INGREDIENTS FOR A GODLY FAMILY
Dear friends in Christ,
Psalm 127 and the Psalm 128 speak about the family. If you were listening carefully today as I read the Scripture, you heard that Psalm 128 is a Song of Ascent. Psalms 120-135 are classified as Songs of Ascent – literally “songs of going up.” There are four thoughts about this classification. Some think these fifteen were psalms were sung when the Children of Israel who returned from the Babylonian Captivity. In 605 BC Babylon conquered Judah. As God promised seventy years later, they would return. When they returned, some believe these were the psalms that were sung as they returned. There is reason to doubt this theory.
Another possible explanation is found in the Talmud, another book that is sacred to the Jews. It says that there were fifteen steps between the Court of the Women and the Court of the Israelites. These songs were sung as the priests ascended the steps. There is even more reason to doubt
Another guess was that the psalms ascend according to thought. One psalm builds on the previous. If that is so, it is NOT obvious to me and to many others.
The most plausible explanation of the Psalms of Ascent is the following. All Jews were commanded to be at the temple in Jerusalem three times each year for the three most important religious festivals – the Feast of Unleavened Bread that included Passover, Pentecost, the early harvest thanksgiving, and the Feast of the Trumpets or Booths, a thanksgiving for the late harvest. When people ascended to the city (it was in the hills), they sang these psalms as they approached. Thus the songs of ascent.
No, there won’t be a test about what I just said, but Psalm 128 is a good section to study for Mother’s Day. It’s not just good for Mom, it’s good for families. It presents the important “Ingredients for a Godly Family.” You 1) start with a lot of the LORD; 2) Mix in the Lord’s guidance and instructions; 3) Enjoy God’s blessings.
If you are baking bread or a cake, you need flour. If you want a successful family, you better have a lot of God. “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” Twice the word LORD is used in Psalm 128. Notice that’s capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. In Hebrew this is the word for Yahweh or Jehovah. It means I AM. I AM who I AM. There is another word for Lord. It means ruler or master. The name LORD with all capital letters was actually defined by the LORD when God gave the commandments that second time to Moses. Imagine being in Moses’ shoes, “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
Take him seriously. Take his love seriously. Take his holiness and justice seriously. If you don’t take him seriously then it’s time to take him seriously. He demands perfection because he is holy. He punishes sin because he is just. Yet he loves you.
How can that be? In Jesus! Jesus met the demand to be holy; Jesus felt the justice of sin. Since he was punished and not you, God shows you is comprehensible love. He is compassionate and gracious, but does not leave the guilty unpunished…all through Jesus. This is the LORD, capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. He needs to be the main ingredient in your family.
If I were to stand next to a child in Kindergarten, would he be afraid of me? I am a lot bigger than a Kindergartener. When we compare ourselves to the LORD, who made the heavens and the earth, it makes sense to fear him and respect him. If he can put the sun in the heavens and not burn himself, if he can form the mountains and gouge out the Grand Canyon, it is wise to be very respectful of him and tremble at his power. But I also hope the Kindergartner knows I care about him. I am, after all, a pastor who represents Jesus. Since Jesus loves his little lambs, I do too. I have a responsibility to make sure they are fed with the Word of God.
That’s how we ought to look at the LORD. While he is bigger than we are, he wants us to know he loves us. To prove his love, he didn’t just say it, he put it into action. Here is the wonder of the Lord, the Holy Trinity, one God and yet three persons. God took matters into his own hands. God the Son came in the flesh. As our substitute, he loved and obeyed the Heavenly Father - not just half way, not just sometimes, all the way and all the time. For us!
Every member of any family needs Jesus’ standing in for him/her. He did a great job. He did a perfect job. Selfishness and self-centeredness makes life miserable for family members. Members of the family get enraged and become unbearable and unlovable. Far too often these actions become so strong that commitment to each other means nothing anymore. “Until death do you part” gets to mean nothing.
But you know what? Even those family messes are cleaned up at the cross. His blood was payment for our grudges and arguments. The thought of his sacrifice can change us within, to “forgive one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” Jesus’ pierced hands and side changes our relationship with God and can and does change our relationships with each other. Family ought not to be only about Moms and Dads and the kids, but also the LORD – capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. How does one have a successful family? Bring in a lot of the LORD.
Then mix in God’s instruction. The psalm addresses Dad first. “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.” Dads, you are the God appointed leader. Not an autocrat! Not a dictator. You are to be the kind of leader Jesus is. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Your job is to lead the family like Jesus leads the Church, his family. While Jesus gives us the command, “Preach the Gospel,” and commands us to “Make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” we never do it alone. He goes with us. “I am with you always even unto the end of the ages.”
Hold your wife and family as most important in your lives next to the Lord himself. He died for the church to “make her holy and blameless, without spot or wrinkle.” Dads, the questions that we need to be asking ourselves are these: How can I be more like Jesus? What can I do to make my family all that it can be? What do they need from me? How can I give it to them? How can I help them as a leader? How can they see Jesus in me?
Mothers, there is a word addressed to you. You are to “be like a fruitful vine within your house.” You are a fruitful vine. The grapevine was one of the most important of all agricultural plants in Israel. The vine was a symbol of fertility. Women, there are certain things only you can do. Besides having children, only you can be a mother. In Psalm 104 God urges us to be thankful for the fruit of the vine that brings joy to the heart. I believe, with all my heart, that a positive and joy-filled mother sets the tone for the whole household.
The Hebrew word structure of this verse gave me some problems to figure out as I translated it. It reads literally like this, “You are a fruitful vine in the inner wall.” While the husband/father is to lead the home, the wife/mother is the center of the home as you carry out your work in the inner walls.
But it doesn’t stop there. Far too many think that the Bible says that women should be barefoot and pregnant. If any think, you are wrong. Proverbs 31: 10ff states, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks…Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” A godly wife and mother is a creation of God and serves God by serving her family and others.
Our oldest granddaughter, Sarah, after the birth of her sister, asked her Dad three questions: Is Mommy all right? Is Catelyn all right? Did you tell Catelyn about Jesus yet? She was six at the time. Six year olds don’t just ask a question like that unless they have heard about Jesus in those inner walls of the home.
Look at the children. The psalmist also says, “Your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.” He compares children to an olive tree. Olive trees were also a very important agricultural crop in Israel. Olive trees lived to be hundreds of years old. An olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane now is said to be around two thousand years old. That would put it around the time of Christ. The psalm prior to this one says that children are a heritage. Our children are our contribution to the next generation of people. How we train them makes a difference for how the world goes forth. We need to teach them how they can contribute and not to be leeches. Most of all, we need to teach them about Jesus so they will tell the generation after them about the Savior who came for all.
As they pass down their values and priorities to the next generation, they will be like the olive tree whose benefits go on from decade to decade, from even century to century.
Paul Tsongas was a senator from the state of Massachusetts. When he was found to have cancer, he did a lot of reevaluation of his life. One thing he said about himself was that he spent too much time away from home. He made this observation, “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at work.’”
The psalm ends with these words, “May the Lord bless you from Zion; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. May you live to see your children’s children— peace be on Israel.”
A promise is made here. God blesses nations where families are following the Lord’s ways. As the family goes, so goes the nation.
I am sure that most of us have heard the phrase, “My country, right or wrong.” The phrase is attributed to Stephen Decatur, naval hero who, at the age of 25, was one of the fathers of the United States Navy. The phrase was spoken as part of a toast. The exact quote went like this, “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country right or wrong.” To some it represents the epitome of patriotism.
Carl Schurz, who served as a Union Army General, later US Senator and eventually the Secretary of the Interior clarified the statement. “My country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right. To be set right is going to happen only in a God-pleasing way when godly people and godly families, committed to Jesus and his ways, stand up for Jesus and quietly and efficiently continue to live for Christ and train children in the ways of Jesus. Keep looking to the Scripture. They contain the “Ingredients for a Godly Family.” Begin with a lot of the LORD and mix in his instructions!