Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that
Whether it be understood literally of an artificial house, as Solomon's own house; or the house of the Lord, or any other: let a man be ever so bent upon building one, or have ever so much skill in drawing the plan of it, or be ever so well provided to go through the expense of it, or have ever so many hands employed in it, yet, if the Lord does not give success, it will all be in vain; the building will fall down, or be consumed by fire before it is finished; or by one providence or another he will be obliged to desist from it, as in the case of the builders of the tower and city of Babel. Or whether it be understood of a family, which is built up by an increase and multiplication of children; so Leah and Rachel built up the house of Israel, ( Ruth 4:11 ) ; this depends upon the providence of God; for, as it is after said, "children are an heritage of the Lord", ( Psalms 127:3 ) . Or whether it be understood, figuratively and mystically, of the church God, the house of the living God; the house of Christ, a spiritual one; a Gospel church, whose materials are lively stones, or true believers. Now there are builders in this house, some indeed very bad ones; and it is no wonder that they labour in vain, who reject and lay aside the foundation and corner stone, Christ; who deny his deity, despise his righteousness; or mix grace and works, law and Gospel, together, and pluck down with one hand what they build with another: and though there are others that are good ones, and lay the foundation, Christ; and build on this foundation precious truths, comparable to gold, silver, and precious stones; minister the word, and administer the ordinances, truly and faithfully; and in all direct to Christ for grace, strength, peace, comfort, and eternal life; speak to edification, and are the means of reviving the graces of God's people, and of establishing their souls; as well as of the conversion of sinners, whereby the house of God is built up; yet if the Lord does not prosper their work, all is in vain. For the principal builder is God, Father, Son, and Spirit; this is mostly applied to the second Person, the Word and Wisdom of God, ( Proverbs 9:1 ) ( Zechariah 6:12 Zechariah 6:13 ) ( Matthew 16:18 ) ; but not to the exclusion of the Father, who has laid in Zion a foundation, a precious corner stone, and builds souls on it; nor of the Spirit, through whom saints are built up an habitation for God, ( Isaiah 28:16 ) ( Ephesians 2:22 ) . The Targum here is,
``if the Word of the Lord does not build the city.''It follows,
except the Lord keep the city;
the city Jerusalem, as the Targum; who also here makes mention of the Word of the Lord: or any other city: God, with the Heathens F20 was called (polieuv) , the keeper of cities; this title is given to Minerva by Pindar F21, and is one of Jupiter's titles F23;
the watchman waketh [but] in vain;
to preserve it from riots, robberies, fires This may be applied to the church of God, the city of the living God, of which saints are fellow citizens: now in this city there are watchmen, some indeed that are blind and asleep, and so quite unfit for this office; but there are others who are awake and diligent, and watch in all things; and for the souls of men, and the good of the city, the church, to prevent heresies, errors, and immoralities; and yet all their watchfulness is in vain, unless the Lord keep it, who watches over his people for good, and that none hurt them; he wakeful, never slumbers nor sleeps, and constant night and day; and keeps his people by his power, and as tenderly as the apple of his eye.
F20 Aristotel. de Mundo, c. 7. Apuleius de Mundo, prope finem. Phurnutus de Natura Deor. c. 9.
F21 Olympiad. Ode 5.
F23 Pausaniae Attica, sive l. 1. p. 43, 53. Vid Theoph. ad Autolye. l. 1. p. 76.