It is vain for you to rise up early - The psalmist does not here say that it is improper to rise early; or that there could be no advantage in it; or that people would be more likely to be successful in their undertakings if they did not rise early; but that, although this was done, they would be still altogether dependent on God. Mere early rising, without his blessing, would not secure what they hoped to accomplish, for everything is still in the hand of God. Health, strength, clearness of mind, and success, are all under his control; and though early rising may tend to produce all these - as it does in fact - yet still people are not the less dependent on God for success.
To sit up late - That you may labor or study. As in the former case the psalmist does not express any opinion about the propriety or impropriety of early rising, so it is in respect to this. He merely says that if it is done, this, of itself, will not accomplish the object; people are still dependent on God for success though they do it. As a matter of fact, however, sitting up late has less tendency to promote success in life than early rising; but in either ease there is the same dependence on God.
To eat the bread of sorrows - Bread of care, anxiety, or trouble; that is, bread earned or procured by the severity of toil. There may be an allusion here to the original sentence pronounced on man, Genesis 3:17. The meaning is, that it is in vain that you labor hard, that you exhaust your strength, in order to get bread to eat, unless God shall bless you. After all your toil the result is with him.
For so he giveth his beloved sleep - The word “for” is not in the original, The sentence is very obscure in the connection in which it stands. The Septuagint and Latin Vulgate render it, “Ye who eat the bread of care - rise when you have rested - when he hath given his beloved sleep.” Some have supposed it to mean that God gives his people rest without toil, or that, while others labor, his “beloved” - his friends - sleep; but this interpretation is not necessarily demanded by the Hebrew, and is inconsistent with the general doctrine of the Bible. Others have supposed the idea to be, that God gives his beloved rest after labor; but though this is true, it is not true of them especially or exclusively. Some suppose, with as little probability, that the meaning is, that what others hope (but hope in vain) to get by labor, the Lord bestows upon his people in sleep, they know not how.
The meaning evidently is, that God bestows “sleep” upon his people in some sense in which it is not bestowed on others, or that there is, in regard to their case, something in which they differ from those who are so anxious and troubled - who rise so early for the sake of gain - who toil so late - who eat the bread of care. The idea seems to be that there would be calmness, repose, freedom from anxiety or solicitude. God makes the mind of his people - his beloved - calm and tranquil, while the world around is filled with anxiety and restlessness - busy, bustling, worried. As a consequence of this calmness of mind, and of their confidence in him, they enjoy undisturbed repose at night. They are not kept wakeful and anxious about their worldly affairs as other men are, for they leave all with God, and thus he “giveth his beloved sleep.” The particle “so” - כן kên - or “thus,” I apprehend, refers to the general sense of what had been said, rather than to what immediately precedes it; to the fact that all success depends on God Psalm 127:1, and that it is always by his interposition, and not as the result of human skill, toil, or fatigue, that people find calmness, success, repose. It is only by the favor of God, and by their recognizing their dependence on him, that they find repose, success, and freedom from care.