Psalm 128 does two things. It declares that God will bless every person who fears him and then it prays that God would fulfil this principle concretely upon the lives of those in the hearing of the psalm. It is a psalm of blessing.
The fear of God is the expression for the ongoing sense of God’s awesome presence in our lives and the way in which this effects the way we live. God is the all powerful creator and more we are awed by this the more we will be compelled to obey. The fear of God is always placed in the scriptures as the opposite to sin. We should note that the driving principle behind the motivation not to sin is not a dry piece of propositional knowledge. Rather it is a real ongoing experience of the reality of the divine person who is beyond all our capacities to grasp. His presence perpetually makes us aware of the eternal realm and the infinite significance of all of our actions.
And so the psalm declares the blessings on those who walk in godly fear (vs. 1). At least initially the most important symbol of blessing for the people of Israel was physical prosperity and particularly a large number of children (vss. 2-3). As the people matured in their understanding of blessing and curse God eventually showed them that the fear of God and obedience were not just the means to being blessed but were blessings in themselves. It is by obedience that we discover the liberty to walk with God and experience God in our lives. Psalms like Psalm 73 portray a situation in which God withdraws the physical rewards for godliness so as to show us this distinction. As we grow up we no longer expect our parents to give us rewards for good behaviour since we realise that good behaviour is in itself rewarding. But while we need to keep this distinction in mind when we read psalms like this that speak about the physical rewards of obedience, we should not think that what the psalm says is at all obsolete. God wants us to trust that as we delight in him as our greatest blessing that he will supply all our needs. As we seek first the Kingdom of God and seek obedience as a blessing in itself, God promises to look after us. And there is the added blessing. We do not have to even worry about our physical needs. Worry is a crippling thing in life and it can be a painful experience especially when we feel that we have missed out or when we do not see how our needs can be met. But God says that if we concentrate on walking before him in godly fear and obedience that he will give us the things that we naturally are set up to need in life. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:25ff:
25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
And so this psalm can be appealed to as much as ever with the above principles in mind. God will indeed give us an abundance of life’s blessings especially as we prove that we are ready to use what we have for the sake of God’s kingdom. The more we are prepared to give the more God will entrust to us. I do indeed pray that God would give his people great resources and great wealth. But I also pray that God’s people will be obedient enough to use this the way God wants them to use it. By all means let the money flow into the kingdom but let the hearts of the people also flow into the kingdom and not into the money. We should bare in mind the principle that I mentioned in the commentary on psalm 73: ‘The richest person is not the one that has the most, but the one who needs the least.’
The most important basic physical blessing for the Israelites was children and this is because of the strong covenant implications of offspring. Children signified that God was fulfilling his great plan of salvation which is stated initially in the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 and in which the blessing of descendants was a key part. People embody blessing and people carry blessing to other people. So a child born to a covenant family (apart from the obvious fact that the child is a blessing in itself) is another vessel of blessing in a cursed world.