In 1897, a Xhosa Methodist clergyman serving at a mission school near Johannesburg composed a song that would become to be recognised as a pan-African liberation song. Versions of the song were later adopted as national anthems for various African nations, including South Africa. The song’s title, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, translates into English as “Lord bless Africa.”
The song, taken in its entirety, asks the Lord to bless Africa, her chiefs, her public men, her youths, her wives, her young women and girls, and her ministers. It asks the Lord to bless agriculture and stock raising and to bless the continent with unity. The closing stanza translates as follows:
Lord, bless Africa:
Blot out all its wickedness
and its transgressions and sins,
and bless us.
African countries are not alone paying lip service to God in their anthems. The British national anthem asks God to save the queen while American anthem proclaims, “In God we trust.” Canadians sing, “God keep our land glorious and free.” Dozens of other anthems can be included in this list.
But how might a nation feel assured of divine blessing? Psalm 128 proclaims “prosperity” for Jerusalem and “peace” for Israel (vv. 5–6). Significantly, however, that is not where the song begins. It expands over its six verses to speak of God’s blessing on the nation, but it begins on a far smaller scale.
The key to the blessing experienced in this psalm is the fear of the Lord (v. 1). The fear of the Lord can be thought of as a profound reverence or awe toward God. Simply put, we must take God seriously. The psalmist wants the his readers’ thoughts to begin and end with God. As Harry Blamires put it, “To think Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God.”
But notice how the fear of the Lord plays out in this psalm.
It begins with the individual: “Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways” (v. 1). Before he ever assures Jerusalem or the Jewish nation of blessing, he begins with the individual. A nation surely cannot hope to experience God’s blessings apart from individual men and women—individual Christians—walking in the fear of the Lord.
The psalmist shifts his focus from the individual believer to the believing family. He speaks of “your wife” and “your children” (v. 5). If God’s people desire God’s blessing on their nation, it must begin with the individual and move to the family. Where Christian homes live with little thought to God and his ways, there is little hope that the nation at large will experience his blessing. The family is, in many ways, the basic building block of society and all hope for a God-fearing nation is surely dashed at the door of godless homes.
Finally, having focused on the God-fearing individual and the God-fearing home, the psalmist moves to offer assurance of God’s blessing on the city (Jerusalem) and the nation (Israel) (vv. 5–6). Only as individual Christians and Christian family units fear the Lord and walk in his ways is there hope of God’s blessing poured out on a nation.
It is a stirring feeling to stand together with tens of thousands of other South Africans at an international rugby test and sing together, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica. But the plea for God to blessing our nation is futile apart from God-fearing Christians and God-fearing Christian homes. As you reflect on Psalm 128 today, and long for God’s blessing on South Africa, ask yourself whether you are willing to be a catalyst for divine blessing by personally fearing the Lord and leading your family to do the same. As individual Christians and Christian families do so, may we experience God’s blessing upon us in Christ.