Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 10 2019 - Psalm 127 – Unless the Lord builds the house

We have been reading about the attempts by the returning exiles to reconstruct the temple in Jerusalem. Against that background, what psalm could be more suitable for us this morning than Psalm 127 with its opening assertion:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
    the builders labour in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

The psalm is ascribed to Solomon and we can readily see how it might have been composed for the situation he found himself in as he succeeded his father David as king over Israel. There was so much to be done. There was the temple to be built, concerning which his father had left him instructions and had set aside building materials. There was the city of Jerusalem which David had captured from the Jebusites and made the capital city of the kingdom and, symbolically, the city where God dwelt in the midst of his people. How could this city be kept safe from capture by hostile nations? Then there was the matter of the succession. David had several wives and many children, but this had not always proved a blessing. Absalom had killed his half-brother Amnon for raping his sister Tamar. Later there had been arguments about which of David's sons would succeed him as king which led to Solomon ordering the death of his half-brother Adonijah. Royal children could prove a problem. How was Solomon going to cope with all these many responsibilities? They threatened to drive him to distraction and to get nothing accomplished. They threatened to rob him of sleep and fill his mind with worries.

The Lord appeared to the newly anointed king in a dream and said to Solomon, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you" (1 Kings 3:5). Is it any wonder that he responded:

Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? (3:7-9)

Solomon knows that he cannot take on the work of being king over God's people in his own strength and by his own efforts. He needs help. He needs the Lord to help him, to guide him by his Spirit and to give him the wisdom he needs for doing the work to which God has called him.

This psalm expresses Solomon's testimony. The Lord's help is needed in building the house of the Lord and establishing his kingdom among his people. Without God's help nothing will be accomplished – the efforts of the workmen will be in vain. The city requires guards on the walls but again, this is not enough. The Lord must be their help, he must safeguard his city. Knowing that God is with you, enabling you to do what he has asked of you, means you can lay down at night and enjoy restful sleep in the knowledge that the God who neither slumbers nor sleeps loves you and watches over you. And, knowing that God is with you in the ordinary but delightful affairs of daily family life makes you aware that children are precious gifts from him, not problems to be managed. 

You may have sometimes heard a preacher say concerning the Christian life that one needs to "let go and let God". That was not the view of Solomon, nor should it be our view. God does not require us to switch our lives into remote control: he calls us to be responsible, passionate and energetic in the work to which he has called us, while always acknowledging our utter dependence upon him. Jesus also calls us to prayerful dependency knowing that without him we can do nothing but that we can do all things as he gives us wisdom and strength.

Lord, teach us the lessons of this psalm and give us the humble and prayerful spirit of the young Solomon. Keep us from the wilfulness, self-aggrandisement and idolatry that so marred his later life. May our labour, performed by the direction and power of your Spirit, never be in vain.

Peter Misselbrook