A song of ascent[i] for Solomon
If the Lord does not build the house,
those who build it toil in vain.
If the Lord does not protect the city,
its guards watch over it in vain.
In vanity you rise up early and do not rest until it is late,
eating the bread of great toil.
Certainly the Lord gives his beloved sleep[ii].
Behold sons[iii] are an inheritance from the Lord;
the fruit of the belly is his reward.
Like arrows in the hand of the mighty warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.
Happy is the man with a full quiver
[i] This Psalm is unique in that it is titled as a song of ascent but it doesn’t speak of a pilgrimage. The sense of the ascent in this Psalm may be in reference to ascending the steps of God’s house i.e. the temple built by Solomon. If so the progression of the Psalm begins with the building of God’s house and the protecting of the city and then moves to the building of a man’s house and the protection of his home.
[ii] Some of suggested that this might be better translated as the Lord provides while we sleep but that reading is difficult and it seems the sense being communicated is that we need not be anxious because the Lord will provide for our needs.
[iii] In Hebrew all nouns are masculine or feminine and masculine plural nouns are often used inclusively to refer to groups of mixed gender. In this example, the word בנים (sons) can refer to “sons” or it can refer to “children” i.e. a group of sons and daughters. It is the context alone that allows us to determine the intended meaning of the author. For example, if we read “You are to circumcise your sons on the eighth day,” it would be clear that the meaning referred only to male children. In this case, the meaning of the word is determined based on the context of the last verse. In ancient Israel, women had no legal rights to conduct official business nor were they permitted to fight in war. Because the last verse of this Psalm specifically addresses these roles, it makes it difficult to suggest that this instance had an original gender inclusive understanding. This is why versions like the 1984 NIV, NRSV, NET which almost always translate בנים (sons) as “children” have translated it as “sons” in this verse. It is important to note that lack of a reference to daughters in this verse does not suggest that daughters are any less valuable or any less of an inheritance or reward from God, it is simply not a topic that was addressed in this Psalm.