Psalm 131 – David’s Humble, Learned Contentment in the LORD
This psalm is titled A Song of Ascents. Of David. Commentators suggest two possible occasions for its composition. The first may be when Saul hunted David, and David was repeatedly accused of ambition for the throne of Israel. The second may be David’s in response to his wife, Michal, when she accused him of being vulgar and undignified after he danced in the procession of bringing the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:16-23).
Whatever the occasion was, this short psalm is a beautiful denial of pride, arrogance, and selfish ambition. “It is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn. It speaks of a young child, but it contains the experience of a man in Christ.” (Charles Spurgeon)
A. David declares his humble heart.
1. (1a) David renounces pride and arrogance.
LORD, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
a. LORD, my heart is not haughty: David learned to reject pride. David came before the Lord in conscious humility. He understood the principle explained in Proverbs and quoted twice in the New Testament: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
i. “The psalm begins with an emphatic reference to Yahweh…‘O Yahweh, my heart.’ In the presence of the covenant God, the psalmist has experienced how wonderful complete submission to God is.” (VanGemeren)
b. Nor my eyes lofty: David learned to reject arrogance. Under the influence of pride, we become arrogant and look down on other people. Though David had accomplished great things and had a great destiny in front of him, he didn’t go around thinking of himself as better than others.
i. “Arrogance is an expression of pride. It is the proud who are arrogant, but arrogance goes beyond pride in that it is pride looking down on other people.” (Boice)
2. (1b) David renounces selfish ambition.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.
a. Neither do I concern myself with great matters: David learned to reject selfish ambition, and he chose not to pursue things too profound for him. He did not set his focus on promotion or position above what God had appointed in the present season. Jesus taught us to accept a lower place (Luke 14:8-11) and wait patiently for God to lift us up in His wisdom and timing.
i. There are godly aspirations (Philippians 3:12-14) and then there are selfish ambitions (2 Corinthians 12:20, Galatians 5:20, Philippians 1:16 and 2:3). One way to distinguish between them is to look for a focus on God (related to spiritual aspirations) or a focus on self (selfish ambition).
ii. “Frequently, too, we exercise ourselves in great matters by having a high ambition to do something very wonderful in the church. This is why so very little is done. The great destroyer of good works is the ambition to do great works.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “It is…difficult to recognize unruly ambition as a sin because it has a kind of superficial relationship to the virtue of aspiration – an impatience with mediocrity, and a dissatisfaction with all things created until we are at home with the Creator, the hopeful striving for the best God has for us.” (Peterson, cited in Boice)
iv. “The young man who is quite content to begin with preaching in a little room in a village to a dozen is the man who will win souls. The other brother, who does not [consider] preaching till he can preach to five thousand, never will do anything, he never can.” (Spurgeon)
v. “Fill your sphere, brother, and be content with it. If God shall move you to another, be glad to be moved; if he move you to a smaller, be as willing to go to a less prominent place as to one that is more so. Have no will about it.” (Spurgeon)
b. Great matters…things too profound: These can also apply to some intellectual or mental pursuits that may become expressions of pride. In pride, we can demand to know aspects of God’s will or mind. This was Job’s sin, of which he repented (Job 40:1-5, 42:1-6).
i. David understood the principle of Deuteronomy 29:29: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
B. David declares his contented heart.
1. (2) Contentment like a weaned child.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
a. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul: Instead of proud pursuits, David determined to find satisfaction and serenity of soul, content with God and His works. Those who feel constantly driven to do and achieve more in their relationship with God should learn some of what David here learned.
i. David phrased this with an emphasis on what he did. Of course it was ultimately the work of God within him, but it was vitally connected to his own will and choices. God didn’t do this for him; God used the operation of David’s choice. We must choose to calm and quiet our soul.
ii. “Oh the wonder of quiet contentment with God! He has enjoyed the walk with God in which he ‘stilled’ (‘composed’) himself and ‘quieted’ (i.e., ‘silenced’ or ‘found rest,’ Psalm 62:1,5) his soul (Psalm 131:2).” (VanGemeren)
b. Like a weaned child with his mother: A child not-yet weaned embraces his mother with the thought of food and immediate satisfaction. A weaned child embraces his mother out of a desire for love, closeness, and companionship. Such was David’s humble desire to draw near to God.
i. God is beyond what we normally think of as gender; He is neither male nor female. Yet overwhelmingly, God is represented to us as a Father. This is one of the few passages where God is represented in some way as a mother. Others include Isaiah 49:15 and Isaiah 66:13.
ii. “Weaning was one of the first real troubles that we met with after we came into this world, and it was at the time a very terrible one to our little hearts. We got over it somehow or other.” (Spurgeon)
c. Like a weaned child is my soul: The phrase is repeated for emphasis. The process of weaning may seem strange and terrible to the child, but it is necessary for the child’s development. The weaned child comes to realize that the denial of one of the mother’s gifts does not mean denial of the mother’s presence. He comes to love the mother herself instead of the gift received from her.
i. We regard the process of weaning as natural, but the child likely regards it as a battle. What David wrote of here was contentment with God that did not come naturally, but through victory over what comes naturally and the habits associated with previous experience.
ii. “The weaned child with its mother is the child who has learned to be independent of that which seemed indispensible, and indeed was so at one time.” (Morgan)
iii. “He is no longer angry with his mother, but buries his head in that very bosom after which he pined so grievously: he is weaned on his mother rather than from her.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Weaned from what? Self-sufficiency, self-will, self-seeking. From creatures and the things of the world – not, indeed, as to their use, but as to any dependence upon them for his happiness and portion.” (Jay, cited in Spurgeon)
v. When God allows things or circumstances in our life that wean us from things we have relied on, we should never despise it. “Blessed are those afflictions which subdue our affections, which wean us from self-sufficiency, which educate us into Christian manliness, which teach us to love God not merely when he comforts us, but even when he tries us.” (Spurgeon)
2. (3) Exhorting Israel to find the same contentment.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.
a. O Israel, hope in the LORD: God’s people could only learn and live the lesson David sang of in this short psalm if they set their hope in the LORD, and in nothing else. Nothing or no one else gives the same assurance.
i. “See how lovingly a man who is weaned from self thinks of others! David thinks of his people, and loses himself in his care for Israel.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The secret of victory over feverish ambition is divulged in the psalmist’s appeal to Israel to hope in the Lord.” (Morgan)
iii. There is the testimony of David’s experience that he wanted the people of God in general to enjoy. “Act all as I have done; trust in him who is the God of justice and compassion; and, after you have suffered awhile, he will make bare his arm and deliver you.” (Clarke)
iv. “The last verse rouses us from contemplating David to following his example and that of his greater Son: not through introspection but through being weaned from insubstantial ambitions to the only solid fare that can be ours. ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work’ (John 4:34).” (Kidner)
v. “Let his faithful people hope and trust, not in themselves, their wisdom, or their power, but in Jehovah alone, who will not fail to exalt them.” (Horne)
b. From this time forth and forever: The decision to place one’s hope in the LORD must have a beginning point, and that point should be now (from this time). From there, it should go forth and forever, never ending.
i. Forever: “Weaning takes the child out of a temporary condition into a state in which he will continue for the rest of his life: to rise above the world is to enter upon a heavenly existence which can never end.” (Spurgeon)
ii. It will endure forever, but it does have a beginning. “If there is any unconverted person here who cannot understand all this, I pray the Lord to make him a child first, and then make him a weaned child.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org