“Blessed are all who fear Yahweh, who walk in his ways”1
The Old Testament has a pretty long list of instructions on how to live well. While many are about relating well to God, most are about how to care for each other, and how to create a society where people thrive. It includes many instructions about caring for the poor and vulnerable, preventing homelessness, looking after refugees and immigrants, food security, respect for property, and making restitution.
When people lived by those rules, it meant they treated each other with dignity and respect. A broad commitment to ethical behaviour meant things went well in their society, and in Psalm 128 that’s particularly reflected in the family.
Deep commitment to ethical behaviour under intense strain
For those who cared deeply about people, and who were drawn to God’s character, God’s instructions were a welcome guide to how to live. They wanted to treat people well! The longest psalm sounds like it was written by someone who was going through hell but holding on to God’s every word. They wrote,
“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free,”2
“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.”3
This is an expression of deep commitment to ethical behaviour under intense strain. In the same way, when they were under extreme pressure in the time of Isaiah, the Israelites said,
“Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts,”4
We looked at this verse in a recent post. The Israelites at this time loved God, and who he was, and all he stood for. These expressions of love for God and the desire to live ethically represent incredible goodwill. But the presence of goodwill isn’t the only requirement for a healthy community. Not everybody is interested in the welfare of others. When Paul wrote about such people, he noted:
“Their god is their stomach.”5
This is a wonderful description of a narcissist. Their “moral compass” is centred around their desires. Paul also called them enemies of the cross of Christ.6
Healthy communities have boundaries
There is a need for boundaries with people who love to use and harm others. The writer Agur, who contributed to the book of Proverbs, seemed to be talking about abusive narcissists also. Listen to how he described them:
“those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives”,7
He went on to say,
“the leech has two daughters, ‘Give! Give!’ They cry.”8
Those who have spent time with a committed narcissist might find that picture quite familiar.
These rules are a welcome guide to some. A farmer who wanted to know what they could do to help the poor might be very glad for the opportunity to let people come in and clean up after the harvest. Or, like Boaz, even leave extra crops behind when they could.
Your children will be like olive shoots
The writer of Psalm 128 got excited about people who loved and cared. And when the pilgrims sang this song together, they sang about the benefit of aligning with God in their care for others. In that picture, where people lived ethically, with love and respect, everybody flourishes. It’s in that context that children flourish too:
“Your children will be like olive shoots”9
For the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, this psalm would have come just a little after the halfway point. They were not there yet, and perhaps were still travelling through territory that kept them on guard. For pilgrims today who are leaving abusive situations, here is both encouragement and a blessing. Safe people, and safe places, do exist. I invite you to join us in praying for them: may God bless you, and bring you to a place where you can truly thrive.
Blessed are all who fear Yahweh,
who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Yes, this will be the blessing
for the man who fears Yahweh.
May Yahweh 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.10
Steve WadeDeep commitment to ethical behaviour under intense strain Click To Tweet