Theme: Two Blessings
In this week’s lessons, we see how we ought to think and act biblically, and the blessings that the Lord provides when we do this.
Scripture: Psalm 128:1-6
I imagine that anyone who has ever tried to raise a family comes to the Bible’s pictures of domestic joy with a certain amount of skepticism. There is a very good reason for it. Families are made up of people, people are sinners, and sin disrupts even the best of relationships. But the psalm is not promising utopia. When it speaks of the God-fearing, fruitful family, as it does in verse 3, it is not implying that there will never be difficulties any more than it is promising material blessing without the frustrations and even failures of physical work in verse 2. Of course there will be problems. But what the psalm is saying is that if a man truly fears and obeys God, God will bless him with a fruitful wife and prospering children.
Are there exceptions? Yes. Otherwise every child who disobeys his or her parents and dishonors the family could be excused on the grounds that the failure was that of the child’s father or mother, and that is just not the case. Nor is every loud, ignorant, crude or disagreeable wife the husband’s failure. This is wisdom literature, after all. It is in the same category as Proverbs 22:6, which says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
This does not mean that no properly raised child will ever rebel against his or her background. The children of godly parents can and often do rebel. But what it does mean is that, as a rule, godly training issues in godly lives. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. That is the kind of thing being said in this psalm: that as a rule the person who is God-fearing and who tries to obey God will be blessed with a God-fearing and obedient family.
1. The wife: “like a fruitful vine.” The psalmist uses two colorful images to describe this fruitful family, one for the wife and the other for the sons (or children). The wife is compared to a fruitful vine. This does not simply mean that she will produce lots of children, though children are described as blessings and a wife who had many children usually reckoned herself as greatly blessed by God. We see how important bearing children was in the ancient world by the dismay of Sarah (the mother of Isaac), Rachel (the mother of Joseph and Benjamin) and Hannah (the mother of Samuel) before they had these sons and were childless. Bearing many children is part of the picture, but it is not the whole.
Actually, in the Bible the vine with its grapes and the wine that is made from them is a symbol of refreshment and lavish enjoyment, including sexual enjoyment (Song of Songs 7:8, 9; Judges 9:13), and it is linked to times of national and family celebration (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13, 14; John 2:1-10). Wine stands for harvest abundance at the end of a long dry summer. It “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15). So what the psalm is promising is that, however hard the day-by day work in the fields may be for a laboring man, to come home to a good wife is somewhat like coming home to harvest. It is a time to forget the hard summer work and enjoy God’s bounty.
2. The children: “like olive shoots around your table.” The second image involves the children who are compared to olive shoots around the table. Olive trees take a long time to mature and thus become profitable. But patiently cultivated, they become very valuable and continue to produce a profitable crop for centuries, longer perhaps than any other fruit-producing tree or plant. The interesting thing about these two images, vines and olive plants, is that they are symbols of the abundant life. They are not food staples like wheat or corn. They symbolize a rich, rich blessing.
Why is it not true that the psalm is promising families a utopia? What hope is offered in this psalm?
Identify the imagery of the vine and olive shoots.
Observation: The Bible’s use of symbolism adds richness to the principle being taught.
Prayer: Pray for those families you may be aware of who are struggling in various ways.
For Further Study: For more on the blessings of family, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Blessings upon Children’s Children.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)