by Nathan Eshelman
The Reformation was a time of rediscovery. The church, in a sense, rediscovered justification by faith alone. The reformation also rediscovered biblical worship, and this was seen as the second pillar of the protestant reformation. As the church was freed from the bondage of a fear based religion, other blessings were brought forth.
Other aspects of the reformation affected the life of the church and had profound implications on a developing Christian society. One such blessing in the rediscovery of biblical religion was the Christian home and the Christian marriage, which brings us to Psalm 128.
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed,
and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!
“Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!” What an assuring introduction. The fear of the Lord is the foundation of all blessedness. If you fear the Lord, the psalmist says, “It shall be well with you.”
In April of 1523, twelve nuns who had been convinced of Lutheran theology escaped in a fish barrel-wagon to Wittenburg. Martin Luther made sure that each of the nuns were able to safely continue their journeys to their parents, new husbands, or others who would care for them. After two years there was one nun left, Katherine Von Bora, and she had her eyes set on The Doctor himself—Martin Luther. However, his opinion of her was that she was proud and stubborn, and he would hear nothing of the idea of marriage for fear of ruining what was begun in the Protestant Reformation.
Eventually, Luther prayerfully considered marriage according to God’s Word and the blessed promise this this psalm puts forth about marriage and family: “It will be well with thee.” Subsequently, he confided to a friend that he would marry Katie, because “My marriage would please my father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh and the devils to weep.” Classic Luther, for sure.
In 1525, the Doctor Luther proposed to Katie. She accepted and they married, some sources claiming that very same day. Indeed they were blessed as they entered into marriage in the fear of the Lord.
Psalm 128 goes on to describe the blessedness that comes to a man when he is living in the fear of the Lord. Verses 2, 3, and 4 each describe the blessedness in this life which makes up the Christian home. The Word of God tells us that belief in the gospel will result in temporal blessings–even a home unto the glory of Christ. We must cling to this promise.
These blessings also show us that what was destroyed at the fall, as the man was cursed to labor by sweat and the woman was cursed to labor by pain, is reversed under the gospel and becomes great blessing unto Christ’s glory.
The husband who fears the Lord is promised in verse 2: “You shall eat of the fruit of the labor of your hands. A reversal of the curse delivered to man in The Garden. The wife is described in the following verse as “a fruitful vine” within the house. The vine is a symbol of fruitfulness and joy and even of covenant faithfulness. The wife is seen here as productive and joyful and faithful. The curse is reversed for her as well as the kingdom labors within the home are shown as fruitful and blessed!
And then verse 3 continues that the children of the home will be “like olive plants” around the table. They will prove to be a blessing, but one that needs to be cultivated—the olive trees being described here as plants, or saplings, needing much love and care and food.
As we think again of Martin and his Katie, we know that they set a biblical example for all protestant marriages to follow. Love, industry, and mutual duties were well cultivated in the home. They lived in the former Augustinian monastery where Martin pastored, taught, wrote thousands and thousands of pages, and directed so much of the early stages of the Protestant Reformation. He had up to 30 theological students at a time that he was training for ministry! So Martin was a busy husband laboring for the kingdom and seeing the fruit of those labors. As verse 2 describes, he was blessed.
Equally blessed was Katie. Martin called her “Lord Katie” partly in fun, but partly because of her industry. She was a fruitful vine within the home. She administered the finances of the home. She purchased and bred cattle, even butchering them herself. She ran a fish pond. She was a well respected brewer of fine beer (a staple of German Reformed Christianity). She managed many of the affairs of the theological students as well.
Besides all these duties, Katie raised 6 children, one of whom died at the age of 13. She and Martin also had 4 long-term foster children in the home. A busy place indeed, but a place where kingdom work was central, and a place that was being watched by newly-wed Protestants in those early days of reform.
And all of this was kingdom work, as we see in our psalm, and it is called blessedness.
Katie was a fruitful vine for the kingdom of God—and this idea of a godly marriage was something that was recovered at the time of the Reformation. The official Roman Catholic doctrine was that marriage was for the weak and celibacy was for the pious. Martin and Katie helped to normalize intimate, loving, industrious marriage with Christ at the center, a powerful force in the kingdom of Christ.
Each of their children grew to be productive in the kingdom as well—physicians, politicians, theologians. In our reflection on Psalm 128, we reflect on the man who believes the gospel and is blessed. We reflect on his wife who is blessed. We reflect on his children – who are blessed.
In verse 4 we are called to step back and to see this great blessing yet again, “Behold! Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” The result of this great blessing is that the family–the Christian home—receives the benediction of God and it results in Jerusalem’s blessing. “The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel.”
When the family is in submission to God and his Word, there are resulting blessings that flow. We see that the church will prosper as families prosper. And we see that the covenant is expanded again to another generation. The psalm says, “You will see your children’s children.”
To look back to our believing grandparents or forward to believing grandchildren is a blessing that results from a gospel-centered home. The church of Jesus Christ will only be as strong as her families. During the reformation, the biblical concept of a loving, Christ-centered, and biblically ordered home was recaptured and the church prospered because of it, under the blessing of God.
One historian said of dear Katie and Doctor Martin’s marriage, “It is likely that no marriage has done more for establishing and demonstrating to the world the power and beauty of the gospel in a time when so many desperately needed to be rescued from the torments and prison of monasticism, depression, and guilt—all products of a burdensome and corrupted religion that had wreaked havoc upon the Church.”
May the Lord Jesus strengthen our homes and establish us in our roles as Christian fathers and husbands, mothers and wives, and children.And may we see the blessing of Zion and the covenant extended to the next generation of sons and daughters of the reformation.
Nathan Eshelman is Pastor of the Los Angeles Reformed Presbyterian Church, clerk of the Pacific Coast Presbytery, Vice-President of the Board of Home Missions, member of the Board of Education and Publication, and a doctoral student at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.