Theme: “Without the Lord, Frustration”
In these lessons, we learn to look to God for life’s purpose.
Scripture: Psalm 127:1-5
“Useless!” That was the first word of a sermon I heard some years ago, and it was very arresting. The speaker was R. C. Sproul, and what he said in the introduction to that sermon was that in all the English language, “useless” was the word he hated most, at least if it was applied to him. He was willing to work hard, to start early and labor late. He was willing to forego present pleasures or benefits. But not if it was useless! Not if what he did had no purpose! “Because,” he explained, “if you say that what I do is useless, you are saying that I am useless. And what that means is that somehow I don’t count.”
Most of us would agree with that wholeheartedly. But what strikes me strongly and sadly is that much of what we pour our lives and energies into is just that: useless—at least in the light of eternity.
Have you watched the recent television commercial for Infinity, the Japanese luxury car import? It starts with provocative questions: “Why do you work so hard? Why do you start early and stay late? Why do you care?” Good questions. Why indeed? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be in order to own a luxury car, since the commercial ends with a woman’s voice saying, “Infinity. Thinking of you.” It is not clear whether this refers to the company thinking of its customers or the customers thinking of the car. But in either case, it is hard to listen to the commercial without thinking how meaningless it all is. For in spite of the sophistication of the ad, the bottom line is surely that all our extremely hard work and caring is in vain if all we get out of it at the end of life’s rat race is a car.
Have you heard of the T-shirt that has this popular sentence on the front: “The one who dies with the most toys wins”? And on the back it says, “But he dies nevertheless.” Well, that is half of the message of Psalm 127, the eighth of the Songs of Ascents.
One noticeable feature of this psalm is that it is said to have been written by Solomon, the son of David, which makes it one of only two in the Psalter with his name. The other is Psalm 72.
Most modern scholars do not like the idea that Psalm 127 might have been written by Solomon since they want to date all the Songs of Ascents from the time of the Jews’ return from the Babylonian exile or later. But there is no compelling reason for refusing Solomon’s authorship of this psalm any more than for refusing David authorship of those appearing under his name (Psalms 122, 124, 131, 133). It would only be a case of an earlier psalm being added to a later collection because of its appropriate subject matter. At any rate, the theme of Psalm 127 is straight from Solomon’s other writings. Solomon’s best-known words are, “Meaningless! Meaningless!…Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 1:2). The better known King James Version said, “Vanity of vanities…All is vanity!” In Psalm 127 the words “in vain” or “vanity” occur three times for emphasis, two times in verse 1 and a third time in verse 2.
Besides, there may be a cryptic reference to himself by Solomon in the words “those he loves” (verse 2). In Hebrew the words are actually “his beloved” (so the King James Version), the very name God himself gave Solomon according to 2 Samuel 12:25: Jedidiah, meaning “Beloved of Jehovah.”
“Useless!” “Meaningless!” “In vain!” Is this what wise Solomon said, then? And is this what the psalm is saying? The answer is, yes—if we leave God out of the picture. Life is meaningless without God. Eat, drink and be merry, but tomorrow you die. Yet that is only half of the picture, only a part of what the psalm says. Everything is meaningless unless the Lord is in it. Building is useless unless the Lord builds the house. Precautions are useless—unless the Lord watches over the city. Unless the Lord blesses our work, unless the Lord blesses our family, our Herculean labors are in vain. But, of course, they are not in vain if God is in what we are doing.
A Latin motto says, Nisi Dominus Frusta. It comes from the first words of this psalm and means “Without the Lord, Frustration.” It is the motto of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, appearing on its crest, and it is affixed to the city’s official documents. It could be attached to the lives of many who are trying to live their lives without God.
Who is the author of Psalm 127? What is the evidence for this?
What causes frustration? How do we see this principle at work in today’s society?
Reflection: How do you regard your efforts? Do they ever seem useless? Why or why not?
Application: Pray for those who feel as if what they do is useless, and that they themselves don’t matter.
Key Point: Everything is meaningless—unless the Lord is in it.
For Further Study: The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is still offering James Boice’s three-volume paperback commentary on all 150 psalms. Order yours today for 25% off the regular price.