“Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house….” Psalm 128:3a
It is rather strange, if not ironic, that an annual “Mother’s Day” is so widely observed in our times. When we examine current trends and projections for the future, we see that for many—both men and women— marriage and family simply are not considered the way to the so-called “good life.” We see more and more people deciding against marriage, as social pressures to wed diminish and women find it easier to achieve economic independence. We see continuing high levels of divorce, low birth rates, smaller families. Children are frequently considered a burden, economic liabilities.
For more than fifty years our culture has prioritized mothers’ wage-labor outside the home over their work inside the home. Financially, things are so much easier with a two-income family. Public policy and regulation have promoted and advanced that attitude. Welfare reform providing subsidized day care and preschool for children and revision of the U.S. tax code providing various tax breaks for two-income couples are among policies intended to get more mothers away from their home and children and into the paid workforce. Many economists insist that the gross domestic product of our country demands it. And there is growing concern that the coronavirus pandemic, which has closed day cares and schools, has made it necessary, especially for women, to return home to care for the children. Many fear that women’s independence will be a silent victim of the pandemic.
How utterly foreign then is the teaching of Scripture concerning the blessedness of marriage in the Lord, motherhood, and family life. How thankful we must be to our covenant God that in the midst of His faithful church may be seen families, many children, wives and mothers who are happy, content, richly blessed as they labor in the home. Truly, “thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house.”
Here in Psalm 128 we see the blessedness of family life in the fear of the Lord. That is the key, of course, the fear of Jehovah! “Blessed is everyone that feareth the Lord” (v. 1a). It is not by having a two-income household, not by having a wife who can feel “fulfilled” with a career outside the home, not by avoiding children so that your desired lifestyle is not hindered that you will be happy. It is fearing Jehovah, walking in His ways that brings blessedness—true happiness. For God will surely provide our daily bread. “For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee” (v. 2). Yes, there may be times of financial struggle, times when many sacrifices must be made, as may well be the case during a time of a pandemic. But God will surely provide us with that which we need for our lives as we fear Him and seek first His kingdom.
And, in the fear of the Lord, there is the remarkably rich blessing of having wife and children. This is not to say that the blessing of God is not upon the house of the godly couple who have been given no children, and upon the house of those saints whom the Lord leads in the way of single life. They will be richly blessed in the special place and calling He has for them in His church and kingdom. But the general rule is that God gives children unto husband and wife. Here the description we have of the wife of the God-fearing man is very beautiful and to the point: “as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house.”
The figure used here is not difficult to understand. A fruitful vine is a very pleasant, beautiful, and thriving plant. Our reaction to the godly wife should be: what a beautiful and noble creature she is! She has a certain glory about her. She differs from the women of the world as beauty differs from ugliness. She has a genuine beauty and true adornment. It is not “that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel,” of which Peter warns, but “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (I Pet. 3:3, 4). Her beauty is not found in a fancy hairdo, expensive jewelry, or designer fashions. It is a spiritual beauty that causes her children to rise up and call her blessed and her husband to praise her (Prov. 31:28).
In addition, a vine is an emblem of dependence; a vine needs support. The God-fearing wife is not compared to a mighty oak tree, but to a tender vine! This speaks to husbands as well as wives. Husbands must support and defend their wives. Husbands ought to behave toward their wives patiently and prudently. As we read in I Peter 3:7, husbands are to give honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel. The wife is the weaker vessel because this is what God made her as a woman, a female. That is her unique, distinctive relation to the man that God established in the beginning.
God ordained the position of the wife in marriage to be one of submission and dependence. She is the vine, the weaker vessel in marriage, and that is part of her God-given glory as a woman. Being aware of this, the husband will treat his wife with gentleness and kindness. A vine may be healthy and strong, but it is, nevertheless, fragile. It needs support. The godly husband will treat her with tenderness. He will nourish and cherish her.
She is a fruitful vine—fruitful in so many ways. It was not good in the beginning for man to be alone. He needed a help meet for him. He who finds a wife, finds a good thing (Prov. 18:22a). The godly wife is fruitful in love, in kindness, in thrift, in helpfulness, in affection, in comfort.
But, clearly the chief fruit of the godly wife is frequently children: “thy children like olive plants round about thy table” (v. 3b). Olive plants are indicative of richness and blessing. The figure was very familiar in Israel. For around the parent olive tree spring up numerous shoots. So children and young people spring up around their parents. What a blessing! As we read in the previous Psalm, Psalm 127, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” The richly blessed man of God often has children, and they are especially in evidence as they gather around the table at mealtime.
Notice too, that she is a fruitful vine “by the sides of thine house.” Literally, the word “sides” may signify the rooms or apartments of a house where she may be busy with her household duties. The point is that the normal sphere of the wife and mother is the house. How utterly strange that sounds to most people today. But the godly wife must be busy making the house a home, a covenant home. If you wish to find the godly wife and mother, she is most often to be found within the house. Her activity and labor center about and within her home.
Consider the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31—all of her many gifts and abilities are being used for her home, for the welfare of her husband and children. Solomon says that “she will do him good and not evil all the days of her life” (Prov. 31:12). She is willing to sacrifice for them, to live for them, realizing that in that way she shall also be truly blessed, happy, fulfilled. Proverbs 31:27 states, “She looketh well to the ways of her household….”
The wise woman of Proverbs 31 is busy providing clothing, preparing food, even purchasing a field where she could have a garden and vineyard to supply food and drink for the table. She is industrious, making crafts and goods to sell and barter with the merchants. What a help she is to her husband and family, what a blessing and benefit to many others! Truly, she is a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house.
This needs emphasis as never before. It is the Word of God that says that the calling of the godly wife and mother is to be a keeper at home (Tit. 2:5). There may be exceptions to this, of course, but generally speaking, it is not the calling of the fruitful vine to labor in the world in the sweat of her face. And always home and family must come first! Paul writes to Timothy concerning the young widows of the church in I Timothy 5:14, 15 that they are to seek the normal life of a young woman of the church, which is that they “marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan.” Mind you, the apostle equates the despising of that calling to faithful labor in the home with going after Satan! Clearly, it is generally God’s purpose that godly women be saved in the way of childbearing and child-rearing, not by laboring in the world (I Tim. 2:15).
This certainly does not harmonize at all with the image the unbelieving world would hold before us of a happy, successful, fulfilled woman. The world paints a very different picture of beauty in the glamorous career woman. Do not dare compare her with a fruitful vine—she is sturdy as steel, independent, an equal with her husband, certainly not his helper. She has her own career, her own bank accounts and investments, her own circle of friends, her own social life. The foolish women of the world strive for mastery over their husbands in rebellion against God. Solomon calls such “odious women.” They bring shame upon their households. He says that such a wife is rottenness in the bones of her husband. For such a life is a denial of the very foundation of marriage and blasphemes the Word of God!
Many would describe the life of the fruitful vine as drudgery, an intolerable bore, a waste of gifts and talents. What a demeaning role, taking care of a husband’s needs, and those of children! And, make no mistake, it is not an easy life. It is especially not easy in recent months with the drastic changes necessary with the pandemic. Mothers are assisting with the education of the children and young people since the schools are closed. They could easily be struggling to manage the household budget with less money available, especially if dad is home, unable to work, perhaps laid off from his job. From our perspective, our wives and mothers have gone above and beyond the call of duty, by the grace of God! Let us rise up and call them blessed!
It is not the glamorous career woman seeking self-fulfillment who is the honorable woman in God’s sight. It is the fruitful vine, made such by His grace, that He declares to be more precious than rubies. She shall one day hear the Lord say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”