Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “God

Jesus gives life to the full

There are so many wonderful things in life. The joy of love, family, satisfaction in hard work, the thrill of the race, or the game, admiring the astonishing beauty of nature, the prospect of a new adventure. It is truly a remarkable world.

Yet in all of these things, there’s always a blemish. And the blemish lies in us and in each thing we experience. For example our own cynicism and doubts prevent us properly enjoying goodness in love and work and family. And, as for the objects of our joy and desire – they always let us down in some measure. So, families fracture and fall out. Children forget their parents and live selfish lives. We chase a project with all our energy only to find it wasn’t worth the chasing.

In every part of life there’s always dissatisfaction. Any number of things can intervene to undermine success… from accidents, to mismanagement, to petty politics, injustice, corruption… even our own boredom, or doubts, or distractions.

The greatest enemy to fulfillment in this life is the knowledge that death awaits. It means that whatever we pursue is futile. Nothing can escape it… even the material universe. Everything must pass away.

If only there were a thread of hope dangling down for us from eternity. In the song, ‘Into my arms’, Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, speaks of an, ‘interventionist God’ who might prevent his beloved from being harmed. Yet he can’t bring himself to believe that such a good God might exist.

But such a good God does exist and the Bible describes His character and ‘interventions’ in human history in great detail. As creator of the world He made us so that we might relate to Him closely. But since creation we’ve resisted this purpose. Yet no matter how hard we resist, He still loves us and wants us to be with Him. The Bible says that God has ‘planted eternity in the human heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Clearly, He meant us to spend it with Him.

When our purpose is eternity with God. How did we ever think we could find it in movies or architecture or holidays or skin cream? Whatever we do apart from God is doomed and destined for disgruntlement.

So give way. Give yourself to God’s ambassador, Jesus Christ, whose mighty intervention on your behalf at the cross means you can have life with God forever. Accept Jesus and the immortal words He offers all people.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  

Prayer: Dear God, I pray that I may have life to the full with You through Jesus.

Bible verse: John 10:10 Jesus: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted July 2019


Three reasons to praise God

Psalm 65

Telling somebody in public they are doing a good job when in fact they are doing a bad job is worse than saying nothing at all. Other blunders are to offer praise for something that’s unimportant and praising the wrong person. These are all wrong reasons to praise someone.

When do you praise of God? What reminds you of Him? When David was the king of Israel in about 1,000BC, the nation depended on agricultural production for food and many resources. So David praised God for lush pastures, flocks of sheep and bountiful harvests.

In this post we see that David had three main reasons to praise God. But did you know that these reasons have now been superseded?

Psalm 65 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 65 says,

1 Praise awaits you, our [Israel’s] God, in Zion [Jerusalem];
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

You answer us [Israel] with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth [or land]
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth [or land] is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

The psalm begins with God being praised and ends with creation (nature) being joyful. In fact, the songs of joy are widespread – extending from the east to the west (v.8).

The key words in the psalm are “you” (14 times) and “your” (7 times). It’s all about God.

Context

This harvest song may have been sung during a harvest festival like the Festival of Tabernacles. It gives three main reasons to praise God, which can all be related to a harvest. The Israelites are gathered near the tabernacle or the temple (v.1, 4). All the men of Israel were to attend three festivals a year in Jerusalem (Ex. 23:17; Dt. 16:16-17).

What about us? When do we gather together to praise God corporately with other Christians?

The three reasons for the Israelites to praise God are.

God answers prayer – v.1-4

David says that God answers prayer (v.2, 5). But what did they pray for? Maybe for a good harvest (v.9-13). And for forgiveness of their sins (v.3).

What about us? Do we have confidence that God will answer our prayers when they are in accordance with His will?

God’s power over creation – v.5-8

David acknowledges God’s role in forming the large-scale landscape of the earth. Mountains are massive examples of God’s power. As most of these mountains are composed of sedimentary rock, they were uplifted by huge tectonic forces in the recessive stage of Noah’s flood. Then the huge volume of flood runoff sculpted the earth’s topography.

The evidence of mountain ranges and large-scale erosion is visible across the globe. Last month I visited central Australia where the mountains are mainly comprised of sedimentary rock layers that have been severely deformed and eroded.

What about us? Do we recognize God’s power, strength and wisdom in designing and creating the universe? Or do we say it made itself via a big bang and evolution?

God’s care of creation – v.9-13

David says that at this time the earth was well-watered (v.9-10) and they had good harvests (9-13). He calls this an act of God. So God didn’t create the world at the beginning of time and then leave it to its own devices. Instead He continued to sustain it.

What about us? Do we thank God when we experience the benefits of a harvest? Do we thank Him for the food we eat (Mt. 15:36; Acts 27:35)?

Discussion

Israel didn’t always have bountiful harvests like those described in Psalm 65. For example, when they followed false prophets and idols instead of the true God the harvest was feeble because of drought and famine (Jer. 23:9-15). This punishment for disobedience was promised in the law given to Moses (Dt. 28:22-24).

What has changed since David wrote Psalm 65? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God. Now they can praise God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit because of all they have done (Eph. 1:3-14). And they can praise God because of His mercy in sending Jesus to be their Savior (Heb. 1:1; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They can praise God because eternal life through Jesus is secure (Heb. 12:28). And believers can praise God for the “living hope”, an eternal inheritance in heaven, they have through Christ’s resurrection (1 Pt. 1:3-7). So the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16).

Christ’s sacrificial vicarious death is the main reason for praise in heaven (Rev. 5:6-12). And at the end of time, everyone will praise Jesus for being “obedient to death” (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:5-11). But God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11).

Conclusion

The Israelites praised God for three main reasons – because He answered their prayers, because His power was shown in the universe He created, and because His care was shown in how He continued to sustain them and the creation. And today God answers a believer’s prayer, and is still a great Creator (Rom. 1:20) and a great Sustainer of creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). So we can still praise God for these same reasons.

But the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). And this will also be the main reason to praise God at the end of time and in eternity.

Written, June 2019


Sin is not as much fun as you think

Why do we sin? Because it’s a chore – of course not! Actually, we do the wrong thing because it’s fun, satisfying or seems too difficult to resist. Why would we bother if it weren’t any of those things? Lowering the car window and letting rip at the stupid person blocking our way… how good did that feel? Revealing that choice morsel of information … everyone in the office deserves to know what happened! Mostly, our sin reveals a lot about the kind of person we really are.

Some years back a newspaper article named seven high profile males (mostly politicians) found to be adulterers. Collectively they had fathered 24 children. The article pondered the damage caused to those 24 lives and the sad ending to public careers.

Why did those men behave so destructively? It’s tempting to excuse their actions by finding fault with sexless or unsatisfying marriages. But let’s not forget the ‘fun’ part. They gave in to what the Bible calls ‘the fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25). And even if their marriages were rocky and difficult, was adultery the solution? Had they worked hard, with counsellors, to make their marriages work? Unlikely. But now there was a social stigma to be borne. And not just by them. Wives and children are always caught up as well. Life after sin can be an eternity of regret.

There’s another more important answer to the question, ‘Why do we sin?’ And it’s this. We haven’t taught ourselves to hate what is evil. Are we feeling downcast about sin because we’ve been caught out? There needs to be a better reason. We need to hate evil because it’s evil. And we need to care about pleasing God. If that’s our mindset then, when temptation presents, we’ll feel alarmed, even nauseous at the prospect of betraying God.

There’s a letter in the Bible written by the missionary, Paul of Tarsus to Christians in the city of Rome. It contains a great challenge.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).

A little later on in his letter Paul writes:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good (Romans 12:9).

None of us have the strength to do this perfectly. We need God’s help. Let’s pray to Him about this.

Prayer: Dear God, give me the strength to say, ‘No’ to temptation so that I can honor you and protect both myself and those around me.

Bible verse: Romans 12:9 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted June 2019


Where were you?

If you had the opportunity, what question would you ask God? After tragedy in his life, Job had many questions for God. But when they finally met the tables were turned and God asked Job “Where were you when I created the world”? Job was silenced because the answer was “Nowhere”.

Question and answer

The context is that God says that Job needs to be educated on mysteries that surpass his understanding (38:2). He should have realized that many things known to God are hidden from humanity.

The first question that God asked was:
4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7NIV)

God used a metaphor of building a house to describe His work of creation. Verse 7 is a poetic description of the angel’s joy in God’s creation. The implication is that Job didn’t exist when God created the world, so how could he understand it? And who was Job (finite and created) to question the God (infinite Creator) of the Universe?

Job’s answer was:
“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more” (Job 40:4-5).

Job didn’t answer the question in 38:4 because the answer was “Nowhere” – Job hadn’t been born when God created the world. He had no other answer to give. God’s questions were unanswerable. Job was reminded that there were many things that he didn’t know. He didn’t have the wisdom and knowledge to run the world and was ignorant of most of its processes. So he shouldn’t tell the Creator and Sustainer how to run the world.

In Job 38 God asked a series of questions about the earth (v. 4-7, 18); the sea (v.8-11, 16); the sun (v.12-15); death (v.17); light and darkness (v.19-20); the weather (v.22-30, 34-38); astronomy (v.31-33); and animals and birds (38:39 – 39:30). It was like a science examination! These questions show that God’s sovereignty, power and wisdom is evident in the created (natural) world. God is saying, “Before you criticize me, you should ask yourself if you could manage the creation as well as I do”.

Job couldn’t answer any of the questions because he felt powerless, ignorant, insignificant and unwise compared to God (Job 40:3-5). He was humbled. Job felt the immense difference between divinity and humanity. And if Job didn’t understand the natural world, how could he understand God’s dealings with humanity?

What about today?

Does this lesson still apply today as science can answer some of the questions in Job 38-39? Yes, scientists know more today than Job knew. But there’s also a lot that they don’t know. They know many secondary causes, but they are ignorant of primary causes (God’s role). And like Job, we should be overwhelmed with our ignorance, and not impressed with science.

Do we tell God how to run the world? Some say that the existence of suffering negates the existence of God. But like Job they are judging how God rules the world. Instead, they need to learn from Job’s humility.

When scientists study a subject it would be good for them to be mindful of God’s role. This could moderate their claims and introduce an element of humility as they consider the assumptions being made, the degree of extrapolation and the limits/uncertainty of the findings.

In particular, we have seen recently that scientists need miracles in their naturalistic explanations of the creation of the universe and the creation of life. They sound confident when they should be embarrassed. But one day God will ask them, “Were you there?” and the answer will be “No” (it’s not observational science). They didn’t observe God’s acts of creation. “Do you know anyone who was there?” “No”. The next question will be “Did you listen to my account of what happened (in the Bible)?” and the answer will be “No”. God was there – and He has given us an eyewitness account. How can they expect to understand creation if they only use the human mind and ignore the best information available on these historical events?

Written, May 2019


When to praise God

Emotions are a powerful part of our lives. But do we control our emotions or do our emotions control us? For example, do we only praise God when we feel like it?

Job was a wealthy man with a large family who lived before the time of Moses. One day four separate disasters wiped out all his possessions and children. His oxen, donkeys and camels were stolen and his sheep were killed by lightning. This was a total loss because there was no insurance in those days. And his children died when a house collapsed on them in a severe storm.

How did Job respond to these calamities? He would have been devastated and stricken with grief and loss. Did he stop trusting in God in such trying circumstances?

The Bible says, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:20-22NIV).

Job mourned for those who died. He expressed his grief. But he didn’t follow his feelings. He didn’t rebel against God in anger, give up on God, grumble and complain, or wallow in self-pity. Instead, he fell to the ground and praised and worshipped God. Job still trusted God in difficult times (Job 2:10). The Hebrew word shachah (Strongs #7812) translated “worship” means to bow down in homage. Although he was tested and tempted to respond emotionally, Job choose to keep praising and worshiping God. God was more valuable to him than family and possessions.

Then He recognized that God controlled his life; including the good (his previous prosperity) and the bad (his loss of possessions and children). Indeed the book of Job shows us that God rules Satan. There are no accidents or surprises (to God) in His universe. So Job praises God instead of blaming or rejecting Him. He doesn’t sin by accusing God of wrongdoing.

The Bible says that trials are inevitable in our lives, but they have the benefit of producing Christian character, perseverance and endurance (Jas. 1:2-12). Paul shows that acceptance is the godly response to trials – “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). “My [God’s] grace is sufficient for you” ( 2 Cor. 12:9).

How do our circumstances and feelings affect our Christian life? Do we only read the Bible, pray, and go to church when it is convenient or when we feel like it? What will we decide to do? How will we choose to spend our time? Let’s keep reading the Bible, praying, and going to church regularly whatever our circumstances and feelings.

When we remember “that in all things [good and bad] God works for the good of those who love Him [believers]” (Rom. 8:28) and that nothing can separate believers from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39), we can praise and worship God in all circumstances and situations.

Written, May 2019


Awesome power

Psalm 29

Hurricanes bring strong winds, heavy rains, floods, storm surges and even tornadoes (Appendix A). Hurricane Michael which struck the coast of Florida in October 2018 was the third-strongest hurricane in continental U.S. history. It’s landfall pressure was 919mb, which was slightly stronger than the 920mb of Hurricane Katrina that flooded New Orleans in August 2005. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest tropical cyclone season on record with a damage total of at least $US300 billion and over 3,300 estimated deaths.

When do you think of God? What reminds you of Him? A thunderstorm reminded David of God’s awesome power.

Psalm 29 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 29 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings [angels],
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters [Mediterranean Sea];
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion [Mount Hermon] like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh [near the Orontes River in Syria].
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks (Appendix B)
and strips the forests bare.
And in His temple all cry, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to His people;
the Lord blesses His people with peace.

The Psalm has three sections:
– Introduction, which is a call to praise the Lord  (v.1-2)
– God’s awesome power is like a mighty storm (v.3-9)
– Conclusion, that God gives His people strength and peace in the storms of life  (v.10-11).

It’s a Jewish poem that was sung. The key-word in the psalm is “the Lord”, which occurs 18 times. And there is repetition and parallelism.
Repetition: In v.4 “the voice of the Lord” is repeated.
Parallelism: In v.4 there is parallelism between “powerful” and “majestic”. Both describe the voice of the Lord, and the second word adds to the first.

Call to praise

The song begins with a call to praise where angels are urged to praise God because of His glory, strength and holiness. As God’s name represents His character, they also praise God because of His character. This shows that the praise of humans is not sufficient to acknowledge God’s awesome power.

Next, David likens the strength and power of the Lord to a mighty thunderstorm.

God’s awesome power

This section describes the cause (or reason) for the praise. God’s power is depicted in a metaphor as a thunderstorm. The thunderstorm comes from over the Mediterranean Sea and moves across northern Israel (v.3), to the mountains of Lebanon  (v.5-6), until it passes into the Syrian desert (v.8). God’s awesome power is not only visible in creation (nature), it is also audible in thunder. David also wrote, “God thunders with a mighty [powerful] voice” (Ps. 68:33).

“The voice of the Lord” is mentioned seven times, referring to thunder (v.3-4, 8), lightning (v.7), and the strong wind (v.5-6, 9) of the storm. Here God’s presence is depicted in a metaphor and personification as His voice.

Creation (nature) is called God’s temple (v.9).  In view of His awesome power, all creation (nature) shouts His praise (v.9). It’s like in Psalm 150 that says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Ps. 150:6).

Did you know that insurance companies agree with David when they call storms an act of God! Storms are outside our control. We cannot stop them. And we cannot adequately prepare everyone for them. Storms have more power than any human creation. But they are under God’s control. Although we can explain these storms today from a meteorological perspective, they are still under God’s complete control. God is sovereign – everything is under His control.

Strength and peace

God’s great power was shown in the biblical flood, which involved much greater power than a hurricane. The flood’s duration was for a year compared to a few days and it’s extent was global compared to regional. And the flood involved geological and volcanic activity as well as meteorological activity compared to only meteorological activity. That’s why Solomon says that God reigns over all creation (nature).

Finally, the God who has strength (v.1), gives strength to His people (v.11a). And He blesses His people with peace (v.11b). This is comforting to those who feel weak or are going through troubles.

Conclusion

God has awesome power because He controls all the forces of nature. Other demonstrations of God’s power are His creation of the universe, Jesus’ miracles and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It’s comforting to know that everything is under God’s control.

Appendix A: Hurricanes

Hurricanes are large rotating tropical storms with winds in excess of 120 km/hr (74 mph) that form above the Atlantic Ocean. They are known as typhoons in the western Pacific and cyclones in the Indian Ocean. For a storm to gain enough energy to develop into a hurricane, the temperature of surface waters needs to rise above 26⁰ C (79⁰ F). Meteorologists classify the strength of a hurricane using the Saffir-Simpson Scale. It consists of five categories, based on wind strength: 1 is the weakest and 5 is strongest, with winds exceeding 250 km/hr (156 mph).

Its center is a cloud-free, relatively calm area called the eye. The eye is surrounded by the much more active eye wall, a ring of thunderstorms where the hurricane’s winds are the strongest and rains are the heaviest. Spiral bands of clouds, rain, and more thunderstorms extend out from the eye wall like a pinwheel on top of a rotating funnel. These rain bands can stretch for hundreds of miles and sometimes contain tornadoes.

Did you know that the winds that blow around these severe tropical storms rotate in a clockwise direction in the southern hemisphere and an anti-clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere? This is caused by the rotation of the earth and is called the Coriolis Effect. Because we are within a rotating coordinate system, objects moving long distances appear to deviate towards the left in the southern hemisphere and towards the right in the northern hemisphere. This inertial force is called the Coriolis force. It’s zero at the equator. The magnitude of the Coriolis force is proportional to the speed of the object and the sine of the latitude. This force is a bit like the centrifugal force that you feel in a roller coaster ride when the roller coaster goes sideways or across a hill or valley.

Hurricane winds can uproot trees, and storm surges can carry salt water up inland rivers, harming or killing plants and animals that cannot tolerate salt. High tides can easily wipe out sensitive sea turtle and bird nests along shorelines. Violent wave action kills many fish. Coastal waters that typically nourish seagrass beds—home to crabs and fish—can grow clouded and toxic with sediments and pollutants. The drop in air pressure resulting from a hurricane often disorients manatees (sea cows) and dolphins. On the other hand, sharks can detect the drop and safely head for deeper waters. Whereas some birds detect the pressure shift and escape in advance of storms or safely weather them on the ground, others can be thrown far off course or get trapped in the eye of a hurricane. But some frogs and toads breed more in heavy rainfall; and some plants use the wind to spread their seeds.

Appendix B: Verse 9a

According to the NET Bible this line is, “The Lord’s shout bends the large trees”. The Hebrew version states that it bends “the deer”. “Preserving this reading, some translate the preceding verb, “causes [the deer] to give premature birth” (cf. NEB, NASB). But the Polel of חוּל/חִיל (khul/khil) means “give birth,” not “cause to give birth,” and the statement “the Lord’s shout gives birth to deer” is absurd. In light of the parallelism (note “forests” in the next line) and v. 5, it is preferable to emend אַיָּלוֹת (ʾayyalot, “deer”) to אֵילוֹת (ʾelot, “large trees”) understanding the latter as an alternate form of the usual plural form אַיָּלִים (ʾayyalim).”

Written, April 2019


The best way to work

What’s one of your current projects? We all have things we need to do. They can be unique tasks or they can be repetitive ones. For example, I need to stop storm-water ingress at home when it rains. Psalm 127 gives us advice on how to do our daily work. The main point is that it’s better to commit our work to God rather than to do it all alone.

Psalm 127 has been categorized as a wisdom psalm. These psalms have similarities in literary features or content to the wisdom books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. They are written for the purposes of teaching and instruction rather than worship. Wisdom literature addresses important issues in life.

Psalm 127 is attributed to Solomon and its contents are consistent with other scriptures that are attributed to him. As Solomon reigned from 970BC to 930 BC, the psalm could be dated to about 950BC in the greatest building period of Solomon’s rule. It’s a proverb or didactic (teaching) saying. And biblical proverbs usually address generalizations, and not specific situations. The Bible says that Solomon wrote 1,005 songs and this is one of them (1 Ki. 4:32).

Psalm 127 is called “A song of ascents”. It’s part of a collection of 15 psalms (Ps. 120-134), which probably refer to the three annual Jewish religious pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16). They could be songs that pilgrims sang on their way up to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals. The songs focus on the destination of Jerusalem. Psalm 127 is the middle song in the song of ascents. It addresses the sovereign nature of God and the uselessness of all human effort which does not rely on the will, power, and goodness of the Lord. It says (NIV),

1“Unless the Lord builds the house, (line 1a)
  the builders labor in vain. (line 1b)
Unless the Lord watches over the city, (line 2a)
  the guards stand watch in vain. (line 2b)
In vain you rise early (3a)
 and stay up late, (3b)
toiling for food to eat— (4a)
 for He [the Lord] grants sleep to those He [the Lord] loves.” (4b)

The key words are “the Lord” (4 times), and “in vain” (3 times). Divine and human activities are compared and contrasted. The divine activities are: building (1a), watching (2a), and giving sleep (4b). The human activities are: building (1b), guarding (2b), and working hard (3a-4a). In everything we do there should be a divine component and a human component. There is divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We need to acknowledge God’s sovereignty while carrying out our human responsibility.

Our shelter and security- v.1

Verse one has repetition and parallelism.
Repetition: The words, “unless the Lord” at the beginning of line 1 are repeated at the beginning of line 2. And the words “in vain” at the end of line 1 are repeated at the end of line 2. And the grammatical structure of line 1 is repeated in line 2.
Parallelism: There is parallelism between “builds the house” and “watches over the city”. Both activities done without the Lord are in vain, and the second example adds to the first.

A house was built to live in; it provided shelter. And houses in a city were secured behind a wall, with guards patrolling in towers and along the wall. People wanted to have a safe place to live and a city provided that security. So building a house and guarding a city were common activities in ancient times.

What did “labor in vain” and “watch in vain” mean? In this context, the Hebrew word shav (Strongs #7723) means “useless” (Brown-Driver-Briggs). Obviously men were doing the building (for shelter) and the watching (for security). But they could do it in two ways: either according to God’s will or against God’s will. They were either dependant on the Lord and fruitful, or independent of the Lord and not fruitful (Jn 15:5). Likewise, we can carry out our projects and daily tasks in two ways: either according to God’s will or against God’s will. For example, the tower of Babel was built against God’s will, while the temple in Jerusalem was built according to God’s will.

God is sovereign, and therefore we can have no degree of success or achievement unless God allows it in the first place (Jas. 4:13-16). But God accomplishes His sovereign will through our work.

And the Bible teaches that God is the One who ultimately keeps us safe and secure. The Lord guards us like a shepherd (Jn. 10:7-14).

We all require shelter and housing. Do we seek God’s will when deciding where to live? And when deciding whether to buy or rent a house or apartment?

We all require safety and security. Do we seek God’s will when deciding how to keep safe? Or do we worry unnecessarily about the dangers of life?

Our sustenance – v.2

Verse two describes two kinds of people. The first is the workaholic who works long hours in order to put food on the table. The implication is that because they are anxious, they can’t sleep at night. The second is one who trusts in God and can sleep at night. Via the figure of speech of metonymy (where the name of a thing is replaced with the name of something else with which it is closely associated), sleep may also refer to having one’s needs met. They can sleep because they realize that God provides their needs. Their sustenance.

God’s sovereignty doesn’t release us from our responsibility, but it does free us from worry.

We all require to be sustained physically, emotionally and spiritually. If we are able, we work to provide for our physical needs. But are you a workaholic? What about your spiritual needs? Do you read the Bible and pray regularly? Are you part of a church?

Conclusion

In Psalm 127, God told the Israelites to involve Him in meeting their basic needs of shelter, security and sustenance. If they did this and lived in submission to God, depending on His guidance and protection, they could rest assured at night that all would be well. Otherwise, their efforts to meet their basic needs would be useless. And they would become workaholics who couldn’t sleep at night because of their anxiety. Let’s commit all our work (activities, projects and tasks) to the Lord in prayer.

When the Jews were encouraged to rebuild the temple, they were told “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 4:6). This means that the temple would be rebuilt not by human energy or power alone, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, let’s work in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And Jesus taught His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit [be fruitful]; apart from me you can do nothing [your work is in vain; useless]” (Jn. 15:5). Let’s keep in touch with God and His people, so we can continue to be fruitful.

So the best way to work is to commit all our work to the Lord so we can work in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Written, April 2019