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TEXT: Psalm 128
SUBJECT: Songs on the Way to Heaven #9
Psalm 128 is all about happiness. It is not the shallow and short-lived happiness that any fool can enjoy now-and-then, but the real thing: the happiness of heaven on earth.
To some people, God is against happiness-they think nothing pleases Him more than forbidding fun and lowering the boom on laughter. If all of them were unbelievers, I'd say, 'What do you expect of people who don't know God?'
But a great many of them love in the Lord, sincerely want to please Him, and-for some reason--believe what pleases Him most is their being unhappy. If they left it there, I'd feel sorry for them, but they seldom do! They want to make others unhappy too, or failing that, they hope to make others feel guilty for being happy.
If you feel this way, stop it! If your friends are making you feel this way, make new friends! Don't give people who won't be happy the power to veto your happiness. For 'happy' is what God is and what He has called us to be.
I have several books at home on the attributes of God. They all name the usual things: holiness, justice, love, mercy, and so on. But as far as I could find, not one of them says anything about His happiness. But God is happy. In I Timothy 1:11 Paul thanks the Lord for calling Him into the ministry and allowing him to preach,
The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
Every believer knows the Gospel is 'glorious', but how many of us know that it comes-not just from God, but from the happy God?
How happy is He? Everything about Him is infinite including His happiness. In other words, God is as happy as He is holy or wise or powerful. He is all-happy!
There's no such thing as a happy miser. Thinking only of himself, he loses the happiness his money might have given him-had he thought of others. God is no miser. He does not hoard happiness and measure it out by the spoonful. He pours it all over His creation, and, most of all, on His people.
He made Adam capable of happiness. He put him in a world full of things to make Him happy. He gave him a wife to share his happiness. He promised ever more happiness if Adam would only trust Him. But Adam did not trust God, fell into unhappiness, and dragged down the rest of us with him.
But Happiness is strong than misery. Even now, sunk in sin, the world is shot through with happiness. Standing before a Pagan audience, Paul says of God,
He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, sent us rain and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.
--Not just food to sustain life, but gladness in the eating of it!
For some, this is the only happiness they will ever know-the joys of eating and drinking, of working and playing, of falling in love and having children, of retiring and spending time with the grandchildren.
Others enjoy a deeper happiness--the happiness that comes from knowing God through Christ, knowing your sins are forgiven and that you are accepted. This is the happiness an earlier Psalm describes-
In Your presence is the fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forever more.
This is the happiness of our man in Psalm 128.
The man's happiness is not detailed in a ten volume set of fat books in small print. If it were, it would be worth reading, but it isn't, and we have to be satisfied with what we have. What we have are three snapshots of his happiness.
First, the happiness he has at work, v.2-
When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy.
The man has work, it's good work, it pays well enough, and best of all, he enjoys it. Some people take word for part of the curse imposed on Adam. Had he not sinned-they think-we wouldn't have to do it. This is a misreading of the Bible. In fact, Adam had work before the Fall, and he had plenty of it. What he didn't have were thorns and thistles to oppose him in his work, and the specter of death to rush him. If toil is a punishment, work is a gift. Even if we don't need the money, we need the work.
Many, however, don't find happiness in their work. Part of it is not their fault. While I'm not a Communist, a lot of what Karl Marx said about the modern world is true. The worker has been separated from the pride of his craftsmanship and from a fair return on his labor. What we can do about this, I don't know.
You can find meaning in the most tedious work, however, if you can just remember: all work is God's gift and a way of glorifying Him and loving our neighbor. The schools my boys attend give a discount to parents in full-time Christian service. While I accept the discount, I reject the thinking that lies behind it, for every disciple is in full-time Christian service! In writing to servants-and not to missionaries-Paul says, Colossians 3:23-24,
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
It is hard to serve a bad boss with a good attitude. But the believer's boss is the Lord, and He's one you can serve from the heart.
Next, we have the happiness has in his wife, v.3-
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house.
This is Hebrew poetry at its finest, and like all good verse, it suggests far more than it actually says. The fruitful vine was central to their culture and symbolized all its good. The best wines were drunk at weddings, and stirred feelings of celebration. Ordinary wine was served at every meal and had a warm and homey feel to it. Wine had a place on the Passover table and recalled the Mighty Acts of God in saving His people from Egypt. Vines grew up from the good earth which the Lord had given them as an inheritance. Healthy vines meant the nation was at peace and the men were at home. To us, wine is a drub, but the Jews saw it as a food, and a rich source of nutrition. And don't overlook the beauty of grapevines and the shade they provide men working in the field.
Celebration, contentment, gratitude, a place, peace, nourishment, beauty, grace, rest, all these things-and more-- are bound up in a good wife.
What makes her even more dear to her husband is that she belongs to him alone. She's not a vine out in the field, where everyone has handled her, but in the heart of [his] house. This-I think-hints at the intimacy of marriage and the intertwining of husband and wife. Not just physically, but in every way, a kind of merging of personalities, in short-the two becoming one.
Whatever the lady is to others, she is something more to her husband. Having her-wrinkles and all--makes him far happier than a thousand beauty queens made King Solomon.
Finally, we read of the happiness he has in his children, v.3b-
Your children like olive plants all around your table.
If olive trees are less romantic than grapevines, they, too, stand for happiness: for peace, prosperity, and most of all, for the future. If a man's olive trees were heavy with fruit, this means foreign armies hadn't stripped them bare, and he's going to press them into oil and make good money. In California, we think of the Redwood as being nearly eternal. The Jews thought of the olive tree in the same fashion. The stand would produce for the man, for his children, for their children, and for generations to come. Because the land stayed in the family, the man who cared for his olive trees was also providing for his descendants to the end of the world.
Because we're selfish and short-sighted, we look at children as long-term liabilities. The Hebrews knew better: children are the blessings of God our most important investment in the future!
With good work, a good wife, and good children, it's no wonder the man is pronounced happy-Blessed is the man!
I wonder how many rich men would trade places with him? I wonder how many famous men, learned men, powerful men, men at leisure would gladly give up what they have to have a good wife and children?
Wife and children. These are the things that matter most in this world. Don't lose them for something that matters less.
While work, wife, and children are examples of the man's happiness, they are not its source. The spring of happiness is the Lord Himself. Thus, the Psalmist does not tell the wife and children to bless their husband and father, but prays God to do it-
The Lord bless you out of Zion.
He is the one and only source of happiness. Apart from His blessing, even wife and children become curses. So we don't look to them for happiness. We don't command them to make us happy. We don't whine when they fail to make us happy. We look to God for happiness.
And we don't look in vain! He gives us the things to make us happy and also the power to enjoy them.
Blessed be the Lord who daily loads us with all benefits, even the God of our salvation.
All benefits come from the Lord, not least of which are good work, a good wife, and good children. Whoever finds a good wife obtains favor from the Lord. Children are a heritage of the Lord. The Lord your God gives you the power to get wealth.
If this is what happiness is, what it looks like, and where it come from, we go on to ask: Who gets the happiness? Verse one leaves no doubt-
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
The happiness is for everyone, and not for the privileged few. But if everyone can have it, he can only have it if he fears God and keeps His commandments.
The fear is a deep respect for God; it includes a love for pleasing Him and a hatred of sin. It is a feeling, but not only a feeling. It's also a devotion to His Law. Does the God-fearing man sin? Of course he does! But he doesn't lie to himself-or to God-about it. He confesses his sin and seeks the mercy of heaven. When the mercy is given, he accepts it, remembers it, and makes every effort to leave his sin.
The blessed man is the holy man; not the perfect man, for there is no such man (but Christ). He is the man who fears God and keeps His commandments. There may be nothing flashy about him, but solid is better than flashy!
THE FIRST LOOSE END
This leaves two loose ends. I'm sure you know what they are already, and you probably can tie them up as well as I can, and so I'll be quick about it.
First, if the blessings of work and family come only to men who fear the Lord, do God-fearing men earn the blessings? Of course not! We don't earn anything! Everything is a gift!
But, in the very nature of things, godliness is a condition we must meet to have a good life at work and at home. How can a lazy man enjoy his work? If it's hard work he doesn't like it because he's lazy. If it's easy work, he doesn't like it because it's boring. How can a lazy man enjoy his work, until he stops being lazy? In other words, until he starts fearing God and walking in His ways?
This applies even more to his family life. How can a cruel man enjoy his wife or kids? If they take his abuse, he despises them. If they don't they're always fighting. Until he quits being cruel, he cannot enjoy his family. Or, to put it positively, he cannot enjoy them until he starts fearing the Lord and walking in His ways.
THE SECOND LOOSE END
The second loose end is a bit touchier. How do we square Psalm 128 with real life? Does every God-fearing man have a good family? If your family isn't this way, does it mean you don't fear the Lord? Can we judge a man's piety by the state of his family?
Let's start by admitting the problem. While Psalm 128 is true, it is not all the truth. Were Job and Joseph and our Lord hypocrites? No, they were not: but their family life had much to be desired. The ways of God are mysterious-and unlike Job's friends-we must not be dogmatic about them. If you don't have to, don't pass judgment on other men's families; if you have to, pass it slowly, hold it loosely, and do all things with charity.
But having said that, the truth remains: Godliness promotes happiness in this world, while sin fosters misery. If you want a happy life at work and home, fear the Lord, walk in His ways, and leave the results to God!
If you have good work and a happy family, thank the Lord, because it's Him and not you.
If your work and family are not so happy, instead of trying to change them, change yourself. Maybe it's not the boss or the wife or the kids. Maybe it's you. Maybe if you started fearing the Lord and walking in His ways, you would get that promotion, and you'd have her respect, and they would start obeying you.
If you are fearing the Lord and walking in His ways, and still your work and family are not bringing you the happiness they should, be patient, wait on the Lord, and remember: your work is not in vain in the Lord!
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