“Children are a heritage from Yahweh”1
In the middle verse of the middle psalm of the Songs of Ascents, the focus is on children.
As a warning, this story has some reference to traumatic events – I will avoid detail as much as I can, but referencing those events could be triggering for some.
Solomon, who likely wrote this psalm, did not appear to have a wonderful father. Few positive or healthy interactions between David and his children are recorded. It is possible David was heavily influenced by his own upbringing, which appeared to contain little warmth or nurture. However, when we consider David’s deep neglect of Tamar in her need, there is no excuse. Such moments cry out to us about right and wrong.
It’s not clear how old Solomon was when his father and brothers committed such evil. We don’t have any information about Solomon’s relationship with Tamar. One timeline estimates Solomon to have been 9 years old, and Tamar 19 when Amnon attacked her. If that’s accurate, we could assume Solomon noticed the deep tensions between the brothers and his father, and the change in Tamar. He would have known about Amnon’s murder a couple of years later and would have been perhaps 20 years old by the time Absalom was also killed. Kids aren’t stupid and are affected by abuse in their families.
Did David treat his children like they were a gift from God?
The Biblical text doesn’t give us that impression. It’s true he was deeply distressed at the impending loss of his first son with Bathsheba, but how does that distress inform us about his other relationships?
The name God gives Solomon is significant. After David’s deeply selfish crimes, in which he had treated so many people like his possessions, God makes a clear statement about Solomon. He was to be called “Jedidiah” meaning “loved by Yahweh.” Like God was saying, “No matter how anyone else treats you: I love you.”
And that knowledge of God’s character, in the very centre of this pilgrimage away from the place of danger, towards a place of sanctuary, is something to cling to. We are invited here to lean into God’s care, his cherishing of the people he created. In the light of David’s mistreatment of his children, Solomon, who has lived with that pain, draws a line. He says, “Children are a heritage from Yahweh.”
The ancient pilgrimage had God’s temple as its destination. Solomon’s temple. It was glorious. Yet, here again, Solomon deflects the focus away from himself and his achievements. While the psalm is rich with many meanings, it has much to say about narcissism. Against the narcissist who wants to promote their own achievements, and will happily use people to satisfy their desires, Solomon calls us to respect for the value of human beings. His song, and this whole collection of pilgrimage songs, pivots around cooperation with God in treating human beings with the deep dignity they deserve as creatures made in his image. And it’s clear: when we do that, people thrive.
Will you pray with us, and be present with those who are suffering?
This song comes at the halfway point in the pilgrimage. What was a journey of days for the ancient pilgrims might take years for a victim of abuse. It is tragically obvious that many victims – far too many – never reach that place of sanctuary. Yet our calling remains to treat people like human beings, created by God, and as we do that make it increasingly likely that those who are vulnerable will find safety.
Unless Yahweh builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless Yahweh watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Children are a heritage from Yahweh,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.2
Steve WadePsalm 127 pivots around cooperation with God in treating human beings with the deep dignity they deserve as creatures made in his image. And it’s clear: when we do that, people thrive. Click To Tweet