Divine Partnership or Flying Solo?
King Solomon wrote 1005 songs (1 Kings 4:32); only two made it into holy writ … Psalm 72 and Psalm 127. Both pack a fair punch, but Psalm 127 contains knock-out clout—and speaks into the idea of divine partnership.
He begins with an abruptness implying he’s speaking from sober experience:
“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchmen stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep” (vv. 1, 2).
In these opening two verses, he uses the phrase “in vain” three times; a favourite expression of his, popularised in his writing of Ecclesiastes (see for example, 1:2ff; 12:8). The term means “meaninglessness” or “futility.” Unless the Lord builds the house, anything we do—everything we do—is futile, empty … meaningless. Unless the Lord builds the house … I’m flying solo on my own juice … I’m burning up on my own steam … and it means … nothing: as in, zip, zero, zilch! What’s the point? I told you this was knock-out stuff!
He explains that unless the Lord builds the house and guards the city we rise up early to build in vain and we sit up late to guard in vain. We eat, in his phrase, “the bread of sorrows;” a reference to the curse upon the fall of man (Genesis 2:17-19). In other words, we eat but are not satisfied; we work but remain unfulfilled; we exist but cannot fill the emptiness within. In this case, Solomon seems to suggest that we should sleep it off: “for so He gives His beloved sleep.” Jab, jab … knock-out! (Incidentally, one of the wonderful results of the Christ-filled life is contentment, an end to this curse (Philippians 4:11-13)).
For the record, this passage is not advocating sloth and lethargy. For example, rising early—as Jesus did (Mark 1:35)—is only in vain if I’m building alone. However, if I’m building the house with God (take note of this phrase), then I step into a life of profound meaning and a deep sense of purpose. My hard work and sacrificial effort is not in vain; on the contrary, it has divine ramifications. And it is then and only then, that I enter into a deep sense of contentment … as He sustains me. Only when I understand what it means to live by His strength, to draw on His resources, will I know true fulfilment. Then even the smallest task for Him becomes sheer pleasure.
So, what is the house that the Lord builds?
Without question it referred to the dwelling place of God; the physical temple Solomon was privileged to build back then and metaphorically, the Kingdom-advancing ecclesia Jesus is building now, today.
However, the way the rest of the psalm unfolds (vv. 3-5), it is also clear that it refers to, in part, our individual legacy; our part in God’s panoramic Kingdom purpose for mankind.
Solomon’s focus moves from the house God is building to his own heritage: “children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (v. 3). His point is that through his heritage, the royal line, he anticipated the defeat of all his enemies (vv. 4, 5). And while this has implications for our own natural children (through whom Solomon enjoyed partial triumph); it certainly has implications for our spiritual legacy too (for through Christ, we all enjoy ultimate victory).
Thus, the house the Lord is building includes you; your life, marriage, children, ministry and influence, as God establishes His kingdom come. This psalm is about you … about me. To be clear: if we live for ourselves (individualism), we’re toast. May as well go to bed, remember? But as we give ourselves to build the house of the Lord, we find our own legacy in Him. Then we get to knock out our enemies! (See Romans 16:20, and note under whose feet the enemy is crushed. Read it and rejoice!).
And here is the decisive blow: God never promises to do life for us; His consistent promise is to do it with us (see Joshua 1:5, Matthew 28:20). Yes, He is always for us (as in, personally), but He wants to do life with us. He desires to use our contribution, our faith, our prayers, our labour, our tears—no matter how feeble we think we might be. He invites us to partner with Him as He builds His house!
In God’s amazing invitation, He chooses to limit Himself to what He can do with us. (I ponder long and deep … and long and deep … on this mind-blowing thought). And He delights to do so as we remember that He is the Very, Very, Very Senior Partner in the equation. (Did I stress clearly enough, that we are the very, very, very junior partner in this divine partnership?)