Psalm 127:2
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.
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(2) It . . . sleep.—This verse, of the literal rendering of which there is no question, has met with many different interpretations. About the first clause there is no difference. Early rising, to pursue the business of the day, is vain without the Divine blessing on the labour. The next two clauses admit two different interpretations. Some connect the sitting down with the meal: “delaying to sit down and eat the bread of cares” (or sorrow), i.e., so immersed in business as to allow hardly time for meals. But it seems far more natural to take the Hebrew in its more extended sense of resting, and so explain, nearly as the Authorised Version:—

“It is in vain to rise early;

To delay the hour of rest,

To eat the bread that has been won by toil;

At His pleasure He giveth to His beloved (in) sleep.”

As to the last clause, it seems right, from its use in Genesis 1, “it was so,” to give so the sense “at His pleasure,” this being also indicated by the general drift of the psalm. The word “sleep” may be either the direct object, as in the LXX. and Vulg., or the accusative used adverbially, “in sleep,” “while they sleep.” That the latter suits the context best there can be no question. The whole intention of the psalm is to assert the truth which the Book of Proverbs sums up in one sentence (Proverbs 10:22): “The blessing of Jehovah maketh rich, and toil can add nothing thereto,” the truth which was so impressively taught in the Sermon on the Mount, by the contrast of man’s restless ambition with the unconscious dependence on the Divine bounty of birds and flowers. To say that what others toil for from morning till night in vain, God gives to His beloved without all this anxiety and exertion, while they sleep, puts this truth forcibly, and with that disregard of apparent paradox which was natural to a Hebrew, and which appears so prominently in our Saviour’s treatment of the subject. Labour is decried as unnecessary neither here nor in the Sermon on the Mount, but “carking care” is dismissed as unworthy those who, from past experience, ought to trust the goodness of the great Provider. The Greek proverb, “The net catches while the fisher sleeps,” and the German, “God bestows His gifts during the night,” bring common expressions to confirm this voice of inspiration, which was, in almost so many words, recalled in our Lord’s parable (Mark 4:27). But old association pleads for the equally true and equally beautiful rendering which makes sleep the gift of God. If there is one thing which seems to come more direct from Heaven’s bounty than another, that in its character is more benign, in its effects more akin to the nature of God, it is the blessing of sleep. In all times men have rendered thanks to Heaven for this boon. The ancients not only spoke of sleep as “most grateful of known gifts,” but made itself a god. The psalmist unconsciously, but most truly, teaches us the further lesson that it is not only a Divine blessing, but a proof of Divine love:

“Of all the thoughts of God that are

Borne inward unto souls afar,

Across the psalmist’s music deep,

Now tell me if that any is

For gift or grace surpassing this—

He giveth His beloved sleep.”


Psalm 127:2. It is vain for you — Builders or watch-men, or other persons engaged in any design, which to you seems important; to rise up early, to sit up late — To use constant and unwearied diligence; to eat the bread of sorrows — Or, the bread of fatigue, as some render it; to labour hard, and fare poorly. For so — By his blessing, and not singly by industry without it; or, as the word כןis rendered in the margin, certainly, or since, as Dr. Hammond translates it; he giveth his beloved sleep — His people, who, though hated and maligned by men, are beloved of God, and over whom his providence watcheth in a special manner. He gives them quiet rest, both of body and mind, and that freely, without that immoderate toiling and drudgery wherewith others pursue it. Observe, reader, the psalmist does not intend to say that labour and diligence are vain, but that they are so unless the Lord be with and bless the labourer: the business is not to be done by all the industry and pains, all the care and labour in the world, without him; whereas, if his aid be called in, if part of our time be spent in prayer, and not the whole of it in prayerless care and labour, our work will become easier and go on better: a solicitude and anxiety for its success and completion will no longer prey upon our minds by day, and break our rest at night; we shall cheerfully fulfil our daily tasks, and then, with confidence and resignation, lay our heads upon our pillows, and God will give us sweet and undisturbed sleep, which shall fit us to return every morning with renewed vigour and alacrity to our stated employments: see Horne.

127:1-5 The value of the Divine blessing. - Let us always look to God's providence. In all the affairs and business of a family we must depend upon his blessing. 1. For raising a family. If God be not acknowledged, we have no reason to expect his blessing; and the best-laid plans fail, unless he crowns them with success. 2. For the safety of a family or a city. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen, though they neither slumber nor sleep, wake but in vain; mischief may break out, which even early discoveries may not be able to prevent. 3. For enriching a family. Some are so eager upon the world, that they are continually full of care, which makes their comforts bitter, and their lives a burden. All this is to get money; but all in vain, except God prosper them: while those who love the Lord, using due diligence in their lawful callings, and casting all their care upon him, have needful success, without uneasiness or vexation. Our care must be to keep ourselves in the love of God; then we may be easy, whether we have little or much of this world. But we must use the proper means very diligently. Children are God's gifts, a heritage, and a reward; and are to be accounted blessings, and not burdens: he who sends mouths, will send meat, if we trust in him. They are a great support and defence to a family. Children who are young, may be directed aright to the mark, God's glory, and the service of their generation; but when they are gone into the world, they are arrows out of the hand, it is too late to direct them then. But these arrows in the hand too often prove arrows in the heart, a grief to godly parents. Yet, if trained according to God's word, they generally prove the best defence in declining years, remembering their obligations to their parents, and taking care of them in old age. All earthly comforts are uncertain, but the Lord will assuredly comfort and bless those who serve him; and those who seek the conversion of sinners, will find that their spiritual children are their joy and crown in the day of Jesus Christ.It is vain for you to rise up early - The psalmist does not here say that it is improper to rise early; or that there could be no advantage in it; or that people would be more likely to be successful in their undertakings if they did not rise early; but that, although this was done, they would be still altogether dependent on God. Mere early rising, without his blessing, would not secure what they hoped to accomplish, for everything is still in the hand of God. Health, strength, clearness of mind, and success, are all under his control; and though early rising may tend to produce all these - as it does in fact - yet still people are not the less dependent on God for success.

To sit up late - That you may labor or study. As in the former case the psalmist does not express any opinion about the propriety or impropriety of early rising, so it is in respect to this. He merely says that if it is done, this, of itself, will not accomplish the object; people are still dependent on God for success though they do it. As a matter of fact, however, sitting up late has less tendency to promote success in life than early rising; but in either ease there is the same dependence on God.

To eat the bread of sorrows - Bread of care, anxiety, or trouble; that is, bread earned or procured by the severity of toil. There may be an allusion here to the original sentence pronounced on man, Genesis 3:17. The meaning is, that it is in vain that you labor hard, that you exhaust your strength, in order to get bread to eat, unless God shall bless you. After all your toil the result is with him.

For so he giveth his beloved sleep - The word "for" is not in the original, The sentence is very obscure in the connection in which it stands. The Septuagint and Latin Vulgate render it, "Ye who eat the bread of care - rise when you have rested - when he hath given his beloved sleep." Some have supposed it to mean that God gives his people rest without toil, or that, while others labor, his "beloved" - his friends - sleep; but this interpretation is not necessarily demanded by the Hebrew, and is inconsistent with the general doctrine of the Bible. Others have supposed the idea to be, that God gives his beloved rest after labor; but though this is true, it is not true of them especially or exclusively. Some suppose, with as little probability, that the meaning is, that what others hope (but hope in vain) to get by labor, the Lord bestows upon his people in sleep, they know not how.

The meaning evidently is, that God bestows "sleep" upon his people in some sense in which it is not bestowed on others, or that there is, in regard to their case, something in which they differ from those who are so anxious and troubled - who rise so early for the sake of gain - who toil so late - who eat the bread of care. The idea seems to be that there would be calmness, repose, freedom from anxiety or solicitude. God makes the mind of his people - his beloved - calm and tranquil, while the world around is filled with anxiety and restlessness - busy, bustling, worried. As a consequence of this calmness of mind, and of their confidence in him, they enjoy undisturbed repose at night. They are not kept wakeful and anxious about their worldly affairs as other men are, for they leave all with God, and thus he "giveth his beloved sleep." The particle "so" - כן kên - or "thus," I apprehend, refers to the general sense of what had been said, rather than to what immediately precedes it; to the fact that all success depends on God Psalm 127:1, and that it is always by his interposition, and not as the result of human skill, toil, or fatigue, that people find calmness, success, repose. It is only by the favor of God, and by their recognizing their dependence on him, that they find repose, success, and freedom from care.

2. so he giveth his beloved sleep—that is, His providential care gives sleep which no efforts of ours can otherwise procure, and this is a reason for trust as to other things (compare Mt 6:26-32). He directs his speech to the persons forementioned, the builders or watchmen, of both which sorts there are many that use the following course. To rise up early, to sit late; to use constant and unwearied diligence, from the very dawning of the day unto the dark night, that so you may accomplish your designs.

To eat the bread of sorrows; to eat the bread which you get by excessive and grievous pains. So, to wit, by his blessing, which, though not expressed, is sufficiently understood out of the former verse, where it is twice expressed. As therefore he saith it is in vain for them to build or watch, if God do not give his blessing and assistance, Psalm 127:1; so here he adds that it is in vain to be diligent in their labours and callings, understand, without God’s blessing; for so, i.e. not singly by their industry, but by his blessing upon their labours. But the Hebrew word rendered so may be and is by others rendered when, or whereas, or since; by others, rightly, or well, when it is convenient and needful for them; by others, certainly; the sleep which they have is undoubtedly from God’s blessing, without which all possible endeavours would never procure it. He; the Lord, expressed in the former and in the following verses.

Giveth, to wit, freely, without that immoderate toiling and drudgery wherewith others pursue it.

His beloved; his people, who though hated and maligned by men, are beloved of God, over whom his providence watcheth in a special manner. In this expression he seems to allude to the name of Jedidiah, which was given to Solomon, and signifies the beloved of the Lord, 2 Samuel 12:25.

Sleep; a quiet rest, both of body and mind, which many of those greedy worldlings cannot enjoy, as is observed, Ecclesiastes 5:20.

It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late,.... A description of an industrious and laborious person, who takes great pains to get a livelihood, or increase his substance; see Psalm 104:23; which, yet, as in the former instances, depends upon the blessing of divine Providence, Proverbs 10:4. For, after all, it may come to nothing more at last than

to eat the bread of sorrows; that is, to eat bread gotten with much sorrow and labour; such get bread, and that is all, and not that without the providence of God;

for so he giveth his beloved sleep; that is, the Lord: such who are partakers of his grace, that fear and love him; to them, thus diligent and industrious, he gives not only bread to eat, but sleep, which to a labouring man is sweet; and having food and raiment, he gives them contentment, quietness, and satisfaction of mind, which is the greatest blessing of all. Sleep, even bodily sleep, was reckoned with the very Heathens a divine gift (x). Some think respect is had to, Solomon, whose name was Jedidiah, and signifies the beloved of the Lord, 2 Samuel 12:24; to whom God gave peace, rest, and safety all around; or, as others, the kingdom without labour, when Absalom and Adonijah toiled for it: Christ, who is the Beloved of the Lord, the Son of his love, his well beloved Son, may be thought of, whose rest is glorious; his sleep in the grave, where his flesh rested from his labours and sufferings, in hope of the resurrection of it: and it may be applied to all the Lord's beloved ones; to whom he gives spiritual rest in this world, sleep in the arms of Jesus at death, and an everlasting rest in the world to come; all which depends not on their endeavours, but on his grace and goodness.

(x) "----prima quies--dono divum gratissima serpit", Virgil. Aeneid. l. 2. v. 264, 265. , Homer. Iliad. 7. v. 482. & 9. v. 709. & Odyss. 16. v. ult.

It is vain for {c} you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread {d} of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved {e} sleep.

(c) Who watch and ward and are also magistrates and rulers of the city.

(d) Either that which is gained by hard labour, or eaten with grief of mind.

(e) Not exempting them from labour, but making their labours comfortable and as it were a rest.

2. Vain is it for you, O ye that rise up early and sit down late,

Eating the bread of toil.

Anxious toilers are addressed. ‘Uprising’ and ‘downsitting,’ as in Psalm 139:2, denote activity and rest. Men may begin their labours early, and continue them late; they may win their subsistence by a succession of unremitting labours (the word is plural), and lose all enjoyment of it through constant anxiety; but all this self-tormenting care is needless. For ‘toil’ cp. Proverbs 5:10 (thy labours = the results of thy toil); Proverbs 10:22 (R.V. marg.); Genesis 3:16 (sorrow), 17 (R.V. toil).

for so he giveth his beloved sleep] Omit for. This is the natural rendering of the Heb. text, but the sense of it is not obvious. Perhaps it may be, ‘Bethink yourselves! so, even while you toil and moil with sleepless energy (Ecclesiastes 8:16), Jehovah gives calm rest to those whom He loves.’ So Keble,

“Still on the favoured of His eyes

He bids sweet slumber freely wait.”

Compare Mrs Browning’s beautiful poem on the words.

Most commentators however adopt the rendering, So he giveth unto his beloved in sleep. While Jehovah’s people rest in calm dependence upon Him, He gives them all for which others toil with wearying anxiety[82] (Mark 4:26-27).

[82] This rendering is certainly not the natural rendering of the Heb. text. Wellhausen condemns it as “quite inadmissible.” It requires the supplement of an object to the verb, and שֵׁנָא must be taken as accus. of manner. If it were not for the exegetical difficulty, no one would hesitate to take ‘sleep,’ as the Ancient Versions take it, as the object of the verb ‘giveth.’ Some word however seems to be needed to correspond to the results of anxious toil, and though the Ancient Versions already had the present reading, the text may be corrupt. The anomalous form of the word for sleep (שנא for שנה) may point in this direction.

his beloved] The singular may be collective, His beloved ones, or individualising, each of His beloved ones. The epithet applied to Israel (Psalm 60:5; Deuteronomy 33:12; Jeremiah 11:15) is transferred to each faithful Israelite who responds with unwavering confidence to the love which has chosen him.

It is hardly necessary to say that no sanction of idleness or depreciation of industry is here expressed or implied. What the Psalmist rebukes is the anxious spirit of those who toil restlessly as though they could ensure success by their own efforts, forgetting that God’s blessing is needed to prosper those efforts, and that He is ever ready to give that blessing to those who trust Him. It is the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:25-34. Cp. 1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 33:16 ff; Psalm 60:11 ff; Psalm 147:10-11; Proverbs 21:31 : and in particular Proverbs 10:22, “The blessing of Jehovah, it maketh rich, and He addeth no toil therewith.”

Verse 2. - It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late (comp. Isaiah 5:11); i.e. to be "careful and troubled" about your work in the world, whatever it is. To eat the bread of sorrows. To feed, as it were, on sorrow - and trouble and care - to make your lives a burden to yourselves through your carefulness. For so he giveth his beloved sleep; rather, surely he giveth to his beloved in sleep; i.e. in their sleep. The teaching is similar to that of Exodus 14:14; Isaiah 30:7, 15; Matthew 6:25-34. God gives to men that which he knows they have need of, if they have only the faith to "sit still" and "wait." Psalm 127:2The poet proves that everything depends upon the blessing of God from examples taken from the God-ordained life of the family and of the state. The rearing of the house which affords us protection, and the stability of the city in which we securely and peaceably dwell, the acquisition of possessions that maintain and adorn life, the begetting and rearing of sons that may contribute substantial support to the father as he grows old - all these are things which depend upon the blessing of God without natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labours to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance. Many a man builds himself a house, but he is not able to carry out the building of it, or he dies before he is able to take possession of it, or the building fails through unforeseen misfortunes, or, if it succeeds, becomes a prey to violent destruction: if God Himself do not build it, they labour thereon (עמל בּ, Jonah 4:10; Ecclesiastes 2:21) in vain who build it. Many a city is well-ordered, and seems to be secured by wise precautions against every misfortune, against fire and sudden attack; but if God Himself do not guard it, it is in vain that those to whom its protection is entrusted give themselves no sleep and perform (שׁקד, a word that has only come into frequent use since the literature of the Salomonic age) the duties of their office with the utmost devotion. The perfect in the apodosis affirms what has been done on the part of man to be ineffectual if the former is not done on God's part; cf. Numbers 32:23. Many rise up early in order to get to their work, and delay the sitting down as along as possible; i.e., not: the lying down (Hupfeld), for that is שׁכב, not ישׁב; but to take a seat in order to rest a little, and, as what follows shows, to eat (Hitzig). קוּם and שׁבת stand opposed to one another: the latter cannot therefore mean to remain sitting at one's work, in favour of which Isaiah 5:11 (where בּבּקר and בּנּשׁף form an antithesis) cannot be properly compared. 1 Samuel 20:24 shows that prior to the incursion of the Grecian custom they did not take their meals lying or reclining (ἀνα- or κατακείμενος), but sitting. It is vain for you - the poet exclaims to them - it will not after all bring hat you think to be able to acquire; in so doing you eat only the bread of sorrow, i.e., bread that is procured with toil and trouble (cf. Genesis 3:17, בּעצּבון): כּן, in like manner, i.e., the same as you are able to procure only by toilsome and anxious efforts, God gives to His beloved (Psalm 60:7; Deuteronomy 33:12) שׁנא ( equals שׁנה), in sleep (an adverbial accusative like לילה בּּקר, ערב), i.e., without restless self-activity, in a state of self-forgetful renunciation, and modest, calm surrender to Him: "God bestows His gifts during the night," says a German proverb, and a Greek proverb even says: εὕδοντι κύρτος αἱρεῖ. Bttcher takes כּן in the sense of "so equals without anything further;" and כן certainly has this meaning sometimes (vid., introduction to Psalm 110:1-7), but not in this passage, where, as referring back, it stands at the head of the clause, and where what this mimic כן would import lies in the word שׁנא.
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