It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so He giveth His beloved sleep.
The theme of this delightful little psalm is the folly of human effort apart from God. Anything we attempt in life is doomed to failure unless we rely on the power of God. The psalmist shows us this is true in four aspects of human life: social (verse la); civic (verse 1b); business (verse 2); and domestic (verses 3-5). In each of these there is an unmistakable emphasis on the necessity for reliance on God.
"Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it." Regardless if it is a private dwelling or the house of God, it is useless to undertake building unless we seek the prosperity of God. The psalmist does not say that unless the Lord consents that the house should be built, he says unless the Lord builds the house. We supply the materials; He does the work in our social lives.
"Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." Turning from social to civic life, the psalmist knows the unseen watchman of every city is Jehovah Himself. The constant vigilance of a sentinel is without reward if he watches alone. It does little good for us to stand watch unless the Lord stands with us. Not to set a watch when the enemy is at hand is foolish, but to set a watch in our own strength is just as foolish.
"It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows." Here the psalmist does not counsel us against rising early. His intent is to show us that nothing is accomplished by rising early or staying up late if all we do is fret about our problems. Here too we must have absolute dependence upon God.
Finally, the psalmist turns his attention to reliance on God in domestic matters. He begins with a statement about children that is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the world today. In a day in which children are frequently viewed as a bother, an infringement on personal freedom, and are therefore aborted before they are born, the psalmist counters, "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD." Children come to us from God and are another means of building a house. In fact, in the Hebrew, the word for son (ben) and daughter (bath) both come from the same root word for house (beth). Although building a house is akin to building sons and daughters, building sons and daughters is more important than building a house around them.
A preacher once was entertained by a couple who had two teenage boys. When he entered the house, he noticed immediately a sense of warmth. He also noticed that the living room carpet was very tattered. Before he left, the mother related that one day several boys from the neighborhood were having a good time in her living room. Perhaps they were being a little too rough, and she asked them to play elsewhere. They responded, "But where will we go?" Nodding to one of them she asked, "How about your place?" "Not a chance," replied the boy. "We're not allowed to invite kids into our house." Others questioned gave similar replies. The mother soon sensed that her home was the only one where the boys felt free to come and have fun. From then on they were always welcome.
While the mother did not allow the children to be disrespectful to her property, she nonetheless recognized that the rug was only property, but that children were an heritage from the Lord. She knew if she were to raise a family she would have to show a lot of love and rely on the Lord.
To whatever endeavor God calls you today, whether it be social, civic, business, or domestic, reliance on Him is a prerequisite to success. You cannot build a house fruitfully without the labor of God. You cannot watch a city successfully without the protection of God. You cannot engage in business tirelessly without the strength of God. You cannot raise children lovingly without the wisdom of God. All human activity is but folly unless you rely upon God for success. Ask Him to make you successful today.
MORNING HYMN If God build not the house, and lay The groundwork sure whoever build, It cannot stand one stormy day. If God be not the city's shield, If He be not their bars and wall, In vain is watchtower; men, and all.
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