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Worship Message - Songs of Ascent #4

Songs of Ascent
Psalms 127-128

Just about in the middle of the Bible is a series of chapters that, in Old Testament times, was used to help the people of God prepare their hearts and their minds for worship.

The series of chapters extends from Psalm 120 through Psalm 134. We are considering them this fall as a way to make sure our hearts and our minds are ready for worship. I hope that is already the case, but what wonderful reminders the Psalms are to maintain a readiness to give God the worship He deserves.

Today, Psalms 127 and 128. Psalms sung by Old Testament people as they ascended the terrain on their way to Jerusalem, and as they then climbed the steps leading up to the Temple, which is where they planned to worship. Songs of Ascent to be recited by us, too. Psalms that teach how important God is to all we do and how blessed we are when we fear Him. Fear Him as in respect Him and obey Him.

Interestingly, the other Psalms we have looked at so far - Psalms 120 through 126 - are either attributed to or thought to be written by David. Psalm 127, though, is described as a Song of Solomon, who was the son of David.

In a bit, some of what Solomon wrote later will be mentioned. Writings that show - me, at least - kind of a pessimistic view of life. But Psalm 127. “A Song of Ascent. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD [unless God] builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

That is verse 1, which right away proclaims how important God is - how important He is in the daily needs of life and how important He is concerning safety.

How important is He? So important that unless He is involved - unless we allow Him to be involved in what we do - what we do is in vain.

Specifically, Solomon referred to the building of the Jewish Temple, which was the house of God.

I should mention David intended to build the Temple. As king, he had the money needed for that, which would have been enough to purchase the materials needed. David certainly had the authority to secure enough workmen for the project. But David did not build it. God kept him from it. That, according to Solomon, was a good thing because if David had gone ahead with his plan, the LORD would not have been involved. The result would undoubtedly have been a house very impressive to human eyes, but the house would not have been pleasing to God.

As Solomon wrote, unless the LORD builds the house - unless God said when and how to build it - unless God was allowed to design it and get materials and workers - the building would be just a building. The work would be in vain, at least spiritually.

Later, God directed Solomon to build the Temple. The result was what God wanted. So it was good that David had not followed his personal plan.

Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. I believe that extends beyond the Temple, to which Solomon referred. I believe it extends to all houses. As in all households, which are the people in a house. Unless we allow God to form our houses and our families, we might be successful, but not strong spiritually. We need to let God build all we do.

“Unless the LORD watches over the city…” To understand that, we need to remember that ancient cities, like Jerusalem, had walls around them to protect them. But even with that, each night, guards watched from the walls. They watched for thieves who might try to enter the city to steal. They watched for enemy armies who might attack the city in the dark of the night.

Guards did not sleep when on duty. They had to be ready to sound an alarm so the rest of the population could wake and defend their city if needed.

Guards had an important job to do. But listen. Without God with them - unless the LORD is also watching over the city - whatever guards do can end up in vain. It is God who is ultimately responsible for safety.

Right away I need to ask. I will ask myself, hoping you will ask yourself the same question. I need to ask. Whenever I start anything… I don’t build much of anything. I never have had much of a knack with tools. But whenever I start to do anything, do I invite God to be part of it?

I think I did that almost 43 years ago as my wife and I prepared to be married. I hope we have included God in all the other decisions we have made over the years. But the point of verse 1 is that including God needs to continue. And not only for us. Also for you. And for this church. May we always invite God to be part of all we do.

And yes, I will continue to lock the doors at home each night. I will probably continue to show a bit of obsessive compulsive behavior in checking them at least twice each night. I will continue to remember to activate the alarm system when I leave church each day. But do I pray for safety, too? Do I remember that ultimately, it is not locks or NECO, but God, who is responsible for keeping me and us safe. I need to remember that. It is what verse 1 of Psalm 127 teaches.

Unless God builds and unless He watches, those who build and stay awake to guard do so in vain. That is verse 1 of Psalm 127. Verse 2. “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.”

Wow. What an indictment of workaholics. And hey, I do not think there is anything wrong with people working hard, trying to be successful. In fact, Solomon, in his Book of Proverbs - chapter 6, verses 6 through 8 - teaches people to be like an “ant, who works hard, preparing food in summer and gathering sustenance in harvest.” He added, “Consider the ways of an ant. Consider her ways and be wise.” He was addressing a sluggard at the time.

According to Solomon, it must be OK to work hard. But the point of Psalm 127 is that it is vain to do nothing but work. It is vain when all you have to eat is the result of anxious toil, which will make your food taste bad. The point? Take time to rest, too. For, Solomon continues, “God gives to His beloved [to His people] sleep.”

Toward the beginning of this message I mentioned we would consider some of what Solomon wrote later.Writings that show - me, at least - kind of a pessimistic view of life. I am referring to some of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, especially some verses in chapter 2.

In chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon lists many of the things he had done, things he had accomplished, things he had accumulated. Things he had worked hard to get. Just some of them are houses and vineyards, gardens and parks, pools, slaves, herds and flocks, silver and gold, singers and concubines.

Solomon had done - he had accomplished and accumulated - more than anyone else ever had. The sense I get is that he had worked very hard - to the point of anxious toil - to do and get all that.

How did he describe all he had. Verse 2. “What use is it?” Verse 26. “It is all vanity and striving after wind.”

I don’t know that we need to be pessimistic. And work? Yes. But remember there is more to life than work. Remember to rest, which, Solomon wrote, is - sleep is - a gift from God.

A gift that apparently God intended as a way for His people to have time and energy to spend with children. Solomon wrote in the next verses of Psalm 127, “Lo, sons are 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.”

Wow. If you have children - the Psalm mentions sons, but as it applies to us, I am pretty sure the same goes for daughters - do you realize they are, according to Solomon, from the LORD? What an effect that should have on every family.

Fortunately for my parents, I was always a perfect child. No problems did I ever give them. I was always obedient, always easy to get along with. Never once did I sass them.

Well, maybe a few times I was just like every other child. But what a thought. Children are a heritage from the LORD. They are a reward.

And yes, children should be obedient, easy to get along with, not sassy. But even when those things do not happen, children are still a gift from God. A gift parents are to continue to raise and train - and mold and form into being good people - and lead and guide in hopes they will develop hearts that will one day choose God. Parents who do that will not be put to shame.

Remember. All the Songs of Ascent were recited by God’s people as they traveled to Jerusalem. The Songs were sung as those people, in Jerusalem, climbed the steps leading up to the Temple, where they intended to worship.

As they recited Psalm 127, they were encouraged to invite God to join them in everything they did, including their journey to worship. They were encouraged to remember it was OK for them to leave their daily work for a while so they could enjoy the spiritual rest that comes from worship. Psalm 127 also reminded them to make sure they showed love to their children, who, on their way to Jerusalem, might have been a problem from time to time as they got tired and hungry and cranky. I wonder if children back then said, “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?”
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” So, may we include God in all we do. May we realize He is the one ultimately responsible for safety. May we take time to rest and enjoy all God gives to us. Including children.

By doing those things, we will be walking in His ways, which leads us to Psalm 128, which begins with a wonderful thought. “Blessed…” That is an interesting word. Some translations use the word “happy,” but that does not give an exact meaning because not all times are happy, even for those who are followers of God. It is more like being content. Satisfied in the LORD’s watchfulness and strength and provision.

“Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD.” As always in a context like this, fear does not refer to being afraid of, but to having a respect for. Being in awe of. Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD. Everyone who shows respect and awe by “walking in His ways.”

Then a whole lot of benefits are listed.

Verse 2. “You shall [if you fear the LORD you shall] eat the fruit of the labor of your hands.”

Thinking back to Psalm 127, you will, if you fear the LORD, instead of suffering the results of anxious toil, actually enjoy the fruit of your labor. You shall be happy with what you earn. It shall be well with you.

Verse 3. Your family life will be good.

And let me add this. Your family life will stay good year after year. That promise is first of all suggested by the words, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine.”

This is what I read about that. “Vine” refers to what produced the most important agricultural crop in Israel, which were grapes. Get this. This is what I read, which I think is really cool. Grapes produce what is sweet. Isn’t that a happy description of wives?

But good vines produce so many grapes, they cannot all be used. So some, after being picked, are dried in the sun, which of course results in raisins.

Raisins last for many months. People eat them during times of year when there is no fresh fruit. They are useful for people to take when they go on journeys. Raisins continue to sustain life.

I sometimes share with young couples preparing to be married that things will not stay as they are on the wedding day. Each one of the couple will get older - maybe not so fresh - as time goes on.

I share with couples it is alright for that to happen. Love is to grow and develop to fit the ages of the couple. I think that is what Psalm 128 refers to. Fear the LORD and walk in God’s ways. One of the results will be a marriage that will remain blessed for as long as both shall live, no matter how old they become.

And their children? Children who, according to Psalm 127, are gifts from God? “Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”

Here is what I read about that. Two things.

First, olives are not like grapes, in that they are not sweet. But they are oily. The oil is used for baking and for fuel for lamps and to put on skin to soothe it. Olive oil can also be used it to make certain medicines.

I think that means children - me included a number of years ago - may not always be as sweet as we should be. As sweet as we remember ourselves being. But there are still blessings that can come from children.

And this. Olive trees do not yield fruit until they are several years old. So certainly olive shoots do not produce fruit. The point for parents is to do all you can to keep training and keep molding and keep forming and leading and guiding your children so that one day they will be good adults with hearts for God. So they, too, will fear the LORD and walk in His ways.

A quick point.

Notice the reward of being blessed is not for everyone. It is not promised to everyone. Rather, it is promised to those who fear the LORD. Those who show their respect for Him and their awe of Him by walking in His ways. That last part meaning that every day the choice needs to be made to obey God’s teachings, including to accept Jesus as Savior. It means to listen to the Holy Spirit as He directs you to remember and follow what the Bible teaches.

But do that - fear the LORD and walk in His ways - and the rewards will be wonderful. Including - verses 5 and 6 - the blessings of prosperity, long life, and peace.

I have in this series of messages referred at times to some devotionals written by Michelle Georgiana. I do so again in this message by sharing a comment she wrote.

Michelle wrote, “I know someone out there is thinking, ‘But why did I lose my daughter when she was only a teenager?’ or ‘How come I had a miscarriage and never got to hold my baby and name him or her?’ ‘Where is the peace in that?’”

Speaking for myself, I know people who have died, seemingly too early. As that relates to Psalm 128, before they had opportunities to “see their children’s children,” which is the description of long life given in verse 6.

And hey, not all marriages last, whether the wife is sweet or not.

And not everyone - even followers of God - are prosperous, at least monetarily.

Does that contradict today’s parts of the Songs of Ascent? Here is Michelle’s answer. She writes, “Honestly, I say to those who suffer, I am so sorry you have have heartache and pain, and not even today’s two Psalms explain why bad things have happened. Nor do they guarantee that something bad will not happen in the future. But they do teach us in the here and now how to live. How to make it through life so we can continue to ascend closer to Him. Doing that by inviting Him into every part of our lives, by being willing to accept His rest, by loving our children - and our parents and our wife or husband - as long as we have them. Thereby walking in His ways.”

My own answer to add to what Michelle wrote is this. So am I sorry when people suffer. But at least there is the hope of Heaven for those who accept Jesus. At least there ones who die too early will be seen and enjoyed again.

And prosperity? Maybe you - maybe I - will never make the list of richest Americans. Last Monday the Forbes 400 came out. The list of the 400 richest people in America. Guess what. I was not on that list. I didn’t find your name either.

But if we fear God and walk in His ways - if we do invite Him into our lives, including accepting His rest - we will be spiritually rich. In that may we have peace.

Psalms 127 and 128. Is there a friend you can ascend with? A friend with whom you can share these songs? Let’s do that so together we will be ready to worship - every Sunday, every Wednesday, every other day of each week.

Today’s closing song is O God, Our Help in Ages Past. It has been chosen because just like the Old Testament people of God were to know and obey the words of today’s two Psalms, and just as they were to rely on God, so are we. Just like those of the Old Testament were blessed when they knew, obeyed, and relied on God, so are we.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home!

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night,
Before the rising sun.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guide while life shall las,
And our eternal home!

As we have before during this series of messages on the Songs of Ascent, let’s close today’s service with a responsive reading that highlights much of what today’s Psalms teach us. I will say my part, which is the first line of each section. Please respond with your part, which is the second line of each section.

Unless the LORD builds the house and watches over the city,
those who build or stay awake do so in vain.

It is vain to rise up early and go late to rest.
He gives to His beloved rest.

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walk in His ways.

May your wife be a like a fruitful vine.
May your children, a heritage from the LORD, be like olive shoots.

You shall be happy.
It shall be well with you.

May those words, as they are recited - as they are repeated over and over again - prepare our hearts and our minds to worship God, today and always. Amen.

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