1 How joyful are those who fear the Lord—
all who follow his ways!
2 You will enjoy the fruit of your labor.
How joyful and prosperous you will be!
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine,
flourishing within your home.
Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees
as they sit around your table.
4 That is the Lord’s blessing
for those who fear him.
5 May the Lord continually bless you from Zion.
May you see Jerusalem prosper as long as you live.
6 May you live to enjoy your grandchildren.
May Israel have peace!
Isaiah 57:1, 2
1 Good people pass away;
the godly often die before their time.
But no one seems to care or wonder why.
No one seems to understand
that God is protecting them from the evil to come.
2 For those who follow godly paths
will rest in peace when they die.
During my daily Bible reading routine I read these two passages one after the other. I have been meditating upon them since then. At first glance, the promises of the two verses seem at odds with each other, yet both are God’s truth, and both are truth for my life. Here is a list of the promises of Psalm 128.
- those who fear the Lord and follow his ways, will have joy,
- they will enjoy the fruit of their labour,
- they will be prosperous and joyful,
- their spouse will be fruitful and will flourish in the home,
- their children will be healthy,
- their family life around the table will be robust.
The language of the Psalm changes at verses five and six. The word “will” is switched out and the word “may” becomes prominent. Is this a recognition that the blessings are contingent on those who fear the Lord and follow his ways? Perhaps, but that has already been made clear in verse one. The psalmist is likely adding something more to what they are saying. The psalmist says,
- may the Lord keep on blessing you,
- may you continue to see Jerusalem prosper,
- may you live to enjoy your grandchildren,
- may Israel have peace.
These blessings seem more provisional than the first promises of the Psalm. What is this about? There is a depth of teaching in this passage that we must only mention for now. We can recognise that Jerusalem and Israel stand in as words that represent so much more. These concepts are indeed worthy of our meditation, but for now we will emphasise other elements and move to a comparison to the passage in Isaiah. The psalmist says, “may the Lord keep on blessing you” and “may you live to enjoy your grandchildren.” These seem a little more provisional and suggest that not all will have a long life of blessing and that not all will live to enjoy their grandchildren.
The teaching in Isaiah is that,
- good people pass away,
- the godly often die before their time,
- we humans have a hard time understanding these deaths,
- God protects people from the evil to come by giving them death,
- people can rest in peace when they die.
We all know that we will one day die. Remembering that we are mortal is an important part of being human. “Good people will [eventually] pass away.” Some will die young, some will see their grandchildren, but all will die. Lazarus who was raised from the dead by Jesus, did indeed die once again. His physical body gave up and he did die.
I have been blessed to live to see my children grow and to see their children grow. As I write this, the oldest is eleven and the youngest is two. I have been part of many healthy dinner conversations with both my children and my grandchildren. My wife and I have enjoyed a robust married life together and our household has flourished. We have worked hard and seen the fruit of our labour. In fact, we have had much privilege and blessing in our life together.
One day my body will fail me in significant ways. I do not know what it will be that will cause my body to fail. It may be a cancerous tumour, a weakening of the heart muscle, diabetes, a catastrophic car accident, or some other life-threatening disaster in my life. Disease and yes, death will one day come for me.
This passage in Isaiah gives us promise even in death. Death protects us from the evil to come. Death offers rest from evil. Death offers peace.
After I had read Psalm 128 and Isaiah 57, the next part of my daily reading routine took me to Mark 16. That chapter is Mark’s account of the resurrection. We read of female disciples of Jesus going to the tomb and discovering that Jesus has risen from the dead, and we read these words in verse 8,
“The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened. Then they briefly reported all this to Peter and his companions. Afterward Jesus himself sent them out from east to west with the sacred and unfailing message of salvation that gives eternal life. Amen.”
This passage tells us why there is peace in death. Death, for those who fear the Lord and follow his ways, is a peaceful resting place. Jesus has overcome death, and he offers eternal life to all. My encouragement to us this day is to let these words speak into the circumstances of our lives, right where you are now. We can assess our current situations. Are we young, are we old enough to have grandchildren, do we see the fruit of our labours, is our household flourishing? Wherever we find ourselves on the journey of life, whether we like where we are or not, we can know that God sees us and that his Son, Jesus has conquered mortality. That is the best promise of all.