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Psalm 127:2

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 2. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows. Because the Lord is mainly to be rested in, all carking care is mere vanity and vexation of spirit. We are bound to be diligent, for this the Lord blesses; we ought not to be anxious, for that dishonours the Lord, and can never secure his favour. Some deny themselves needful rest; the morning sees them rise before they are rested, the evening sees them toiling long after the curfew has tolled the knell of parting day. They threaten to bring themselves into the sleep of death by neglect of the sleep which refreshes life. Nor is their sleeplessness the only index of their daily fret; they stint themselves in their meals, they eat the commonest food, and the smallest possible quantity of it, and what they do swallow is washed down with the salt tears of grief, for they fear that daily bread will fail them. Hard earned is their food, scantily rationed, and scarcely ever sweetened, but perpetually smeared with sorrow; and all because they have no faith in God, and find no joy except in hoarding up the gold which is their only trust. Not thus, not thus, would the Lord have his children live. He would have them, as princes of the blood, lead a happy and restful life. Let them take a fair measure of rest and a due portion of food, for it is for their health. Of course the true believer will never be lazy or extravagant; if he should be he will have to suffer for it; but he will not think it needful or right to be worried and miserly. Faith brings calm with it, and banishes the disturbers who both by day and by night murder peace.

"For so he giveth his beloved sleep." Through faith the Lord makes his chosen ones to rest in him in happy freedom from care. The text may mean that God gives blessings to his beloved in sleep, even as he gave Solomon the desire of his heart while he slept. The meaning is much the same: those whom the Lord loves are delivered from the fret and fume of life, and take a sweet repose upon the bosom of their Lord. He rests them; blesses them while resting; blesses them more in resting than others in their moiling and toiling. God is sure to give the best thing to his beloved, and we here see that he gives them sleep -- that is a laying aside of care, a forgetfulness of need, a quiet leaving of matters with God: this kind of sleep is better than riches and honour. Note how Jesus slept amid the hurly burly of a storm at sea. He knew that he was in his Father's hands, and therefore he was so quiet in spirit that the billows rocked him to sleep: it would be much oftener the same with us if we were more like HIM.

It is to be hoped that those who built Solomon's temple were allowed to work at it steadily and joyfully. Surely such a house was not built by unwilling labourers. One would hope that the workmen were not called upon to hurry up in the morning nor to protract their labours far into the night; but we would fain believe that they went on steadily, resting duly, and eating their bread with joy. So, at least, should the spiritual temple be erected; though, truth to tell, the workers upon its walls are all too apt to grow cumbered with much serving, all too ready to forget their Lord, and to dream that the building is to be done by themselves alone. How much happier might we be if we would but trust the Lord's house to the Lord of the house! What is far more important, how much better would our building and watching be done if we would but confide in the Lord who both builds and keeps his own church!

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 2. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, etc. The Psalmist is exhorting to give over undue and anxious labour to accomplish our designs. The phrases in the Hebrew are "making early to rise" and "making late to sit" -- not "up", but down. This means an artificial lengthening of the day. The law of work is in our nature. The limitations of effort are set forth in nature. In order that all may be accomplished by the human race which is necessary to be done for human progress, all men must work. But no man should work beyond his physical and intellectual ability, nor beyond the hours which nature allots. No net result of good to the individual or to the race comes of any artificial prolonging of the day at either end. Early rising, eating one's breakfast by candlelight, and prolonged vigils, the scholar's "midnight oil", are a delusion and a snare. Work while it is day. When the night comes, rest. The other animals do this, and, as races, fare as well as this anxious human race.

The bread of sorrows means the bread of toil, of wearisome effort. Do what you ought to do, and the Lord will take care of that which you cannot do. Compare Proverbs 10:22 : "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it", which means, "The blessing of Jehovah maketh rich, and toil can add nothing thereto." Compare also Matthew 6:25 : "Take no thought be not anxious for your life", etc.

For so he giveth his beloved sleep. The "for" is not in the original. "So" means "with just the same result" or "all the same", or "without more trouble." That is the signification of the Hebrew word as it occurs. "His beloved" may work and sleep; and what is needed will be provided just as certainly as if they laboured unduly, with anxiety. It has been suggested that the translation should be "in sleep". While they are sleeping, the Heavenly Father is carrying forward his work for them. Or, while they wake and work, the Lord gives to them, and so he does when they rest and sleep. --Charles F. Deems, in "The Study", 1879.

Verse 2. The Lorries Temple was built without any looking unto or dependence on man; all human wisdom and confidence was rejected on the whole; the plan was given by the Lord God himself; the model of it was in Solomon's possession; nothing was left to the wit or wisdom of men; there was no reason to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows, whilst engaged in this good work; no, I should conceive it was a season of grace to such as were employed in the building; somewhat like what it was with you and me when engaged in God's holy ordinances. I should conceive the minds of the workmen at perfect peace, their conversation together much on the grand subject of the Temple, and its intention as referring to the glorious Messiah, its grand and glorious antitype. I should conceive their minds were wholly disencumbered from all carking cares. They did not rise early without being refreshed in body and mind; they did not sit up late as though they wanted; they were not careful how they should provide for their families; they were, as the beloved of the Lord, perfectly contented; they enjoyed sweet sleep and refreshment by it, this was from the Lord; he giveth his beloved ones sleep. -- Samuel Eyles Pierce.

Verse 2. It is vain, etc. Some take this place in a more particular and restrained sense; as if David would intimate that all their agitations to oppose the reign of Solomon, though backed with much care and industry, should be fruitless; though Absalom and Adonijah were tortured with the care of their own ambitious designs, yet God would give Jedidiah, or his beloved, rest; that is, the kingdom should safely be devolved upon Solomon, who took no such pains to court the people, and to raise himself up into their esteem as Absalom and Adonijah did. The meaning is, that though worldly men fare never so hardly, beat their brains, tire their spirits, rack their consciences, yet many times all is for nothing; either God doth not give them an estate, or not the comfort of it. But his beloved, without any of these racking cares, enjoy contentment; if they have not the world, they have sleep and rest; with silence submitting to the will of God, and with quietness waiting for the blessing of God. Well, then, acknowledge the providence that you may come under the blessing of it: labour without God cannot prosper; against God and against his will in his word, will surely miscarry. --Thomas Manton, 1620-1677.

Verse 2. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. No prayer without work, no work without prayer.

By caring and fretting,
By agony and fear,
There is of God no getting,
But prayer he will hear.

--From J.P. Lange's Commentary on James, 1862.

Verse 2. Eat the bread of sorrows. Living a life of misery and labours, fretting at their own disappointments, eaten up with envy at the advancement of others, afflicted overmuch with losses and wrongs. There is no end of all their labours. Some have died of it, others been distracted and put out of their wits; so that you are never like to see good days as long as you cherish the love of the world, but will still lie under self tormenting care and trouble of mind, by which a man grates on his own flesh. --Thomas Manton.

Verse 2. So he giveth his beloved sleep. hnf wdykyl !ty !k. These latter words are variously rendered, and sufficiently obscurely, because all take this !k as a particle of comparison, which does not seem to be in place here: some even omit it altogether. But !k also signifies "well", "rightly": 2 Kings 7:9 Numbers 27:7 . Why should we not render it here, "He giveth to His beloved to sleep well": i.e., While those who, mistrusting God, attribute all things to their own labour, do not sleep well; for truly they "rise early and sit up late"; he gives to his beloved this grace, that reposing in his fatherly care and goodness, they fully enjoy their sleep, as those who know that such anxious labour is not necessary for them: or, "Truly, he giveth to his beloved sleep;" as $n may be the same as !ka. But hnf may betaken for hnfb, and rendered, "Truly, he giveth to his beloved in sleep;" viz., that he should be refreshed by this means. --Louis De Dieu, 1590-1642.

Verse 2. (last clause). The sentence may be read either, he will give sleep to his beloved, or, he will give in sleeping; that is, he will give them those things which unbelievers labour to acquire by their own industry. The particle !k, ken, thus, is put to express certainty; for with the view of producing a more undoubted persuasion of the truth -- that God gives fool to his people without any great care on their part -- which seems incredible and a fiction, Solomon points to the thing as it were with the finger. He indeed speaks as if God nourished the slothfulness of his servants by his gentle treatment; but as we know that men are created with the design of their being occupied, and as in the subsequent Psalm we shall find that the servants of God are accounted happy when they eat the labour of their hands, it is certain that the word sleep is not to be understood as implying slothfulness, but a placid labour, to which true believers subject themselves by the obedience of faith. Whence proceeds this so great ardour in the unbelieving, that they move not a finger without a tumult or bustle, in other words, without tormenting themselves with superfluous cares, but because they attribute nothing to the providence of God! The faithful, on the other hand, although they lead a laborious life, yet follow their vocations with composed and tranquil minds. Thus their hands are not idle, but their minds repose in the stillness of faith, as if they were asleep. --John Calvin, 1509-1564.

Verse 2. He giveth his beloved sleep. It is a peculiar rest, it is a rest peculiar to sons, to saints, to heirs, to beloved ones. "So he gives his beloved rest", or as the Hebrew hath it, dearling, or dear beloved, quiet rest, without care or sorrow. The Hebrew word akf, shena, is written with a, a quiet dumb letter, which is not usual, to denote the more quietness and rest. This rest is a crown that God sets only upon the head of saints; it is a gold chain that he only puts about his children's necks; it is a jewel that he only hangs between his beloved's breasts: it is a flower that he only sticks in his darlings' bosoms. This rest is a tree of life that is proper and peculiar to the inhabitants of that heavenly country; it is children's bread, and shall never be given to dogs. --Thomas Brooks, 1608-1680.

Verse 2. (last clause). As the Lord gave a precious gift to his beloved, the first Adam, while he slept, by taking a rib from his side, and by building there from a woman, Eve, his bride, the Mother of all living; so, while Christ, the Second Adam, the true Jedidiah, the Well beloved Son of God, was sleeping in death on the cross, God formed for him, in his death, and by his death, -- even by the life giving streams flowing from his own precious side, -- the Church, the spiritual Eve, the Mother of all living; and gave her to him as his bride. Thus he built for him in his sleep the spiritual Temple of his Church. --Christopher Wordsworth.

Verse 2. Quiet sleep is the gift of God, and it is the love of God to give quiet sleep.

  1. 'Tis God's gift when we have it: quiet sleep does revive nature as the dew or small rain does refresh the grass. Now, as the prophet speaks ( Jeremiah 14:22 ), "Are there any of the gods of the heathen can cause rain, or can the heavens give showers?" so it may be said: Are there any of the creatures in earth or heaven that can give sleep? That God which gives showers of rain must give hours of rest: peaceable repose is God's peculiar gift.
  2. 'Tis God's love when he gives it, "for so he giveth his beloved sleep"; that is, sleep with quietness: yea, the Hebrew word, shena, for sleep, being with aleph, a quiet or resting letter, otherwise than is usual, it signifies the greater quietness in time of sleep. And whereas some apply the peace only to Solomon, who was called Jedidiah, the beloved of the Lord, to whom God gave sleep; the Septuagint turns the Hebrew word plurally, so God giveth his beloved ones sleep; to his saints in general God gives quiet sleep as a token of his love; yea, in the times of their greatest peril. Thus Peter in prison when he was bound with chains, beset with soldiers, and to die the next day, yet see how fast he was found asleep (Ac 12:6-7): "The same night Peter was sleeping, and behold the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison", yet Peter slept till the angel smote him on the side and raised him up: so God "gives his beloved sleep", and let his beloved give him the honour; and the rather because herein God answers our prayer, herein God fulfils his promise.

Is it not our prayer that God would prevent fear, and afford refreshing sleep? and is it not God's answer when in sleep he doth sustain us? "I cried (says David) unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. I laid me down and slept, for the Lord sustained me": Psalms 3:4-3 .

Is it not God's promise to vouchsafe sleep free from frights? "When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet": Proverbs 3:24 . Hence God's servants while they are in the wilderness and woods of this world, they sleep safely, and devils as wild beasts can do them no harm. Ezekiel 34:25 . Have we through God's blessing this benefit, let us abundantly give praise and live praise unto God hereupon. Yea, large praise belongs to the Lord for quiet sleep from men of all sorts. --Philip Goodwin, in "The Mystery of Dreams", 1658.

Verse 2. So he giveth his beloved sleep. The world would give its favourites power, wealth, distinction; God gives "sleep." Could he give anything better? To give sleep when the storm is raging; to give sleep when conscience is arraying a long catalogue of sins; to give sleep when evil angels are trying to overturn our confidence in Christ; to give sleep when death is approaching, when judgment is at hand -- oh! what gift could be more suitable? what more worthy of God? or what more precious to the soul?

But we do not mean to enlarge upon the various senses which might thus be assigned to the gift. You will see for yourselves that sleep, as denoting repose and refreshment, may be regarded as symbolising "the rest which remaineth for the righteous", which is the gift of God to his chosen. "Surely he giveth his beloved sleep", may be taken as parallel to what is promised in Isaiah -- "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee." Whatever you can understand by the "peace" in the one case, you may also understand by the "sleep" in the other. But throughout the Old and New Testaments, and especially the latter, sleep, as you know, is often put for death. "He slept with his fathers" is a common expression in the Jewish Scriptures. To "sleep in Jesus" is a common way of speaking of those who die in the faith of the Redeemer.

Suppose, then, we take the "sleep" in our text as denoting death, and confine our discourse to an illustration of the passage under this one point of view. "Surely he giveth his beloved sleep." What an aspect will this confer on death -- to regard it as God's gift -- a gift which he vouchsafes to those whom he loves!

It is not "he sendeth his beloved sleep", which might be true whilst God himself remained at a distance; it is "he giveth his beloved sleep"; as though God himself brought the sleep, and laid it on the eyes of the weary Christian warrior. And if God himself have to do with the dissolution, can we not trust him that he will loosen gently the silver cord, and use all kindness and tenderness in "taking down the earthly house of this tabernacle"? I know not more comforting words than those of our text, whether for the being uttered in the sickroom of the righteous, or breathed over their graves. They might almost take the pain from disease, as they certainly do the dishonour from death. What is bestowed by God as a "gift on his beloved" will assuredly occupy his care, his watchfulness, his solicitude; and I conclude, therefore, that he is present, in some special and extraordinary sense when the righteous lie dying; ay, and that he sets his seal, and plants his guardianship where the righteous lie dead. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Let the saint be but constant in the profession of godliness, and his last hours shall be those in which Deity himself shall stand almost visibly at his side, and his last resting place that which he shall shadow with his wings. Sickness may be protracted and distressing; "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," may be plaintively breathed over the unconscious dead; but nothing in all this lengthened struggle, nothing in all this apparent defeat, can harm the righteous man -- nay, nothing can be other than for his present good and his eternal glory, seeing that death with all its accompaniments is but joy -- God's gift to his beloved. Dry your tears, ye that stand around the bed of the dying believer, the parting moment is almost at hand -- a cold damp is on the forehead -- the eye is fixed -- the pulse too feeble to be felt -- are you staggered at such a spectacle? Nay! let faith do its part! The chamber is crowded with glorious forms; angels are waiting there to take charge of the disembodied soul; a hand gentler than any human is closing those eyes; and a voice sweeter than any human is whispering -- "Surely the Lord giveth his beloved sleep." -- Henry Melvill (1798-1871), in a Sermon entitled "Death the Gift of God."

Verse 2. For so he giveth his beloved sleep. One night I could not rest, and in the wild wanderings of my thoughts I met this text, and communed with it: "So he giveth his beloved sleep." In my reverie, as I was on the border of the land of dreams, I thought I was in a castle. Around its massive walls there ran a deep moat. Watchmen paced the walls both day and night. It was a fine old fortress, bidding defiance to the foe; but I was not happy in it. I thought I lay upon a couch; but scarcely had I closed my eyes, ere a trumpet blew, "To arms! To arms!" and when the danger was overpast, I lay me down again. "To arms! To arms!" once more resounded, and again I started up. Never could I rest. I thought I had my armour on, and moved about perpetually clad in mail, rushing each hour to the castle top, aroused by some fresh alarm. At one time a foe was coming from the west; at another from the east. I thought I had a treasure somewhere down in some deep part of the castle, and all my care was to guard it. I dreaded, I feared, I trembled lest it should be taken from me. I awoke, and I thought I would not live in such a tower as that for all its grandeur. It was the castle of discontent, the castle of ambition, in which man never rests. It is ever, "To arms! To arms!" There is a foe here, or a foe there. His dear loved treasure must be guarded. Sleep never crossed the drawbridge of the castle of discontent. Then I thought I would supplement it by another reverie. I was in a cottage. It was in what poets call a beautiful and pleasant place, but I cared not for that. I had no treasure in the world; save one sparkling jewel on my breast: and I thought I put my hand on that and went to sleep, nor did I wake till morning light. That treasure was a quiet conscience and the love of God -- "the peace that passeth all understanding." I slept, because I slept in the house of content, satisfied with what I had. Go, ye overreaching misers! Go, ye grasping, ambitious men! I envy not your life of inquietude. The sleep of statesmen is often broken; the dream of the miser is always evil; the sleep of the man who loves gain is never hearty; but God "giveth", by contentment, "his beloved sleep." -- C.H.S.

Verse 2. He giveth his beloved sleep.

Of all the thoughts of God that are
Borne inward unto souls afar,
Along the Psalmist's music deep,
Now tell me if that any is,
For gift or grace surpassing this --
"He giveth his beloved sleep."

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1809-1861.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 2. (with Psalms 126:2 ). The labour of the law contrasted with the laughter of the gospel.

Verse 2. The bread of sorrows.

  1. When God sends it, it is good to eat it.
  2. When we bake it ourselves, it is vain to eat it.
  3. When the devil brings it, it is deadly meat.

Verse 2. (last clause). -- Blessings that come to us in sleep.

  1. Renewed health and vigour of body.
  2. Mental repose and refreshment.
  3. Sweeter thoughts and holier purposes.
  4. Providential gifts. The rains fall, the fruits of the earth grow and ripen, the mill wheel goes round, the ship pursues her voyage, etc., while we slumber. Often when we are doing nothing for ourselves God is doing most. -- W. H. J.P.

Verse 2. (last clause). See "Spurgeon's Sermons", No. 12: "The Peculiar Sleep of the Beloved."

Read Psalm 127:2