With These We Shall Be Content

Peasant Family 1What does it look like when a man is blessed by God? When someone says, “That man has been blessed by God” what picture pops in your head?  Do you see a rich man in a business suit who employs dozens of workers? Do you see a martyr who is being burned at the stake? Do you see a man with a huge national following and who is a best selling author? What does a man blessed by God look like? Or we could rephrase it, when God blesses a man what is the content of those blessings?

In our world, blessings or happiness are often associated with material wealth or power. Who do most young children want to be like? The rich, famous, and powerful. As Christians we “sanctify” this secular vision.  Who are the truly blessed Christians? Those who have done great things for God or are wealthy or sell a lot of books and speak at conferences. Therefore most of us view God’s blessing as out of our reach. How many of will ever be truly wealthy? How many of us will ever get the opportunity to die at the stake or write a book that sells a million copies? Most of us will lead normal lives and the pass out of this world a hero to a few, but unknown to most. We are of course blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), which is not small thing. But what does a blessed life on earth look like?

Psalm 128 gives a surprising answer to this question. First, how does a man get blessed by God? What brings the blessing of God upon a man and his household? Psalm 128:1 gives us the answer. The man who fears God and walks in His ways will be blessed. The man whose heart is bent to the Lord will be blessed. The man whose life reflects that bowed heart will be blessed by God. As Calvin says, “The root must necessarily produce its corresponding fruit.” A man who fears God will walk in his ways. If we want to be blessed by God we must not only obey his commandments, but we must obey from a sincere heart.

If the heart is joined unto God, the feet will follow hard after him. A man’s heart will be seen in his walk, and the blessing will come where heart and walk are both with God. Charles Spurgeon on Psalm 128:1

Second, where does this blessing come from? We find this at the end of the Psalm. In Psalm 128:5 the blessing comes from Zion. The point is that God’s blessings are all of grace. They come from his holy hill of Zion, not because of our merit or good works or holiness. God has made a covenant with us through His Son. This covenant is gracious and therefore any blessing that flows to us comes from God’s grace and kindness.

Finally, what is the nature of this blessing from God? And here is where the shock comes for us 21st century American Christians who tend to associate blessing with money, power, and fame. The blessing consists of three things: fruitful labor, a fruitful wife, and children (Psalm 128:2-4). A man who fears God and walks in his ways will find joy in his work, which is a reversing to a small degree of the curse from Genesis 3:17-19. He works hard and his joyful in the fruit of that labor. He has enough and when sits down to eat he is satisfied.

His wife will be a fruitful vine. Kidner notes that the vine was symbol not just of fruitfulness, but of sexuality (Song of Solomon 7:8) and festivity. This wife is a like a glass of wine, slightly intoxicating and a joy to partake of. She will be within, in the midst of the home, in contrast to the woman of Proverbs 7:11 whose feet will not stay at home. This, Psalm 128:3, does not mean women should always be home. But it should make us reconsider the career woman who dominates the American and evangelical landscape.

Finally, his children are like olive plants seated at his table. He is the olive tree and little plants spring up around him. Psalm 127:4 compares children to arrows. Here they are compared to plants. Many commentators note that these represent two different phases of a child’s life. In Psalm 127 they are getting sent out of the home. Here they are being tended like young plants in a greenhouse. They are not yet olive trees. They are just shoots or plants. They need to be fed and nourished spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The husband provides through his labor in the field while the wife is a “fruitful vine” providing for these olive plants in the midst of the house. Olive plants were an “emblem of peace, prosperity, and wealth” and they were known for their “beauty, fruitfulness, and usefulness to mankind” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary). Children are a form of wealth.

We have let the world’s definition of blessing slowly seep into our lives and hearts.  We pray for God to bless us. But what we usually mean is make my life easier or give me more money, power, or freedom. A man who fears God and walks with him will surely be blessed. But not in the way he thinks. Usually, he will have a job that provides for his needs and the needs of his family, a wonderful, wife who is fruitful, and children around his table. “Behold thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”

The Prophet…properly reminds the faithful that they already receive some of the fruit of their integrity, when God gives them their food, makes them happy in their wives and children and condescends to take care of their life. John Calvin on Psalm 128