AN EXEGETICAL STUDY OF PSALM 127
Bruce K. Dahlberg
Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements
for the degree of Master of Theology in
Grace Theological Seminary
Digitized by Ted
Title: AN EXEGETICAL STUDY OF PSALM 127
Author: Bruce K. Dahlberg
Degree: Master of Theology, 1984
Advisers: John J. Davis and D. Wayne Knife
Proper exegetical study of Psalm 127 is often clouded by
unnecessary baggage. Presuppositions have torn this psalm away from
its historical situation. These presuppositions hindered the understanding
of the psalm and the resolution of specific problems in the psalm.
By way of a contextual analysis that is confirmed
and developed through an exegetical study of this psalm, a
proper focus for exegetical study can be achieved. The
Hebrew text is clear of any textual difficulties. It is the
LXX that has created textual difficulties which can be
cleared up by proper exegesis. This wisdom psalm is com-
posed of two aphorisms that are unified in one psalm. These
two aphorisms or proverbs seek to describe and prescribe the
way to achieve the good life. The psalm evidences a
eudaemonistic or prudential wisdom flavor. The Sitz im
Leben is probably seen in the pilgrimages of the Israelite
the annual feasts in
are tied together. The trustworthiness of the psalm titles,
the nature of wisdom literature, and biblical evidence point
to a Solomonic authorship and a date around 971-941 B.C. It
is important to note that wisdom literature does not indicate lateness.
The dictum of Yahweh's sovereignty is spelled out in
verses 1-2. If the activity of life providing shelter and
security is done without acknowledgement of Yahweh in the
attitude of the worker, the thing which is done is evil.
xvw speaks primarily of wickedness, that which is done
against the will of God. The dictum of God also speaks to
the livelihood of man. The life that stretches that day
beyond normal limits because of anxiety or licentiousness is
declared evil. xnAwe means sleep as traditionally understood,
is the reward of the diligent worker (Ecc 5:18-6:2).
Because of the literary device used, it is unnecessary to
seek other meanings for the word xnAwe. The blessing of
Yahweh is spelled out in verses 3-5. The themes began in
verse one tie in the second proverb. Sons become a heritage
of earthly parents who are like arrows to be used by the
mighty warrior. In time of need the father can depend on
them for support against unfair judiciary practice in the city gate.
The beauty of the psalm is not only in the meaning
of it, but the literary production is truly superb. Many
types of parallelism are used along with verbal figures that
tie the psalm together and guide one in the understanding of
the semantical aspects of the psalm.
Accepted by the Faculty of Grace Theological Seminary
in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree
Master of Theology
John J. Davis
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS vi
INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE 1
I. CONTEXTUAL ANALYSIS 3
Textual Critical Note 3
Sitz im Leben 7
Unity of Psalm 127 10
Outline of Psalm 127 14
Authorship and Date 15
Psalm Titles 15
Wisdom Literature 17
Biblical Evidence 23
II. EXEGETICAL STUDY PROPER 28
Verse One 29
Grammatical Observations 29
Semantical Studies 31
tyiba/ ryfi 32
Interpretative Summary 39
Verse Two 42
Grammatical Observations 42
Semantical Studies 48
xnAwe--A Resolution 49
xnAwe---Other Explanations 55
Interpretative Summary 58
Verse Three 59
Grammatical Observations 59
Semantical Studies 61
Interpretative Summary 63
Verse Four 65
Grammatical Observations 65
Semantical Studies 65
Interpretative Summary 68
Verse Five 69
Grammatical Observations 69
Semantical Studies 71
Interpretative Summary 75
III. A SUGGESTED TRANSLATION 78
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I. Structural Schematic 79
II. House/City 80
III. Quiver/Arrows 82
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF CONSULTED WORKS 86
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
AB Anchor Bible
ANE Ancient Near East
ANET J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern
BA Biblical Archaeologist
BDB Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, C. A. Briggs,
Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament
BHS Biblia hebraica stuttgartensia
DJD Discoveries in
ExpTim Expository Times
ICC International Critical Commentary
JANESCU Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of
JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
MT Massoretic Text
VT Vetus Testamentum
INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
In a few terse verses, Psalm 127 delineates the
spectrum of God's sovereignty--a spectrum that moves from
the realm of judgment to the realm of blessing. The verses
which open up this spectrum are superficially familiar to
many. They present simple truths that are often used with-
out consideration for the context from which they come.
Consequently, the literary beauty and total impact of the
psalm are lost.
The psalm is not a difficult one. Yet, there are
problems in it that perplex interpreters. The unity of the
psalm and the final colon of verse two are problematic areas
of this psalm.1 It is usually the latter problem which
draws the most attention. Apart from these two areas of
concern the psalm has not been inundated with serious study.
Not only does the psalm speak of tremendous theological
truths, but, it also provides a sphere in which to see the
literary hand of a poet at work. Both of these areas tease
the interpreter for further study. Above all of these, the
canonicity of the psalm is a major factor for the pursuit of
study. It is part of God's word which reveals God and any
1Patrick D. Miller, "Psalm 127--The House that
Yahweh Builds," JSOT (1982):119.
study in which one's knowledge of God is expanded is worth-
while (2 Tim 3:16).
The purpose of this thesis is to exegetically under-
stand this psalm as a basis for valid application for the
modern day believer. In order to accomplish this goal,
introductory matters must be dealt with such as the Gattung,
Sitz im Leben, structure, authorship, and date; an exegeti-
cal study of the verses must be undertaken; and finally the
application of the psalm is necessary.
The matters dealt with in this chapter should not
be viewed apart from the exegetical study. These matters
are derived from and confirmed by exegetical study. They
are presented here prior to the exegetical study proper to
alleviate some unnecessary baggage from the exegetical study
and to provide a proper focus for the study.
Textual Critical Note
The text of Psalm 127 is not problematic as it
relates to the Hebrew text. The MT is substantiated by the
lacunae in regards to Psalm 127, but what is found agrees
with the MT.1 The LXX, however, presents some problems.
1J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalm Scroll (
51-52 and D. Barthelemy and J. T. Milik,
DJD (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), p. 71. It should be
observed that an orthographic variant exists between the two
Comments on this variant can be found in David Noel Freedman,
Massoretic Text and the
Orthography," in Textus, vol. 2, edited by C. Raben (Jeru-
supports the text rather than detracts from it. Even though
the Essene scribes decided to adapt the plenary spelling,
this did not change the meaning. Furthermore, it shows the
scribes were willing to change the text, but they did not
There are a number of variants which appear to be misunder-
standings of the MT or interpretations of the MT. These
differences will be brought to light in the next chapter.
The outcome of these variants will be readily seen as the
meaning of the psalm is unfolded.
The Gattung of Psalm 127 has been generally classi-
fied as a wisdom psalm.1 Yet, there are some who see wisdom
influence but are unwilling to classify it as a wisdom
psalm.2 Walter Kaiser has compiled two lists from various
authorities which delineate the distinctive style and themes
of wisdom psalms.3 Using these lists one can readily iden-
tify Psalm 127 as a wisdom psalm. Drawing from the list of
stylistic distinctives, Psalm 127 evidences a few of these
distinctives: (1) A "blessed" saying (yrew;xa) is used in
verse five; (2) A comparison is found in verse four; (3)
Admonitions are accounted for in verses one and two; (4) The
where many recent scholars would do so. This would support
the earlier text.
Bible (London: Oliphants, 1972), p. 866. Artur Weiser, The
Psalms (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), p. 764.
2Roland E. Murphy, "A Consideration of the Classifi-
cation 'Wisdom Psalms,'" in Studies in Ancient Israelite
Wisdom, edited by James L.
lishing House, 1976), p. 464.
3Toward an Old Testament Theology (
Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), pp. 165-66.
use of wisdom vocabulary such as "vanity" and "sons";1 (5)
The employment of proverbs of which this psalm is composed.2
Westermann amplifies this proverbial idea with these com-
These three 'psalms (127:1-2; 127:3-5; 133)' could
appear in the book of Proverbs without changing a word,
and no one would imagine that they were supposed to be
The use of thematic criteria according to Kaiser
would classify this psalm as a wisdom psalm.4 Themes such
as "the contrast between the 'rasha ' and 'saddiq "' and
"practical advice as regards conduct" find expression in
The literary form associated with "wisdom litera-
ture" can also be broken down into different styles. Psalm
127 would fall into the didactic genre.6 C. Hassell Bullock
would group this psalm with the "lower" wisdom contained in
the Old Testament. This lower wisdom would be contrasted
L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom (
John Knox Press, 1981), p. 184.
2Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content
and Message, translated by Ralph D.
4Kaiser, Old Testament Theology, p. 166.
5Murphy, "A Consideration," p. 460. Also cf. Pius
Drijvers, The Psalms: Their Structure and Meaning (New
6Leupold Sabourin, The Psalms: Their Origin and
Meaning, vol. 2 (New York: Alba House, 1969), p. 257.
with the "higher" wisdom such as the book of Job.1 Higher
wisdom is reflective. It takes an issue and probes it from
various angles.2 Lower wisdom is more eudaemonistic in
nature. It seeks to "describe and prescribe the way to
achieve the good life,"3 which would include moral obliga-
tions.4 Walter Kaiser notes that this psalm falls into a
"prudential type of wisdom writing consisting of smaller
units of thought which are disconnected and often isolated
Clarifying the Gattung of this psalm helps in under-
standing it. Being a wisdom psalm, it mingles the religious
expression of the individual (i.e. a psalm)6 and the means
to live life skillfully (i.e. wisdom)7 with the goal of
instruction (i.e. didactic). Its eudaemonistic motif is
developed and defined in the content of the psalm which will
be explored in the next chapter.
Horace D. Hummel gives an appropriate perspective on
lAn Introduction to the Poetic Books of the Old Tes-
tament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), p. 140.
2Ibid., p. 25. 3Ibid., p. 140.
4Kaiser, Old Testament Theology, p. 178.
5Ibid., p. 94.
6Cf. John J. Davis, "The Psalms: Studies in the
1977), p. 3.
7Cf. Bruce K. Waltke, Understanding the Old Testa-
ment: A Syllabus (Grand Rapids: Outreach, Inc., 1976),
the role of wisdom literature.
In a word, the main dogmatic category for properly
approaching wisdom is the 'third use of the Law.' It
represents an alternate mode of expression and type of
approach to the illustration of faithful living found in
the 'legal' sections of the Pentateuch, and thoroughly
harmonious and compatible with it. It concentrates on
those aspects of living which the believer shares with
all men, and where the motivations or any uniqueness
will often be unapparent to men.1
Sitz im Leben
Roland E. Murphy is correct when he states, "All
things considered, however, it must be admitted that the
precise life setting of these poems [wisdom psalms] eludes
us."2 He speaks of the original setting of composition.
But perhaps some light can be shed if the Sitz im Leben is
expanded to include the use of the psalm.
The first hint of the possible use of the Psalm is
found in the inscription of the Psalm tOlfEma.ha rywi. Psalm 127
falls into a group of fifteen psalms (120-134) which contains
this same inscription. The meaning of rywi is not disputed.
The meaning BDB assigns to it is "song"3 and there is no
reason to doubt this meaning.4 Doubt arises, however, in
regards to tOlfEma.ha. It is often translated "degrees,"
1The Word Becoming Flesh (
Publishing House, 1979), p. 396.
2Murphy, "A Consideration," p. 461.
4Weston W. Fields, "Solomon's Most Excellent Song"
(Th.D. dissertation, Grace Theological seminary, 1979), p.
"ascents," or "goings up."1 These meanings are within the
lexical range suggested by BDB.2
An extended treatment of this subject is beyond the
scope of this thesis. Cuthbert C. Keet's work, A Study of
the Psalms of Ascents, overviews this subject and is bene-
ficial for a more indepth study.3 Of the various views,
four explanations have possibilities: (1) This particular
term denotes a peculiar rhythmical structure of these psalms;
(2) The psalms were sung upon the fifteen steps leading from
the court of the men to the court of the women; (3) These
psalms were sung by exiles on
their return from
These fifteen songs were sung by the pilgrims as they went
Deut 16:16; 1 Kgs 12:28).4
The fourth view is the generally accepted view today,
but is far from being unrefutable. Adopting this view would
suggest a cultic use of Psalm 127. Mowinckel suggests that
Psalm 127 be included with those psalms that appear to be
1A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Fincastle,
VA: Scripture Truth, n.d.), p. xxviii.
2P. 752. The root can be traced to hlf which adds
further dimension to the meaning.
3(Greenwood, SC: The Attic Press, 1969), pp. 1-17.
4J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms (George
Publishing House, 1976), pp. 87-88.
non-cultic.1 Furthermore, Mowinckel denies the possibility
of any of these fifteen psalms being associated with
"pilgrimages."2 The content of Psalm 127 implies the
acknowledgement of Yahweh as supreme and would not be diffi-
cult to see this psalm being sung by the pilgrims as they
journeyed to the temple to worship their sovereign God.
The second hint is contained in the phrase hmolow;li.
This phrase will be discussed more completely in the follow-
ing section. But some of its ramifications can be pursued
here. Accepting the validity of this expression, it would
not be difficult to see this psalm composed for or by
Solomon to remind him in his activities3 that God is the
ultimate builder. Another situation in which this psalm
might have been composed is for the use in scribal schools.
Solomon might have developed schools to train his nobles in
the way of Yahweh to counteract the secular teachings in
which they were also trained.4
In summary, the Sitz im Leben is not readily obtain-
able. However, the suggested situations, if retained, would
1Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in
trans. by D. R. Ap-Thomas (New York: Abingdon Press, 1967),
vol. 1, p. 111.
2Ibid., p. 209.
3See 1 Kings 9:10-26.
4Barry D. Halvorsen, "Scribes and Scribal Schools in
the Ancient Near East: A Historical Survey" (Th.M. thesis,
Grace Theological Seminary, May 1981), pp. 149ff.
not present any serious objections by the writer to eluci-
date the setting of the psalm.
Unity of Psalm 127
Diverse opinion exists on the unity of this psalm.
Some hold that this psalm is actually two separate psalms
and must be treated as such.1 Others see the psalm as
unified but made up of two original psalm fragments.2 A
third view is that the psalm is an original unified psalm
composed of two aphorisms.3
Three avenues can be used to bolster the unity of
this psalm. First the thematic aspect of the psalm under-
girds its unity. Both proverbial sayings speak of the
sovereign nature of God. He is the one who determines what
is worthwhile (v. 1) and He is the one who decides to give
reward (v. 3). Other variations of this theme are seen
underlying the two sections of this psalm. Kidner states,
"Both parts proclaim that only what is from God is truly
strong."4 Scroggie sees "the underlying thought throughout
1E.g. Charles Briggs, The Book of Psalms, vol. 1, 2,
ICC (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909), p. 458.
2W. O. E. Oesterley, The Psalms (
1962), p. 517.
Bible (London: Oliphants, 1972).
4Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (
Press, 1975), p. 441.
is the uselessness of all human effort which does not rely
on the will, power, and goodness of the Lord."1
Second, the literary and semantic expressions bond
the psalm together. From the literary vantage point,
Mitchell Dahood observes,
the alliteration of 'b' sounds in vs. la, yibneh
bayit . . . bonayw bo is echoed by vs. 5b, yebosu
. . . yedabberu . . . 'oyebim bassa.'ar; and the
repetition of 's' (=sh) sounds in vs. lb, yismor . . .
saw' saqad somer recurs in vs. 5a, 'asre . . . 'aser
. . aspato.2
Semantically, there are a number of subtle attractions that
hold the psalm together. In verse one the city is mentioned
which creates a semantic bond with verse five which speaks
of the gate of the city.3 This member-class relation shows
off the inclusio technique of Hebrew poetry. Another
semantic bond between the two sayings is the concept behind
the words NTeyi (v. 2) and tlaHEna/rkAWA (v. 3). Yahweh is one who
possesses something to give. Another connection is seen in
the ideas of "house" and "sons." It is in the house that
sons are born and reared. It is only natural to see these
concepts as associated.
Conceivably, the best treatment on the unity of this
psalm is found in Patrick D. Miller's article. He brings
1William Graham Scroggie,
The Psalms (
ering ering and Inglis Ltd., 1948), p. 245.
2Psalms, vol. 3, AB (
3Ibid., p. 222.
together both the thematic and semantic avenues when he so
Placing this picture or these verses (3-5) following
verses 1-2 leads to a hearing and understanding of the
second part of the Psalm in the light of the first. One
does not enjoy sons as blessing unless the 'house' that
is built in and through them is built by and under the
Lord. The banah-banim connection holds together the two
parts of the Psalm in a single hold. But the admonition
of the first part has moved to a positive assurance and
declaration. The transition is in the final colon of
verse 2 which clearly belongs to the first part of the
Psalm but anticipates the second part by the moving from
speaking of Yahweh's gift (natan), which is the subject
of the second part of the psalm and indicated immedi-
ately by referring to children as nahalat yhwh and sakar.
When Abraham hears from Yahweh that his sakar will be
very great, he asks: 'What will you give me seeing that
I go childless?' The banim like the sena' are activities
under Yahweh's direction. That gift is a rich blessing
for those who receive it.l
A very striking feature of this psalm is the liter-
ary schematic. Observing some of the key terms in the text,
an interesting pattern unfolds. Beginning with verse one,
the word pair house/city opens up the Psalm. tyb lies in
the first line of the first proverb. Its semantic relative
MyniBA also lies in the first line of the second proverb. The
author is tying the two sayings together. Following this
same rationale, ryfi appears in the second line but cannot be
divorced from the word pair, so that its position cannot be
secondary to tyiBa. Its semantic cousin is found in the last
line of the second saying and of the entire psalm. It seems
that the following aphorism is controlled and contained by
1Miller, "The House," pp. 127-28.
the first verse. Continuing this analysis with the last
line of the first proverb, the verb NTeyi appears. But its
semantic friends appear in the first line of the second
saying, again tying the two aphorisms physically together.1
A third avenue that strengthens the homogeneity is
Psalm 128. It was no accident that Psalm 128 was juxtaposed
to Psalm 127. Their content is very similar. Their juxta-
position provides insight into the meaning of Psalm 127 and
specifically into its unity. Verses 2-3 of Psalm 128 incor-
porate similar motifs as in Psalm 127. tyiBa and MyniBA are
combined in Psalm 128 showing the compatibility of the two
strophes in Psalm 127. Enlarging the thematic field in
Psalm 128 we see the activity of man (v. 2), the city of
intermingled which demonstrates the feasibility of the unity
of Psalm 127.2
Moving outside the biblical sphere, additional
material can be found to support the apparent divergent
themes in Psalm 127. There are a few ANE hymns that combine
the thoughts of "houses," "cities," and "sons (or children)."
It should be noted that examples of these hymns do not place
these ideas side by side, yet, they are in the same hymn
showing they can be tied together.
1See Appendix I for physical layout.
2Cf. Miller, "The House," p. 128.
Miller points out a Sumerian hymn for the goddess
Nisaba that uses the notions of divine involvement in the
activities of building housesl and cities and the giving of
fertility to the womb.2 Another example that reminds its
recipients that deity is involved in the building of houses
and involved in the lives of children is the Hittite "Ritual
for the Erection of a House." Again one should note the
interlude between the mention of house3 and children.
In conclusion, there is a strong foundation for the
unity of the psalm. The underlying themes, the literary and
semantic facets, the relationship with Psalm 128, and the
ANE material all provide sure footings for the unity of the
Psalm. However, orthodoxy will not be questioned if the
unity of the psalm is denied, unless the prevailing motives
are less than orthodox. Breaking the psalm apart destroys
the beauty of thought which permeates the two strophes.
Outline of Psalm 127
Outlines are good for seeing the overall picture of
literary pieces. Although, many times they fail to allow
one to see the delicate inner workings of the composition.
This outline is offered to see the gross structure of the
1“House” is missing in this text, but noting other
hymns of similar nature allows house to be inserted.
2Miller, "The House," pp. 121-22.
3"House" is used cultically, referring to the temple
and is translated "temple."
Psalm and to help show how the Psalm flows together.
Theme: The Sovereign Activity of God
I. The Dictum of Sovereignty (vv. 1-2)
A. The Dictum on Shelter (v. 1)
B. The Dictum on Livelihood (v. 2)
II. The Blessing of Sovereignty (vv. 3-5)
A. The Definition of Blessing (vv. 3-4)
B. The Result of Blessing (v. 5)
Authorship and Date
In this psalm the authorship and date are inter-
related. Both issues simultaneously confirm or deny each
other. Therefore it is not profitable to isolate the two,
but rather allow each to speak in harmony on the specific
items of discussion. Three lines of reasoning are founda-
tional to the solution of authorship and date.
The first line of reasoning centers on the general
subject of the psalm titles. If the psalm titles are reli-
able, this conclusion will bolster the significance of hmolow;li
in Psalm 127. The response to the headings has been primar-
ily from two directions. First, the titles are considered
late and unreliable.1 Second, they are reliable historically
and of value.1 A third mediating position also exists.
This position regards the headings as preserving certain
Jewish traditions. These traditions will fluctuate as to
their trustworthiness.2 This issue is not within the scope
of this thesis. However, in summary, four arguments can be
briefly stated to show the credibility of the headings.
1. There is Biblical evidence that David was a
sacred poet (Amos 6:5; Ezra 3:10; Neh 12:24;
1 Chr 6:31; 16:7).
2. An inductive study of Psalm 90 shows Mosaic
3. There are evidences from Ugaritic and the Ras
Shamra that Psalms are not post-exilic, but
4. The witness of Christ and the Apostles to the
Psalms confirms the titles' information.3
These four pieces of rationale demonstrate select psalm
rubrics as reliable. Consequently, if these specific super-
scriptions are historically accurate, then there is reason
1Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduc-
tion (Chicago:: Moody Press, 1964), pp. 443-45.
897-903. Also cf. Christoph Barth, Introduction to the
Psalms (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1966), p. 6.
3Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Psalms: A Syllabus
(Grand Rapids: Outreach, Inc., 1972), p. 8. Also see
Gleason Archer, Old Testament Survey, pp. 443-45.
to see other titles as being accurate. In turn, Psalm 127's
preface can be of value for resolving the authorship of the
The second line of reasoning revolves around the
nature of the Psalm. It was concluded that Psalm 127
belongs to the family of wisdom literature. This conclusion
will have a bearing on the question of authorship. This
second point deals with time periods. It has been held that
wisdom literature arrived on the Israelite scene rather
late.1 Perhaps the earliest date would be put in Hezekiah's
time around the eighth century according to critical opin-
ion.2 These late dates are attributed to the theory of
evolutionary development of the Israelite's religion which
was initiated by Wellhausen. As this theory relates to the
psalm understudy, this particular psalm would fall into the
category of "learned psalmography."3 Briefly what this
jargon says is that Psalm 127 is very late. Psalm 127 is
non-cultic but demonstrates a literary link with the other
1Derek Kidner, The Proverbs (
Inter-Varsity Press, 1964), p. 25.
2R. B. Y. Scott,
"Solomon and the Beginnings of
by James L. Crenshaw (
House, 1976), p. 101.
3Sigmund Mowinckel, "Psalms and Wisdom," in Wisdom
and D. Winton Thomas (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969), p. 206.
cultic psalms. Whereby Psalm 127 is a piece of literature
that was produced by scribes that learned poetic composition
from the preceding poetic material of the former cultic era.
Furthermore, the wisdom style which was late, probably later
than the cultic origin of the psalms, gives evidence of a
learned trait employed in the writing of psalms.l Conse-
quently, the conclusion reached through this type of ratio-
nale is that "the headings 'by David,' 'by Moses,' 'by
Solomon' tell us nothing, therefore, of the real authors."2
In essence, what the preceding has said is that
because of the wisdom element, Psalm 127 cannot be dated
early and the heading "by Solomon" is not credible because
of its early historical allusions. Now the question must be
asked, does Psalm 127 need to be dated late because of the
wisdom element? In answering this question, another ques-
tion needs to be answered, Does wisdom literature need to be
dated late? The answer to this question is no. Yielding to
the limits of this paper a laconic ratiocination can be
given to support this answer.
Before building a proper foundation to support the
superstructure of an early date, some debris needs to be
cleared away. An examination is needed of the infrastruc-
ture of the opposing position so that the benefits of it
1Cf. Mowinckel, "Psalms and Wisdom," pp. 205-8, pp.
and Psalms in
2Mowinckel, Psalms in
will not be hindered by the shortcomings. In this investi-
gation, data from the study of the psalms and of wisdom
literature will be used. These two areas are related from
a literary standpoint and from a methodological standpoint.
Also both areas relate to the present study of Psalm 127.
The basal case for the lateness of wisdom literature
rests in the viewpoint of Scripture. Comments such as, "was
based partly on folk tales and the writer's fancy"1 and "the
romantic and fanciful elements"2 reflect two writers' opin-
ions of the account of Solomon's literary achievements in
Scripture. But more importantly they indicate the appraisal
of Scripture. Without the acceptance of the soundness of
the Word, one can follow his own inclinations or those of
others and formulate his own hypothesis.
Without this control the second level in the infra-
structure can be easily
exposed. Those writers in the
dom movement recognized the importance of Mowinckel's work.
But much of Mowinckel's work is based upon the subjective
element. He says, "the age of an individual psalm must be
decided on 'internal grounds,' from what may be more or less
clearly read out of it . . . !”3 As seen before, any
1R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament
(New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1941), p. 383.
2Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom Literature and Psalms
(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1981), p. 17.
3Mowinckel, "Psalms in
historical allusions (i.e. psalm titles) are disregarded
unless they fit in one's system. This is what is done with
the writings associated with Solomon. Even though Solomon
is mentioned in a book, for example Proverbs, Solomon's
potential authorship is disregarded because of the precon-
ceived notion of the origin of wisdom.1
This preconceived notion leads into a third sub-
stratum of a late date for wisdom literature. Mowinckel
delimits the use of internal grounds by stating that due
regard is given to ". . . what is otherwise known to us
about the spiritual and religious history and state of
rallys comes to mind is, What is known? In discussing the
origins of Wisdom literature, Roland Murphy suggests a
couple3 and then makes this comment, "How does one 'prove'
that these are the likely origins? There are no sources
that uncover this for us. These [suggested origins] are
only inferences, but not unreasonable ones."4 The point
here is that like Murphy, others seek elsewhere, ignoring
the data in the Scriptures. So, apart from Scripture, what
1See: R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs-Ecclesiastes, in AB,
(Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1965), pp. 10-13.
2Mowinckel, op. cit.
3He suggests the family or tribe and the court
4Murphy, "Wisdom Literature," p. 18.
from the primitive to the sophisticated, the Wellhausen
approach. So just as Mowinckel will not admit that all but
a grudging few are post-Davidic because the cult was not
matured until the Solomonic temple,1 at which time there was
reason to put the psalms into literary form. Most of those
who late date the wisdom
materials do so because
an early period was not capable of such literary thought.2
In transition the denial of Scripture has opened up
the imagination of scholars to develop models of origin
which are losing ground to recent Biblical research--research
that is confirming the veracity of Scripture.
Derek Kidner in his commentary on the book of
Proverbs summarizes the conservative reaction to the research
going on in the area of Wisdom.
. . . A growing knowledge of Egyptian and Babylonian
teachings from the millennium before Solomon, and of
Phoenician literature from
(Ras Shamra) had made it clear that the content of
Proverbs (whatever the date of its editing) is at home
in the world of early
Judaism, in its thought, vocabulary, style and, often,
its metric forms. The idea that the wisdom movement in
period is seen now to have been 'a curious myth' of our
times, and Gunkel's form-criterion (which is belied by
these early literatures) a 'strait jacket' too long
1Mowinckel, op. cit., p. 152.
2R. B. Y. Scott, "Solomon," p. 266.
3Derek Kidner, Proverbs, pp. 25-26. Cf. also Ken-
neth A. Kitchen, The Bible in its World (
Some of these materials that Kidner mentions have been
available to some of the most prolific writers on the wisdom
movement. R. B. Y. Scott takes note of the Egyptian witness
to wisdom literature in 1955
but concludes that
not mature enough to react to this literature.1 Ten years
later, this same author begins to shift in his conclusions.
He first stated the
improbability of Solomonic usage of
dom literature, but in 1965 he sees some probability that
“ . . . the Wisdom movement flourished at the court of Solo-
mon and under his patronage.”2 It seems the conclusions
being drawn now could have been drawn earlier, but the
attestation was not strong enough to warrant different con-
But both Kidner3 and Scott4 were writing about the
same time but with seemingly different conclusions. So why
the different conclusions? Undoubtedly presuppositions were
at the heart of the matter. Scott still seems impressed by
the thesis of evolutionary development in the religion of
Fresh inquiry is confirming an early date for wisdom
Inter-Varsity Press, 1977), pp. 92-107.
1R. B. Y. Scott, op. cit., p. 266.
2R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs, p. xxxiii
3Derek Kidner, Proverbs, copyrighted in 1964.
4R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs, copyrighted in 1965.
literature. With an early acceptable date, one can agree
with J. H. Eaton in regards to Psalm 127.
The tentative nature of Mowinckel's identification of
such psalms (Pss. 1, 19B, 34, 37, 49, (73), 78, 105,
106, 111, 112, (119), 127) is significant. For the
lateness of the psalms in question is far from certain.
It is likely that the Wisdom schools were active in the
vicinity of the
style can hardly be a proof of lateness.l
The early date which is attested to by Scripture is
now coming into vogue. If Scripture would be given its
proper place, heuristic conclusions would cease. Also this
early date strengthens the historical significance of the
rubric of Psalm 127 and opens up another field of data for
the solution of authorship and date, the Scriptures.
This section should be seen in connection with the
preceding. Simply because it is labeled "Biblical evidence"
does not isolate it as the only line of reasoning demarcated
as dealing with the Bible. This division seeks to take the
data available in the Psalm itself and compare it with other
data in the Scriptures. In other words, letting the Bible
speak for itself.
Psalm 127 is attributed by the MT to Solomon. The
preliminary issue is the meaning of hmolow;li. This phrase
1J. H. Eaton, "The Psalms and Israelite Worship,"
in Tradition and Interpretation, edited by G. W. Anderson
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979).
appears in the DSS1 but not in the majority of LXX mss.2
Rahlfs' edition of the LXX contains this superscription.3
There is no question to the lexical meaning of hmolow;. It
refers to King Solomon (971-941 B.C.).4 The enigma is the
use of the l. GKC observes the l used in the capacity of
Lamed auctoris--introduction of author.5 He further states
that this was a customary idiom of other semitic dialects.6
This use has been substantiated by Ugaritic studies.7 Gram-
matically it is permissible to see authorship in this phrase.
However, it is possible to see this psalm composed "for"
Solomon too.8 This is Dahood's preference, who in turn sees
this psalm as a royal psalm.9 Sequentially, this royal
character gives the psalm a pre-exilic date.10
1J. A. Sanders, Psalm Scroll, p. 40.
2Charles Briggs, Book of Psalms, p. 458.
3A. Rahlfs, ed., Septuagint (
Hembergische Biblelanstalt, 1971), p. 144.
4BDB, p. 1024.
5GKC, p. 298.
6Ibid., p. 420.
H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (
cal Biblical Institute, 1965), p. 92.
8Lamed of advantage. See Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew
Syntax: An Outline (
1976, reprint 1980), p. 48.
9Mitchell Dahood, Psalms, pp. 222-23. The royal
character is seen in the verbal clue, Mybyvx, p. xxxviii.
10Ibid., p. 223.
Apart from this phrase there is no direct statement
of authorship. Yet, by comparing this psalm with other
Solomonic passages some circumstantial evidence appears for
This evidence encompasses several items. (1) The
term "house" in verse one has been referred to as Solomon's
temple.1 (2) The nomina "beloved" in verse two is a reflec-
tion of 2 Samuel 12:25 where Solomon was called h.yAd;ydiy;--
"beloved of Yahweh."2 (3) The evidence of Solomon's wisdom
(1 Kgs 3:4-28; 2 Chr 1:1-12; 9:1-8, 23). (4) The associa-
tion of Solomon with extant pieces of wisdom literature
(Prov 1:1-6; 10:1; 25:1; Song of Solomon; identification of
Koheleth of Eccl as Solomon).3
Most commentaries will acknowledge these pieces of
evidence. But the conclusions vary. Some will see these as
evidence for authorship,4 while others will see them as
reasons why Solomon's name is used on this psalm by the
1A. A. Anderson, Psalms, p. 867.
2G. Rawlinson, Psalms, in The Pulpit Commentary (New
3Weston W. Fields, "Ecclesiastes: Koheleth's Quest
for Life's Meaning" (Th.M. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary,
1975), pp. 16-81.
4John P. Lange, ed., Psalms, in Commentary on the
Holy Scriptures, trans. by Philip
Zondervan Publishing House, 1960), p. 619.
5Delitzsch, F., Psalms, in Commentary on the Old
The worth of each piece of data varies from one to
another. At this point of the thesis, it is not feasible to
discuss each one in depth. It is sufficient to state that
the evidence of Solomon's use of wisdom is appealing enough
to assign the authorship to Solomon.1 In addition, the
activities of Solomon's building program2 can be easily seen
as the background for verse one. Others have seen the time
of Zerubbabel as the setting for the Psalm, during she
rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem.3
In summary, there is more than enough Biblical evi-
dence to identify the composer of the Psalm as Solomon.
This aspect will be admitted by most commentators. It is
the Septuagint's lack of hmolow;li and the late date of wisdom
literature of the old Testament that prevents most from
acknowledging Solomonic authorship. It has been demonstrated
sufficiently that the inscription of Psalm 127 is credible
and wisdom literature can be dated to Solomon's time. There-
fore, the identification of Solomon as author is not hin-
dered. The desire for some to see the Psalm composed "for"
Solomon do so for the same reasons as those who deny
Solomon's authorship. It will be admitted, that it is
Testament, trans. by James Martin
Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint 1975), pp. 295-96.
1Dahood, Psalms, p. 223.
21 Kings 9:10-26; 2 Chronicles 8.
3F. Delitzsch, Psalms, p. 202.
possible, that the composition was written for Solomon
during his life, but it is an unnecessary view.
Consequently, the authorship gives the date of
composition. The general time span of Solomon runs from
971-941 B.C. It would probably be safe to date the psalm
in the midst of the tenth century B.C. For this would have
been the greatest building period of Solomon's rule.
EXEGETICAL STUDY PROPER
Artur Weiser says in his commentary on Psalm 127,
Since the psalm is couched in general terms it is not
possible to assign it to any particular historical situ-
ation; it belongs to the timeless world of the proverb.1
There is truth to what he says, but the logical outcome of
his words is that any interpretation of this psalm is per-
missible within reason. This is the exact opposite of what
this section seeks to do. It is correct to say that the
timeless factor of the proverb speaks to all ages, but all
ages do not interpret the proverb. This chapter seeks to
elucidate the meaning of this psalm. By assigning the psalm
to Solomon, historical direction is given to the exegetical
process. Solomon does speak in general terms, but these
terms find meaning in history and culture. It should be
remembered that wisdom seeks to deal with life. The activi-
ties of one life may be similar to another because of the
nature of the activity.
Exegetically, Psalm 127 is not difficult in general.
But verse two does perplex the exegete. Also this psalm
presents a literary elegance that captivates the exegete
1Artur Weiser, Psalms, p. 764.
tugging for exploration. In order to understand the psalm,
to resolve its perplexities, and to digest its literary
refinement, a methodology is needed to control the exegeti-
cal trek. For the sake of the writer a three pronged plan
is to be implemented. Each verse will be dealt with indi-
vidually but not in isolation. Each verse will be divided
as such: (1) grammatical studies; (2) semantical studies;
and (3) interpretational summary will bring both avenues
rmeOw dqawA xv;wA ryfi rmAw;yi-xlo hvAhy;-Mxi
It is immediately realized that this passage exudes
poetry. The semantic hint of rywi and the parallelismus
membrorum of verse one indicate a poetical passage. Taking
note of this fact will alert the interpreter to certain
grammatical features which may seem incongruous with Hebrew
prose, but admissible in Hebrew poetry.
One of the primary characteristics of Hebrew poetry
is parallelism1 which is very evident in lines two and
three.2 The first half of these lines exhibits what Adele
1George Buchanan Gray, The Forms of Hebrew Poetry
(New York: KTAV Publishing House, reprint 1972), p. 7.
2Line numbering according to MT found in BHS.
The word order, the parts of speech, and even semantical
aspects are parallel. The lines can be roughly diagrammed
Line 2a object + verb + neg. + subject + part.
Line 3a object + verb + neg. + subject + part.
Both lines follow usual Hebrew word order except that the
subject occurs at the beginning of the line in the emphatic
Although similarities are evident so are dissimilar-
ities. The main variants occur in the verb and objects of
the lines. It is these
differences that motivate
categorize these two lines as parallel. The first differ-
ence is found in the verbs. They are lexically different,
of the verbs are different in gender and meaning. Again
these differences highlight the parallel structure.
The parallel structure of the apodosis of these two
lines is continued into the protasis, but not dominant. No
formal connectives are used to combine the two parts of the
conditional sentence, only juxtaposition. Once more the
syntactical parallelism can be diagrammed to show off the
literary style of Solomon.
Parallelism," in HUCA (1980): 20-21.
2Ibid., p. 20.
Line 2b PrePh + subject + verb + Adverb. acc.
Line 3b (gap) + subject + verb + Adverb. acc.
From a class standpoint the apodoses are identical. The
lack of the prepositional phrase in line three could be due
to the phenomenon of "gapping."1
The dissimilarities of these lines are first seen in
the participles. vynAOb has a 3ms pronominal suffix and is
grammatically linked to tyiba, its antecedent. It is also
plural whereas rmeOw is singular. This difference in number
is probably due to the inherent nature of the activities.
There are more builders than watchers, perhaps only one
In the apodosis xv;wA is found in the emphatic posi-
tion. It is a masculine noun functioning as an adverbial
accusative.2 Particular attention should be given to this
remote part of speech given such a prominent position in the
The grammatical parallelism is only superceded by
the semantic parallelism in this bi-colon of verse one. The
parallelism, is one of the most outstanding features of this
psalm. The psalm develops all three aspects of parallelism
as will be seen. Those three include: (1) grammatical
1Michael O'Connor, Hebrew Verse Structure (
2Williams, Hebrew Syntax, pp. 81-82.
parallelism; (2) semantical parallelism; and (3) rhetorical
parallelism.l As noted two of the three are evident in this
first verse. Even though most recent studies on Biblical
parallelism seek to define Hebrew poetry on syntactics, the
driving force is the meaning which the poet is conveying.
James L. Kugel has received some criticism for his
simplistic elucidation of Biblical parallelism, but he is
basically right when he states that the B-clause of the line
continues the A-clause thought by echoing it, defining it,
restating it, etc.,--that is, carrying A further in meaning.2
Psalm 127 reveals this concept. However, the poet of this
psalm uses the grammatical medium to convey and emphasize a
particular truth. This style of parallelism is not only a
literary tool, but a pedagogical tool. Solomon didactically
seeks to incorporate religious truth into life.
The truth that the psalmist desires to communicate
lies in the realm of semantic parallelism. One of the pre-
dominant clues to parallelism is word pairs.3 The word pair
in verse one includes the words tyiba and ryfi. There is a
1Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theol-
ogy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), p. 2.19.
2James L. Kugel, The Idea of Biblical Poetry (New
3William R. Watters, Formula Criticism and the
Poetry of the Old
1976), p. 42.
member-class union that naturally draws these words together.
Dahood brings both Ugaritic support and scriptural attesta-
tion together, giving credence to the corollary usage of
these words.1 The psalmist uses this word pair to cultivate
a merismatic situation with which to confront his audience.
Solomon does not use these words as a basis for thought
maturation, but draws them into the truth he seeks to teach.
These two words help isolate the sphere of life which
Solomon, the poet, addresses.
To determine what these words mean, it is necessary
to widen the scope of study to include other related words
in the two lines. tyiba and ryfi are objects of two verbs hn,b;yi
and rmAw;ye, respectively. Lexically, they are not difficult
words. hn,b;yi comes from hnABA "to build."2 rmAw;yi is from the
stem rmawA, which can be translated "keep, watch, preserve."3
The second half of these lines contains similar
ideas. Whereas the leading clauses identify Yahweh as the
actor, the following clauses seek to identify the human
counterpart and his role in life. Again the terminology is
not unusual. In line 2b the author describes the activity
of building tyiba.
1Mitchell Dahood and Tadeuz Renar, "Ugaritic-Hebrew
Parallel Pairs," in Ras Shamra Parallels, vol. 1 (Roma:
Pontificium Institution Biblicum, 1972), p. 330.
2BDB, p. 124. 3BDB, p. 1036.
4BDB, p. 765.
participal identifies those who do the labor, presumably
their trade is construction. In line 3b, a protection
agency is described by rmeOw dqawA. rmeOw identifies a "keeper"
whose job it is to alert the inhabitants of ryfi to danger.1
His activity is to watch and be alert as denoted by dqawA.
In brief the author is comparing the activities of
God with those of man. Those activities center around the
word pair tyiba/ryfi or more particularly the phrases tyiba hnaBA
and ryfi rmawA. The use of the tetragrammaton narrows the
semantic field of these two phrases.
In reference to tyiba hnabA, Patrick Miller has limited
its meaning to four possibilities:
2. Building the temple or the palace
3. Building the Davidic line/house
4. Building anyone's line/house.2
All four suggestions are found in scripture but their appli-
cability to this passage needs to be questioned.
The first suggestion is not demanded by context and
no suitable explanation is given for its connection with
this psalm. The aspect of
discussion on ryfi. The second meaning has been used to
1Cf. Song of Solomon 3:3; 5:7. Also see Delitzsch,
Psalms, p. 293, especially his comment on "'dqw."
2Miller, "The House," p. 124.
explain Solomon's connection with the Psalm. The word
"house" has been used by the writers of 1 Kings and 2 Chroni-
cles to refer to the temple.l This explanation has definite
implications for the ultimate truth Solomon wants to convey.
But it, too, is not demanded by the context. Usually when
"house" refers to the temple there is a modifier connected
with it. For example the phrase is often used "the house of
the Lord" which is many times rendered "the temple of the
Lord."2 In Psalm 127 this modifying phrase is not used.
The third proposal is only acceptable as far as it
is connected with Solomon. But the link of David with the
Psalm is not particularly clear. Granted Solomon is in the
Davidic line, but there is no reason to specify Davidic
intimations into this Psalm.
Of all four, the fourth has reason to be held up as
the meaning of tyb hnb. Furthermore, the suggestion that
tyb contains two ideas--the physical structure3 and the
dynastic "house"'4--is contextually apropos. The literary
genius of the author is revealed by the use of "house."
This general meaning is preferred because of the nature of
11 Kings 6:1; 2 Chronicles 3:1.
2The NIV renders hvAhyla tyiBaha as "the temple of the
3Cf. Genesis 33:17; Deuteronomy 8:12.
4Cf. Deuteronomy 25:9; Ruth 4:11.
the didactic saying or proverb.l Verse one presents the
first half of the first proverb in this Psalm. As charac-
teristic of the proverb, generalizations are the tenor. The
didactic saying does not address specific situations.2
Another reason which fits with the other suggestions is
Solomon's background in building. A third reason is that
the nouns tyiba and ryfi are indefinite. It is generally
recognized that Hebrew poetry avoids the definite article.
But in this context the article is used frequently. So if
the nouns were to be definite, statistically the article
would have been used.3
These same arguments are applicable to the word ryfi.
Although there is a remote possibility that "city" refers to
to the pilgrimages, would
the journey.4 Also the juxtaposition of Psalm 128 would
give some credence to
"city" as a generalization.
1Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom Literature, in The Forms
of the Old Testament
mans, 1981), p. 5.
3Six out of the nine lines contain the article.
Also it is realized that the burden of translation deems the
use of an article.
4Miller, "The House," p. 124.
Before an interpretative analysis is made of the
verse en toto, another key word in this verse and in verse
two needs to be explored. xv;wA is a word of dictum, in this
psalm as elsewhere. The lexicon defines the word as "worth-
less, vanity."1 Other meanings attached to the word are,
“unsubstantial, worthless, unreal,”2 "failure,"3 "futile,"4
"pointless,"5 and "wickedness."6 It is not the same word
used in Ecclesiastes.7
In contrast to the word lbahA in Ecclesiastes, xv;wA
seems to have moral connotations. It is used in Exodus 20:7
to characterize the improper use of Yahweh's name. In
Isaiah 59:4 it is translated "lies." The aspect of simply
something not worth doing without moral connotations is the
least common usage.8 Perhaps a general definition of the
word could be, "that which does not have positive effect."
1BDB, p. 996.
2Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, s.v.
"xvw," by Victor P. Hamilton.
3Dahood, Psalms, p. 223.
4Weiser, The Psalms, p. 127.
5Kidner, Psalms 72-150, p. 441.
6Gerhard Lisowsky, Koncordanz zum Hebraischen Alten
Testament (Stuttgart: Wurthembergische Bibelanstalt, 1958),
7Kidner, Psalms 72-150, p. 441.
8Cf. Jer 4:30.
This effect could apply both to the physical sphere as well
as the spiritual sphere. In Exodus 23:1 xvawA is used to
describe a report as false. The report did not produce a
positive effect. In Jeremiah 6:29 xv;wA is used to describe
the actions of
they did not purge out the wicked from among them. The case
is a physical situation where a positive effect was not
The word is often used to speak of deceit. Psalms
144:8, 4 and 26:4 are passages where "deceit" is an accepta-
ble translation. The moral connotation is brought into the
picture at this point. An interesting passage which uses
xv;wA is Malachi 3:14. The context is moral in nature and is
speaking to the people of their sinful behavior and words.
Amidst their sinful words are "It is futile to serve God."
The idea is that the people did not gain anything from their
service, but they have the arrogance to belie God's desires.
The primary meaning of this word is moral in nature.
Whereas Ecclesiastes speaks of transitoriness, brevity and
the like without moral connotation, when Solomon uses the
word here it speaks of the moral implications of the action-
involved. It is permissible to go so far as to say that
this "vanity" that Solomon speaks of is "wickedness." The
most common usages of xv;wA are in contexts that speak of the
desires of Yahweh. When those desires are not met, xv;wA is
declared. In other words, when God's will is not done,
sin-wickedness is the result.
Psalm 127:1 initiates the topic of the proverbial
sayings. The topic is the sovereignty of God. The topic is
developed in two admonitions which make contact with the
world in which the audience of the psalm lives. The use of
the word pair sums up the life situation that plays a vital
role in the peoples' lives. The life situation is composed
of two universal preoccupations--the erection of shelter and
the provision of security.1
It is not hard to see Solomon as the author of this
psalm. For he was the master builder and military genius.
The use of "house" and "city" bring into view stone houses
cramped inside a walled existence.2 One of Solomon's goals
was to build up the defense of the land.3 Even though the
situation was peaceful, the threat of war still existed.
Where the house provided shelter it was the city that pro-
vided security with its watchman stationed throughout,
making his rounds through the night.4
When Solomon speaks concerning building and security,
1Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 440.
2Frank S. Frich, The City in Ancient
soula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977), pp. 25-42.
32 Chr 8:1-10.
4Song of Solomon 3:3, 5:7.
he has the experience from which to draw.1 And his experi-
ence prepared him to utter the dictum of God's sovereignty.
Without the acknowledgement of Yahweh's sovereign will, all
that is done is in vain. But what does Solomon mean by this
statement? Is it a physical calamity that will result from
disavowing God? Or is he speaking of an eschatological
physical calamity would show the worthlessness of the acti-
vity. A building project that was undertaken against the
acknowledged will of God was
project consummated without the sanction of God; it was in
vain. The project was physically interrupted. But probably
the freshest experience for Solomon was his own undertaking
of the building of the temple. His father acknowledged the
rule of God and did, not seek to build the temple. But God's
will was to allow Solomon to build the temple. It was within
the will of God; it was worthwhile for Solomon to build.
But the question arises, What of the building
enterprises of the wicked who build apart from a proper
attitude toward God? Perhaps this psalm does not deal with
man in general. This psalm is found in the psalm collection
that is used to acknowledge God by those who are of Him.
1Cf. 1 Kings 3:1-11.
This collection has in mind those who understand the Will,
not those who contradict it. Like those of Malachi that
knew what was right, but openly refused to serve God. What
awaits these? The judgment of God. Here the eschatological
picture enters the scene. Psalm 37:28 speaks of the
sovereign pronouncement of God regarding protection.
For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his
They will be protected (rmw) forever, but tie offspring
of the wicked will be cut off.l
There is no question as to the eschatological future of
those who shrug off Yahweh's security. What ever security
is arranged for in this life will be of no avail in the end.
When the author declares that those who work, without
the proper attitude are laboring in vain, he is saying that
they are doing that which is in contradiction to God's will.
From that standpoint it is evil. The psalmist is not so
concerned with the prosperity2 of the action, but rather the
corollation of the individual or community to the will of
It should not be a burden for the individual to sub-
mit to the sovereign will of God. Within the same collec-
tion of psalms exists a psalm that exalts the divine watch-
man. Psalm 121 divulges the comforting theme, "The Lord is
1All quotations will be taken from the New Inter-
national Version unless otherwise noted.
2Weiser, Psalms, p. 764.
my guardian."1 He is the guardian that never slumbers and
who is there in time of need. Yahweh is not only the
Supreme Guardian but also the Supreme Architect. The
psalmist declares in Psalm 89:2,
I will declare your loyal love is established (hnb)
Psalm 127 is a wisdom song of admonition in verse
one. But an admonition that promotes a blessed prognosis.
The themes of verse one will continue throughout the Psalm.
The psalmist leaves the figure of the city and the house and
develops a minor theme inherent in verse two. This minor
theme revolves around the labor that is also prevalent in
the activities of building and watching. The theme of the
city as noticed before will be brought back into view in
verse five. In verse four the concept of the house will be
drawn into the composition. More particularly the idea of
lineage contained in "house" may tie verse one in with verses
three and four.
tb,w,-yreHExam; MUq ymeykiw;ma Mk,lA xv;wA
xnAwe Odydiyli NTeyi NKe MybicAfEhA MH,l, ylek;xo
Grammatically, verse two presents no problems. Yet,
1D. Wayne Knife, "The Lord is My Guardian," Spire 10
2Author's own translation.
it is an interesting verse from the grammatical perspective.
Unfortunately, the syntactical arrangement presents some
semantical problems. Or does it? The enigma of this verse
occurs in line 5b. Basically, the word xnAwe causes the stir
among commentaries. Part of the solution or at least guid-
ing hand toward the solution lies in the grammatical
features of this verse and also in the entire psalm.
The strong parallelism of verse one is not as
dominant in verse two, but still present. Verse two
exhibits a more subtle family of parallelism which is
referred to as rhetorical parallelism.1 Once the subtleties
are recognized, the parallelism of the verse stands out
markedly. Within this family of rhetorical parallelism
emerges a genus which is often called climactic parallelism.2
Climactic parallelism is a literary tool to capture
one's attention too. "Climactic parallelism or stair-case
parallelism involves the repetition and development of a
group of two or three words in successive lines."3 In Psalm
127 the first two lines have developed the word xv;wA as a key
concept. In a climactic instance the Psalmist switches word
order and throws xv;wA first to alert the reader. Kugel sees
xv;wA as an "interruptive vocative."4 The thought of the
1Kaiser, Exegetical Theology, p. 222ff.
3Ibid., p. 225.
4Kugel, The Idea, p. 32.
the lines is progressing smoothly and expectedly until an
interruption. The sudden switch in literary structure
startles the recipient and forces him to reanalyze the
thought before him.1
This literary interruption is only the beginning of
the literary genius in this psalm. The rhetoric in this
psalm continues into the genus of chiastic parallelism.2
The immediate recognizable chiastic element is seen in the
apparent word play between xv;wA (line 3a) and xnAwe (line 4b).3
xnAwe is the object of NTeyi, which reverses the word order.
Delitzsch interprets xnAwe as an adverbial accusative.4 If
taken as an adverbial accusative it is proper to speak of it
as an accusative of time which would indicate duration of
time.5 Grammatically this is allowable but not demanded.
The significance of xnAwe is diametrically stated in
literary fashion. The poet has used word order and parono-
masia to convey his truth. But the author is not finished.
Orthographically he could not align his words any closer.
Where man reaps xv;wA, God gives xnAwe. This play on words
1Edward Greenstein, "Two Variations of Grammatical
Parallelism in Canaanite Poetry and Their Psycholinguistic
Background," JANES 6 (1974):87-104.
2Kaiser, Exegetical Theology, p. 225.
3Dahood, Psalms, p. 223.
4Psalms, p. 293.
5Theophile J. Meek, "The Hebrew Accusative of Time
and Place," JAOS 60 (1940):224-25.
should give direction to the semantical studies of this
passage. Grammatically, the passage demands that inter-
pretation begin with xnAwe rather than end there last and try
to fit into a preconceived plan.
This chiastic arrangement not only applies to the
words but to syntactical units. Part of the solution to
the puzzle of verse two lies in the grammatical structure of
the verse. This is not minimizing the necessity of dealing
with the meaning of NKe and xnAwe. But, it is necessary to see
the placement of the clause in question (line 5b) in the
entire psalm, more particularly in the first half of the
Before developing the chiasmus of this verse any
further, a couple of observations are pertinent. The first
is the words that close lines 4 and 5. Apart from their
semantic corollation, there is an orthographical similarity
that translates into alliteration. Both words begin with w.
Is this only a coincidence? Solomon intentionally chose
this word. It is fair to say that he chose it to coincide
with xv;wA because of the orthographic similarity of xnAwe with
xv;wA. Solomon could have chosen another word to use such as
HaUn. Also this corollation helps decide dogmatically that
tb,w, is a nomina verbalia from the verbal stem tbawA.1 xnAwe is
a noun when traditionally defined semantically parallels tb,w,
1BDB, pp. 991-92.
and with its grammatical symmetry.
The second observation concerns the psalm as a whole.
Looking at every line except lines four and five, a phenom-
enon appears. Every line except these two is a complete
thought.1 That is, if one were to pull each line out of
the psalm, the basic understanding would still be discerni-
ble. The entire thought may not be comprehended en toto,
but enough of it would. Why should the author abandon this
practice for these two lines? He does not have to and a
plausible literary scheme can be seen.
Line four out of context can be readily understood
as a complete thought. "Vanity is to them who arise early
in the morning and who delay rest." There is no conceptual
vagueness present. Line five can also be understood as a
complete unit of thought. If one allows for poetic license
where structural elements are often abandoned, difficulties
The first difficulty arises from the string of
participals. Most translations take them to grammatically
relate pack to Mk,lA.2 Consequently they are not seen in
lA quest for the determination of what constitutes a
line in Hebrew poetry has been undertaken in past years.
Parallelism, metrics, syntactic constraints have been sug-
gested for line determination. Is it possible to define a
line by the conceptual pattern?
2American Standard Version, New English Bible,
Standard Bible, Revised Standard Version.
separate contexts. However, if the structure of verse two
is seen in a chiastic fashion, the separating of the third
participial phrase is not too harsh a measure. A rough
diagram can be used to display the concept proposed.
Line 4 nominal clause + participial phrase (2)
Line 5 participial phrasel + nominal clause
In this display the author uses the chiastic structure to
contrast the thought of the lines. Specifically, the con-
trast involves two different subjects and two different life
If this is the case, one would expect some sort of a
disjunctive, such as v, to proceed lkexo. But given the
poetic nature of the material, this grammatical anomoly is
not surprising.3 This lack of connective is evident in the
conditional sentences of verse one, where the protasis is
connected to the apodosis by juxtaposition.
Also the syntactical particle NKe is not a problem if
it is seen as relating back to the participial phrase in the
same line. There is no reason to pursue the textual variant
1Gray, Hebrew Poetry, p. 76. He points out the use
of a participial phrase in a chiastic arrangement.
2The separation of lines is a concept adapted from
the article, Samuel Diaches, "Psalm cxxvii.2, ExpTim 45
(1933):24-26. C. Keet draws attention to this article. How-
ever, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Diaches develops
the separation of the lines semantically, but fails to iden-
tify the grammatical plausibility for separation.
3Kaiser, Exegetical Theology, p. 213.
of yKi,1 for NKe makes perfect sense in this clause.2
The problem of verse two has caused one commentator
to express, concerning Psalm 127:2b, that it "has probably
caused as much difficulty to translators and interpreters as
any in the whole book of Psalms."3 The problem is not of
such a nature that a plausible explanation is impossible.
Verse two is so designed that the semantical elements and
grammatical elements point to the word xnAwe. This is the
controlling concept in the verse. The meaning of the
various clauses and phrases need to be interpreted in light
of this word. Therefore, the semantical studies will begin
with this word and in turn deal with the other semantic
facets as they relate to xnAwe.
1J. A. Emerton, "The Meaning of SENA in Psalm CXXVII
2," VT 24 (1974):16, 19, 30. Also a textual variant appears
on Odydiyli. The LXX, Jerome, etc. support plural and is
preferred by some, e.g. Edward Edwards, "A New Interpreta-
tion of xnAwe Odydiyli NTeyi NKe (Psalm cxxvii.2b) ," ExpTim 54
(October 1942-September 1943): 25. The singular reading can
be explained by the fact that switching between plural and
singular is common. See: Daiches, "A New Explanation," p.
2In a recent publication, Psalms 101-150, in Word
Bible Commentary, edited by David A.
Word Books, 1983), Leslie Allen on page 176 supports the
separation of lines three and four into separate thoughts.
It is based primarily on metrical evidence, but he does
incorporate grammatical considerations.
3Edwards, "A New Interpretation," p. 25.
It is both an unprofitable and prodigious task to
interact with all the various views.1 It seems that the
views studied may lead to similar conclusions but always
have a little different nuance to them and this makes it
difficult to properly respond to each one. Therefore, the
method proposed here is to present a feasible explanation,
then to deal with some major views that have been proposed.
Most, if not all, biblical students see the tradi-
tional meaning of xnAwe to be "sleep." It is the Aramaic
spelling of xnAwe which also means sleep.2 Kirkpatrick
astutely observes, "If it were not for the exegetical dif-
ficulty, no one would hesitate to take "sleep," as the
Ancient Versions take it, as the object of the verb
giveth."3 He is absolutely correct.
Of the proposed answers to this puzzling verse, two
primary perspectives of its meaning emerge. On the one hand
the verse is dealt with from the perspective that xnAwe means
"sleep." The other perspective seeks to solve the puzzle by
seeking to define xnAwe differently. The former position is
the correct realm to work in. For the meaning of xnAwe as
"sleep" is well attested and presents minimal difficulty
1Emerton discusses quite a few, but misses, Samuel
2GKC, p. 82.
3Kirkpatrick, Psalms, p. 752.
from the lexical standpoint.
The difficulty of this verse arises from the context
of the verses 1-2. Verse one deals with the labor of man
and contrasts that with Yahweh's work. Then most see this
work motif carried on into verse two. The motif is usually
seen in the three participial phrases generally translated,
Vanity is it to those of you who rise up early and go
late to rest,
Eating bread of anxious toil.l
On top of the work motif is the result of that motif--bread.
So the problem set forth is the relationship of "sleep" to
"work" and its product. The particle NKe sets up a compara-
tive aspect which indicates that what God gives to his
beloved must compare to "the bread of toil."2 The meaning
of "sleep" does not compare in quality to that which is
produced by work.
The first response to this issue is that xnAwe does
not compare to MH,l, but that it relates to MH,l,. It is cor-
rect to see that the work motif continues into verse two.
But as the work of man was critiqued in verse one, it is
critiqued in verse two.
As the sovereignty of God is taught in verse one, an
underlying implication of sovereignty is also seen in the
first verse. That implication is the dependence of God on
1Miller, "The House," p. 120.
2Emerton, "SENA," p. 20.
man. Verse one contrasts the independence of man with the
desire for dependence. And this secondary theme is evident
in verse two. Conceivably the first two verses could be
Line two Independence Dependence
(xv;wA) (hvAhy; Mxi)
Line three Independence Dependence
Line five Dependence
When the psalmist cries xv;wA, he is uttering a pro-
nouncement on the lifestyle of the person as he does in verse
one. In line four the psalmist is describing a lifestyle
that is vain, not in accord with the desires of Yahweh. The
participial clauses tb,w, yreHExam; MUq ymeyKiw;ma express relative
clauses which elucidate the phrase Mk,lA. They are not diffi-
cult to understand.1 MUq MyKiw;ma denotes the activity of
arising early. MyKiw;ma is a hiphil participle which could
denote a causative aspect.2 Those described by this word
determine to arise early so as to get an early start. The
second relative clause, tb,w, yreHExam;, contrasts with the former
clause. It looks at the other end of the day and speaks of
delaying rest, cessation of activities.3 This meaning would
1MUq ymeyKiw;ma is not a common syntactical structure.
But Patrick Miller notes that the construct is not unique
(cf. 2 Kings 6:15, 1 Sam 16:17), "The House," p. 131.
2GKC, pp. 350, 145.
3BDB, p. 992.
parallel the traditional meaning of xnAwe.l
Both these participals are active and indicate a
continuing action2 or habitual practice. The habit that is
described is one that extends the day. The reasons for this
extended day are two. Both fit with the context. First,
Samuel Daiches sees a connection between this line and
Isaiah 5:11.3 This reference contains both participles that
are found in the present study. The passage in Isaiah
describes men who extended their days for the sake of drink-
ing. These men idled their time away on drinking. Daiches
paraphrases Psalm 127:2a like this,
'It is vain for you who rise up early and sit up late
(and drink strong drinks, or, do nothing useful).' This
is no good. You neither work nor sleep. You idle away
your days, and at night you have no rest.4
This rationale has good potential if this idleness
is contrasted with "the bread of toil." bc,f, is defined by
BDB as "hurt, pain, toil."5 It is used in Genesis 3:17 when
Moses writes, "In toil you shall eat of it (i.e. ground)."
The bread here is that which is procured with toil and
trouble.6 This bread of toil can be compared with the
1The view that tb,w, is from bwayA is possible. See F.
Delitzsch, Psalms, p. 293.
2Thomas Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew
(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), p. 19.
3"A New Explanation," p. 25. 4Ibid. 5P. 780.
6Delitzsch, p. 293. Also cf. Prov 14:23; 5:10 for
the use of bc,f, for labor.
"bread of idleness" in Proverbs 31:27.1 This verse states,
She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Here work is contrasted with idleness in the excellent wife
of Proverbs 31. So the concept of idleness is very appro-
priate. It would draw a negative response such as xv;wA. The
only problem with this view is other supportive evidence of
these two participial phrases used this way.
The opposite of this idleness is found in line five
where work is valued and the result of "toil," or that which
is expected because of the curse, is "sleep." Conceivably
this sleep is the sweet sleep of Ecclesiastes 5:12a.
Qoheleth says "The sleep (tnaw;) of a laborer is sweet." So
Daiches concludes that line 5 is saying the same thing as
Ecclesiastes 5:12a. Also by understanding the verse as
such, NKe can be taken as "thus." "Those who eat the bread
of labour--thus (through the labour, by which they eat their
bread) he gives to his beloved sleep."2 So "his beloved" of
line 5b refers to those who eat the bread of toil.
Perhaps the psalmist is indicating the independence
of man by showing the idleness of man. Or another remote
idea is that the man who understands what has been said in
lEmerton, SENA, p. 17.
2Daiches, "Psalm cxxvii.2," p. 25. Or as a resul-
tant clause--the result of toil is God-given sleep. Cf.
Psalm 48:6 for result or consequence usage of Nk. See A. B.
Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, p. 201.
verse one, sees no reason to work because God will provide.
A second possible explanation for the extended day
is that man needs to extend his day to such a point to meet
his needs. An extension so far that sleep is squeezed out
of his routine. Anxiety is what rules the life. Again, an
independence from God causes an unnatural reaction to life.
It is those who expected to labor for their bread knowing
where it came from, to these God grants sleep. The ability
to end the day without anxiety. So the psalmist maintains
a contrast in this view between the quality of work. One
type of work is declared vain. The other is considered
proper and sleep is the reward.
In Ecclesiastes 5:12ff. a similar theme appears. As
mentioned earlier Ecclesiastes 5:12 speaks of the sweet
sleep of the laborer no matter what the results of labor are.
But the verse continues and speaks of the rich man who can
not find sleep. The men in verse two of Psalm 127 put off
rest, perchance they cannot find. Their abundance als a
result of their labor does not permit sleep. The passage in
Ecclesiastes develops the work motif and speaks of the
results of work in 5:18-6:2,
Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man
to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his
toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life
God has given him--for this is his lot. Moreover, when
God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables
him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his
work--this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the
days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with
gladness of heart. I have seen another evil under the
sun, and it weighs heavily on men, God gives a man
wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing
his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy
them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is
meaningless, a grievous evil.
Psalm 127:2 speaks of a similar idea of the man who extends
his day because he is not satisfied and unable to enjoy that
which he reaps because God is not fitted into his attitude.
This is in contrast to the man who toils and does that which
is expected but has considered God in his work and God gives
him sleep. The ability to enjoy life is reflected in the
sleep he experiences.
This view is both semantically feasible and gram-
matically allowable. The contrast developed between these
two aspects fits the context very well and does not distract
from the entire psalm.
Other views accept xnAwe as only an object of NTeyi. In
these views the three participial phrases are seen together.
Perowne reacts to the generally held position of God giving
to his beloved bread--the necessities of life--in sleep or
during their sleep. He sees this position as unacceptable
because "bread" must be supplied and because of the ques-
tionable use of the adverbial accusative.1 So his conclu-
sion is this:
I am inclined, therefore, to prefer the rendering "So He
1GKC, p. 374.
giveth His beloved sleep,' though it is no doubt diffi-
cult to explain the reference of the particle 'so.' I
suppose it refers to the principle laid down in the
previous verse, there being a tacit comparison, 'as all
labour is vain with out God's providence, as He builds
the house, as He watches the city, so He gives the man
who loves him and leaves all in His hands, calm refresh-
He later says,
God's 'beloved' are not exempted from the great law of
labour which lies upon all, but the sting is taken from
it when they can leave all results in a Father's hand,
with absolute trust in His wisdom and goodness.2
Perowne's words sum up the general feelings on this passage
by those who hold to sleep as the meaning of xnAwe, even
though different twists are taken in interpretation such as
the adverbial accusative.
The positions that hold to the meaning of sleep,
find support in Proverbs 10:22 which reads, "The blessing of
the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble (bcf--toil)
to it." This phrase is often taken to mean that God gives
without labor.3 But does this verse have to mean this?
Emerton believes that human effort is not spoken about in
this verse.4 Or can it mean that God gives wealth that will
1J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976, reprint: from 4th
ed., George Bell and Sons, 1878), pp. 395-96.
3F. Delitzsch, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solo-
mon, in Commentary on the old Testament, trans. by James
Martin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975),
4Emerton, "Sena," pp. 20-21. He further comments,
not cause pain or sorrow as in Ecclesiastes 6:2? This verse
can be taken either way and is not determinative of this
Another option some have taken to resolve the prob-
lems of this verse is to emend the text. The only reason
for this procedure is that xnAwe does not make sense.1 In
response to emendation, Emerton is correct in saying, ". . .
it is better not to resort to conjectural emendation unless
there is no satisfactory alternative."2 Sense can be
made out of the received text and the textual attestation
also favors xnAwe.3
The most recent solutions for the text are seen in
Dahood's4 and Emerton's5 works. Both seek to find a differ-
ent semantic root for xnAwe. Dahood suggests that xnAwe means
"prosperity."6 The translation fits the context very well
"It may be doubted whether the idea that God blesses men
when they do nothing would have been congenial to the ethos
of Israelite wisdom literature, to which this passage (i.e.
Prov. 10:22) belongs." There may be some truth to this.
But it must be remembered that Psalm 127 deals with God's
sovereignty. If He chooses to bless a man who does nothing
that is His prerogative (cf. Deut 6:10-12).
1W. 0. E. Oesterley, The Psalms (
1962), p. 518.
2Emerton, "SENA," pp. 20-21.
3Kirkpatrick, Psalms, p. 753.
4Psalms, vol. III, pp. 223-24.
5"SENA," pp. 25ff.
6Ibid., p. 25.
according to Emerton. But Emerton has problems with the
etymology of the root Dahood suggests for xnAwe.l In a
rejoinder, Dahood levels some convincing arguments against
Emerton's suggestion for a root that would give xnAwe the
meaning of "high estate or honor."2 Of both solutions,
Dahood's etymology and meaning would be preferable. It
would fit with the context--"human effort alone is in vain,
for it is God who gives prosperity."3 But is it prosperity
that the Psalmist is concerned about when he speaks of
vanity? It does not have to be or if so it would not be the
common semantic realm of the usages of the word xv;wA.
But again, xnAwe as it is traditionally understood
does not have to be abandoned; it makes viable sense in this
Verse one has demonstrated that Yahweh is sover-
eignly in control; His sovereignty demands submission. Man
is to be dependent on Yahweh.
vanity. Verse two continues the themes of sovereignty and
dependence. Those who exercise independence by trying to do
1Mitchell. Dahood, "The aleph in Psalm CXXVII 2
sena," Orientalia 44 (1975):103-5.
2Emerton, "SENA," p. 24.
3Dahood suggests that Nk is a divine name. This is
unconvincing and is not necessary for the passage. Yahweh
serves as a natural antecedent to Nty.
much work themselves, extend the day beyond natural limits.
The work is an anxious work that has become a lifestyle for
them. This lifestyle has also been brought under the sover-
eign dictum of God and it is declared vain. It is in contra-
diction to the will of God to live a lifestyle that ignores
the existence of God. It is those who toil--do the expected
labor for substance--that receive the blessing of God.
Their action is of such a nature that it conforms to the
will of God. For these the blessing is sleep. Sleep that
escapes those who live a life of independence en contra to
those who live lives of divine dependency.
Viewing verse two as two complete thoughts allows
one to perceive the literary beauty of the passage. This
perspective highlights that gift of Yahweh which is opposed
to the dictum of Yahweh. As the passage continues, this
gift of Yahweh alerts and links the next strophe in the mind
of the recipient.
NF,BAh yriP; rkAWA MyniBA hvAhy; tlaHEna hne.hi
Verse three begins a section where the exegetical
problems are minimal. The grammatical perspective of verse
three presents some interesting concepts. Concepts that
continue the sovereignty of God and challenge the freedom of
Verse three promotes the sovereignty of God on a
positive note. The psalm began with conditional clauses
that translated into admonitions. But verse three starts
with a different tenor which is indicated by the deitic
hne.hi is a structural marker in this psalm. This word
is an interjection that draws the attention of the reader to
a particular item.1 The content of the psalm changes here,
and the placing of this particle here is appropriate. It
sets off the second strophe of the psalm. One of its basic
functions is to syntactically point out noun clauses.2
Two noun clauses follow the particle. The first
consists of a bound structure and a noun. It is the bound
structure that helps link the strophes of the psalm together.
It is the semantical aspect that brings out the unity. In
the bound structure, Yahweh defines tlaHEna. This genitive
indicates possession3 which would fit with the meaning of
tlaHEna. The predicate of the sentence is MyniBA. Being a sub-
stantive it is emphatically linked to hvAhy; tlaHEna.4 The two
grammatically speak of the same thing.
The subject of the second clause is rkAWA. The
1Dennis J. McCarthy, "The Use of wehinneh in Bibli-
cal Hebrew," Biblica 61 (1980):330-42.
2GKC, p. 469.
3Williams, An Outline, p. 11.
4GKC, p. 452.
predicate is a bound structure. The genitive NF,BAha is a
subjective genitive which looks at the activity of the womb.
In this verse perhaps there is some structural
Line 6a noun bound structure
Line 6b bound structure noun
This might be pushing the parallel phenomena, but there are
Grammatically, through simple juxtaposition, an
equative existence is evident between the two clauses as
well as within the clauses themselves. Thus, these two
clauses should not be isolated, for they have semantical
value for each other.
"Inheritance of the Lord" is a good translation.
However, the word for "inheritance" must not be confused
with the modern terminology. The primary meaning "is pos-
session, rightful possession rather than succession."1 So
initially Yahweh's possession is in view. But the concept
of inheritance gives the idea that someone is receiving
something which is congruent with the passage. In verse two
1Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v.
"Inheritance," by F. M. Blaiklock.
God gives sleep and this eleemosynary theme is picked up by
verse three which is modified by the second clause. Since
it is God's possession, He is free to decide what portion is
to be allotted.1 So the sense that an inheritable right is
in view is incorrect. It is God's possession and he alone
is responsible for its being passed along. It becomes an
inheritance when God gives his possession out.
That which is seen as the inheritance of the Lord is
MyniBA. The primary meaning of this word is "sons."2 The
context of verse four and five point to the strength of sons
and their value because of this. Yet, the general nature of
the proverb would include the extension of meaning to
include the classification of children.
In the Old Testament the birth of sons was highly
prized. It is evident that the promise (Gen 16:11; 17:16,
19; 18:10; etc.) and birth (Gen 16:15; 21:2; 41:50-52; etc.)
of a son were very important events in the life of a man and
his wife.3 Amidst his woes, Jeremiah cries out, "Cursed be
the man who brought my father the news, who made him very
glad, saying, 'A child is born to you--a son!"'
This exaltation of the birth of the son is emphasized
1A Theological Wordbook of the Bible, s.v.
"Inherit," by C. E. B. Cranfield.
2Miller, "The House," p. 131.
3Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v.
"NBe," by Jan Bergman, Helmer Ringgren, and H. Haag.
by the clause "a reward is the fruit of the womb." Dahood
correctly states that the suffix on Odydiyli does double duty
and shares it with rkAWA.1 So it would be the Lord's reward.
The blessing of the womb would be that which is received by
Yahweh. The term fruit indicates the product of the womb as
the product of the tree is fruit. Psalm 128 picks up this
theme, "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your
house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your
table." This psalm magnifies the blessing of sons. In
Deuteronomy, the presence of sons is seen as a blessing and
their absence a curse.2 This concept of the blessing of the
womb is seen in the customary blessing bestowed on brides.
Genesis 24:60 expresses, in respect to Rebekah, "Our sister,
may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your off-
spring possess the gates of your enemies."3 So when the
psalmist speaks of the blessing of the womb, he does so in
contextual setting that rejoices at the birth of a son, or
The sovereignty of God continues but in a positive
manner. For now Solomon declares that it is Yahweh who
1Psalms, vol. 3, p. 22.
2Deut 7:13; 28:4, 11; 30:9; 28:18.
3T. Mendelson, "The Family in the Ancient Near
East," BA 11 (1948): 38ff.
gives fruit of the womb. It is his possession that he
freely gives to whom he chooses and it is a reward. Some-
thing that is desirous. But since it is God's decision to
give and ultimately the sons are the possession of God this
should alert the parent that sons or children deserve
special attention. They are not to be taken for granted nor
abandoned--physically or emotionally. Parents, especially
the father, have the responsibility of taking care of that
which is God's.
It should be a joyous opportunity to receive
children in one's family. It must be remembered that the
saints of the Old Testament highly cherished children. This
should be true of the New Testament saint too.1 But, in
contrast, the life of the Old Testament saint was concerned
about the physical blessing of his life. Whereas the New
Testament emphasis is on a spiritual concern.2 This does
not mean the Old Testament concept was a shallow belief for
the physical blessing is connected with the return of the
Messiah. But in both contexts it is the sole free choice of
God to bestow blessing of the womb. The childless couple
should not be despondent. Children are not the only bless-
ing given by God. A wise and beneficial God has decided not
to bring children into their lives. For now the New
1Matt 19:20; Eph 6:1.
Testament family can concern themselves with the New Testa-
ment emphasis of spreading the gospel.1
MyriUfn;.ha yneB; NKe rOBGi-dyaB; Myc.iHiK;
The fourth verse of this psalm is free of grammati-
cal problems. The grammar of this verse sets up a compara-
tive thought, with the use of K; and NKe. GKC notes that
when K; is used with NKe, they should be viewed not as con-
junctives but as substantives with their following geni-
tives.2 This would produce a translation such as "the like
of arrows in the hand of a mighty man are sons of one's
youth." This simply defines the figurative language a little
The second clause can be interpreted a couple of
ways as indicated by the grammar. MyriUfn.;ha can be seen as an
adjective or a subjective genitive. It is either describing
MyniBA or indicating the involvement of the rb,G, of verse five.
The figurative part of the simile here in verse four
involves military terminology. The first of the terminology
mentioned is MycaHi. "Arrows" were no doubt in use during
Solomon's time, even though they are not specifically men-
tioned. But reliefs of surrounding empires show the promi-
nant and decisive usage of the bow and arrow.1 With the
advancement of the chariot in Solomon's army, evidence
indicates the archer was associated with them.2
These arrows play a vital role for the soldier as
indicated by rOBGi. As Roland DeVaux notes, the word ROBGi
was "applied to a warrior of noted valor usually specified
by name, a 'hero,' a ‘brave.’”3 So the man that Solomon
brings into the picture is a warrior or champion. A man
that is not of the common stock, but one that is noticed.
This figure of arrows in a warrior's hands indicates
strength. The arrows are the warrior's decisive force that
sustain his existence. The use of this figure of arrows as
a sign of effective strength is seen in Psalm 45:5. Verse
four sets up the power motif,
In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf
of truth, humility and righteousness;
Let your right hand display awesome deeds.
Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the
king s enemies;
Let the nations fall beneath your feet.
Arrows in the hand of the warrior are intended to be used by
lYigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands
(London: Weiden and Nicholson, 1963), p. 295.
2Roland DeVaux, Ancient
Hill, 1961), pp. 243-44.
3Idem, The Bible and the Ancient Near East (Garden
City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1971), p. 125.
the warrior. They are for the benefit of the warrior.
The arrows of the passage are the "sons of youth."
Most authors, like Kimhi, take this bound structure to refer
to the sons of a man's youth rather than youthful sons.1
This phrase is contrasted with the "sons of old age" in
Genesis 37:3. So we have sons born in the vigor of their
father's years.2 If the sons are born in the young days of
the Father, they will be able to defend him in his old age.3
The adjectival use of MyriUfn.;ha should not be ignored. For
maintaining the congruence of metaphor here, the designation
of youthful sons, those of vigor and youth would fit the
context. The figure in this verse indicates that the war-
rior is intending to use them. They are not to remain idle.
The arrows also must function as they were intended to. In
order for the mighty man to win his battle, what is better
than a large strong stock of arrows from which to fight?
Youthful sons full of vigor would provide such a stock.
They would have the strength to perform the tasks set before
them. Admittedly, the term MyriUfn; is not definitive in its
temporal setting, but this would not rule out sons of any
1Joshua Baker and Ernest W. Nicholson, editors, The
Commentary of Rabbi
David Kimhi on Psalms CXX-CL (
University Press, 1973), p. 27.
2Oesterley, Psalms, p. 519.
3Kirkpatrick, Psalms, p. 753.
age that would be beneficial to the father.1 As verse five
continues, they would still be able to support their father
at any age. Taking note of Psalm 128:3, sons are referred
to as "olive shoots." Looking at the similarities between
Psalm 128 and 127, it is not unreasonable to see that the
sons in 127:4 are youthful, full of vigor.2
Verse four builds the unity of the psalm. For it
develops the theme of the family which is probably linked to
"house" in verse one. So as God prospers the building of
the house he also prospers the family. The prosperity of
Yahweh is revealed in the sons. For they, being youthful,
have the strength to support and accomplish the tasks set
before them by their father. As the warrior controls the
arrow, so should the father his sons. It is his sons that
will make an indelible mark in the life of the father. So
the blessing given by Yahweh in verse three is described in
verse four in terms that any father would understand--any
father, that is, who knows the Giver of sons.
1Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v.
"Youth," by W. White, Jr.
2The LXX translates tw?n e]ktetinagme<nwn . Most likely
the authors misunderstood the root RcanA--to shake--instead of
Mh,me OtPAw;xa-tx, xle.mi rw,xE rb,G,ha yrew;xa
rfawA.Ba Mybiy;Ox-tx, UrB;day;-yKi
Verse five is the capstone of the second proverb and
the final unifying substratum to the psalm. This verse is
primarily a declarative sentence that describes a certain
type of man.
Line eight is composed of a construct unit which is
often translated as a simple equative clause, "Blessed is
the man." As the line continues a relative clause is added
to describe what it takes to be a blessed man.
The relative clause revolves around the idea of
sons. A perusal of various translations will show that this
relative clause can be translated as follows, "Who has his
quiver full of them" or "Who has filled his quiver with
them." The restrictive phrase Mh,me conveys a partitive
sense, that is the idea of separation out of a larger class.
he class is. defined by Mh. The logical antecedent is NBe of
verse four. Both translations end up with a stative idea,
that is the quiver is full of sons. But a distinction is
seen in the way the quivers have been filled. The transla-
tions offered give a stative idea and a factitive idea
respectively. Both ideas are permissible in the Piel,1 and
1Williams, Syntax, p. 27.
both are applicable to the passage.
One translation looks at the result whereas the
other gives the idea of intention. The translation, "who
has filled his quiver" gives the idea that the man was pur-
poseful in filling his quiver. An active role of the man is
in the picture. The translation "who has his quiver full of
them" approaches the idea from a passive standpoint, perhaps
a providential perspective. Both are grammatically possible.
The semantics of the context will ultimately decide which
one is the best.
Some other problems crop up in the verse as it con-
tinues. Of the problems here, one has particular signifi-
cance for this verse.1 The subject of Uwboyi and UrB;day; is
rb,G,ha. But the concord between the verbs and subject seems
to be more desirous. To deal with this apparent difficulty,
Dahood has offered that the 3ms verb is often seen in the
Psalms as a 3mp verbal form.2 This would solve the problem
and prevent any emendation. However, the LXX has plural
verbs in its translations. One wonders how much weight to
put on the LXX, but it cannot be wrong all of the time.
Perhaps the plural idea does make sense. The author
1The other problem concerns the LXX which translates
OtPAw;xa tx, with e]pi<qumi<an. Again perhaps a misunderstanding
of the LXX, although "desires" is not altogether inappropri-
ate. Dahood suggests that the congruence of metaphor
"arrows" in verse five makes "quivers" a logical choice and
rules out "desires" correctly so.
2Psalms, vol. III, p. 225.
could be collectively speaking of the father and his sons,
for both would be present at the gate so that the father can
stand his ground. Therefore, it is not difficult to under-
stand the plural concept in this verse.1
The man which is described in this verse is denoted
by the word rb,G,. Even though this word is used in greater
frequency in the Psalm than other portions of the Old Testa-
ment, it was unexpected. Girdlestone observes that this
term is used to represent a mighty man.2 He admits, though,
that the term is not always that clear in the book of
Psalms. But this meaning (mighty man) may not be too far
off for this passage. The LXX does not translate this word
in this passage. Perchance the translators saw some liter-
ary technique that they were not able to deal with. If they
did, they were correct. For what has been seen earlier in
the passage shows that the author is capable of some drama-
tic effects. There is a close orthographic similarity
between rb,G, and the preceding term rOBGi. This similarity
has caused a few to repoint the text in line eight from rb,g,
to rOBGi. Dahood correctly recognizes that "proposals to
repoint geber, 'man,' to gibbor, 'warrior,' receive a
1Miller, "The House," pp. 131-32.
2Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testa-
ment (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976),
setback from the 4QPs Commentary on Psalms . . . ."1 But if
those who set out to repoint the text would pay attention to
the text, these changes sought in this passage would not
have been taken. For the word rb,G, is an appropriate word
here. It orthographically parallels the word rOBGi bringing
a unified concept. Also the concept of 'mighty man' paral-
lels the meaning of 'warrior' giving good evidence for the
choice of this word. So the author again displays his
literary genius in this choice of the word. Even though the
meaning of the word 'mighty man' is not necessary, the use
of rb,G, for man is acceptable, it brings in an interesting
concept of a man who has sons to be seen in the light of
strength which fits this context of opposition in the city
The wisdom style is seen in the term "blessed."2 it
is interesting to note that it is in the plural yrew;xa. The
uses of the plural would allow the translation of "Oh the
happinesses of the man," or "how completely happy is the
man." It has been noted that this expression "denotes the
fullness of the man's blessing."3 This idea fits well with
the filling of the quiver.
The blessed man is depicted as the one with a full
1Ibid., p. 224.
2Murphy, "Classification," pp. 163-64.
3Davis, The Psalms, p. 60.
quiver. The factitive use of xle.mi is preferable here. For
it is the man who realizes the blessing of God and seeks it.
The military figure is continued in this line with the use
of "quiver." It is an appropriate figure in relation to the
arrows of the preceding. Again the author demonstrates his
poetic ability. The quiver in use during Solomon's day or
of the military history of
because of the lack of
pictorial reliefs in
Jwx is a loan word from Akkadian.l It is from surrounding
areas that pictorial reliefs show the configuration of the
quiver. One authority states that quivers were made of
leather with a shoulder strap and were long and cylindrical.2
They are reported to be able to hold between twenty and
thirty arrows.3 Indubitably, the psalmist was speaking
about large families.
As the psalmists began with the building of a house
so he continues with the theme of building up the family.
This dynastic connotation is not out of line with the term
"house."4 The result of the building of the house is that
the blessed man and his family, specifically boys, will not
1Maximilian Ellenbogen, Foreign Words in the Old
Testament: Their Origin
Company, Ltd., 1962), p.. 45.
2Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. "War and Warfare," by
4Miller, "The House," p. 127.
be ashamed when they confront their enemy at the gate.
The practical wisdom of the Psalm appears here, for
the psalmist brings the contents of this second saying into
the daily realm of the man. For it is at the gates that
many activities take place. The gate during Solomon's reign
was designed primarily for the defense of the city. But his
design allowed a space for the prominent affairs of the city
to take place. It is where both public and private gather-
ings could meet. It was the place for social, economic, and
judicial activities.1 According to this psalm, it is a
place where the father would find himself.
At the gate the father would often meet his Mybiy;Ox.
The reference to the 'enemies' suggests a negative activity
in which the father would have to show strength. Dahood
suggests that UrB;day; continues the military motif. The word
would translate as "he shall drive back the enemies."2
There may be some uses of UrB;day; used in this way, but Dahood
wants to develop a royal character in the psalm and this
suits his purpose. The royal motif is interesting but
probably not the focus of the psalm. The most common use of
the word rB,Di is associated with speaking.3 This use fits
with the context of the psalm. Also the suggestion of the
1Frick, The City, p. 84.
2Dahood, Psalms, vol. 3, p. 225.
3BDB, pp. 180-84.
military strength of the father may not be necessary during
the time of Solomon. For he kept and modified the standing
gates of the city if need be.l But most agree that judicial
activity is involved in which the father would be backed by
his sons to prevent unfair practices. These unfair judicial
practices are denounced by the prophet Amos in 5:12,
For I know how many are your offenses and how great
You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you
deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
The presence of many sons will prevent the father from being
humiliated or ashamed. For he can speak with authority and
assurance and need not fear that he will be mocked.
Verse five closes the psalmist's words of wisdom.
Wisdom provides practical insight into the lives of the
Israelites. The psalmist started out in the realm of
shelter and security. He progressed from the external to
the internal. Through his literary design he has declared
the blessing of sons for the father. So that the father can
uphold justice in the presence of his sons.
Just as the warrior is able to use his arrows to
accomplish the battle before him. The father has trained
his sons well, fashioned them as well tamed arrows. So at
1Yadin, Art of Warfare, pp. 275-90.
the time of need he is able to depend upon them. Surely
this has instructive truth for the modern day believer. It
is rare any more to find sons that at the pull of the bow
string they are there to support their father against the
perversion of his faith. But just as the warrior must prac-
tice with his bow and arrows to master his weapon so that it
is available to him in time of need, fathers need to prac-
tice with their sons to train them right also.
But of the general nature of the proverb, it is not
out of reach to bring in the entire family itself. There is
blessing to be gained from a well ordered family. When the
enemies are at the gate, surely the father can rest assured
that his children will not depart. As the psalmist began,
all is vain unless the Lord is acknowledged in the lifestyle
of the family.
Psalm 127 is two wisdom sayings composed by Solomon
around the mid-tenth century B.C. It has been seen that the
two sayings which appear separate at first really have a
unifying structure between them. The unification of the
psalm lies predominantly in the semantic sphere where the
house and family are seen in connection and the city and
gate are of a member class association.
Solomon who with experience speaks of the dictum of
God's sovereignty. Those who attempt to deal with life's
necessities of shelter, security, and sustenance without the
acknowledgement of God in their lives are striving in vanity.
Vanity that declares these endeavors to be wicked and void
of spiritual effect. But those who live in submission to
God, depending on His guiding, protecting, and feeding hand
can rest assured at night that all will be well.
But the sovereignty of God has a positive side also,
the blessing of sons. Sons are given from God's possession
into the care of the father. So as a mighty archer he can
train up his sons properly so that in the time of need, they
can be depended upon. They will fly straight and not veer
off course. So as the father defends justice, he will come
away victorious, a mighty man.
Psalm 127 is a mighty psalm composed by a mighty
man. Only if he himself would have listened to his own
words as his days drew to a close.1
11 Kings 11:1-13.
A SUGGESTED TRANSLATION
Unless God builds the house,
Its builders labor on it in vain
Unless God protects the city
Its watchman watches (it) in vain
Vanity is to them who get up early and delay rest
But, those who eat the bread of toil, He gives
to his beloved sleep
Behold, the inheritance of God are sons
His reward is the fruit of the womb
Like arrows in the hand of the warrior
so are youthful sons
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver from them
They will not be ashamed when they speak with his
enemies at the gate.
1The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, s.v. "House," by
M. J. Selman.
Town planning at Tell beit Mirsim in 8th-7th
houses are grouped in blocks or ranged against
the surrounding city walls.
1Selman, "House," p. 670.
Left: An Assyrian quiver
Right: An Elamite quiver
1Yadin, Art of Warfare, p. 296.
lYadin, Art of Warfare, p. 300.
lOthmar Keel, The Symbolism of the Biblical World,
by Timothy J. Hallett (
One of six chambers of the Solomonic
City Gate at
1 Valerie Fargo, "Is the Solomonic City Gate at
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