A song of ascents.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.
Maybe you have heard that famous English grammar joke: “The Past, Present and Future walked into a bar together…it was tense!” It’s a clever pun, of course—a play on the word “tense,” but it is also clever in a deeper sense. We tend to devote a great deal of our attention to the past and the future. Some of us may be trying to hold on to their past, while others might be running from it. Similarly, there are some who are anxious about the future and others who are hopeful. Our experiences and psyches try to convince us that our past is “perfect” and our future “tense,” or vice versa. But as the great St. Augustine said in his Confessions, “Neither time past nor future, but the present only, really is.” Like it or not, we live in the “tension” of the HERE AND NOW.
As followers of Jesus’ good news, we celebrate that our past has been redeemed by his sacrifice and our future has been guaranteed by his resurrection. But if all that is true, the question still remains: what does this mean for the way we live in the present? In other words, “HOW NOW?”
Psalm 128 (another of the “Song of Ascents”), is a song that celebrates faithful living in the here and now. The psalm promises “blessings” and “prosperity” to “all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (vs. 1-2) The original Hebrew words used here, esher and towb, literally mean happiness and wellness. Both the intangible gift of happiness and the tangible gift of wellness are available to “all” who live a faithful life before God. Those kinds of blessings and prosperity are possible HERE AND NOW to those who fear and obey the Lord HERE AND NOW. It’s a remarkable promise, indeed!
To illustrate his point, the psalmist paints a picture of an idyllic family, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” (vs. 3) The fruitful vine suggests joy within this home. Wine isn’t something that is required to survive (you might argue that point); instead, it is a gift that reminds us of God’s goodness and grace. Faithful devotion to God isn’t simply intended to help you “get by” in this life, it enables you to live an “esher” life…living HERE AND NOW in the joy of the Lord! (Nehemiah 8:10)
Similarly, the olive shoots around the table communicate the prosperity or wellness (towb) of the faithful family. Olive shoots emerge from the ancient tree of the past and they represent the hope of a promised future, but they are a gift that we receive and enjoy HERE AND NOW. The vine and shoots are “the fruit of your labor” (vs. 2), and they are an enduring legacy, but they are also signs of God’s goodness and grace, his esher and towb for today.
These images of a happy wife and a happy life all revolve around the metaphor of a man and his family, but what about the faithful wife, the God-fearing single man, or the obedient childless couple? The implications and the promise extend much further beyond our biological families. What “fruit” can we expect to receive from the kind of life we are living HERE AND NOW? If God’s promises are fully realized to “all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him,” then HOW NOW shall I live?
If we want to cultivate “vines of joy” in our life—if we want to produce “shoots of prosperity” that outlive and outlast us—we must live as those who fear the Lord, as those who walk in obedience to him. We must recognize that Christ is worthy of both our deepest affection and our unquestioned devotion. We must pursue the things that lead to unity, purity and peace in our world. And we must do that in the tension and uncertainty of the HERE AND NOW. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, we will reap what we sow—whether that is destruction or eternal life. We may grow weary on the way, but we will reap a harvest of esher and towb if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:7-9).
These are trying times! We can trust Jesus to take care of our past problems, and we can trust him to prepare our future inheritance, but we can also drink from the living water he offers us right HERE, and right NOW! Find that life, celebrate that life, share that life; and always stay thirsty, my friends!