The pursuit of happiness. Those words—inscribed in the founding document of the United States—describe so much of people’s focus in life. Of course, those were also not the original words. The committee of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson originally borrowed John Locke’s group of three: life, liberty, and property. However, due to political and economic considerations, they changed it. This itself has some interesting historical implications, but what I find most interesting is how people usually connect these two without even thinking about it. For most, the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of property—the accumulation of things. Today, some have become so disenchanted with this—usually because they do not have many things—that they have come to celebrate living without things. While this has much to recommend it, the fact remains that property of some sort does enter much of life in some way, and therefore it becomes an argument about degree. However, we need not lose our possessions to learn this lesson because God has shown it throughout the scriptures.
Following the Jews return from Babylonian captivity, they began to show greater respect for keeping the Law of Moses, especially in regard to some of the ceremonial aspects clearly laid out in scripture. This included the requirement to journey to Jerusalem for various feast days, such as the Feast of Harvest and Feast of Ingathering (Ex. 32:16), both associated with God’s blessing them with sufficient food to sustain them and maintain their health. As they traveled, they would sing songs written with this in mind, and Psalm 128 was one such song that served that function. Upon their return to the land, they had little wealth but found themselves dependent in practically every way. While certainly a difficult time, somewhat analogous to America’s Great Depression, it helped them focus on what truly mattered, and in the process they discovered that possessions stood much lower on the list than they previously assumed.
Blessedness, notes the psalmist, has roots in characteristics far more important and enduring than the fleeting trappings of opulence—or even comfort. The best life is the blessed life, and that life is grounded in reverence for God and living according to His precepts (Psa. 128:1). More than that, the psalmist notes the joy and satisfaction of working and thus being able to provide for yourself and, by what follows, others (Psa. 128:2), a practice begun in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15) and enjoined in every covenant (2 Thess. 3:10). God makes happiness available to man through what He commands man to do. Thus, in calling on people to marry, be monogamous, and have children, He did not create some oppressive situation for the wife and children but rather the very best environment for all involved, for everyone’s provision, joy, and well-being (Psa. 128:3). So many people today reject God’s plan for the home and only later discover His wisdom after much self-inflicted pain. But those who respect God will respect His wisdom for their lives as well and reap the benefits and blessings of a happy home for many years (Psa. 128:4). However, God did not create families for isolation but for society too—more specifically, spiritual society. Therefore, when families together embraced the spiritual in returning to Jerusalem to honor God and to follow His will, they brought blessings upon themselves far greater than they probably could have imagined (Psa. 128:5). By coming before God they joined in the greater chorus of families determined to do His will and formed a bond of fellowship extended to heaven and thus provided the foundation for a godly society that would bless their families and the nation for years to come (Psa. 128:6).
Society has wandered so far from God in seeking prosperity that it has lost sight of the foundation that makes society a pleasant environment in the first place. When we once more give attention to godliness and morality, build strong and committed marriages, and train our children to do the same, we will accomplish far more good for society than the greatest economic plan in history. The strength of any society lies not in its government or its economy but in the character and godliness of its people, beginning in the home. And that is why we need to get back to basics in America today.