George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 128

1. Structure

Two three-verse stanzas, each enunciating the truth that the man who fears the Lord will be blessed. In each stanza, two verses specify the kind of blessing God will give. Thus (v. 4), referring to v. 3, makes the link between the two stanzas.

2. A psalm of Hezekiah

Hezekiah’s plea for a prolonging of his days is graciously answered by God. In the years that remain to him, the righteous king reaps a harvest of joy — tranquility and prosperity on the domestic scene, and peace upon Israel. Here is another preview of that wonderful “day of the Lord” when “senior citizens” will rest at peace in Jerusalem, and the sound of children at play will reverberate through the city (Zech. 8:4,5) — when one will listen in vain for the rumble of tanks, the crack of artillery fire, or the roar of jet fighters overhead (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3).

Even the phrase thou shalt see thy children’s children (v. 6) need be no obstacle to applying this psalm especially to Hezekiah, for Manasseh may have been as much as 13 when his father died (2 Chron. 33:1 may be an indication that he joined his father in a co-regency at the age of 12, according to the pattern already made familiar in earlier reigns).

In the phrase peace upon Israel (v. 6), there is also special reference to the reassurance apparently given to Hezekiah after his lapse in the matter of the Babylonian treaty (Isa. 39). The sequence appears to have been:

Blunt reproofs spoken by both Isaiah (39:5-7) and Micah (3:9-12; Jer. 26:18).
The king’s repentance (and that of all the nation) when the promised judgment was publicized (Jer. 26:19; 2 Chron. 32:26).
The suspension of the divine threat, and an assurance that the blow would not fall in his reign (Isa. 39:8).

Put together thus, there is no room for the idea that Hezekiah spoke selfishly in Isaiah 39:8 (‘It won’t happen in my time’). Rather he spoke thankfully, and marveling at the grace of God: ‘There shall be peace and truth in my days’, with the possible implication — ‘God may be so gracious as to suspend His sentence altogether.’

For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands. This phrase is difficult; what king ever labored in such a way? It is not true universally that the man who fears the Lord is blessed in these ways which the psalm now describes. Therefore, the words are to be read regarding a particular man and in particular circumstances. The words are especially appropriate to Hezekiah in his writing his own copy of the Law (Deut. 17:18-20).
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house. Hephzibah (2 Kings 21:1) lost her husband through his unclean disease, and then was “married” to him again (Isa. 62:4) after his recovery (note also Isa. 54:1), and in short order gave birth to the prayed-for child.

Thy children. Compare Isa. 39:7. This blessing shows that the denunciation in Isa. 39 was cancelled, or at least deferred for a century, by Hezekiah’s repentance.

Olive plants promise rich fruitfulness in days to come. The olive is proverbial for light, prosperity, peace, and joy (Psa. 52:8; Jer. 11:16). This was a true description of Manasseh only in his very last days when he emulated his father’s repentance. And it was true of Josiah. But all the others proved to be spiritually worthless, so this promise was cancelled and the earlier judgment of Isa. 39 came back into force.

We are told by naturalists that often an aged and decaying olive tree will be found surrounded by several young shoots. These have sprung from the root of the older tree; they seem to uphold, protect, and embrace the parent. They offer promise to carry on in the production of fruit even after the progenitor has died (W.E. Shewell-Cooper, Plants, Flowers, and Herbs of the Bible, p. 63; M.R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham, p. 13). They contribute materially now, and offer hope for the future. In like manner must many a righteous man have viewed the bright young faces round his table.
The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion. Again, as in our previous cycles, the closing psalm of the group of three speaks of peace and blessing out of Zion, God’s chosen dwelling place (122:6-9; 125:5).

Thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem. Especially true of the years of unexampled “prosperity” (RSV) in Hezekiah’s reign, and never really true thereafter (2 Chron. 32:27-30).
And peace upon Israel. Isa. 39:8 refers to this. Link this with the word see (above), to recognize the play on Jerusalem (= The Lord will see, or provide, peace).

3. Messianic reference

Can it be said that any besides Jesus have fully feared the Lord and walked in his ways?
Thy wife = the church, of course (Eph. 5:22-32).

A fruitful vine is a symbol which combines both natural and spiritual Israel.

Thy children like olive plants, shoots of the wild olive which, contrary to normal practice, have been grafted into the other (Rom. 11:16-24). These young olive plants may not be very fruitful now (in this twentieth century), but assuredly they will be one day!

About thy table. A strange mixture of literal and figurative here (see note, previous paragraph), yet marvelously appropriate to the spiritual idea. The young plants thrive and grow to fruitfulness by means of their regular presence at the Memorial Table of the Lord.
The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion... all the days of thy life. Everlasting life to be bestowed at Jerusalem (not at Sinai): see on Psa. 133:3, and Psalms Studies, Psa. 68, Par. 8.

And what a promise it is to us! If we are alive and remain, when these things appear, how wonderful! But even should we come at last to beds of death, still His word will not fail: ‘You will see all the good things spoken of Jerusalem; it will happen in your days, and before your eyes; for you shall rest and afterward stand in your inheritance at the end of the days.’ Whether we sleep or wake we are the Lord’s and His words are our hope and prayer: “the good of Jerusalem”.
Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children. ‘Prospects of fruitfulness may seem to be meager at present, but the future is bright.’ The numerous conversions in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41; 5:14; etc.) were really the converts of Christ, not of Peter.

In Gal. 6:16 Paul appears to quote this verse and v. 1 (cp. notes, 125:5).

To see their children’s children was the experience of two great men who emerged from extraordinary trials, Job (42:16) and Joseph (Gen. 50:23). Did Hezekiah literally see his grandchildren? It is just barely possible (see Par. 3 above). But in prospect Hezekiah surely did see his descendants to the second generation and beyond, for he recognized God’s hand in preserving not only himself, but thereby also the dynasty of David through Hezekiah. Down through the ages and the generations, the righteous king by the eye of faith saw the day of the coming Messiah, his seed and David’s, and he rejoiced (cp. Abraham in John 8:56).

And peace upon Israel becomes a blessing in the RSV: “Peace be upon Israel!” Just as in Psa. 122:8 and 125:5, this is a prayer and a wish. It is the rallying cry of the saints of God, who pray individually and collectively for the peace of Jerusalem. The section of these psalms that began with the captivity of Zion (126:1) now ends with a prayer destined soon to be a reality, first for Israel, and then for all the earth: “Shalom!”

4. The central songs

Psalms 126 to 128 are the central songs of the Songs of Degrees, the high point in expression of the spiritual types of Hezekiah’s life. Christ is seen in every verse, in every image. What is most wonderful in the contemplation of them is the magnificent way in which the commonplace becomes profound, and the natural becomes spiritual. When the image of Christ is stamped thereupon, the base currency of everyday life becomes the finest gold. The simplest sights and actions glow forth with the most sublime meaning. Sowing and reaping, sleeping and waking, are transformed into rich parables of faith — every detail of these ordinary actions now alive with significance. The house and the city and the gate are places never again to be inhabited or visited in the heedless manner of earlier days; now each is enlisted to the service of Christ: his “Father’s house”, the “city of the great king”, the “gate of his enemy” now possessed by the Eternal Conqueror.

We seat ourselves at the family table for our evening meal, and suddenly we find that the Master is there. The bread is his body, precious seed cast into the ground to die and bring forth much fruit; we are that fruit! The wine is his blood, the blood of the True Vine, and we are his branches! The oil is the light of that perfect Life; in the darkest of all nights he knelt among the gnarled olive trees of Gethsemane while we slept heedlessly — he is the tree of life, and we are like him: little olive plants round his table!

“So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free;
But all our life in every step
Be fellowship with thee.”

Step by step, “degree” by “degree”, we ascend into the presence of God. Our daily routine is transformed into life on a higher level — a life lived to the fullest even now, because lived in joyful contemplation of eternity with Christ.
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