The Thirteenth Decade of Psalms
One of the features of the modern evangelical world is that we hear conflicting voices. On the one hand we hear those calling for radical “discipleship” and renunciation. On the other we hear the clamor of those selling what has come to be called the “health and wealth” gospel. It should not surprise us to discover that the Scriptures actually teach us both. And the only way such contraries can be made to agree and walk together is if the Holy Spirit of God is at work. Either emphasis in isolation is extremely dangerous, but together they are potent.
“A Song of degrees. Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; That walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: Thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord. The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion: And thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel” (Psalm 128: 1-6).
Summary of the Text
To fear the Lord is to walk in His ways, and when a man does this, God promises a blessing (v. 1). That man shall be blessed in the fact that he will be able to feed himself and his family (v. 2). It shall be well with him. His wife will be a fruitful vine growing around his house (v. 3). Changing the image, his children will be like olive shoots growing up around his table (v. 3). This is the blessing that comes to the man who fears the Lord (v. 4), and this is the second time the fear of the Lord is mentioned. The blessing of the Lord will proceed out of Zion, and such a man will see the good of Jerusalem for all the days of his life (v. 5). He will see the peace of Israel; he will see his children’s children and the blessing of God upon it (v. 6).
And at this point, let me change back to the orientation of the psalm, which speaks in the second person—you shall be blessed in this way. The third person is fine for instructional purposes, but we want to move past mere instruction. We want to taste the actual blessing. This is a psalm that is written in such a way as for you to believe the promise.
The Meaning of Olives
The symbolism of the olive tree is varied, and in this psalm we see a representation of three of the main images. It represents wealth, it represents righteousness, and it represents Israel. First wealth:
“And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full.”
Deut. 6:11; 8:8 (KJV)
Then blessed righteousness:
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever” ().
Psalm 52:8 (KJV)
“His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.” (Hosea 14:6)
And then Paul describes nation of Israel as a cultivated olive tree, over against the wild olives of the Gentiles.
“And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree.”
Rom. 11:17-24 (KJV)
Put all these together, and we have Israel, called to covenant, which means she was called to covenantal faithfulness, and to such faithfulness God annexes His particular promises of prosperity.
The Fear of the Lord
The precondition for this kind of blessing is the fear of the Lord, emphasized twice in this brief psalm. This is not a craven fear, the kind having to do with fear of punishment (1 John 4:18). It is not the kind of fear that crawls on all fours. The Scriptures describe this kind of fear as a grace, as a gift.
“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”
Heb. 12:28–29 (KJV)
But although it is not craven, neither is it casual and breezy. The fear of the Lord is something that does tremble in His presence. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11).
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” ().
Philippians 2:12–13 (KJV)
But remember that Philippians is the book that exhorts us to constant joy. Therefore, rejoice with fear and trembling. Your Savior is God Almighty.
How Deuteronomic Blessing Works
Remember that this is not a vending machine. God is personal in all His dealings with us, which is necessary, as He is the ultimate Person. Remember what you were reminded of recently—there are times when faithful believers miss the hors d’oeuvres, but not one of them misses the banquet. And also remember the divide we see in Hebrews 11:32-38.
“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee . . . Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things.”
Deut. 28:45–48 (KJV)
Christ is the Blessed One
Our elder brothers, the Israelites, did enjoy various periods of this kind of peace and prosperity. But their sad tendency was to oscillate in and out of it. This was because of a sinful pattern that would occur over and over again. God would bless them. They would become complacent, and veer off into idolatry. Affliction would arise as a result, and they would cry out to God. He would deliver them, and after waiting for what they thought was a suitable period, they would become complacent and idolatrous again.
Now Christ did not come to erase all these promises. Rather He came to fulfill all the conditions, and inherit all the promises. And because He has done this great thing, and you have been made an heir of all the promises in Him, you are summoned as Christians to look to Him.
“For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” ().
2 Cor. 1:20 (KJV)