What Is the Secret of a Flourishing Family?

Shadow of family holding hands in park1 Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!
2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.

Psalm 128:1-4 (ESV)

In Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard committed one of the most despicable deeds possible: while drunk, he sold his wife and daughter for a few pounds. In one merciless act, he cut off the very people the Lord intended to be a man’s blessing, his family. Not surprisingly, Henchard reaped a reward of loneliness and sorrow. Obviously, this was not God’s plan.

Psalm 128 presents God’s intention for the family. It is a song of ascents sung as the Israelites made their way to worship and offer sacrifices at the temple. It would not have been uncommon for entire families to journey together and for the women and children to stand behind the father, the representative of the home, as the priest made atonement for their sin. Such a trip was the perfect time for a husband and father to be reminded that God delights in blessing the man whose heart belongs to the Lord.

The blessed man of verse one is a holy man, intent on submitting to God by following His Law. Verse two indicates that he is a man who works and whose labor is not in vain. Indeed, he is productive (an important reminder that hard work and blessings go hand in hand). In verse three, the Hebrew man is told that holiness makes family life wonderful.

A wife and children are part of God’s plan for the righteous man’s life. Unlike the adulteress of Proverbs 7:11, who “is loud and wayward,” whose “feet do not stay at home,” his wife is “a fruitful vine within your house.” She is both productive and faithful. As “a fruitful vine,” she brings forth children who are “like olive shoots at [the] table.” Husband and wife fill a home; they build a community.

Of course, there is no perfect family. The Hebrew men knew this. After all, they were going to the temple to offer sacrifices for their sin—singing these words reminded them that they missed God’s mark and needed His forgiveness. The same is true today. No man always walks in the ways of the Lord. Marriage is not constantly a celebration. Sometimes, children seem more like thorns than olive shoots.

Nonetheless, the Church needs thoughtful men willing to contemplate Psalm 128 and recognize their own faults. If their wives are wayward or if their children are unruly, husbands and fathers should first look at their own hearts and ask themselves the questions: “Am I fearing the Lord, am I walking in His ways?” Personal holiness is never merely personal—like a pebble thrown into a pond, a man’s character ripples into the lives of others—especially those closest to him. The well-being of a man’s family is yet one more reason for him to fear the Lord.