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The Fruitful Household

TCI has had its differences with Peter Leithart, some of them quite recent, but there is little doubt that his thought is provocative in general, and in some specifics very helpful. His piece some days ago on his First Things blog about the family (or household), productivity and fruitfulness was especially thoughtful. To begin with Leithart focuses on the Song of Ascents  of Psalm 128, which I reproduce here in full.

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!

As Leithart rightly notes, the wife is noted to be fruitful. The implication is that bearing children is an important element of this, but earlier in the Psalm it is ‘the labor of your hands’ that is considered a blessing. So both a fruitful womb and fruitful hands are a blessing in a wife. The man who fears the Lord will oversee a household with children and economic activity. The oikos of a God-fearing man will be economically fruitful.

This discussion is helpful in our consideration of the purpose of household life according to the scriptures and, more broadly, the Reformed tradition. Calvin writes in his Commentary on Psalm 128:3;

Here again it is promised, as in the preceding Psalm, that God will make those who honor him fruitful in a numerous offspring. The majority of mankind indeed desire to have issue, and this desire may be said to be implanted in them by nature; but many, when they have obtained children, soon become cloyed therewith. Again it is often more grateful to want children than to leave a number of them in circumstances of destitution. But although the world is carried away by irregular desires after various objects, between which it is perpetually fluctuating in its choice, God gives this his own blessing, the preference to all riches, and therefore we ought to hold it in high estimation. If a man has a wife of amiable manners as the companion of his life, let him set no less value upon this blessing than Solomon did, who, in Proverbs 19:14 affirms that it is God alone who gives a good wife.

He goes to emphasise the purpose of the blessing of a fruitful household is to spur Christians on to eternal life:

The Prophet, therefore, very properly reminds the faithful that they already receive some fruit of their integrity, when God gives them their food, makes them happy in their wives and children, and condescends to take care of their life. But his design in commending the present goodness of God is to animate them to hasten forward with alacrity on the path which leads to their eternal inheritance.

Returning to Leithart’s observations about the fruitful oikos, we read that the imagery of the Psalm is closely linked to Proverbs 31. The woman there is fruitful in an economical way, and is tremendous blessing to her household. Leithart notes:

[The] productivity of the woman of Proverbs 31 is a model for the productivity of wives and mothers. They are not to be consumers, but producers, working diligently as their husbands do.

So, the charge to women is be a blessing in your work for your oikos so that your blessed family will be spurred on to seek life in Christ. Economic fruitfulness, rightly ordered, drives spiritual fruitfulness.

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.