A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF SOLOMON.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. 2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. 3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) In this song, King Solomon reflected over the vanity of building without the Lord’s help. And you can hear the echoes of Ecclesiastes here. Without the Lord’s blessing, all efforts are “vain”. “Vain” is repeated three times for emphasis. It is vain to build a house or city or any other labor intensive work unless the Lord is with you. In the end, it will perish into dust. Solomon here stressed that the ultimate hope and goal of man should be to orient all his life around knowing and serving the Lord. Like Adam in the garden, he is called to work and to keep whatever the Lord has put into his care as an act of devotion to God. Serving the Lord and laboring for his kingdom is what makes all our labor worth it in the end. For even after we have died and our houses crumble to dust, if we have done all for the glory of God, then we will have laid up even more important treasures in heaven.
2) With this reminder of how dependent we are upon the Lord for any success, Solomon also reminded us about the gift of sleep. Sleep reminds us every night that we are not God, and that all our efforts are vain unless he blesses them. Without that assurance, you will be tempted to grow anxious and hyper-vigilant in building and protecting your little kingdom, making an idol out of your work or money. It is a weary work and that exhaustion and fear can rob you of enjoying the fruits of your labor that God has provided. Faith works hard during the day, but entrusts all to God’s hands at night and goes to sleep in peace. It’s a lifelong lesson in humility that we must spend a third of our lives in bed in order to be fruitful for the Lord. Even Jesus, while performing the most important mission of the kingdom of God, found time to sleep, even if it meant sleeping in a boat during a storm. Yes, we must labor and toil as good stewards of whatever God has given us, but we do so in dependence upon God’s power and wisdom, and within the limitations he has placed upon us as human beings. Only God can keep watch and build 24 hours a day without rest.
3) Solomon then shifted from building to growing, specifically growing a family. It is interesting that Solomon shifted from property to people. This is another wisdom theme throughout Proverbs. Good relationships are more important than big estates. In this case, our heritage from the Lord in this life is not the house or city we build but the family we nurture. Children are the “fruit” of the womb. They require a lot of nurture and care, a lot of investment, before we see the good God may do through them. We see a similar comparison in Genesis 11. It began with men laboring to build the tower of Babel and rule the world in place of God. But the chapter ended with an account of Terah’s family and his son Abraham. The tower crumbled to dust. But the family of Abraham endured, even though they lived like strangers and exiles, numbering more than the stars in the sky. What was the difference? The blessing and grace of God upon that family. Ultimately, God blessed Abraham’s family with THE Child, the promised Savior, who would inherit all things for his people through his work of redemption. And our children will have a more profound influence over time than our building projects. We shoot them like “arrows” into the world, and we do not know what God will do with them. But it’s clear here, that a strong family will endure the evils of this life far better than a strong house or stock portfolio. That is not to say those things are evil in themselves. But we must recognize that God does his most profound kingdom building work as his Word is lived out through the ordinary life of families, and more broadly the family of God, his Church.