are an inheritance

–         Children are not an expense – they are a reward

–         And children are not a weakness – they are a strength


Earlier in the sermon I made reference to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, saying it illustrated the debacle of building without God

–         Later in that same chapter we read how God quietly and unobtrusively builds a house with the birth of Abram to Terah [5]

–         Abraham didn’t start out perfect but, by God’s grace, he certainly became an inheritance, a reward and a blessing to the whole world


Now, at this point, I need to address two groups of people:


Firstly, to those of you who are parents

–         Often it can feel like children are hard work

–         When you are pacing the floor with a grizzly baby at 2 in the morning

–         Or waiting up till after midnight for a teenager to come home

–         Then children don’t feel like a reward or a strength


I like the reality check that Derek Kidner brings to these verses when he says…


“It is not untypical of God’s gifts that first they [appear as] liabilities, or at least responsibilities, before they become obvious assets. The greater their promise the more likely that these sons will be a handful before they are a quiverful.”    [6]


The message seems to be…

–         Parenting is hard – but ‘hang in there’

–         Children are a work in progress

–         Stay positive, keep loving them and be present for them

–         Their worth will be proved in the end


The other group I need to address this morning are those who don’t (or can’t) have children

–         It’s possible these verses touch a raw nerve for you, or perhaps they don’t

–         Either way let me say, there is more than one way of being a parent

–         Parenthood isn’t just a biological thing – it can be a spiritual thing too

–         The apostle Paul, so far as we know, didn’t have physical children of his own but in a different sense he was a father to many – including Timothy

–         As a community of faith we all have a responsibility to care for the children among us



Psalm 127 deals with two of the main occupations of humankind – work and family

–         Solomon reminds us that for work and family to have meaning (or to be fruitful) we need to depend on God


As I finish now let me ask the question:

–         What wall is your ladder leaning against?


Let us pray…

[1] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, page 477.

[2] Credit to Derek Kidner for helping me see this connection, Psalms 73-150, page 477.

[3] Refer Josh Moody in his book, ‘Journey to Joy’, page 93.

[4] The Hebrew word used for ‘reward’ here “…is the same word that Jonah uses when he pays to hire a boat (Jonah 1:3)” – refer Josh Moody, ‘Journey to Joy’, page 93.

[5] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, page 477.

[6] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, page 478.