The recent Dobbs Decision (for which I thank God) has highlighted a major worldview divide in our country over whether abortion is ethical.1 However, beneath this ethical question, there is also a value judgment: are children a blessing or a curse?
Romans 12:2 commands Christians not to be conformed to this world’s way of thinking, but to renew our minds with Scripture. One area in which we are tempted to think like the world is in our attitude toward having children.
I am concerned that the world’s values regarding children are rubbing off on us Christians. Complaints and sarcastic comments about children (whether ours or somebody else’s) far too often roll off our tongues. We are even tempted to allow issues of finances and personal convenience to weigh heavily in our family planning decisions!2
My wife and I have four children ranging in age from two to nine. One of Elise’s least favorite aspects of pregnancy is the comments she gets while out shopping. “Wow, are they all yours?” “You’ve sure got your hands full, don’t you?” “You do know where babies come from, right?” The implication of these comments is clear: “You’re foolish to have so many children.”
But are we? What does the Bible say?3
“Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep….” (NASB)
Verse 1 emphasizes man’s dependence on God to produce anything of lasting value. Whether building or guarding, our efforts are in vain unless God is in it. The good news, according to v. 2, is that God is favorably inclined toward us (“His beloved”), so we can relax and rest!
The last line in v. 2 is especially hard to translate. It could read either, “He gives sleep to His beloved” (NKJV, ESV, NIV) or “He gives to His beloved in his sleep” (NASB, NET; emphasis mine). The decision reduces to interpretation preference, as both translations are grammatically acceptable. I tend to favor the second translation, because it fits the flow of thought better.
If I am correct, then Solomon (the author) may be thinking of one of the greatest gifts he ever received––his wisdom––which God gave him in a dream while he slept (2 Kings 3:1-15; 2 Chron 1:7-12). This background is especially probable since Solomon was also called “Jedidiah,” which means, “Beloved of the LORD” (2 Sam 12:25). In a very “Ecclesiastes moment,” Solomon is reflecting on the fact that the best things in life are often gifts that God gives.
“What does this have to do with children?”, you ask? Enter the second half of the psalm.
“…Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3–5, NASB)
Solomon’s ultimate example of good gifts God gives apart from our efforts is… children! Seen in this light, the phrase “while he sleeps” from v. 3 may be a reference not only to God’s gift to Solomon of wisdom but also to the miracle of conception. Children are the good gift God gives while we sleep!
Read the psalm again and mark each description of children. Children are…
- Gifts (v. 2)
- An inheritance (v. 3) – The word translated “gift” in v. 4 in the NASB is literally the Hebrew word for “inheritance” (emphasizes both the value of the gift and the sense of responsibility to steward it well).
- A reward (v. 3) – This Hebrew word is also translated “wage” in many instances. Children are the payoff after a long day’s (or lifetime’s) work.
- Like arrows in the hand of a warrior (v. 4) – As parents look out for young children, so grown children look out for their parents.
- A blessing (v. 5)
It is tempting to downplay these principles as remnants of an agrarian society in which children were needed to work the land. However, notice that the way in which children function as arrows in this passage is by “speaking with the enemies in the gate.” In those days, the city gate was the place where legal or financial disputes were settled. So the kinds of matters adult children are pictured as handling in this psalm are still relevant to today.
What do we take away from this psalm? We must agree with God that children are a blessing. If we do, then we will adopt these attitudes and implications.
- Refuse to complain about children, whether ours or somebody else’s.
- Enter marriage with an openness toward having children.
- Be willing to have a larger family if the Lord wills.5
- Rejoice when God blesses us with another child.6
- Sacrifice our time and energy to support parents and care for needy children in our communities.7
Psalm 127 is just as true today as it was the day it was written. Children are a blessing!
The Christian, pro-life position regarding abortion is that life begins at conception (Ps 139:13-14). Because every human being is made in God’s image (Gen 1:27), governments must defend human life, including the lives of the unborn (Gen 9:6). The secular, pro-choice position is that access to an abortion is a woman’s fundamental right and an important part of reproductive healthcare. That position contends that terminating a pregnancy is ethically unproblematic because the fetus should not be considered a person. ↩
Some Christians consider not just abortion but also artificial birth control to be unethical. Although this is not my conviction, it is not an unreasonable idea either. The fact that the Catholic Church takes this position evidences the fact that a rejection of artificial birth control is no stranger to the Judaeo-Christian worldview. ↩
If approached with the right mindset, these interactions can be a great opportunity to be “salt and light” in our community by mentioning how thankful to God we are for our children! ↩
Psalm 127 is perhaps the clearest biblical affirmation of the goodness of God’s created order as it relates to mothers and fathers having children. However, it is certainly not the only place in the Bible where that truth is taught. The consistent witness of Scripture is that children are a blessing. ↩
The decision to attempt having another child is always an act of faith. “What if there are complications with the pregnancy?” “What if we miscarry?” “Can we handle the stress of a newborn?” “How will we pay for diapers?” Depending on the situation, some of these concerns may be legitimate while others may not. Consider the fact that in Bible times, the birth rate was higher than it is in the U.S., even though the people were less prosperous and had little healthcare! That said, having God’s mindset toward children does not obligate a couple to have as many children as possible. For instance, I believe that a couple may legitimately choose to practice family planning for the sake of health or ministry without feeling guilty about that decision. However, selfishness or fear are never good reasons to have fewer children. Much wisdom and prayer is needed in weighing the circumstances and evaluating our own motivations. Not every Christian family will be large. However, based on what the Bible teaches about children, I would contend that Christians should generally have more children than their secular counterparts. (For information on the correlation between secularism and the falling birthrate, see this article by Phillip Jenkins.) ↩
Some people reading this article may be discouraged because God has not blessed you with children or with as many children as you desire. Spurgeon’s notes in his commentary, The Treasury of David are helpful here. Spurgeon reminds his readers that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of children that he possesseth” and that the father of spiritual children is happy too (C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 120-150, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 86.). We must also remember that in the church, God has blessed us with many non-biological fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and grandchildren (Mark 10:29–30). Of course, these considerations do not remove the heartache associated with infertility and other physical limitations, but God’s grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9). ↩
For instance, you could serve in nursery or some other children’s ministry at your church, invite a family with young kids over for dinner or volunteer to watch their kids so the parents can go on a date night, help coach a Little League team, get involved in foster care, volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, etc. ↩