October 8, 2012 David Balzer

Psalm 128: Happy Families

Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants a full and satisfying and joyful life. A life without pain or fear or worry or loneliness. No one wants to be MISERABLE. In fact that desire to be happy motivates almost everything we do.

We’re ALL searching for it. Whether Christian or NON-Christian.

Non-Christians look for it WITHOUT reference to God. Doing things their OWN way. They look for it in power or people or purpose or position or prominence or place or promotion or possessions or popularity.

They try to GUARANTEE it by shoring up their financial security, or their physical health, or their insurance policies. They search for it by upgrading their cars or friends or houses or wives or jobs or clothes or phones.

And when it comes to Christians, unfortunately, many of us go searching for happiness in exactly the same way. In exactly the same PLACES. WITHOUT any reference to God, or to how HE would have us live.

Because the reality is GOD WANTS US TO BE HAPPY, TOO! He’s not the cosmic killjoy who wants to DESTROY happiness. That’s sometimes the impression Christians give. So concerned about being RIGHT. So concerned with DUTY and HOLINESS and serving OTHERS. So concerned about HEAVEN. We can give the impression it’s almost WRONG to want to be happy. Well, it’s NOT.

In fact, the very first public sermon Jesus ever gave was about HOW TO BE HAPPY. The sermon on the Mount. How does it begin? Mt 5:3

3 “BLESSED are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who MOURN, for they will be COMFORTED.

And right at the beginning of the book of Psalms. Psalm 1 starts like this.

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. 2 But his DELIGHT is in the law of the LORD,

And the Apostle Paul joins in the happy chorus. From his prison cell he writes these words to the Philippian church. Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS. I’ll say it again… REJOICE.” It’s a COMMAND!

Or his prayer for the Roman church. Romans 15:13. He prayed that God would fill them with all JOY and PEACE as they trusted in him.

And as he summed up the Christian life in Rom 14:17, he said

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, PEACE AND JOY in the Holy Spirit

We could go on and on. The consistent message of the Bible is that God promises joy and peace and HAPPINESS to those who repent of their sin. And who follow the Lord Jesus.

And that’s the key. Rejoicing IN THE LORD. Finding joy IN THE Holy Spirit. Feelings, an internal attitude, that flows from our relationship with our Creator.

All of the external things we try to use to FIND happiness. They’re not necessarily wrong in themselves. But the KEY to happiness is not found in those THINGS. But in GOD. In God as we meet him in his Son Jesus. And whether we know HIM or not. Whether we’re doing things HIS way. Taking on board HIS priorities and attitudes. And finding our joy IN HIM.

Happiness is not about CHANGING OUR CIRCUMSTANCES, but about learning from Jesus the attitude of joy DESPITE circumstances. About INTERNAL ATTITUDE rather than EXTERNAL SITUATION. It’s a secret the Apostle Paul wrote about to the Philippians. Philippians 4:12

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have LEARNED THE SECRET OF BEING CONTENT IN ANY AND EVERY SITUATION, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do EVERYTHING through him who gives me strength.

It’s a secret we’re going to think about as we look at Psalm 128 this morning. It’s a Psalm that puts things very simply. There’s not a lot of complicated theology. It’s a simple message. It describes a simple, happy life. A life of BLESSING. And it tells us how to EXPERIENCE it.

It’s one of a group of Psalms with the title “A Song of Ascents”. Can you see it there just below the heading? All the Psalms from 120 to 134 have got the same heading. And, as best we can work out, they were originally a little collection of songs the Jewish pilgrims would sing as they travelled on the road up to Jerusalem. As they came up from wherever they lived to the temple to celebrate the regular feasts. To celebrate God’s goodness.

And they did it by focussing on the SMALL DETAILS of life. The SIMPLE PLEASURES. The everyday blessings of God. And this is one of those Psalms.

We can break it up into three parts.

Requirements of God’s blessings (1)

First, the REQUIREMENTS of God’s blessings. The CONDITION we are to BE IN to be blessed by God. To be HAPPY in him. V1.

Blessed are all who FEAR the LORD, who WALK in his ways.

Blessing from God – his good outcomes – comes to people who are CONNECTED to him, and who do things HIS WAY. That’s where happiness is found. That’s the big idea of the Psalm.

Like most Hebrew poetry the two halves of the verse are saying a similar thing. They’re synonyms. Another way of describing those who fear the Lord is that they’re walking in his ways.

But there’s also A PROGRESSION there. To fear the Lord is the correct ATTITUDE to have towards God. It’s only when we have the right ATTITUDE that we will THEN walk in his ways. Right ATTITUDE results in right ACTION.

If someone ISN’T walking in God’s ways. If they’re not living a life that’s pleasing to God then you have to ask the question whether they really FEAR him.

So what is it to fear God? Verse 1 almost sounds like an oxymoron. A contradiction. Like RAP MUSIC. Or ARMY  INTELLIGENCE. “BLESSED are all who FEAR the Lord.” Isn’t fear a BAD thing? How can it be GOOD to be scared?

A good definition of what it means to fear God is that it’s ‘that indefinable MIXTURE OF REVERENCE, RESPECT, PLEASURE, JOY AND AWE which fills our hearts when we realise who God is and what he has done for us.’

It’s like our attitude to the OCEAN. You can enjoy it and dive right in. You can live around it and in. You can appreciate its beauty. But at the same time, it’s good to have a healthy RESPECT for it. And even, at times, to be OVERWHELMED by it. The people who are SAFEST in the ocean are those who KNOW IT BEST.

And that’s something like what it means for God’s people to FEAR him. Knowing and REVERENTLY RESPECTING him.

But it’s different for those who don’t KNOW God. Specifically, as he’s revealed himself to us in JESUS. When NON-Christians fear God, it’s FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN. But for Christians, it’s DIFFERENT.

Let me give you an example. Turn over to Exodus 14 (page 50). It’s Moses and the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea. God holds back the waters while they pass through. But the Egyptian chariots are following close behind. When Moses and the people make it to the other side, God tells him to hold his staff over the waters. They flow back down and drown the entire Egyptian army. And the chapter concludes (v30)

30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, THE PEOPLE FEARED THE LORD AND PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM and in Moses his servant.

They SEE God’s power in action for them. And they FEAR him. And then they TRUST him. But it’s not cowering terror. Straight away they sing for JOY to him. Exodus 15. This powerful and awesome God is saving THEM. And they PRAISE him. V11.

11 “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you– majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? 12 You stretched out your right hand and the earth swallowed them.

And that FEAR showed itself in TRUST. V13.

13 “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.

But look at the difference for those who DON’T know God. A very DIFFERENT sort of fear. V15.

15 The chiefs of Edom will be TERRIFIED, the leaders of Moab will be seized with TREMBLING, the people of Canaan will melt away; 16 TERROR AND DREAD will fall upon them. By the power of your arm they will be as still as a stone–until your PEOPLE PASS BY, O LORD,

There’s not a lot of blessing from THAT sort of fear.

But when we KNOW God. When we’re convinced he’s looking out for us. When we know him through JESUS. Then fear is something VERY DIFFERENT.

Remember our definition. It’s ‘that indefinable MIXTURE OF REVERENCE, RESPECT, PLEASURE, JOY AND AWE which fills our hearts when we realise who God is and what he has done for us.’

That only comes when we understand the gospel. That we sin. That we deserve God’s judgment. But that God loved us so much he sent Jesus to die in our place. And that he makes us right with himself. And guarantees us eternity with him.

That’s where FEAR comes from.

And when we have that attitude towards him, it’s not hard to see how that is worked out in right ACTION. In obedience. In WALKING God’s WAY.

James Montgomery Boice says.

‘God must be taken seriously. He must not be trifled with. He must be, as he actually is, the centre of everything we are, think, or aspire to do. He must be the starting point for every project, the strength we seek for every valuable endeavour, the one we earnestly desire to please and honour as our goal.”

Does that describe YOU? Is that YOUR motivation and attitude?

If you want to be HAPPY, then it’s vital you can answer YES to that question.

Do you want to be JOYFUL? Do you want to get the MOST out of this life? To make it the richest, most satisfying life you can live? Then the Bible’s solution is to FEAR THE LORD.

The happiest moments of your life are when you’re most treasuring God. When God’s in HIS rightful place, and you’re in YOURS.

Because happiness is found in A PERSON, not A PLACE.

BLESSED are all who FEAR the Lord, who walk in his ways. That’s the declaration of the promise. What’s REQUIRED for blessing, or happiness.

Realms of God’s blessings (2-4)

Next we look at how that WORKS ITSELF OUT. The REALMS of God’s blessings. Verses 2-4.

And the FIRST thing we notice is the SHEER ORDINARINESS of how God shows his blessings. This is EVERYMAN. Blessing doesn’t just come to the spiritually elite. To those with a theological degree, or missionaries, or those with special gifts of faith or evangelism. You don’t have to be the top one percent – top of the ladder- to be happy. (The richest, or best educated, or most well-connected). V1 says blessed are ALL who fear the Lord. No special entrance requirements.

And the blessings are seen at THE CORE OF LIFE. In the HOME. Blessings to do with WORK and FAMILY. Look at v2.

2 You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.

When you fear God and walk in his ways, then your work will ACHIEVE something. Something you can ENJOY. There’ll be the satisfaction of getting to the end of the day, and sitting down to enjoy what you’ve WORKED at. It literally might be FRUIT you’ve grown. Or grain you’ve harvested. Or eggs you’ve gathered. Or it might be a house you’ve built, or a car you’ve paid off, or a table you’ve restored.

The picture is of Daryl Kerrigan from the Aussie movie The Castle. A simple man, not wealthy. But his family had love and food and shelter. And that meant he was CONTENT. As far as Daryl was concerned, life couldn’t get any better. “Ah, the SERENITY!” he’d say.

The emphasis here isn’t on the promise of riches and affluence. But on the SATISFACTION of consuming something you’ve EARNED. And the enjoyment that comes from that.

Right back with Adam and Eve, God said work would be FRUSTRATING and DIFFICULT. That the ground would be CURSED. That it would yield its food BEGRUDGINGLY. And we’d SLAVE at it.

But here God’s saying that when we walk in his ways, there’ll be BLESSING INSTEAD. The work might be HARD, but we’ll at least ENJOY the BENEFITS of it.

And as we sit down to enjoy the fruit of our labour, (v3), God’s blessing means we’ll have a family to enjoy it WITH.

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.

When a husband and father fears the Lord, as a general rule, his FAMILY reaps the benefits.[1]

The wife will be like a fruitful vine. It COULD mean she has CHILDREN. Fruitful in the sense of FERTILE. But the culture a grape vine was much more than a source of FOOD. It was a source of shade and rest for the family, of fragrance, of WINE TO ENJOY as well as grapes to eat. Families rested and partied under it.

What a wonderful picture that is of what a BLESSING wives can be! The source of life and joy and rest for the family. The centre of things. Who organises parties and family get-togethers. Who remembers birthdays and bakes cakes. Who nurtures and comforts and laughs and supports. What a blessing!

And your sons will be like olive shoots. The olive tree can live for thousands of years. It sends up shoots from its roots, and when the original trunk gets old and withered, the new shoots can grow up and surround the old trunk, protecting it.

What it means in practice is that some olive trees can live for THOUSANDS of YEARS growing thicker and thicker, with new trunks continually growing around the old trunk.

What a great image of children! Growing healthy because they’ve learned from a Father who’s walking in God’s ways. As HE gets old, they grow bigger and stronger, eventually protecting and continuing his task of producing fruit. ESPECIALLY fruit of God’s kingdom. Making disciples.

Is there any greater joy than THAT?!

Is that something YOU want to see? Then make sure you’re FEARING THE LORD. Make sure you’re WALKING IN HIS WAYS.

Request for God’s blessings (5-6)

The third part of the Psalm is the REQUEST for God’s blessings. Quite possibly it was recited by the priest over the people after they’d arrived at the temple. V5.

5 May the LORD bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem, 6 and may you live to see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel.

It reminds us of TWO things. First, that all we have comes from God. “May THE LORD bless you FROM ZION all the days of your life.” Mt Zion in Jerusalem and the temple was a representation of God’s HEAVENLY throne.

We’re not to sit back sipping our port on our verandah CONGRATULATING ourselves for how much we’ve managed to assemble. How CLEVER we are to be in such a privileged position.

No! We deserve NOTHING from God. Yet he blesses us with MORE than we need. James 1:16-17 says

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights , who does not change like shifting shadows.

PRAY for God’s blessings in those areas. For work and family and enjoyment of relationships. That’s a good thing to do.

The SECOND thing this prayer does is remind us that we’re not God’s people IN ISOLATION. We walk in his ways AS PART OF A COMMUNITY. In the Old Testament it was ISRAEL. OR Jerusalem. For US TODAY, it’s as part of the church. The NEW Jerusalem.

Part of God’s blessing for walking in his ways is to see the prosperity of THAT Jerusalem. The group of God’s people gathered around Jesus. The prosperity of the church. Prosperity that means far more than financial security, but GROWTH AND MATURITY.

Prosperity that means PEACE. Peace in relationships, peace in a quality of our shared life together. Peace and prosperity in our interaction with the people around us..

All of it going on with Jesus at the centre.

That’s the picture of blessing – of true happiness – God’s giving us here. It’s A RESULT that comes from a very simple CAUSE. There in v1. Happiness comes from FEARING THE LORD, and then WALKING IN HIS WAYS.

What if this isn’t my experience?

But let me ask a question that, perhaps, has been nagging you. What if this ISN’T your experience? What if you’re family life ISN’T rosy like this? If you’re kids have gone off the rails? Or it family meals just seem to be one argument after another? Or your family is INCOMPLETE in some way?

What if work is one frustrating agonising day after another? Or you can’t even FIND work? What if you NEVER get to enjoy what you’ve worked for? Unexpected bills gobble up every dollar. Or someone else at work takes all the credit for your initiative.

The reality is, for SOME of you, this Psalm WON’T be the picture of your life. You might be fearing the Lord and walking in his ways as best you can. But it almost seems CRUEL to hold up this as what comes for faithful Christians.

What do we make of this Psalm THEN?

Let me suggest three ways forward.

1. This is an example of WISDOM LITERATURE. Like Proverbs. Wisdom looks at things from an earthly point of view. It makes observations. It says, AS A GENERAL RULE, this is the way things work.

Proverbs says AS A GENERAL RULE, train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he won’t depart from it. Sometimes, it doesn’t hold true.

Proverbs says AS A GENERAL RULE, a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Sometimes, it doesn’t hold true.

And as a general rule, those who walk in God’s ways will experience blessing in their work and family life. But sometimes it doesn’t hold true.

That’s the first point.

2. A second point we can make is that these are part of God’s OLD COVENANT BLESSINGS. PARTICULARLY for Israel. When the people were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses laid out the options. Obedience or disobedience? Blessings or curses? Life or death?

So, for example, (p144) in Deuteronomy 28 Moses said

28:1 If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: 3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. 4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock–the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

Which is just what’s being described in Ps 128. The blessings of family and food that come from walking in God’s ways.

And so there’s an aspect of these blessings that FINISHED with the Old Covenant. Once Jesus came. Once God’s people included EVERY nation, God’s blessings became something DIFFERENT.

The life of faith became one of looking forward. Looking for the HEAVENLY Jerusalem. Looking for the prosperity and inheritance THERE. God PROMISES it for us. He WON it for us in Jesus, and he’s given us his Holy Spirit as A DOWN-PAYMENT of it.

The reality is the life described in this Psalm MIGHT look good. Idyllic. But God has promised us a BETTER family. A BETTER city. A better feast. Better blessing and better happiness. So long FOR THAT.

3. A THIRD point to make about these promises is that God calls us to keep walking in his ways even if we DON’T see the material blessings like this Psalm. Obey DESPITE appearances.

To keep trusting that his ways are best. That our greatest happiness is found in obedience. Walking HIS way, not OURS. And seeking the attitude of gratitude and contentment and acceptance WHATEVER God brings our way.

The reality is we can experience FAR GREATER happiness than those Old Testament saints. Because we understand God much better. We know more completely the love he has for us. We’ve seen HOW MUCH he loved us. He sent Jesus to die. We know with greater certainty that our sins are forgiven and that our future is secure.

Let me finish with the words of Jesus himself who backs up the lesson of this Psalm. Blessing and happiness comes from walking in God’s ways. And in John 15:10-11, Jesus said THIS

10 If you OBEY MY COMMANDS, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that YOUR JOY MAY BE COMPLETE.

That’s God’s PROMISE to US. So keep FEARING GOD, and keep walking in his ways. And your joy will be complete.


[1] As a general rule, when a husband is faithfully following Jesus, his wife and kids are living that way ALSO. In my experience, in the churches I’ve been in, it’s often NOT the case with a faithful wife. There seems to me to be a lot more WIVES in church without their HUSBANDS than HUSBANDS in church without their WIVES.

I believe that’s the way God’s designed FAMILIES. That the husband is to LEAD. To set the priorities. And when that priority is walking in God’s ways, then OFTEN, the family FOLLOWS.

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