Psalm 128 – Fearing the Lord

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The Psalms of Ascent | Stepping Stones to God’s Heart

“Fearing the Lord” (Psalm 128)

“Blessed are all who fear the LORD.” (Psalm 128:1)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Stepping Stones to God’s Heart,” and together we are studying the fifteen Psalms of Ascent. We’ve seen that these psalms break down into five groups of three psalms each, and each group of three psalms follows a similar pattern. We have a psalm of trouble, followed by a psalm of trust, followed by a psalm of triumph. Today’s psalm is the last psalm in the middle group of three which makes it one of the psalms of triumph.

Psalm 128 is also what we call a wisdom psalm. It is a psalm that imparts wisdom to the reader through short phrases and vivid imagery. It’s important to remember that just as in the book of Proverbs, the wisdom passages in the Bible present wisdom to us rather than absolute promises.

Last week we looked at Psalm 127 which was another wisdom palm. And there’s a reason Psalm 128 follows Psalm 127. Psalm 128 builds off of Psalm 127. Remember that the Psalms of Ascent not only trace our ascent to God’s heart, but they also build off of each other. Common themes are reintroduced and advanced. And that’s what we have here in Psalm 128. Psalm 128 is a wisdom psalm about the blessings God gives to those who fear the Lord. (Read Psalm 128:1-6 and pray.)

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Everyone wants to be happy. Few people are willing to follow God’s way to get there. The world thinks being a Christian takes away your joy. They couldn’t be more wrong. The greatest joys in life come from knowing God and living under his blessing. And that in a nutshell is what Psalm 128 is all about.

We mentioned that this psalm builds off of Psalm 127 which precedes it in the Psalms of Ascent. The two psalms work together as a pair discussing similar themes but from a different angle. For example, Psalm 127 speaks of the city and the home. Psalm 128 focuses on home and the family. This is important because the family is the foundation for everything else in society. If we do not know God’s blessing here, we will not know God’s blessing anywhere else.

But there’s another difference as well. Psalm 127 is a psalm of trust that focuses on receiving God’s blessing as a gift. Psalm 128 is a psalm of triumph that focuses on gaining God’s blessing as a reward. Psalm 127 is all about God and his gifts to us. Psalm 128 is all about our attitudes and actions towards God.

Psalm 128 tells us, “Blessed are all who fear the Lord.” And then it uses the picture of an ideal family to teach us about that blessing. The ideal family in Psalm 128 is similar to the ideal man in Psalm 1, the ideal wife in Proverbs 31, and ideal love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. We sometimes read these passages and are tempted to say, “Get real! That’s not the way life is.” Well, it may not be the way life is, but these passages tell us it is the way life can be. In other words these passages of the ideal man, the ideal wife, the ideal family and ideal love are not meant to discourage us but rather to inspire us to greater possibilities.

And so Psalm 128 paints the picture of a happy home and presents the home as the center of God’s blessing. Who doesn’t want a happy home? Happy and god-fearing homes are an essential part of building God’s kingdom here on earth.

So let’s get into the psalm now. Psalm 128 breaks into two main parts. The first part is a statement of blessing. The second part is a prayer of blessing.

I. Blessed are all who fear the Lord (1-4)
      – Psalm 1:1-3, 119:1-2; John 14:21

Let’s take a look at the statement of blessing first in verses 1-4: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways. 2 You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours. 3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord.” (Psalm 128:1)

The psalmist begins by stating the theme of the psalm: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord.” To fear the Lord does not mean to be afraid of God so that you run away from him. Rather it means to be in awe of God’s majesty so that you approach him with great reverence and respect. It means you take God seriously, and you put him first in your life.

After stating the theme, the psalmist then further defines it: those who fear the Lord are those who walk in God’s ways. In other words a right attitude towards God leads to right actions in your life. Jesus said something similar in John 14:21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)

God has laid out his ways for us in his word. Do you want to understand how life works? Then read the instructions! God has laid it all out for you in his word.

John Phillips calls this the center and the circumference. First put God at the center of your life. That’s the fear of the Lord. And then let God’s law mark the circumference of your life. Let God’s word mark the limits of what you will and will not do. And if you do that, if you put God at the center of your life and make his law the circumference of your life, then God will take care of everything else in between. You will be blessed by God in all that you do.

The word blessed means happy. In fact in the Hebrew the word is in the plural, so you could even translate it, “Happy, happy!” True happiness, real happiness in life is found only in those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways. As Charles Spurgeon says: “We must reverence the ever-blessed God before we can be blessed ourselves.”

This blessing from God is not for everyone, but only for a certain subset of people: those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways. However, although God’s blessing is not for everyone, it is for everyone within that subset. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord.” There are no exceptions here. If you will fear God in your life and walk in his ways, you will be blessed. The psalm gives us the example of a father and husband in the following verses, but verse one tells us up front that this psalm applies to us all who fear the Lord. So whether you are male or female, married or single, with or without children, know this blessed truth – blessed are all who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

We find this truth confirmed for us in other Scriptures as well. For example compare the opening verses of two other wisdom psalms: Psalm 1 and Psalm 119. Psalm 1says: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3) Psalm 119 says: “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.” (Psalm 119:1-2)

“Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways” This is the foundation on which to build a life that is blessed by God.

   A. God will bless your work.
      – Genesis 2:15; Ecclesiastes 2:24-25; Haggai 1:5-6

And then the psalm goes to share specific examples of the ways God will bless you as you fear him and walk in his ways. First of all, God will bless your work. Look at verse 2: “You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” (Psalm 128:2) This does not necessarily mean that you will become wealthy or rich, but rather that you will find fulfillment in your work and that your work will provide for your needs. God’s promise to bless your work is especially striking when you remember that God put a curse upon human work and labor after Adam and Eve sinned back in Genesis.

Too often in life we work hard but we still don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Is it because we are not fearing God and walking in his ways? It is certainly something to consider. The prophet Haggai in the Old Testament warned the Jews who returned to Jerusalem: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” (Haggai 1:5-6) The Jews were working hard but not getting anywhere. That is the opposite of the blessing God offers to those who fear him and walk in his ways.

God wants you to enjoy the fruit of your work. That was his plan from the start. We read in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15) Before Adam and Eve sinned they worked the garden and knew God’s blessing on their work. It was good work with good rewards.

But as we learned last week in Psalm 127, without God work becomes toil. You will not find true blessing or satisfaction in your work apart from God. As Ecclesiastes 2 says: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)

   B. God will bless your marriage.
      – Genesis 1:28; Proverbs 7:11, 18:22

So first of all, God will bless your work. Secondly, he will bless your marriage. Look at verse 3: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house.” (Psalm 128:3a) This speaks of both fruitfulness and faithfulness.

The vine is a picture of fruitfulness. Remember God’s initial blessing on Adam and Eve when he first created them? Genesis 1:28 says: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:28) God’s blessing is related to productivity and fruitfulness. And this doesn’t just mean bearing children, but it means having a full and productive life. The picture here is of a beautiful vine that is thriving, flourishing, fruitful and productive.

And then there is faithfulness. The fact that the vine is “within the house” speaks of faithfulness in marriage. This is in contrast to the adulterous wife described in Proverbs 7 who is never at home: “She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.” (Proverbs 7:11-12)

What’s the sign of a happy marriage? Fruitfulness and faithfulness. Who could ask for anything more?

Marriage is one of God’s great blessings in life. Proverbs 18:22 says: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22) We could also turn that around and say: “She who finds a husband also finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

Marriage is a blessing from God, but God also wants to bless your marriage. Husbands and wives, how you live your life has a huge impact on whether you will know God’s blessing in your marriage. Blessed are all who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

   C. God will bless your family.
      – Psalm 144:12; Proverbs 22:6; Isaiah 52:8

God will bless your work. God will bless your marriage. And then thirdly, God will bless your family. Look at verse 3 again: “Your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.” (Psalm 128:3b) The olive tree is a basic part of agriculture in Israel. In the Bible it is also a picture of productivity and blessing. For example we read in Isaiah 52:8: “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” (Isaiah 52:8)

The image of olive shoots around the table is the picture of a mature, established olive tree with young shoots springing up out of the soil all around it. This was a common sight in Israel. The olive shoots represent youth and energy and, above all, promise. When you sit down to eat with your family, your children are the hope and promise of the future sitting around your table. Psalm 144:12 offers a similar image when it says: “Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.” (Psalm 144:12)

The olive is a slow growing tree. It can take ten to fifteen years before it bears any fruit, but once established the olive tree needs little maintenance or supervision, and it will produce fruit for decades to come. It’s the same way with your children. It will take some time before they grow to independence and maturity. As parents we need to be patient with our children as we raise them in the training and instruction of the Lord. But all your discipline and training will pay off. Proverbs 22:6 tells us: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

I like that Psalm 128 uses the image of the table for the family. The family table or mealtime is especially important for us as families. It’s where the family gathers together and shares about their day, where stories and experiences and values are passed on. It seems it’s getting harder and harder for families to get together even for a few meals a week these days. I would encourage you, no matter what the age of your children, no matter what the makeup of your home, to carve out the time in your schedules and make family mealtime a priority in your home.

And so this first section of Psalm 128 paints a beautiful picture for us. A godly husband, a faithful wife and eager children full of promise – all this is a great sign of God’s blessing in the home. Once again, what more can you ask than God’s blessing on you and those you love?

Notice this first section of the psalm highlights God’s blessing on your work, your marriage and your family. All three of these were God’s provision for us in creation. All three of these were also cursed by God following our fall into sin. But now here in Psalm 128 we see God reverse the curse and bring blessing in all three of these areas when you fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

These verses do not mean that God grants marriage and family to all, but rather this is one of ways he blesses the godly. As Samuel Cox says: “Make [God] your home, and He will make your home a happy home.” Psalm 128:4 says: “Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord.” (Psalm 128:4)

II. A prayer of blessing for those who fear the Lord (5-6a)

So the first part of the psalm is a statement of blessing for those who fear the Lord. The second part is a prayer of blessing for those who fear the Lord. Look at verses 5-6 with me now: “May the Lord bless you from Zion all the days of your life. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem. And may you live to see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel.” (Psalm 128:5-6)

The first part of Psalm 128 presents God’s blessing as his reward for those who fear him, but this second part reminds us that God’s blessing is not automatic. We do not earn it from our obedience. Even God’s rewards are all gifts of his grace. God’s blessing must be received as a gift from God. And we receive things by asking for them in prayer.

   A. May God bless you all the days of your life.
      – Psalm 23:6, 48:1, 134:3; John 14:16-17

There are three parts to this prayer of blessing. First of all, may God bless you all the days of your life. Verse 5: “May the Lord bless you from Zion all the days of your life.” (Psalm 128:5a) This is a prayer of blessing not just for a time or a season, but for the duration of your life. It picks up the language of Psalm 23 which says: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6) God is the source of all blessing, and this prayer is a reminder that every blessing comes from God

Notice the psalmist prays for the Lord to bless you “from Zion.” Once again Zion is the place where God dwells. It is the place where God meets with his people. Blessing in your life comes as you meet daily with the Lord in his presence.

Psalm 48:1 says: “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God [that is, Jerusalem], his holy mountain [that is, Mount Zion].” (Psalm 48:1) It was a blessing for the Jews to be in Zion for the feasts, but Psalm 128 asks for God to bless you from Zion all the days of your life. It’s a peek ahead to the very last psalm of triumph in the Psalms of Ascent – Psalm 134 which says: “May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.” (Psalm 134:3)

For God to bless you from Zion means that God’s blessing extends to you wherever you go. This is fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit for the believer today. As Jesus said in John 14: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17) God the Father and God the Son are present with you through God the Spirit at all times wherever you go.

   B. May God bless you within the community of his people.
      – Psalm 122:6-9

So first of all, may God bless you all the days of your life. And then secondly, may God bless you within the community of his people. We see this in the second half of verse 5: “May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 128:5b)

God is not only concerned with individuals. He is concerned for all his people. And therefore so should we. One of the greatest blessings for the believer is to see all of God’s people prosper. The church is bigger than you, and God’s blessing on the church is your blessing as well.

This part of the prayer looks back to Psalm 122 and its particular focus on the gathering of God’s people. We read in Psalm 122:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.” (Psalm 122:6-9)

We said then that is not only a prayer for Israel and Jerusalem. We need to be praying for Israel and Jerusalem, but it is also a prayer for all of God’s people. It’s a prayer for the well-being of God’s church.

Psalm 122 was the first of the psalms of triumph in the Psalms of Ascent. Psalm 128 is the middle of the psalms of triumph. And we’ve already seen how Psalm 128 looks ahead to Psalm 134 which is the last of the psalms of triumph. And so this middle psalm of triumph looks back to the first psalm of triumph in Psalm 122 and also looks forward to the last psalm of triumph in Psalm 134.

   C. May God bless you with a long and fulfilling life.
      – Proverbs 10:27, 17:6, 22:4; 2 Timothy 1:5

May God bless you all the days of your life. May God bless you within the community of his people. And then thirdly, may God bless you with a long and fulfilling life. Look at verse 6 now which says: “. . . and may you live to see your children’s children.” (Psalm 128:6a)

In the fifth commandment God promised a long life and a good life to those who honor their mother and father. Now here in Psalm 128 the blessings of the fifth commandment are applied to all those who fear the Lord. These prayers of blessing for those who fear the Lord not only stretch outward to the community of God’s people but also onwards to future generations of children.

Verse 6 is a prayer both for long life and the continuation of your family. This is part of God’s blessing or reward for those who fear him. Proverbs 10:27 says: “The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” (Proverbs 10:27) Proverbs 17:6 says: “Children’s children are a crown to the aged.” (Proverbs 17:6)

Many of you know the blessings of having grandchildren. Psalm 128 reminds you that they are God’s blessing on your life! So make sure you tell others not just “I love my grandchildren!” but also, “I thank God he has blessed me with my grandchildren. I thank God that he has blessed me with length of life to see and know my children’s children.”

Also make sure that you pass on your faith to your children and grandchildren. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Timothy 1:5) What a rich blessing you leave for your children and grandchildren when you live a godly life in fear of the Lord! What a blessing to pass on a godly heritage to your children’s children! Proverbs 22:4 says: “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.” (Proverbs 22:4)

And so we find this beautiful prayer of blessing in Psalm 128 for those who fear the Lord. May God bless you all the days of your life. May God bless you within the community of his people. May God bless you with a long and fulfilling life that you may live to see your children’s children.

III. A prayer for peace upon Israel (6b)
      – cf. Psalm 122:6, 125:5

Finally the psalm ends with a prayer for the peace of Israel. Verse 6: “Peace be upon Israel.” (Psalm 128:6b) Notice the progression from the individual (1-2) to the family (3-4) to the wider community (5-6) in this psalm. Once again, we are to be concerned for all God’s people, not just for our own family or for ourselves.

This is the third prayer for the peace of Israel we have seen so far in the Psalms of Ascent (cf. Psalm 122:6, 125:5). As we mentioned earlier in this series, every third psalm in the Psalms of Ascent, each of the psalms of triumph, ends with an expression of peace or blessing for Israel.

CONCLUSION: Psalm 128 is a beautiful psalm that speaks of God’s blessing on all those who fear the Lord, and it describes this blessing in terms of the ideal family. You might be wondering this morning, “That’s all well and good, but what if I don’t have an ideal family?” Well, first of all, welcome to the club! But secondly, in holding up the ideal family, the psalm points beyond our broken, sinful families here on earth to the beauty and perfection of God’s family in heaven. None of us have a perfect family here on earth, but we will all experience the blessing of an ideal family in heaven.

God may or may not bless you with marriage or children in this life. But either way the promise of this psalm remains. Blessed are all who fear the Lord. God has promised to bless all those who fear him and walk in his ways. When you long for the same things God longs for, you will see you desires fulfilled.

Psalm 128 teaches us that there is a direct relationship between your attitudes and actions and God’s blessing in your life. God’s blessing is available to everyone. You can choose to either welcome God’s blessing in your life or you can chase it away. It all comes down to fearing the Lord and walking in his ways.

Psalm 128 teaches us that how you live your life matters, both for you and for so many other people in your life. There is a ripple effect in each of our lives that flows outward. Your attitude and actions have an impact not only on your personal life, but also on your family, on your community and on future generations. Psalm 128 teaches us that the influence of the godly person is great, that God’s blessing flows outward from the individual, to your family, to your church, to the whole people of God.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ became a curse for us, so that we might receive the blessing of God. (Galatians 3:13-14) Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He took the penalty that was due us. He took the curse of God for sin upon his own flesh. He paid it in full so that we could come and know God’s blessing.

So don’t miss out on God’s blessing! Fear God and walk in his ways that you may know the fullness of God’s blessing in your life. Blessed are all who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

© Ray Fowler

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