This Week's Focus Passage

This Week’s Focus Passage: Psalm 127:1 ‘Except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vai

This Week’s Focus Passage: Psalm 127:1

‘Except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’


“John Norman (Jack) MacLeod (1926-2002) was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland who served as Moderator of the General Assembly 1983/84. His parents had emigrated from the Isle of Lewis to America in the early 1920s and John was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1926. His parents did not fare well, nor find what they sought in America, and mainly due to the Great Depression, they returned to the home town of his father, Am Brugan MacLeod (d. 1988), at Shawbost on Lewis in 1927, and rebegan a life of crofting. [Crofting is a form of land-tenure and small-scale food production peculiar to the Scottish Highlands, the islands of Scotland, and formerly on the Isle of Man.]. After being demobilized from war service in 1946, he decided to train for the ministry at the University of Edinburgh, then studied divinity at the Free Church College. He returned to the United States to be ordained, and his first role was as ministerial deputy at Fort William, Ontario, in Canada, in 1956. In 1959, he returned to the Isle of Lewis as minister of Park. In 1967, he returned to Canada as minister of the Free Church of Scotland in Toronto, then in 1973, went to London, before again going back to Lewis as minister of Point, at which point he finally settled. In 1991, he famously led the campaign to prevent a NATO base from being established at Stornoway Airport (on the Isle). The community and the church were split in their opinions on this action. In 1983 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly, the highest position in the Free Church of Scotland. He retired from the Point pastorate in 1991. He died on 8 July, 2002.” 

We first met Jack and his wife, Margaret, in 1992, at the Presbyterian Free Church of Livonia, Michigan, when they arrived from Scotland as he was sent to this congregation from the Free Church of Scotland to supply the pulpit for the year. We reflect frequently over the many fine hours of fellowship with this lovely couple. One of the memories of Jack, that has stuck in our minds, is his mention of John F. Kennedy’s last speech; a speech given in Dallas, Texas, not much before this president was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, while traveling in a motorcade. What was surprising was that Jack spoke of that final speech with respect to a Bible reference Kennedy made in the speech, which was striking for, at least, a couple of reasons. Kennedy quoted Psalm 127:1, when he pointed out, that,;

Except Jehovah build the house, They labor in vain that build it; except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain.

Jack’s perspective was particularly directed toward the second line, that ‘except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman waketh in vain;’ and the irony of this president stating that truth, minutes or hours, before an assassination that, most surely, could not have occurred had the Lord not permitted it, which demonstrates that, and in spite of the many investigations and hearings that have been held since that shocking November day in Dallas, with all the confusion involved; whether the ‘watchman’ was watching, or not, it was going to happen, if Jehovah had determined that it would. It was somewhat amazing that this Scot knew that detail about the speech that John F. Kennedy had given shortly before he died. Just a brief perusal of his history demonstrates a ‘back and forth’ geographical situation; moving somewhat between North America and the British Isles over the first several years, with his family in the early years, and, after his studies and ordination, continuing still to jump back and forth between those two continents. This adds to the interest of his knowledge about J. F. K.’s final speech in Fort Worth, Texas. Of course, it is likely that being a member of an exclusive Psalm-singing body of believers, he would, we might presume, take especial note of the reference by Kennedy to Psalm 127. And this does appear as somewhat providential that such a reference as that employed, namely, a reference to a city being kept sovereignly by God, and uttered by J. F. K. only a few hours before he himself was murdered in that very city.

    Does, or should, this fact affect the value that we place upon the veracity of the statement in question? Is it not yet absolutely true that Except Jehovah build the house, they labour in vain that build it: Except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain? Consider the following citation from an extraordinary wise man: 

“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favour. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need his assistance? I have lived for a long time [81 years] ; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can arise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall proceed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel: we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests; our prospects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.” Most remarkable is the source of this citation: Benjamin Franklin: Speech in Convention for forming a Constitution for the United States, 1787.  

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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