The Songs of Ascent, Text: Psalm 127, Title: The Covenant Family

Introduction

The pilgrims have left the place of weeping and are returning with joy, and now they contemplate the city of God where they will be rebuilding what the Babylonians have destroyed including the walls of Jerusalem and the temple. They are replacing the lost temple of Solomon. Whether this Psalm is by Solomon or for Solomon is debatable, but the message is the same in either case. The house in verse 1 is the house of God and that, of course, includes your house which is part of the church. Solomon was charged with building the temple that was forbidden to his father David. Obviously that was a physical structure, but as the temple of the Lord it pre-figured the spiritual temple which is the church. Any task we undertake requires divine aid, but this is particularly true of what we do in the kingdom of God. And so Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:5-9, What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. So let us consider the helpers of the Lord and the heritage of the Lord.

I The Helpers of the Lord

Zion needed to be rebuilt and it needed to be guarded. This was not a task that could be undertaken without God’s working. In the end the only guarantee of success is grace and mercy. Verse one reminds us as Paul reminded the Corinthians that God must build and guard, Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. Translated into our context this means that the church cannot be gathered nor can it be kept except by God’s working. It is a shame to see so many individuals rushing frantically and madly about trying to build the kingdom of God with their own efforts. They seem to be convinced that the salvation of the elect depends entirely on them. The worship of the Triune God has in many cases turned into a user friendly evangelistic service that does not edify the saints, nor does it really attract sincere inquirers. Endless invitations are given in an attempt to rush people into the kingdom when they either have not repented, or do not understand the implications of what they are doing. The lesson we learn is that man-made converts do not last. But we are so sure that everything depends on us that we do not care. The psalmist says God must build the house, or as Paul puts it, God must give the increase, The watchman of verse 1 is the prophet of the Lord, in our case the Pastor or guardian of the flock. However in many cases the flock is not guarded  by the proper teaching. In the old gospel song Jesus parable about the ninety and nine is properly interpreted. The shepherd goes out to seek the lost sheep but the ninety and nine are “safely” in the fold. Verse 2 reminds us that wearing ourselves out without prayer and dependence on God is a vain effort, In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. Many a man has worked long hours to earn enough to send his children to a college where their faith will be undermined because he did not spend enough time nurturing them in the faith. Many a pastor has labored long hours and neglected his own family to end in terrible disappointment. Let us get our priorities straight. Only God can build a family and only God can build His Church.

II The Heritage of the Lord

Verses 3-5 are a remarkable reminder of the fact that God has always loved families, Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. When God called Abraham, He chose him so that he would command his children in the way of the Lord, Genesis 18:19. Verses 3-5 are not being gender insensitive. Daughters are also the heritage of the Lord, and all children are a reward from Him. I can say this with great assurance because the Bible makes clear that all of God’s people are his heritage, or inheritance. In Jeremiah 12:7 God is speaking of coming judgment and He says, I have left my heritage. In Joel 3:2 the Lord declares, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance (heritage), my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. In Micah 7:14 the prophet calls upon God, Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance. In Jeremiah 50:11 and 12 God speaks to Babylon saying, Because you rejoice and are glad, you who pillage my inheritance, because you frolic like a heifer threshing grain and neigh like stallions, your mother will be greatly ashamed; she who gave you birth will be disgraced. She will be the least of the nations—a wilderness, a dry land, a desert. And in the New Testament we note Peter’s address to the elders in I Peter 5:2 and 3,  in the King James Version, Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;  Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. God told Abraham that He, the Lord, was his exceeding great reward, but it is equally true that all of God’s people are His reward, and His heritage. We Presbyterians believe that we are demonstrating that our children are the heritage of the Lord and belong to Him when we baptize them. In this we follow the age old model. God commanded Abraham to put the covenant sign of circumcision on his infant sons. In the New Testament era we understand that daughters are also to be marked with the covenant sign of Baptism because Jesus brought about that change and Paul says in Christ there is neither male nor female. And it is a fact that although only the men bore the sign of circumcision in the Old Testament, any fair reading of the Book shows that women were also the recipients of the covenant blessings. Children should be taught the substance of this Psalm from infancy. They are the Lord’s; they belong to Him; they are his heritage. Much of the frantic concern about the salvation of children in the later stages of their development would have been prevented by this instruction. Then we would have treasured and encouraged every little advance in their understanding and we would have avoided the confrontations that take place later when we fail to do this. The psalmist also instructs us here that the sons and daughters of Zion will carry on for the Lord. They will become the righteous defenders of the faith and of the cause of God and the truth. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate. The greatest and most important field of evangelism is your own children. God gave me my children and he claimed them for His own and I taught them that and when my wife and I stand before Christ in glory we want to be able to say we took care of our first responsibility, and we began with prayer when they were in the womb, and the  in the cradle. In the end it is God who builds the house or they labor in vain who build