Though familiar to the reader and often quoted by the preacher, the meaning of Psalm 127 plumbs greater depths than today’s casual acquaintance typically assumes. While the uninspired inscription assigns this Song of Ascents to Solomon, it could just as easily imply an attempt to mimic his style due to an affiliation with his circumstances when the Jews returned from captivity to rebuild the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and the people of God. In fact, this latter formulation fits well the content of the psalm far better than a reference to the third and final king of the United Kingdom. Regardless of the time of the writing, the content itself challenges modern sensibilities as much as those in ancient Israel.
The opening verse establishes the theme. “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain” (Psa. 127:1). No matter how desperately we may seek security in life—by building a house or trusting in the protection of the government—only the LORD can truly and consistently deliver. No matter how much effort you may put into it yourself—even working yourself to the bone—the comfort of putting your head down at night and sleeping peacefully depends upon the LORD (Psa. 127:2). And while the next section of the psalm appears so different on its face that some have suggested it as a separate and distinct poem, in truth it builds upon the theme of security by contrasting the typical ways men seek it—in building structures and creating alliances—and instead shows how God provides us with security in a way we seldom consider. “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psa. 127:3). Rather than changing topics, the author provides a different perspective about security. As he previously emphasized that all efforts are vain unless the LORD provides it, here he draws attention to what the LORD has provided—children as a heritage. That security remains the focus becomes clear by the descriptions that follow. “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate” (Psa. 127:4-5). Arrows in the hand of a warrior most certainly imply a means of protection from enemies. More than that, he also refers to “enemies in the gate” with whom those same children speak. Since the gate of the city was the place where the ancient Jews made important decisions and conducted negotiations, he places the children in leadership positions in the community and perhaps even nation as another means of protection.
All of this may seem rather disconcerting considering how people generally use this passage. However, in the flow of the context, the psalm points out that as a man grows older, nothing can protect his interest, his livelihood, and his person like his own offspring, who out of love, relationship, and bond will consider his interests as their own while moving into the ranks of the army and leadership of the community. In New Testament terms, children have the role of taking care of their parents as they age (1 Tim. 5:8) from the depth of appreciation they have for their upbringing, from their respect for what they have provided them in life, and from a love that continues to grow as the children progress from the needy to the needed (Eph. 6:2-3).
Parents, as we raise our children, everything we do should be designed around the type of adults our children will become. And the type of adults we should most want them to be are those who are a true heritage from the LORD, people who place their faith in God, grow to become productive citizens, and love their parents deeply—enough to care for them, protect them, and provide for them if need be. We have come to trust in retirement, social security, and all kinds of programs to take care of us as we age. As a society, we should begin by raising children who are more than willing to care for us, because no security is better than the love of your children built on faith in God.