If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to open them with me to Psalm 128 and as you do, glance up to Psalm 127, the last of the psalms of ascents that we were in, in this study of the fifth book of the Psalms. And you’ll notice especially from verses 3 to 5 themes there that reappear here in Psalm 128. We’re reminded that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gates.” There's a picture there in this psalm, 127, which is about God's gracious provision of His people in all that they need. There's a picture, an ideal picture, of the fruitfulness and the blessing that the Lord gives a man in his home and that picture is going to be picked up again in the psalm that we're studying tonight, especially in verses 2 and 3. And it's going to be reiterated with some new scenes, with some new illustrations, of the way the Lord's blessing works.
Psalm 127 is about how everything throughout the whole course of our life depends upon God's provision of it, God's grace to us. We’re always dependent upon Him and everything that we have comes from His gracious, generous, good hand. This psalm reminds us that the place in which we enjoy those blessings is in the fear of God, in walking with God. Here's how Calvin describes it. “In the previous psalm it was stated that prosperity in all human affairs and in the whole course of life is to be hoped for exclusively from the grace of God.” And one of the ways that we said that, looking at Psalm 122, or Psalm 127, as Solomon recounted labor and children and marriage as spheres of reception of blessing from God, we simply recounted how Solomon made a mess of that and it reminds us that those blessings are blessings that come by the grace of God. And then Calvin goes on to say, “And now the prophet admonishes us that those who desire to be partakers of the blessing of God must with sincerity of heart devote themselves wholly to Him.” So Psalm 127 reminds us of the source of all blessing and reminds us of our total dependence upon God for the enjoyment of those blessings while Psalm 128 reminds us where it is that we experience those true blessings. Where is it that we have a taste in this world of that true blessedness? And the psalm answers, “In the fear of the Lord.” That's the location in which we enjoy true blessedness.
And in this psalm, as you look at Psalm 128, the psalmist speaks again of an idealized picture of the enjoyment of God's blessing in at least four areas — in our work, in our marriage, with our children, and in the church. So be on the lookout for those things as we read this passage together tonight. Before we do, let's go to the Lord and ask for His help and blessing.
Our heavenly Father, we come to You at the end of Your day asking once again that You would feed us from the Word. Our hearts are so wayward, Lord, that we are ever tempted to find the location of our true satisfaction, our true happiness, our true blessedness away from You and away from the places that You tell us to expect the true happiness and the true joy and the true satisfaction that You intend for Your people. Correct those wandering desires in us even as we read Your Word tonight. We ask, O God, that You would root out worldly desires in us which value trivial things more than the God we love and the rich provision that You give. And point us, O God, in all of this to the cross of Christ and to the great expense that You Yourself have borne so that we might know true blessedness. All these things we ask in Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word. Hear it, in Psalm 128:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS.
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truths upon all our hearts.
The scene here, I think, is not difficult to imagine. The pilgrims have made their way to Jerusalem, the great worship service is underway, and in the midst of that worship service they get a little homily from the priest who is waiting there to serve them as they begin the process of offering the sacrifices. That homily comes in verses 1 to 4. And then comes a benediction, a prayer of blessing on the pilgrims. “The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!” It's another picture of how Israel comes to Jerusalem to bless the Lord but goes away with a blessing from the Lord. By the way, that's the meaning of the language that I quote from a later psalm that we’ll get to in the ascent psalms on Lord's Day Evenings. “May the LORD bless you from Zion!” You come among the people of God to do what? To bless His name. But before you even get a chance to bless His name on the Lord's Day Evening, a blessing is pronounced on you. And this is what's happening in Jerusalem as the children of Israel have come up to worship God. Before they can even offer their sacrifices the priests are giving them the Lord's blessing.
Well I want to look at this psalm tonight not in the two parts of homily and blessing that I've just indicated to you in verses 1 to 4 and 5 to 6 but in three parts. I want to look at what this psalm teaches us about the fear of the Lord; I want to see what this psalm teaches us about the relationship between happiness and the fear of the Lord. That's the first thing that I want to do. Then, I want us to see how the psalm tells us that the fear of the Lord is expressed in our lives. That's the second thing. And then finally I want us to look at the four pictures of the blessing that comes in the fear of the Lord that are given to us in this psalm — in work, wife, children, and church. So I want to do those three things. I want to look at the relationship between true blessedness and the fear of the Lord, how the fear of the Lord is expressed in all of life, and the blessings of God for those who fear the Lord as they are pictured in work, wife, children, and church.
HAPPINESS IS FOUND IN THE FEAR OF THE LORD
Let's begin with verse 1 and see what we learn here about the connection between blessedness and the fear of the Lord. The psalm begins, “Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD.” The psalmist is telling us right at the very beginning something that the world and the flesh and the devil all deny. The psalmist is telling us that the place to experience true happiness, the home address of true joy, the place where we find ultimate satisfaction is in the fear of the Lord. Happiness is found in the fear of the Lord. True joy is found in the fear of the Lord. Now the world and the flesh and the devil mock that idea constantly. The world finds satisfaction not in piety, not in the worship of God, not in the reverence of God, not in walking according to His commandments, not walking closely with Him on the way, but in doing what we want to do, following after our own desires, seeking the fulfillment of our own pleasures. The world says that's where the action is and when the world says that it is simply echoing something that was said in the Garden.
By the way, this psalm has clear allusions to the Garden. You see them in the three blessings that we're going to talk about in a few moments — work, wife, children. Rule — work the land. Here is Eve — God gives her in marriage. Be fruitful and multiply — children. This psalm is deliberately taking us back to the Garden and we see that in the battle to understand the blessedness of the fear of the Lord in the very first verses. Because in Genesis 3 what did the serpent say to Eve and to Adam? “If you want to be like God, disobey, disobey God. Take of the fruit of the tree of which He commanded you not to eat.” And what did the serpent say? “You will be like God. You will find true blessedness. You will know true fulfillment. You will have true satisfaction. You will find true happiness. You’ll be free. You’ll be doing what you want to do. You’ll have everything that you've always wanted to have and you will be like God.” That is the temptation of Genesis 3 from the serpent to Eve and to Adam. What is the serpent doing? He is deliberately separating holiness and happiness and he is saying those two things are incompatible. “You will not be happy, you will not be like God as long as you obey, as long as you are holy. You’re going to have to separate those things in order to experience true happiness.”
And what is the psalmist doing? He's putting those right back together and he's saying, “Wrong, Satan. The place in which true happiness is actually enjoyed is in the fear of the Lord.” He is responding to the world and the flesh and the devil and he is saying, “No, holiness is the sphere in which the happiness that God intends for every one of His children in enjoyed.” To this day, pagans think they are the ones that live the life, they are the ones who have the joy, they are the ones who experience the satisfaction by going their own way and the psalmist is challenging that. He's saying, “No, blessedness, deep happiness, true joy belongs to those who fear the Lord.”
Billy Joel released an album in 1977 called “The Stranger” that produced many No.1 hits and one of the songs on that album was a song called, “Only the Good Die Young,” and it had in it the immortal line: “I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints; the sinners are much more fun.” That is exactly what the serpents said to Eve. That is exactly what the devil says to us today. That is exactly what the world says to us today. That is exactly what the flesh says to us today. If we want to know true joy, deep happiness, real blessedness, we've got to do it our way. We've got to break God's law. We've got to pursue whatever pleasure, whatever desire it is we want, no matter what the Lord says. Then we’ll find what we really want. And the psalmist is challenging that and saying that is not true.
Now the psalmist knows that God's people do not get their ultimate reward here. The Psalms are filled with that message. And the psalmist knows that like the Master, God's people endure suffering in this world. But the psalmist also knows that all of God's people — listen to his language — “blessed is everyone who fears the LORD” — that all of God's people have foretastes here of the fullness of the joy that God will give us in the world to come that are better than anything that any pagan ever experiences. The psalmist knows that we don't get our ultimate reward here. The psalmist knows that there is suffering in this world but the foretastes of heaven are real and they are better than anything that any worldling ever experiences. “Solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion's children know.” The psalmist is saying that. The place where happiness is enjoyed is in the fear of the Lord.
THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS EXPRESSED IN LIVING
The second thing that we learn, and you see it in the second half of verse 1, is what the fear of the Lord looks like in our lives. The fear of the Lord is not just a set of beliefs. You know, it's not just saying, “Well I believe in the Apostles Creed” or “I believe in The Shorter Catechism” or “I ascent to a basic evangelical set of beliefs.” The fear of the Lord is not just an inner attitude. The fear of the Lord expresses itself in a way of life. Listen to the language of verse 1. “Blessed is everyone who walks in His ways.” You know it would be an interesting thing for you to get our your concordance or pull up your Bible computer software tonight and just run a search on every occurrence of the “fear of the Lord” in the Scripture and see how the fear of the Lord is defined and described. The way that it's being described here occurs repeatedly and it's very clear, isn't it, that the fear of the Lord is more than just an inner attitude. It is expressed in the way that we live our lives. The fear of the Lord is expressed in living. What it means is we walk with God.
Now by the way, in that there is an echo to another passage. Just like we've seen an echo to Genesis 1, 2, and 3 in the references to work, wife, and children and in the challenge to the idea that happiness and holiness go together, there's an allusion here, isn't there, to Isaiah 53. Because the worldling says, “No, no, no, the way to live is to walk your own way.” And Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, everyone to his own way.” And the only remedy from the disaster that that made — “The Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.” No, the fear of the Lord is expressed in walking in His ways not in going our own way. There again the contrast between a way of life. The fear of the Lord is expressed in our living. What we do shows who we are. What our priorities are in life shows who we love. Believers worship God in all of life, in the way that they live. In what they pursue, in what they value, they show their fear of the Lord, their worship of God. And this psalm reminds us of that.
THE BLESSEDNESS GOD GIVES ARE PICTURED IN WORK, HOME AND CHURCH
But there's a third thing that I want you to see in this psalm and that is how true blessedness is pictured in work, wife, children, and church. Now again, this is an ideal picture and the psalmist knows that there are many godly people who do not experience, to one degree or another, or perhaps even all, the pictures that are depicted here. But what is the psalmist doing but taking you back to Eden. So bear that in mind as we look at this passage. First of all, the psalmist speaks of meaningful work. Look at verse 2. “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands.” Now you might be saying to yourself, “Lord, couldn't you promise some prosperity in there? You’ll eat the fruit of the labor of your hands — that's a little meager!” It reminds me — there was a book written by a famous Scottish journalist named Alastair Phillips called, My Uncle George: Recollections of a Backslider in a Highland Manse.” It's a really funny book. And in that book he tells the story of his Uncle George who was a Free Church minister in the Highlands, he's the Uncle George of whom the book is named, marrying he and his wife, I think during the Second World War. And because it was the Second World War it was a very simple ceremony. I think it was held in their home. And he remembers the prayer that his uncle prayed over him at that marriage. And in the prayer, Alastair Phillips was a journalist, not a profession known for making big salary figures, his uncle prayed that the Lord would grant to him a “modest competency from his worldly avocation.” That is, that he would have an adequate salary from the job that he did. And Alastair Phillips in the book complains that he wished his uncle had been more demanding with the Almighty because the Almighty has taken him literally at his word! And you may think, “Well couldn't we say a little bit more than just, ‘You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands’?”
Understand what's being said here. This is meaningful work, it's meaningful work and it's labor that is not in vain. The meaningful work goes all the way back to the original created order, right? Because God made Adam and Eve to work, to do things, to accomplish things, and that's fulfilling. But what did sin bring into the world? Vanity and toil in work and this blessing is saying, “You’ll get to do meaningful work and it won't be in vain. You’ll get to eat the fruit of the labor of your hands.” This is just a tiny little picture of the Lord reversing the effects of the curse of the Fall. It's just a little foretaste. It doesn't promise that we’ll all live in Eastover in a really big house with too many rooms to even find, but it does say there will be meaningful work and that work won't be in vain. That is a rich blessing. I wake up every day thanking God that I get to do something that I love. And you even pay me for it! It's unbelievable! It's a joy and a blessing to do meaningful work. It's a picture of the blessing that God gives His people.
And then there's this picture in verse 3, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house.” That picture of vine here is obviously related to her fruitfulness in bearing children because later on the children are described as little “olive shoots around your table.” But it's a picture of her attractiveness to her husband and the delight that he takes in her. And again, what does that do? It takes us right back to the Garden. You know, God creates Adam, He brings to Adam all the animals of the earth, Adam names them and then God says, “There's no one like Adam,” and He says the first, “not good” of Genesis 1 and 2. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Now think of that. Adam has God and God says it's not good for him to be alone. And so what does God bring to Adam? He brings to Adam the first woman, Eve, and says, “Here, this is what you need.” Christian wives please take that in for just a moment, the enormity of that, that God says, “Adam, you've got Me, but that's not good. You need something else. You need your wife, Eve, the mother of the living.” And it's a picture of what our lives are supposed to be like together in a Christian marriage, to see the location of blessing in that relationship.
And then thirdly, you see the picture of the gift of children. The end of verse 3 — “Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” And of course later the priest adds this blessing in verse 6. “May you see your children's children! May your grandchildren sit on your knees!” It's a picture of the location of God's blessing and the blessedness that God gives in the fear of the Lord.
But isn't that interesting it doesn't stop there? It goes on to say, look at verse 5. “The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!” In other words, the blessedness that God gives is not only enjoyed in work and wife and children, it's enjoyed in church, in the church, and in our concern for her and our blessing from her and our blessing of her and our participation in her. I love what William Plumer says about this passage. “It cannot be that the true child of God should fail to love the church. He was born in Zion. There, God first revealed Himself to the soul. Then spring all his best hope. Nor has he any choice blessing but such as is in some way connected with the company of the faithful.” There, Plumer is using words very similar to the words we just sang in “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord.” I love that hymn because it talks about the love of God's people for the church.
Now you recognize in all of these things, in all of these things — work, wife, children, church — there are griefs in this world as well as blessings. And I can say to the Christian wives and husbands, there are griefs in this world as well as blessings. The psalmist understands that but this is a picture of how it once was and how it will be. And the psalmist is saying all of God's people get at least a little foretaste of what is coming. Treasure those foretastes, friends. Don't ever presume on them. You don't know how long you’re going to have these things and the way that you’re going to have these things in this pilgrimage, in this so-journey. Don't take them for granted because they are just little foretastes of the blessedness to come. And in all the failures and in all the griefs let's remember that He has borne our griefs, surely, and He has carried our sorrows. And the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all and we have been washed whiter than snow and we will receive the fullness of these blessings because of what Jesus has done.
And the psalmist wants us to understand that true blessedness in this life is enjoyed in the fear of God, not in a cringing, servile dread that God is at any moment going to blast us into oblivion, but an affection for our heavenly Father that moves us to reverence and awe and love for Him and that makes us tremble at the idea of sin, even if there were no hell. We would tremble to offend Him because we love Him and honor Him and respect Him so. And when a person lives in that and walks in that the psalmist is saying there is undeniable blessing. All of that blessing that is enjoyed here, for some much, for others less, is just a foretaste of what is to come, by God's grace.
Heavenly Father, thank You again for this psalm, for the way You point us back to Eden, for the way that You point us to what we lost in the Fall, for the way that You encourage us with little tastes of the ultimate blessing along the way, and for the way that You set our eyes on the age to come when sorrow and grief will be no more for Your people. O Lord, protect our hearts from the lie of the evil one that true blessedness is found apart from You, that true blessedness is found in scorning Your Word and in wandering from Your ways. By grace, by Your Holy Spirit, convince us repeatedly that true blessing is found at Your table, in Your house, with Your people, in Your family. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.