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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 128

Verses 1-6


IT is not quite easy to see why this psalm occurs among the "Songs of Ascents." The sentiment of it is that true religion never loses its reward; or, in other words, that whoever fears God shall be blessed. Five points of blessedness are enumerated (Psalms 128:2, Psalms 128:3, Psalms 128:5, Psalms 128:6); but no one of them seems to attach especially to pilgrims visiting Jerusalem. The picture of domestic life is pleasing, and one scarcely touched by any other psalmist.

Psalms 128:1

Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord (comp. Psalms 112:1; Psalms 115:13); that walketh in his ways. The psalmist assumes that true religious fear of God, and a good and holy life, will necessarily go together. The point on which he wishes to insist is that on every such case will rest God's blessing.

Psalms 128:2

For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands. This is the first point of the "blessedness." God's faithful servant shall enjoy the fruits of his own industry, and not have them devoured by strangers (comp. Deuteronomy 28:33; Le Deuteronomy 26:16; Psalms 109:11). Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee; rather, happy thou, and well is it with thee (comp. Deuteronomy 33:29).

Psalms 128:3

Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides (rather, in the inner chambers) of thine house. The second point of blessedness is a fruitful wife, content to dwell in the female apartments of the house, to keep at home (Titus 2:5) and guide the household. Thy children like olive plants; or, "olive shoots"—the vigorous offsets from an aged olive tree, which spring up around it, ready to take its place. Round about thy table. Clustering around thy board, at once a source of cheerfulness and strength (see Psalms 127:5). This is the third point of blessedness.

Psalms 128:4

Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord. The promise must not be regarded as universal and absolute, but as general and admitting exceptions. Still, even under the new covenant, "Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8).

Psalms 128:5

The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion. To the Israelite all blessings came out of Zion, which he regarded as God's earthly dwelling-place. And thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. The "good of Jerusalem" seems to mean here the "good fortune," or "prosperity," of Jerusalem. To see this would add still further to the blessedness of God's faithful servant.

Psalms 128:6

Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children. This is mentioned as the crowning blessing granted to Job in his second period of happiness (Job 42:16). It is here promised to the faithful generally, And peace upon Israel. This is best taken as a detached clause, like the concluding clause of Psalms 125:1-5; and rendered, "Peace be upon Israel."


Psalms 128:1-6

Present recompense.

It is quite certain that the true and loyal servant of God will be abundantly rewarded; it is not certain when or how he will receive his recompense. There are three spheres in which that reward may lie. It may be largely, almost wholly, in the future. Bitter and protracted persecution may make the present life nearly worthless, so far as happiness is concerned (see 1 Corinthians 15:19). Or it may be largely in the sphere of the spiritual—in the cleansed and pure heart; in elevation of character; in fellowship with God. Or it may be partly in the present and the temporal. Commonly, God rewards his children in all these ways. Our text deals with the last and least of these. If a man fears God and keeps his command-meats, he will, under ordinary conditions, have, as the token of Divine favor—

I. THE REAPING OF THE FRUIT OF HIS LABOR. He "eats the labor of his hands." The builder rejoices in the house which he has erected, the farmer in the fields he has made productive, the florist in the garden he has planted, the author in the book he has written, the statesman in the measures he has passed into law, etc. Apart from the physical comfort it may bring us, we have a pure pleasure in the effect of honest and faithful work. And if a man cherishes a humble and grateful spirit, it is permissible that he enjoys the success which he has achieved, and the honor or the pleasure he has earned by patient industry.


1. Conjugal. (Psalms 128:3.) The wife to her husband, the husband to his wife, is a "goodly heritage"—a joy and a treasure which no prince can confer, no money will buy. True conjugal affection, the outgrowth of mutual esteem, is a source of lasting and elevating gladness of heart, for which all who have possessed it should give heartiest thanks to the Giver of all good. And with a sense of recipiency should be associated a sense of duty; it becomes husband and wife to maintain through life the sweetness and excellency of this attachment; to do this by mutual courtesy, self-sacrifice, concession, tender ministry in health and in sickness, united effort on behalf of others.

2. Parental.

(1) Children should be welcomed as precious gifts from the kind hand of God (see Psalms 127:3-5; Genesis 33:5). They "bring love with them," we say, but they do more that that—they open our nature and call forth its best affections; they unseal fountains of purest feeling which otherwise would not have flowed forth; they immeasurably enrich our souls and our lives by the love they evoke and by the love they return. They to whom children are not given will render themselves a most valuable service and give themselves the best opportunity of doing good, by adopting the fatherless and the motherless, and making them their own. Children, if ordinarily affectionate, will soon excite tender feeling in the breast; and many are they who have learnt to love the child of their adoption with a warmth and with a depth of love that went far beyond their anticipation, and that greatly enlarged their heart and enhanced the value of their life.

(2) Children should be treated as the most sacred charge placed in the hand of man by the hand of God. No one can tell the capacities and possibilities that are folded in the form and hidden in the heart of a little child.

(3) Children should realize how much they owe to those who have expended on them the wealth of a parent's love. It becomes them to be a constant source of joy at home, and to be a defense and protection against all that would invade its peace (see Psalms 127:5).


Psalms 128:1-6

The secret of the happy home.


1. This is not a slavish fear, but that reverent and loving regard to the Lord's will, in all things, which will make a man shrink from transgression.

2. He has this blessed fear who himself has known the loving-kindness of the Lord, and whose love has been wakened up thereby. This fear of the Lord is the essential foundation of the truly happy home.

3. It must be in the head of the household, and should be in the wife and children too. Indeed, if husband and with are not of one mind in this respect, it is difficult to see how their home can be happy.

II. WHERE THIS IS, THE FATHER WILL HIMSELF BE BLESSED. Every verse in this psalm declares this, and constant experience endorses it.

1. The man shall be blessed in himself. "Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee." The fear of God preserves him; the Spirit of God rules him; the love of God has redeemed him: he is happy in God.

2. He is blessed in his business. (Psalms 128:2.) He shall not live by begging, by knavery, by any unworthy means, but by God's blessing upon his honest toil. This is the happiest way of living, and it shall be to the man who feareth the Lord.

3. In his home. Dear wife and children shall make him glad; no solitary, loveless abode shall his be, but a home in all the blessed meaning of that word. And, thank God, there are myriads such—affectionate, well-ordered, healthful, pure, bright.

4. He shall be blessed through the Church's ministry and fellowship. (Psalms 128:5.) The blessing of the Lord in his Church was sought on the union of his wife and himself; their children, one by one, were brought and presented to the Lord in baptism, and the Lord's blessing sought upon and won for them; and in the holy services of the Church his household is trained to take part. And the influence of all this on the home happiness is great indeed.

5. He is blessed in the guarantees that such homes as his give for the peace and prosperity of his country. (Psalms 128:5, Psalms 128:6.) Such homes are a nation's bulwarks, and do more for the good of the nation and her peace and preservation than all the munitions of war. Where such homes are, the aged are cheered by seeing their children's children enjoy the blessings they have helped to secure, and by the prospect that when they are gone their descendants will enjoy like peace. Such are the blessings of him that feareth the Lord.

III. AND THE WIFE. (Psalms 128:2.) She shall be as the beautiful fragrant vine, and not alone in its fruitfulness. There will be that; she will be the joyful mother of many bright, happy, and healthful children, who cling to her as the clusters do to the vine; but also, like the vine, she will be for the comfort and adornment of the home, imparting gracious shade and shelter from the heat (cf. Micah 4:4). It is not said, but it is implied all through, that the same blessed fear of the Lord that dwells in her husband dwells also in her.

IV. AND THE CHILDREN. "Like olive plants." It is a common sight, in the lands where the olive grows, to see the parent tree surrounded, and, as it were, sustained, by the young olive shoots that have sprang from its roots. As they have sprung from the parent root, so they are like their parent, and they gather round, as the children do round the table at home. Yes, the children are as the parent. The godly man will be blessed in his children: their father's God will their God; they will be as their father, and will hand on the fear of the Lord which they first learnt from him. May our children be as these olive plants!—S.C.

Psalms 128:3-6

Home, sweet home!

Apart from the plain teachings of Holy Scripture—

I. THE MIND OF GOD IS EVIDENT IN REGARD TO FAMILY LIFE FROM THE NUMERICAL EQUALITY OF MEN AND WOMEN. It is not alone that God, in the beginning, gave one woman to be the wife of one man; but his will is still expressed by the equality which seems perpetual and universal in the numbers of each sex that are born. The histories of patriarchs and kings who departed from this monogamic law are recorded, not for imitation, but for warning. No blessing ever resulted from it, but everywhere and always misery, discord, and strife. So it always has been, and so it ever must be. Family life, in the true sense of the term, was impossible in the crowded harems of men like David, Solomon, and so many more. It is possible only where God's primeval law is obeyed.

II. FROM THE FACT OF PARENTAL LOVE, ESPECIALLY THE DEEP SELF-SACRIFICING MOTHER-LOVE, into which it is God's will that children should be born. This is to be the beautiful and wholesome atmosphere of the home as it generally is. The children bring the love for them along with them.

III. THE PRESERVATION OF THE FAMILY INSTITUTION. What other institution, civil, ecclesiastical, political, has not had its day and disappeared? But not this.

IV. THE TREMENDOUS INFLUENCE OF THE HOME UPON THE CHILDREN. It is not alone their physical existence that they owe to their parents; but their mental, moral, and spiritual characteristics are, though not absolutely, yet almost entirely, dependent upon their parents. No child can escape the influence of its home.

V. HOW BLESSED ARE, AS A RULE, THE RESULTS OF THIS DIVINE ARRANGEMENT! What a vast proportion of the whole sum of human happiness springs from it! The very word "home' has a magic power in the hearts of most men. It summons up memories of delight. Our Lord himself portrays heaven itself to us as "my Father's house"—his home.

VI. ITS SUPREME PURPOSE. (Malachi 2:15.) Can any one conceive of a more effectual and more beneficent and gracious method whereby the kingdom of God should be set up in the world? The Divine wisdom and love are conspicuous therein.—S.C.


Psalms 128:1

Practical fear.

"Feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways." "Let us cultivate that holy filial fear of Jehovah, which is the essence of all true religion; the fear of reverence, of dread to offend, of anxiety to please, and of entire submission and obedience. This fear of the Lord is the fit fountain of holy living; we look in vain for holiness apart from it: none but those who fear the Lord will ever walk in his ways" (Spurgeon). The rabbis explain the sentence in this way: "Abstains from breaches of the prohibitory commandments of the Decalogue, and performs the positive ones." True fear is linked with obedience and righteousness.

I. THE FEAR THAT PARALYZES EFFORT. This is the fear that takes form as fright. Sudden alarm often renders persons absolutely helpless. There is a moral fear of persons which has a similar effect. We cannot be our true selves in their presence. Because of overstrained nervous condition, Elijah felt this fear when he received the threatening message of Jezebel. But, in its bad form, this paralyzing fear is best illustrated by the one-talent man of our Lord's parable, who excused neglect of duty with the plea, "I knew thee, that thou art an austere man. And I feared." The true fear of God makes such unworthy fear of any one, or anything, else impossible.

II. THE FEAR THAT WASTES ITSELF IN SENTIMENT. There is a fear which belongs only to the emotions, and is but a matter of feeling. One of the great perils of modern religious life is making sentiment stand in place of righteousness. The answer of the modern religious man to every inquiry respecting his standing and his hope, is this, "I have felt." The fear of sentiment has in it more awe than love, and it is only too likely to grow into demoralizing superstition, that covers and excuses self-indulgence Sentiment and superstition are always satisfied with themselves; make a center of self; and feel relieved of all claims of duty and righteousness.

III. THE FEAR THAT INSPIRES ENDEAVOR. He who fears aright finds the fear inspire walking in ways of obedience. This is indeed the test of all forms of fear. The true fear of God draws us nearer to him, and puts us upon a holy anxiety to please him. The fear of God excites to a threefold endeavor; we want

(1) to obey him;

(2) to honor him;

(3) to serve him. And such practical fear is blessed.—R.T.

Psalms 128:2

The link between labor and reward.

Labor is not a part of the judgment on man's fall; the conditions under which he has to labor may be. Labor is presupposed in the nature of man, and in his relations to the material world in which he is placed. There is a fixed, natural, and necessary connection between labor and reward; but man's frailties and sins, with their consequences, make contingent what should be necessary. And so the reaping of reward for toil comes properly to be regarded as a sign of Divine working; an intervention and overruling of Divine providence. A very curious instance of the way in which nature illustrates even human wrongdoing is seen in the fish-eating bird, that will not fish for himself, but watches for and snatches away the prey for which another bird has labored, thus coming in between labor and reward, as evil men so often do.

I. THE NATURAL LINK. God has fixed, in the order of nature, that profit, increase, shall universally attend labor. The model is found in the harvest-field. Plant a seed in the prepared ground, and that labor shall be rewarded with thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. There is always something wrong when no reward follows labor. This law is as fixed as the law of the sunrising, and therefore the confidence of reward is always acting as an incentive to labor.

II. THE INTERRUPTIONS OF THE NATURAL LINK. For interruptions of the natural order there are in this as in every other sphere of nature. It is said, "There is no law without exceptions." It would be better to say, "without limitations and qualifications." Some are

(1) natural. Lack of rain, locust-plague, etc; may prevent reward following labor in the harvest-field. Some are

(2) artificial. They arise out of men's enmities or wrongdoings, as when Bedouins sweep away the harvest of the farmer's toil.

III. THE RESTORATION OF THE NATURAL LINK. In this way the work of Divine grace in godly lives may be presented. Even while recognizing Divine permissions of calamity, we may dwell restfully on the assurance of Divine overruling. Just what God is doing in every individual and every family life of which he approves is, removing or restraining the artificial, and restoring the natural.—R.T.

Psalms 128:3

Family joys.

This psalm is the picture of a God-fearing father, blessed with wealth and offspring, and with long life to see God's blessing upon Jerusalem. Dr. Barry renders this verse," Thy wife, in the inner chamber, is like the fruitful vine." Vines in the East are not usually trained over houses, or on walls. The vine is an emblem chiefly of fruitfulness, but perhaps also of dependence, as needing support; the olive of vigorous, healthy, joyous life. "We see the father of the family, working hard no doubt, but recompensed for all his pains by an honorable competence, and the mother, instead of seeking distraction outside her home, finding all her pleasures in the happiness of her numerous children, who, fresh and healthy as young saplings, gather round the simple but ample board." "Olive plants" are illustrated thus: "This aged and decayed tree is surrounded, as you see, by several young and thrifty shoots, which spring from the root of the venerable parent. They seem to uphold, protect, and embrace it. We may even fancy that they now bear that load of fruit which would otherwise be demanded of the feeble parent."

I. FAMILY JOYS COME OUT OF FAMILY TOIL. One idler in a family spoils the family joy. Each member must have his or her sphere, and love work. The self-indulgent member, the ne'er-do-well, the spendthrift, is the household anxiety. In common and united labor is found the family satisfaction.

II. FAMILY JOYS COME OUT OF RELATIVITY. Each member is an individual with marked individuality. A puzzle-shaped piece. There is trouble when the pieces do not fit to one another. The secret of family joy is each one getting shaped to the other, so that individuality is perfected in relationship.

III. FAMILY JOYS COME OUT OF AFFECTION. There is a peculiar feeling toward each other cherished by members of one family. We call it family affection. Illustrate by the joy of times of family reunion; and show how that affection helps family relations and sanctifies family fellowship.

IV. FAMILY JOYS COME OUT OF PIETY. Which is the recognition of another and all-hallowing family life. For piety is no other than a realization of our family life with God. And the more worthily we respond to that, the more skillfully and successfully we meet the obligations of the family life on earth.—R.T.

Psalms 128:4

The present blessings of the pious.

Dr. Binney, in his day, made some commotion by his book on 'Making the Best of Both Worlds.' And yet he did but write in the line of all Old Testament teaching; in accordance with the teaching of our Divine Lord, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you;" and after the firm declaration of St. Paul, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." We ought to have outlived all possibility of misapprehending such teaching; and yet there are still among us those who see in religion only a safety for the world to come, which permits indifference to the interests of the present. "Living on high" is too often confused with "living on yonder." And it is too readily forgotten that this world is just as truly, and just as much, God's world as any other world can be. The devil talked about giving the world to Jesus; but a good many people besides the devil have offered to give what never was and never will be theirs. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof; the round world, and they that dwell therein."

I. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF DEFERRED BLESSING. It must be distinctly recognized that the immediate connection between happiness and piety is never guaranteed. The connection is, but the immediacy is not. If man was beyond the need of moral training, happiness and piety might have no break between them. But man has to learn to trust. It is a lesson that is only learned in the school of deferred hope.

II. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF BESTOWED BLESSINGS. For, as a rule, the good man is happy in his goodness, and happy through his goodness. And that sign of Divine favor tends to nourish and culture humility and thankfulness. In true-minded persons to win may be a peril by nourishing pride; but to receive never is a peril, for it nourishes humility. The wonder of the grateful man is the blessing of which he is the recipient. So God works his work of grace by his benedictions.

III. THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF PROMISED BLESSINGS. If the present is bright, we look up rather than on. If the present is dark, we look on rather than up. We do not always want the future; it is sufficiently guaranteed by God's grace in the present. But there are times of bodily frailty and trying circumstance, when hope dies down in the soul. Then it is we need the cheer of visions of the city of everlasting good, and love, and life.—R.T.

Psalms 128:6

Length of life a recognition of family goodness.

Notice that the welfare of the family and the welfare of the state are indissolubly connected. The expression, "children's children" is literally, "and see thou sons to thy sons." "Long life crowns all temporal favors." Solomon says that "children's children are the crown of old men." "The good man is glad that a pious stock is likely to be continued; he rejoices in the belief that other homes as happy as his own will be built up, wherein altars to the glory of God shall smoke with the morning and evening sacrifice. This promise implies long life, and that life rendered happy by its being continued in our offspring. It is one token of the immortality of man that he derives joy from extending his life in the lives of his descendants."

I. LENGTH OF LIFE IS BUT A WEARINESS UNDER SOME CONDITIONS. In itself there is no special good in long life. When a man has done his work, he is ready for his work under the next set of conditions. Bunyan may picture a "Land of Beulah," but the years of retirement, after business life is over, are seldom an unmixed and unqualified joy. The "Preacher's" description of painful, wearying old age is often realized. Godless old age, with its crushing burden of youthful sins, is a miserable business; and even the godly man finds the waiting years wearily weighted with pain and suffering. And prolonged life is especially weary when a man outlives all his family and friends; and, after having been wrapped about, all his life, with family love, is dependent on strangers. It is one joy of family life that this seldom happens when a man has his quiver full of children.

II. LENGTH OF LIFE IS BUT A BLESSING UNDER SOME CONDITIONS. There is nothing more beautiful in social life than reverent, honored, upright old age. The value of old men's influence on us is suggested by that pathetic interest we have in their lovely white hair. Let man but keep healthy, and quick-minded to the changing interests of the passing age, and prolonged life can be nothing but a joy to him. Under the same conditions, his continuance is nothing but a joy and blessing to his family, who make him the center which holds them all in a loving and mutually helpful unity. And under the same conditions, old men are nothing but a blessing to the state, which is kept steady by the conservative goodness of its aged members.—R.T.


Psalms 128:1-6

A sunny picture of the life era good man.

"Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord," etc.

I. THE GREATEST, MOST INFLUENTIAL, RELIGION IS COMPOUNDED OF "THE FEAR" OF THE CONSCIENCE AND THE TRUST AND LOVE OF THE HEART. "The fear" is the elevating fear of offending against the highest law, and the strongest, tenderest love—one of the holiest feelings that Christ has generated in the new life.

II. SUCH A CONTINUATION RESULTS IN THE BEST, MOST OBEDIENT, LIFE. "That walketh in his ways." The "walking" in the ways of God is the habitual life of God-like ways—not any occasional outburst of righteous impulses or endeavors. The walk of a man in his settled character.

III. SUCH A LIFE GIVES HIM A LOFTY INDEPENDENCE. "He eats of the labor of his hands." He enjoys the satisfaction of living upon his own labor, and not upon what others have done for him. This entails health, competence, and the highest prosperity. "Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee."

IV. AND PRODUCES ALSO THE HAPPINESS OF THE HOME LIFE. The wife is the image of rich abundance; the children, of vigorous health. This is supposed principally to spring from the life and influence of the good man—his life is reproduced in the life of the wife and children; and they depend upon him, as the vine depends upon that to which it clings. The whole passage is richer in what it suggests than in what it pictures.

V. SUCH A MAN STANDS IN USEFUL AND HAPPY RELATIONS WITH THE CHURCH AND THE CITY. (Psalms 128:5.) He is blessed out of Zion, and sees the good of Jerusalem. Individual character is the center of all life, both in Church and State; and when each is filled with the power of Christ in his personal life, he helps to flood the life of the Church and of the State with the only enduring elements of the highest prosperity.

VI. HE REJOICES IN A HAPPY OLD AGE, AND IN THE COMPANIONSHIP OF HIS CHILDREN'S CHILDREN. The good man, whose affections and sympathies remain pure down to old age, takes great delight in children and grandchildren, and sees in them the pledges of future peace to the Church and the country.—S.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 128". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.