For the eternal, life giving breath of the Psalter to speak into our lives revealing God and God’s will, when I bump into one of these Ascent Psalms, I am reminded of how particular, contextual and located the Psalter can read. Where does a child, a woman, a prisoner, a homeless and hungry person find personal application in this psalm, especially when it is combined in the lectionary with the last verses of Psalm 119 which speaks to the law and affirms, amongst other things, the patriarchal nature of the ancient Hebrew society?
Psalm 128:1-6 Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways. 2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Ok…I get this – yes, my happiness begins when I wake each day fearing God – not others, not what others think of me but what God thinks of me – fearing God enough to purpose my day, thoughts, actions to glorifying Him above all others….
but here’s the rub as the psalm continues
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. 5 The LORD bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. 6 May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!
Really? Sorry, not me. If in the Psalter I found a different psalm specifically directed to the wife, woman, child mentioned here – the household of the man – then maybe a case could be made that Psalm 128 was just the psalm for the ‘guys’. But this kind of contemporary hoped-for equity in Scripture is not to be found, especially in the Hebrew scriptures.
So, what is the Spirit saying to me about this today? I suppose only this. That the truly happy person is one who fears the Lord and we know we are fearing the Lord IF…
It will be different for each of us. Happiness manifested on earth in this life will be particular and contextual. But the foundation for it, the source from which our happiness is birthed, is an eternal truth and hardly contextual. We are all to fear the Lord. We are all sought by Him – man, woman, prisoner, homeless. Fear the Lord and happiness follows.
I’ve always been offended by the phrase in the opening preamble of the Declaration of Independence, “pursuit of happiness” and today I’m getting a better understanding of why. As written, the pursuit of happiness is a right, not an outcome. Which brings me back to the psalm and personal application.
Through the lens of rights and entitlement, this psalm would make no sense to a woman, a homeless person, a prisoner or a child…none of the manifestations of happiness expressed in this psalm represent happiness to any of them – in fact, the manifestations of the psalmist’s happiness have been at the expense, one could argue, of the happiness of the others in the household.
Through the lens of Scripture, God speaks to me with this psalm and I am blessed. Pursuing happiness is not my call anymore than it is yours. Pursuing the Lord is the call. Happiness will follow and it will look different for each and every one of us. Happiness is contextual and particular, temporary, fleeting, associated with the time and circumstance in which we live.
I can’t say I have a grip yet on whether or not I am ‘happy’ or what that even looks like. I couldn’t write such a psalm today, actually. But I do now that grounding my day in the pursuit of the Lord, in purposing to glorify HIM first, His promise of happiness, the ‘desires of my heart’ as psalm 106 claims, follow.