Verse 2. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands. The general doctrine in Psalms 128:1 here receives a personal application: note the change to the second person: "thou shalt eat", etc. This is the portion of God's saints, -- to work, and to find a reward in so doing. God is the God of labourers. We are not to leave our worldly callings because the Lord has called us by grace: we are not promised a blessing upon romantic idleness or unreasonable dreaming, but upon hard work and honest industry. Though we are in God's hands we are to be supported by our own hands. He will give us daily bread, but it must be made our own by labour. All kinds of labour are here included; for if one toils by the sweat of his brow, and another does so by the sweat of his brain, there is no difference in tile blessing; save that it is generally more healthy to work with the body than with the mind only. Without God it would be vain to labour; but when we are labourers together with God a promise is set before us. The promise is that labour shall be fruitful, and that he who performs it shall himself enjoy the recompense of it. It is a grievous ill for a man to slave his life away and receive no fair remuneration for his toil: as a rule, God's servants rise out of such bondage and claim their own, and receive it: at any rate, this verse may encourage them to do so. "The labourer is worthy of his hire." Under the Theocracy the chosen people could see this promise literally fulfilled; but when evil rulers oppressed them their earnings were withheld by churls, and their harvests were snatched away from them by marauders. Had they walked in the fear of the Lord they would never have known such great evils. Some men never enjoy their labour, for they give themselves no time for rest. Eagerness to get takes from them the ability to enjoy. Surely, if it is worth while to labour, it is worth while to eat of that labour. "Happy shalt thou be", or, Oh, thy happinesses. Heaped up happinesses in the plural belong to that man who fears the Lord. He is happy, and he shall be happy in a thousand ways. The context leads us to expect family happiness. Our God is our household God. The Romans had their Lares and Penates, but we have far more than they in the one only living and true God. And it shall be well with thee, or, good for thee. Yes, good is for the good; and it shall be well with those who do well.
"What cheering words are these!
Their sweetness who can tell?
In time, and to eternal days,
'Tis with the righteous well."
If we fear God we may dismiss all other fear. In walking in God's ways we shall be under his protection, provision, and approval; danger and destruction shall be far from us: all things shall work our good. In God's view it would not be a blessed thing for us to live without exertion, nor to eat the unearned bread of dependence: the happiest state on earth is one in which we have something to do, strength to do it with, and a fair return for what we have done. This, with the divine blessing, is all that we ought to desire, and it is sufficient for any man who fears the Lord and abhors covetousness. Having food and raiment, let us be there with content.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 2. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands, etc. There is a fourfold literal sense here: Thou shalt live by honest, peaceful labour, not by rapine and violence on that produced by the toil of others, nor yet indolently and luxuriously; thou shalt "eat", and not penuriously stint thyself and others; thy crops shall not be blighted, but shall bring forth abundantly; and no enemy shall destroy or carry off thy harvest. And these two latter interpretations accord best with the converse punishments threatened to the disobedient by Moses. "Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands". But he who hates labour does not eat of it, nor can he say, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work": John 4:34 . On the other hand, he to whom such labour is a delight, does not merely look forward in hope to the future fruits or rewards of labour, but even here and now finds sustenance and pleasure in toiling for God; so that it is "well" with him in the world, even amidst all its cares and troubles, and he "shall be happy" in that which is to come, whence sorrow is banished for ever, as it is written in the gospel: "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God": Luke 14:15 . --Neale and Littledale.
Verse 2. Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands, etc. This must they learn also which are married, that they must labour. For the law of nature requireth that the husband should sustain and nourish his wife and his children. For after that man and wife do know that they ought to fear God their Creator, who not only made them, but gave his blessing also unto his creature; this secondly must they know, that something they must do that they consume not their days in ease and idleness. Hesiod, the poet, giveth his counsel, that first thou shouldest get thee a house, then a wife, and also an ox to till the ground ... For albeit that our diligence, care, and travail is not able to maintain our family, yet God useth such as a means by the which he will bless us. --Martin Luther.
Verse 2. Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands. Men have dreamed fascinating dreams of removing the disabilities and limitations of the world and the evils of life, without sorrow. Poets have pictured earthly paradises, where life would be one long festival, --
"Summer isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea."
But vain are all such dreams and longings. They are of human, not of Divine origin, and spring from a root of selfishness and not of holiness. They cannot be realized in a fallen world, full of sorrow because full of sin. All blessings in man's economy are got from pains. Happiness is the flower that grows from a thorn of sorrow transformed by man's cultivation. The beautiful myth which placed the golden apples of the Hesperides in a garden guarded by dragons, is an allegory illustrative of the great human fact that not till we have slain the dragons of selfishness and sloth can we obtain any of the golden successes of life. Supposing it were possible that we could obtain the objects of our desire without any toil or trouble, we should not enjoy them. To benefit us really, they must be the growths of our own self denial and labour. And this is the great lesson which the miracles of our Lord, wrought in the manner in which they were, unfolded. They teach us that, in both temporal and spiritual things, we should not so throw ourselves upon the providence or grace of God as to neglect the part we have ourselves to act, -- that God crowns every honest and faithful effort of man with success: "Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee." --Hugh Macmillan, in "The Ministry of Nature", 1871.
Verse 2. (first clause). --
Labour, the symbol of man's punishment;
Labour, the secret of man's happiness.
--James Montgomery, 1771-1854.
Verse 2. Happy shalt thou be. Oh trust in the Lord for happiness as well as for help! All the springs of happiness are in him. Trust "in him who giveth us all things richly to enjoy"; who, of his own rich and free mercy, holds them out to us, as in his own hand, that, receiving them as his gifts, and as pledges of his love, we may enjoy all that we possess. It is his love gives a relish to all we taste, puts life and sweetness into all; while every creature leads us up to the great Creator, and all earth is a scale to heaven. He transfuses the joys that are at his own right hand into all that he bestows on his thankful children, who, having fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, enjoy him in all and above all. --John Wesley, 1703-1791.
Verse 2. Happy shalt thou be. Mr. Disraeli puts these remarkable words into the mouth of one of his characters: -- "Youth is a blunder; manhood a struggle; old age a regret." A sad and Cheerless view of life's progress that! It may be true, in measure, of a life separated from godliness; it certainly is not true of a life allied with godliness. Let there be "life and godliness", and then youth is not a blunder, but a wise purpose and a glowing hope; manhood is not a struggle only, but a conquest and a joy; old age is not a regret, but a rich memory and a glorious prospect. --R. P. Macmaster, in "The Baptist Magazine", 1878.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 2. The blessedness of the righteous are first generalized, then particularized. Here they are divided into three particulars.
- The fruit of past labours.
- Present enjoyment.
- Future welfare: "It shall be well with thee." Well in time; well in death; well at the last judgment; well forever. --G. R.
- Labour a blessing to him who fears God.
- The fruits of labour the result of God's blessing.
- The enjoyment of the fruits of labour a further blessing from God.
--W. H. J. P.
Verse 2. (first clause). Success in life.
- Its source -- God's blessing.
- Its channels -- our own labour.
- The measure in which it is promised -- as much as we can eat. More is above the promise.
- The enjoyment. We are permitted to eat or enjoy our labour.
Verse 2. (second clause). Godly happiness.
- Follows upon God's blessing.
- Grows out of character: "feareth the Lord."
- Follows labour: see preceding sentence.
- It is supported by wellbeing: see following sentence.
Verse 2. (last clause).
- It shall be well with thee while thou livest.
- It shall be better with thee when thou diest.
- It shall be best of all with thee in eternity.
--Adapted from Matthew Henry.