Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The author of this psalm is unknown, as is also the occasion on which it was composed. It is not known, either, why this psalm was placed among those which are called "Songs of Degrees." The scope and design of it, however, cannot be misunderstood. It is intended to show the advantage of religion on the affairs of this life, and especially on the domestic relations; in a numerous family, in the character of children, and in being permitted to see numerous descendants. In connection with this, the possessor of true religion would be permitted to see the prosperity of Zion - the good of Jerusalem, and peace upon Israel. Of course this is to be regarded as a general statement, or as indicating what will commonly be true as the restilt of religion. See Psa 37:9, note; Psa 37:33, note; Psa 112:2-3, note. Thus industry, temperance, prudence, tend to promote health and long life, so that health and a long life are the general result; but it would be unfair to regard one who should assert this as meaning to say that it is universally true, or that people who are industrious, temperate, and prudent, are never sick, and never die.
The psalm states, in general Psa 128:1, the blessedness of those who fear the Lord. This blessedness is seen
(1) in their success in life, Psa 128:2;
(2) in a numerous and happy family, Psa 128:3;
(3) in being permitted to see children's children, Psa 128:6;
(4) in being permitted to see the prosperity of religion - the "good of Jerusalem," and "peace upon Israel," Psa 128:5-6.
Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord - That honors God; that is truly pious. See the notes at Psa 1:1; Psa 112:1. What that blessedness is, is indicated in the following verses.
That walketh in his ways - The ways which God commands or directs. On the word "walketh," see the notes at Psa 1:1.
For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands - Thou shalt enjoy the avails of thy labor; thou shalt be secure in thy rights. See the notes at Isa 3:10. This is a general promise respecting the prosperity which religion affords. If all people were truly religious, this would be universal, so far as man is concerned. Property would be secure; and, except so far as abundant harvests might be prevented by the direct providence of God - by blight, and mildew, and storms, and drought - all people would enjoy undisturbed the avails of their labor. Slavery, whereby one man is compelled to labor for another, would come to an end; every one who is now a slave would "eat the labor of his own hands;" and property would no more be swept away by war, or become the prey of robbers and freebooters. Religion, if it prevailed universally, would produce universal security in our rights.
Happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee - literally, "Happy thou, and well with thee." That is, happiness and security would be the consequence of true religion.
Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house - It is not uncommon in the East, as elsewhere, to train a vine along the sides of a house - partly to save ground; partly because it is a good exposure for fruit; partly as an ornament; and partly to protect it from thieves. Such a vine, in its beauty, and in the abundant clusters upon it, becomes a beautiful emblem of the mother of a numerous household. One of the blessings most desired and most valued in the East was a numerous posterity, and this, in the case of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was among the chief blessings which God promised to them - a posterity that should resemble in number the sands of the sea or the stars of heaven. Compare Gen 15:5; Gen 22:17; Gen 32:12. These two things - the right to the avails of one's labor Psa 128:2, and a numerous family - are the blessings which are first specified as constituting the happiness of a pious household.
Thy children like olive plants round about thy table - Compare the notes at Psa 52:8. Beautiful; producing abundance; sending up young plants to take the place of the old when they decay and die. The following extract and preceding cut from "The land and Book," vol. i., pp. 76, 77, will furnish a good illustration of this passage: "To what particular circumstance does David refer in the 128th Psalm, where he says, Thy children shall be like oliveplants round about thy table? Follow me into the grove, and I will show you what may have suggested the comparison. Here we have lilt upon a beautiful illustration. This aged and decayed tree is surrounded, as you see, by several young and thrifty shoots, which spring from the root of the venerable parent. They seem to uphold, protect, and embrace it. We may even fancy that they now bear that lead of fruit which would otherwise be demanded of the feeble parent. Thus do good and affectionate children gather round the table of the righteous. Each contributes something to the common wealth and welfare of the whole - a beautiful sight, with which may God refresh the eyes of every friend of mine."
Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed ... - As if he had said, "Look upon this picture. See the farmer cultivating his fields; see him gathering in the grain; see him at his own table calmly, quietly, and gratefully enjoying the fruit of his toil. Look upon that picture of a happy family - numerous, cheerful, beloved - giving promise of upholding the name of the family in future years - and see all this as coming from the Lord - and you have an illustration of the blessedness which follows a religious life."
The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion - Will not merely bless thee in the field and in the house, but will add blessings that seem to come more directly out of Zion, or that seem to be more directly connected with religion: shall bless thee with religious influences in thine own family; shall bless thee by permitting thee to see the growth of the church and the conversion of souls.
And thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem - The prosperity, the happiness of Jerusalem: that is, the good of the church; the advancement of pure religion. The Hebrew might be rendered, "And look thou upon the good of Jerusalem" - in the imperative; and, thus rendered, it would be a command to regard, in these circumstances, the welfare of Jerusalem, or the prosperity of the church; but the language will also admit of the other construction, and the connection seems to require it. Thus understood, it is a promise that he who is referred to would be permitted to enjoy a view of the continual prosperity of religion in the world.
All the days of thy life - To the very close of life. No higher blessing could be promised to a pious man than that he should see religion always prospering; that the last view which he would have of the world should be the rapid advances of religion; that he should die in a revival of religion.
Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children - This is a continuation of the idea of blessedness as connected with a numerous posterity - an object of so much interest to the Hebrews (see the notes at Psa 128:3), and having its foundation in our nature.
And peace upon Israel - See Psa 125:5. As the crowning blessing; a blessing above that of success in worldly affairs; above that of seeing a numerous and happy posterity. The love of God is the supreme affection in the mind of a pious man; the desire that his cause may prosper and triumph is to him a supreme desire. Man is truly and completely blessed only in religion.