May 14, 2017
My wife has a refrigerator magnet with a picture of a very attractive young housewife, from the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, with a big smile on her face as she’s giving her baby a bath; and she’s saying, “WOW! I get to give birth AND change diapers!”
Many women get to that stage of their lives and ask, “Is this what motherhood is all about?” And some of you, as I read Psalm 128, might think this is a strange Psalm for Mother’s Day; it certainly does not sound appealing to our 21st-century ears. Everything seems to be from the man’s point of view. But bear with me. The Bible is not going to give us a bum steer. Consider
The Blessedness of Family Life
1. A Picture of Blessedness. Verse 1, “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in His ways.” This verse sets the tone: Fear the Lord and walk in His ways. No man or woman, father or mother, can expect any blessing without this. If you are just here to celebrate a sentimental Mother’s Day tradition, you might as well forget it. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in His ways.”
Of course, you might argue that you know many people who fear the Lord and try to walk in His ways, and they do not seem to be any more blessed than anyone else. But that does not invalidate the principle. Every Christian must believe that true fear of the Lord will result in His blessing. Verse 2, “You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.” You do not just go out in the woods and expect the morel mushrooms to jump into your bag. And you do not just sit around fearing the Lord and expect blessings to jump into your life. “You will eat the fruit of your labor,” not the fruit of idleness. Here in verse 2 we find out that true happiness is not contradictory to working. Life without work is not a path to blessedness.
But of course it is verse 3 that led me to choose this Psalm for Mother’s Day, and it is verse 3, ironically, that modern women might like to protest the most. No, not just modern women. Right from the start of human sin God had warned Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). Since human sin entered the world, marriage would be a power struggle that a woman cannot win. But wait: A man does not really win either. Oh, in former generations men seemed to have the upper hand; but you really cannot call it a victory if you have to force your wife into submission.
Here in Psalm 128, though, we have to believe we are dealing with God’s Word, and we have to believe that God’s Word is presenting the picture of the ideal family situation. And Psalm 128:3 states, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house.” Whoa! How many of you women or girls would be honored to be referred to as “a fruitful vine”? Raise your hands. Maybe we should have printed up T-shirts to hand out after church today, “I Am My Husband’s Fruitful Vine.” No, I’m afraid that would not go over too well. A question does arise, though: To what extent is the Bible describing the ideal family situation for all times and all places, and to what extent is the Bible describing a situation that applies specifically to Jewish thinking and culture from 2500-3000 years ago? A valid question. But an equally valid question is, “What makes anyone think American culture of 2017 is an improvement over the culture of Psalm 128?” Specifically, “Is there more value in severely limiting our fruitfulness than in embracing fruitfulness?” I’ve discussed this before, and I will not get into it again, but it is very clear that the western world, Europe and North America specifically, is on the road to self-destruction, when we are not even producing enough children to repopulate ourselves. But is there anything we can do about it? Can we really go against the flow? Well, whether we have two children or twenty, we somehow have to get over this idea that blessedness, happiness, comes from a carefree life where you just have to be responsible for yourself. As appealing as that sounds, it is not the Bible’s picture of the road to true happiness.
Children are not the only fruit a godly woman produces, though. She can be fruitful, as also a man can, in the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). But note something else: This godly wife is like a fruitful vine “within your house.” This does not mean a godly woman can never leave home. It does not mean a godly woman may not work outside the home. It does mean that a woman, in general, has a very special calling and assignment that only she can fulfill. And again you might ask, Does this describe only Jewish culture in Bible times, or is this the ideal for all people of all times? In Jewish society, and the Mideast in general, the woman’s domain was in the very inner part of the house. This was pretty much the case even in the United States up until 50 or 60 years ago. And even though things have changed outwardly, it is still the mother who makes the house a home. There is an anecdote that a salesman once knocked on the door of a house, and a little boy answered. The visitor asked if the boy’s mother was home. The boy answered, “No, Mom’s out grocery shopping. Dad and my 2 brothers and 3 sisters and the cat and the dog and I are home alone.” I would guess that in 98% of the homes, if Mom isn’t there, it seems as if the rest of the family is home alone. This is the case even if Dad is there, because even the best father cannot fill the void or hold things together the way Mom can; men are preoccupied – preoccupied with their own interests, preoccupied with earning a living, preoccupied with things on the outside. Some of that is sinful preoccupation, but much of that is the way God made men. Any man who is smart – and blessed – needs a wife who “will be like a fruitful vine within” his house.
Next phrase: “Your sons will be like olive trees around your table.” Of course, this does not rule out daughters. I understand that olive trees, like poplars and some other trees, spring up around the main tree in a circle. That is the picture here. It is mealtime, and children are especially prominent as they sit around the table at mealtime. What a great thing to have all of them home for Thanksgiving or Easter. You say, “Yeah, think of the money it takes to feed them all.” But guess what: When they’re all together, you do not even think about the cost. What a blessing to be able to feed them, and have them at the table and not sick in their room. What mother is not proud of such a sight? And what father? Verse 4, “Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord.”
2. The Source of Blessedness. Verse 5, “May the Lord bless you from Zion all the days of your life.” Aha, now we find out that real blessedness does not come just from gathering inside your house for a family holiday meal. Real blessedness does not come from going out for Mother’s Day brunch. Real blessedness does not come from having your children make the honor role. Real blessedness does not come from the soccer team or the Little League or the 4H Club. Real blessedness does not even come from going on family outings or activities. Real blessedness comes from the Lord out of Zion. Zion, the hill in Jerusalem on which the Temple was built. The mountain of the Lord’s presence. This is where real blessedness comes from.
Real blessedness comes only when you and your children know the Lord, the Lord who came to this earth in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the blessedness that came from Zion, the coming of Jesus Christ into this world. Jesus Christ, the mighty God and Lord, became one of us. He missed out on the joys of family life, because He had a different calling: To fulfill God’s laws in your place, and to make His coming known by His preaching and teaching and miracles, and to suffer and die at an early age, as the payment for your sins. He did not have a wife. He did not have sons like olive shoots around His table. He did not live to see the prosperity of Jerusalem, or His children’s children, and peace upon Israel. But He lived to accomplish your eternal salvation. And He came alive, and lives forever.
Now “the Lord will bless you from Zion all the days of your life.” You will see the prosperity of Jerusalem, and you might very well see your children’s children. Now it is your calling, if you have children of your own, or grandchildren, or if you have any contact with other people’s children, to bring them the blessings of the Lord, the blessings from Zion, the blessings of Jesus Christ. And not just to be concerned about your own family, but about God’s Kingdom.
Sometimes it is not easy to do that, as you fight the daily battles and you learn more each day that your children are not just ideal little Christian olive trees around your table, but they can also be disgusting little sinners at times. And in the heat of battle you might be tempted to throw in the towel. Like the mother who came to the pastor and lamented, “I just can’t do this mothering thing any more.” The pastor asked, “What, do you think being a mother is beneath you?” And she replied, “Beneath me? No, it’s beyond me.”
Yes, it certainly would be beyond you, and beyond anyone. Except that the Lord has promised to be with you and bless you. So do not give up, mothers. Your profession might not always be glamorous. You might think some days that it is nothing more than giving birth and changing diapers. And the sad truth is, life often gets even tougher once the kids are out of diapers, and people sometimes look back at the diaper-changing days as the good old days. But if you bring up your children in the fear of the Lord, and keep them in your prayers, there is a good chance that they will turn into olive trees around your table. And you might just see the prosperity of Jerusalem, and your children’s children, and peace upon Israel.
~Pastor Mark Porinsky