|AN EXEGETICAL STUDY OF PSALM 127
Bruce K. Dahlberg
Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements
for the degree of Master of Theology in
Grace Theological Seminary
Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt, Gordon College, 2007.
Title: AN EXEGETICAL STUDY OF PSALM 127
Author: Bruce K. Dahlberg
Degree: Master of Theology, 1984
Advisers: John J. Davis and D. Wayne Knife
Proper exegetical study of Psalm 127 is often clouded by
unnecessary baggage. Presuppositions have torn this psalm away from
its historical situation. These presuppositions hindered the understanding
of the psalm and the resolution of specific problems in the psalm.
By way of a contextual analysis that is confirmed
and developed through an exegetical study of this psalm, a
proper focus for exegetical study can be achieved. The
Hebrew text is clear of any textual difficulties. It is the
LXX that has created textual difficulties which can be
cleared up by proper exegesis. This wisdom psalm is com-
posed of two aphorisms that are unified in one psalm. These
two aphorisms or proverbs seek to describe and prescribe the
way to achieve the good life. The psalm evidences a
eudaemonistic or prudential wisdom flavor. The Sitz im
Leben is probably seen in the pilgrimages of the Israelite
to the annual feasts in Jerusalem. The authorship and date
are tied together. The trustworthiness of the psalm titles,
the nature of wisdom literature, and biblical evidence point
to a Solomonic authorship and a date around 971-941 B.C. It
is important to note that wisdom literature does not indicate lateness.
The dictum of Yahweh's sovereignty is spelled out in
verses 1-2. If the activity of life providing shelter and
security is done without acknowledgement of Yahweh in the
attitude of the worker, the thing which is done is evil.
xvw speaks primarily of wickedness, that which is done
against the will of God. The dictum of God also speaks to
the livelihood of man. The life that stretches that day
beyond normal limits because of anxiety or licentiousness is
declared evil. xnAwe means sleep as traditionally understood,
is the reward of the diligent worker (Ecc 5:18-6:2).
Because of the literary device used, it is unnecessary to
seek other meanings for the word xnAwe. The blessing of
Yahweh is spelled out in verses 3-5. The themes began in
verse one tie in the second proverb. Sons become a heritage
of earthly parents who are like arrows to be used by the
mighty warrior. In time of need the father can depend on
them for support against unfair judiciary practice in the city gate.
The beauty of the psalm is not only in the meaning
of it, but the literary production is truly superb. Many
types of parallelism are used along with verbal figures that
tie the psalm together and guide one in the understanding of
the semantical aspects of the psalm.
Accepted by the Faculty of Grace Theological Seminary
in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree
Master of Theology
John J. Davis
D. Wayne Knife
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS vi
INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE 1
I. CONTEXTUAL ANALYSIS 3
Textual Critical Note 3
Sitz im Leben 7
Unity of Psalm 127 10
Outline of Psalm 127 14
Authorship and Date 15
Psalm Titles 15
Wisdom Literature 17
Biblical Evidence 23
II. EXEGETICAL STUDY PROPER 28
Verse One 29
Grammatical Observations 29
Semantical Studies 31
tyiba/ ryfi 32
Interpretative Summary 39
Verse Two 42
Grammatical Observations 42
Semantical Studies 48
xnAwe--A Resolution 49
xnAwe---Other Explanations 55
Interpretative Summary 58
Verse Three 59
Grammatical Observations 59
Semantical Studies 61
Interpretative Summary 63
Verse Four 65
Grammatical Observations 65
Semantical Studies 65
Interpretative Summary 68
Verse Five 69
Grammatical Observations 69
Semantical Studies 71
Interpretative Summary 75
III. A SUGGESTED TRANSLATION 78
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I. Structural Schematic 79
II. House/City 80
III. Quiver/Arrows 82
IV. City Gate 84
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF CONSULTED WORKS 86
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
AB Anchor Bible
ANE Ancient Near East
ANET J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern
BA Biblical Archaeologist
BDB Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, C. A. Briggs,
Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament
BHS Biblia hebraica stuttgartensia
DJD Discoveries in the Judean Desert
DSS Dead Sea Scrolls
ExpTim Expository Times
GKC E. Kautzsch, A. E. Cowley, Gesenius' Hebrew
HUCA Hebrew Union College Annual
ICC International Critical Commentary
JANESCU Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of
JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
MT Massoretic Text
VT Vetus Testamentum
INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
In a few terse verses, Psalm 127 delineates the
spectrum of God's sovereignty--a spectrum that moves from
the realm of judgment to the realm of blessing. The verses
which open up this spectrum are superficially familiar to
many. They present simple truths that are often used with-
out consideration for the context from which they come.
Consequently, the literary beauty and total impact of the
psalm are lost.
The psalm is not a difficult one. Yet, there are
problems in it that perplex interpreters. The unity of the
psalm and the final colon of verse two are problematic areas
of this psalm.1 It is usually the latter problem which
draws the most attention. Apart from these two areas of
concern the psalm has not been inundated with serious study.
Not only does the psalm speak of tremendous theological
truths, but, it also provides a sphere in which to see the
literary hand of a poet at work. Both of these areas tease
the interpreter for further study. Above all of these, the
canonicity of the psalm is a major factor for the pursuit of
study. It is part of God's word which reveals God and any
1Patrick D. Miller, "Psalm 127--The House that
Yahweh Builds," JSOT (1982):119.
study in which one's knowledge of God is expanded is worth-
while (2 Tim 3:16).
The purpose of this thesis is to exegetically under-
stand this psalm as a basis for valid application for the
modern day believer. In order to accomplish this goal,
introductory matters must be dealt with such as the Gattung,
Sitz im Leben, structure, authorship, and date; an exegeti-
cal study of the verses must be undertaken; and finally the
application of the psalm is necessary.
The matters dealt with in this chapter should not
be viewed apart from the exegetical study. These matters
are derived from and confirmed by exegetical study. They
are presented here prior to the exegetical study proper to
alleviate some unnecessary baggage from the exegetical study
and to provide a proper focus for the study.
Textual Critical Note
The text of Psalm 127 is not problematic as it
relates to the Hebrew text. The MT is substantiated by the
Qumran materials. The Qumran texts are filled with many
lacunae in regards to Psalm 127, but what is found agrees
with the MT.1 The LXX, however, presents some problems.
1J. A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalm Scroll (New York:
Cornell University Press, 1967), pp. 40-41. Cf. John M.
Allegro, Qumran Cave 4, DJD (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968),
pp. 51-52 and D. Barthelemy and J. T. Milik, Qumran Cave 1,
DJD (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), p. 71. It should be
observed that an orthographic variant exists between the two
texts. The Qumran text uses a waw instead of the holem.
Comments on this variant can be found in David Noel Freedman,
"The Massoretic Text and the Qumran Scrolls: A Study in
Orthography," in Textus, vol. 2, edited by C. Raben (Jeru-
salem: Magnes Press, 1962), pp. 87-102. This difference
supports the text rather than detracts from it. Even though
the Essene scribes decided to adapt the plenary spelling,
this did not change the meaning. Furthermore, it shows the
scribes were willing to change the text, but they did not
There are a number of variants which appear to be misunder-
standings of the MT or interpretations of the MT. These
differences will be brought to light in the next chapter.
The outcome of these variants will be readily seen as the
meaning of the psalm is unfolded.
The Gattung of Psalm 127 has been generally classi-
fied as a wisdom psalm.1 Yet, there are some who see wisdom
influence but are unwilling to classify it as a wisdom
psalm.2 Walter Kaiser has compiled two lists from various
authorities which delineate the distinctive style and themes
of wisdom psalms.3 Using these lists one can readily iden-
tify Psalm 127 as a wisdom psalm. Drawing from the list of
stylistic distinctives, Psalm 127 evidences a few of these
distinctives: (1) A "blessed" saying (yrew;xa) is used in
verse five; (2) A comparison is found in verse four; (3)
Admonitions are accounted for in verses one and two; (4) The
where many recent scholars would do so. This would support
the earlier text.
1A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, in New Century
Bible (London: Oliphants, 1972), p. 866. Artur Weiser, The
Psalms (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), p. 764.
2Roland E. Murphy, "A Consideration of the Classifi-
cation 'Wisdom Psalms,'" in Studies in Ancient Israelite
Wisdom, edited by James L. Crenshaw (New York: KTAV Pub-
lishing House, 1976), p. 464.
3Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), pp. 165-66.
use of wisdom vocabulary such as "vanity" and "sons";1 (5)
The employment of proverbs of which this psalm is composed.2
Westermann amplifies this proverbial idea with these com-
These three 'psalms (127:1-2; 127:3-5; 133)' could
appear in the book of Proverbs without changing a word,
and no one would imagine that they were supposed to be
The use of thematic criteria according to Kaiser
would classify this psalm as a wisdom psalm.4 Themes such
as "the contrast between the 'rasha ' and 'saddiq "' and
"practical advice as regards conduct" find expression in
The literary form associated with "wisdom litera-
ture" can also be broken down into different styles. Psalm
127 would fall into the didactic genre.6 C. Hassell Bullock
would group this psalm with the "lower" wisdom contained in
the Old Testament. This lower wisdom would be contrasted
1James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom (Atlanta:
John Knox Press, 1981), p. 184.
2Claus Westermann, The Psalms: Structure, Content
and Message, translated by Ralph D. Gehrke (Minneapolis:
Augsburg Publishing House), p. 115.
4Kaiser, Old Testament Theology, p. 166.
5Murphy, "A Consideration," p. 460. Also cf. Pius
Drijvers, The Psalms: Their Structure and Meaning (New
York: Herder and Herder, 1965), p. 230.
6Leupold Sabourin, The Psalms: Their Origin and
Meaning, vol. 2 (New York: Alba House, 1969), p. 257.
with the "higher" wisdom such as the book of Job.1 Higher
wisdom is reflective. It takes an issue and probes it from
various angles.2 Lower wisdom is more eudaemonistic in
nature. It seeks to "describe and prescribe the way to
achieve the good life,"3 which would include moral obliga-
tions.4 Walter Kaiser notes that this psalm falls into a
"prudential type of wisdom writing consisting of smaller
units of thought which are disconnected and often isolated
Clarifying the Gattung of this psalm helps in under-
standing it. Being a wisdom psalm, it mingles the religious
expression of the individual (i.e. a psalm)6 and the means
to live life skillfully (i.e. wisdom)7 with the goal of
instruction (i.e. didactic). Its eudaemonistic motif is
developed and defined in the content of the psalm which will
be explored in the next chapter.
Horace D. Hummel gives an appropriate perspective on
lAn Introduction to the Poetic Books of the Old Tes-
tament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), p. 140.
2Ibid., p. 25. 3Ibid., p. 140.
4Kaiser, Old Testament Theology, p. 178.
5Ibid., p. 94.
6Cf. John J. Davis, "The Psalms: Studies in the
Hebrew Text" (Winona Lake, IN: Grace Theological Seminary,
1977), p. 3.
7Cf. Bruce K. Waltke, Understanding the Old Testa-
ment: A Syllabus (Grand Rapids: Outreach, Inc., 1976),
the role of wisdom literature.
In a word, the main dogmatic category for properly
approaching wisdom is the 'third use of the Law.' It
represents an alternate mode of expression and type of
approach to the illustration of faithful living found in
the 'legal' sections of the Pentateuch, and thoroughly
harmonious and compatible with it. It concentrates on
those aspects of living which the believer shares with
all men, and where the motivations or any uniqueness
will often be unapparent to men.1
Sitz im Leben
Roland E. Murphy is correct when he states, "All
things considered, however, it must be admitted that the
precise life setting of these poems [wisdom psalms] eludes
us."2 He speaks of the original setting of composition.
But perhaps some light can be shed if the Sitz im Leben is
expanded to include the use of the psalm.
The first hint of the possible use of the Psalm is
found in the inscription of the Psalm tOlfEma.ha rywi. Psalm 127
falls into a group of fifteen psalms (120-134) which contains
this same inscription. The meaning of rywi is not disputed.
The meaning BDB assigns to it is "song"3 and there is no
reason to doubt this meaning.4 Doubt arises, however, in
regards to tOlfEma.ha. It is often translated "degrees,"
1The Word Becoming Flesh (St. Louis: Concordia
Publishing House, 1979), p. 396.
2Murphy, "A Consideration," p. 461.
4Weston W. Fields, "Solomon's Most Excellent Song"
(Th.D. dissertation, Grace Theological seminary, 1979), p.
"ascents," or "goings up."1 These meanings are within the
lexical range suggested by BDB.2
An extended treatment of this subject is beyond the
scope of this thesis. Cuthbert C. Keet's work, A Study of
the Psalms of Ascents, overviews this subject and is bene-
ficial for a more indepth study.3 Of the various views,
four explanations have possibilities: (1) This particular
term denotes a peculiar rhythmical structure of these psalms;
(2) The psalms were sung upon the fifteen steps leading from
the court of the men to the court of the women; (3) These
psalms were sung by exiles on their return from Babylon; (4)
These fifteen songs were sung by the pilgrims as they went
up to Jerusalem for the three great annual feasts (Ex 23:17;
Deut 16:16; 1 Kgs 12:28).4
The fourth view is the generally accepted view today,
but is far from being unrefutable. Adopting this view would
suggest a cultic use of Psalm 127. Mowinckel suggests that
Psalm 127 be included with those psalms that appear to be
1A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Fincastle,
VA: Scripture Truth, n.d.), p. xxviii.
2P. 752. The root can be traced to hlf which adds
further dimension to the meaning.
3(Greenwood, SC: The Attic Press, 1969), pp. 1-17.
4J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms (George
Bell and Sons, 1.878; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan
Publishing House, 1976), pp. 87-88.
non-cultic.1 Furthermore, Mowinckel denies the possibility
of any of these fifteen psalms being associated with
"pilgrimages."2 The content of Psalm 127 implies the
acknowledgement of Yahweh as supreme and would not be diffi-
cult to see this psalm being sung by the pilgrims as they
journeyed to the temple to worship their sovereign God.
The second hint is contained in the phrase hmolow;li.
This phrase will be discussed more completely in the follow-
ing section. But some of its ramifications can be pursued
here. Accepting the validity of this expression, it would
not be difficult to see this psalm composed for or by
Solomon to remind him in his activities3 that God is the
ultimate builder. Another situation in which this psalm
might have been composed is for the use in scribal schools.
Solomon might have developed schools to train his nobles in
the way of Yahweh to counteract the secular teachings in
which they were also trained.4
In summary, the Sitz im Leben is not readily obtain-
able. However, the suggested situations, if retained, would
1Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel's Worship,
trans. by D. R. Ap-Thomas (New York: Abingdon Press, 1967),
vol. 1, p. 111.
2Ibid., p. 209.
3See 1 Kings 9:10-26.
4Barry D. Halvorsen, "Scribes and Scribal Schools in
the Ancient Near East: A Historical Survey" (Th.M. thesis,
Grace Theological Seminary, May 1981), pp. 149ff.
not present any serious objections by the writer to eluci-
date the setting of the psalm.
Unity of Psalm 127
Diverse opinion exists on the unity of this psalm.
Some hold that this psalm is actually two separate psalms
and must be treated as such.1 Others see the psalm as
unified but made up of two original psalm fragments.2 A
third view is that the psalm is an original unified psalm
composed of two aphorisms.3
Three avenues can be used to bolster the unity of
this psalm. First the thematic aspect of the psalm under-
girds its unity. Both proverbial sayings speak of the
sovereign nature of God. He is the one who determines what
is worthwhile (v. 1) and He is the one who decides to give
reward (v. 3). Other variations of this theme are seen
underlying the two sections of this psalm. Kidner states,
"Both parts proclaim that only what is from God is truly
strong."4 Scroggie sees "the underlying thought throughout
1E.g. Charles Briggs, The Book of Psalms, vol. 1, 2,
ICC (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909), p. 458.
2W. O. E. Oesterley, The Psalms (London: S. P. C. K.,
1962), p. 517.
3A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, in New Century
Bible (London: Oliphants, 1972).
4Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (London: Inter-Varsity
Press, 1975), p. 441.
is the uselessness of all human effort which does not rely
on the will, power, and goodness of the Lord."1
Second, the literary and semantic expressions bond
the psalm together. From the literary vantage point,
Mitchell Dahood observes,
the alliteration of 'b' sounds in vs. la, yibneh
bayit . . . bonayw bo is echoed by vs. 5b, yebosu
. . . yedabberu . . . 'oyebim bassa.'ar; and the
repetition of 's' (=sh) sounds in vs. lb, yismor . . .
saw' saqad somer recurs in vs. 5a, 'asre . . . 'aser
. . aspato.2
Semantically, there are a number of subtle attractions that
hold the psalm together. In verse one the city is mentioned
which creates a semantic bond with verse five which speaks
of the gate of the city.3 This member-class relation shows
off the inclusio technique of Hebrew poetry. Another
semantic bond between the two sayings is the concept behind
the words NTeyi (v. 2) and tlaHEna/rkAWA (v. 3). Yahweh is one who
possesses something to give. Another connection is seen in
the ideas of "house" and "sons." It is in the house that
sons are born and reared. It is only natural to see these
concepts as associated.
Conceivably, the best treatment on the unity of this
psalm is found in Patrick D. Miller's article. He brings
1William Graham Scroggie, The Psalms (London: Pick-
ering ering and Inglis Ltd., 1948), p. 245.
2Psalms, vol. 3, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and
Co., 1970), pp. 222-23.
3Ibid., p. 222.