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Psalm 127

Partners with God

Secularism has made self-reliance more attractive than ever, but people have always been tempted to take charge and rely on their own smarts and strength. Solomon says we were never meant to live like that.

A Solomon song. A song of ascents.

Unless Yahveh builds the house
the builders are just wasting their time.
Unless Yahveh protects the city
the sentries may as well go on home to bed.
2 There’s no point
getting up early and staying up late—
running yourself ragged to provide for yourself
when God gives sleep to those he loves.

3 Our sons come to us as a gift from Yahveh
those we produce as his reward.
4 The sons God gives us in our youth
are like the arrows in a warrior’s hand.
5 How fortunate
the man whose quiver God has filled with them!
They won’t have to back down
when they stand up to his foes at the city gate.

Most people rely on their own planning and hard work to make things happen in their lives. Solomon warns that all we do—from building a house and providing for ourselves to protecting a city—is futile unless we do it in partnership with God. No amount of vigilance, self-effort, or self-sacrifice can make up for his blessing, guiding and empowering. Without him, we can never do enough. And the intolerable burden autonomy puts on us robs us of peace and drives us to workaholism and other forms of self-medication. Every self-made man or woman around is living proof of that. By contrast, God wants us to rest (and sleep!) in the knowledge that he’s the only one who can bring our work to fruition.

No less jarring to modern ears than Solomon’s advocating dependence on God, against self-reliance, is his wisdom regarding families. Ancient Israel’s patriarchy made having strong young men in a family vital. For they could back their father up when people falsely accused him or his family of wrongdoing at the city gate, where such disputes were launched. Boys, like girls, are a gift to us from God, who partners with us in families too, forging the sort of strength that contributes to making a healthy, resilient society.

Without you I can do nothing, Jesus. Help me to surrender my will to you, trusting that you want what’s truly best for me and can help me long to please you. Your purposes cannot fail. Help me to rest in the knowledge that in partnership with you, I can do everything you want me to do. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

Unless Yahveh builds the house
the builders are just wasting their time.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.