127. If God Does Not Build Up the House

Text Information
First Line: If God does not build up the house
Title: If God Does Not Build Up the House
Versifier: Calvin Seerveld (1980)
Meter: 88 88 88
Language: English
Publication Date: 1987
Topic: Family; Industry & Labor; Marriage (2 more...)
Copyright: © Calvin Seerveld
Tune Information
Composer: John Stainer (1875)
Meter: 88 88 88
Key: b♭ minor

Text Information:

Godly wisdom teaches that all of life's securities are gifts of God and not human achievements.

Scripture References:
st. 1 = vv. 1-2a
st. 2 = vv. 2b-5

One of fifteen "Songs of Ascents" (120-134) the Israelites sang as they went up to worship at the temple in Jerusalem, Psalm 127 reflects themes of Old Testament wisdom, reminding Israel that all of life's basic securities and blessings are gifts from God alone (see also 128). Two basic themes develop in two balanced stanzas. The first focuses on God's provision and sure care of the believer's house and of the city that fears the LORD (st. 1), and the second cites children as God's gift of heritage and security to believing parents (st. 2). In Hebrew, the words house and children are linked by their similar sounds; in calling sons a "heritage from the LORD," the psalmist may have intended a subtle reference to the guarantee that sons secured the family heritage of land in the promised land.

Using unrhymed verse, Calvin Seerveld (PHH 22) paraphrased Psalm 127 in 1980 for the Psalter Hymnal. He gave the last two lines of each stanza "an epigrammatic character, because the cast of the text is indeed proverbial, meant to capture a truth in a memorable couplet."

Liturgical Use:
Weddings; family life services; services that mark "beginnings."

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

John Stainer (b. Southwark, London, England, 1840; d. Verona, Italy, 1901) composed CREDO for the text "We Saw Thee Not When Thou Didst Come"; the tune was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1875). CREDO, like some other Victorian tunes, depends as much on its harmonization as on its melody for effectiveness. But the bold gestures of the tune's final line also give it distinction. Part singing is essential. Pause for a breath at the end of the first musical phrase. If a more familiar tune is needed for this psalm (for example, at a wedding), consider using MELITA (425).

An influential composer and music scholar in the Victorian era, Stainer grew up in a musical environment. As a young boy he took organ lessons from his father on their small home chamber organ, and he became a chorister at St. Paul Cathedral in 1849. In 1856 Frederick Ousely, professor of music at Oxford, visited St. Paul's and heard the young Stainer improvising at the organ. Ousely promptly offered him employment as the organist of the College of St. Michael at Tenbury.

One of England's leading musicians, Stainer also held organist positions at Magdalen College (1860-1872), University College (1861-1872), St. Paul's Cathedral (1872-1888), and the National Training School of Music, now the Royal College of Music (1875-1888). He founded the Oxford Philharmonic Society and conducted its first concert in 1866. His most famous cantata, The Crucifixion (1887), was followed in 1888 by knighthood and honorary degrees from Durham and Oxford.

Much of Stainer's church music was composed for St. Paul Cathedral, including many anthems, carols, and cantatas. He was also a prominent musicologist-his publications include A Theory of Harmony (1871), Music of the Bible (1879), and a study of Dufay. He composed some one hundred and fifty hymn tunes, published collectively as Hymn Tunes (1901). He also served as editor of the Church Hymnary (1888) and coeditor of the well-known Christmas Carols (1871) and The Cathedral Prayer Book with Music (1891).

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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