Psalm 131 – David’s Humble, Learned Contentment in the LORD
The 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 often accused of ambition for the throne of Israel. The second may be David in response to his wife Michal when she accused him of being vulgar and undignified when 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 later explained 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 in the MT: ‘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 he had accomplished great things and had a great destiny in front of him, David didn’t go around thinking himself 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 one 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 determine between them is to look for a focus on God (related to godly 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 mean 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 (v. 2).” (VanGemeren)
b. Like a weaned child with his mother: A child not-yet weaned embraces the mother with the thought of food and immediate satisfaction. A weaned child embraces the 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, and others include Isaiah 49:15 and Isaiah 66:13.
ii. “The Easterns put off the time of weaning far later than we do, and we may conclude that the process grows none the easier by being postponed. At last there must be an end to the suckling period, and then a battle begins: the child is denied his comfort, and therefore frets and worries, flies into pets, or sinks into sulks.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “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)
iv. “Before he was weaned, David wanted God only for what he could get from God. After he was weaned, having learned that God loved him and would care for him even if it was not exactly the way he anticipated or most wanted, he came to love God for God himself.” (Boice)
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 some of the mother’s gifts does not mean denial of the mother’s presence, and 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. “While being weaned it sobs and struggles, and all its little life is perturbed. So no man comes to have a quiet heart without much resolute self-suppression. But the figure tells of ultimate repose, even more plainly than of preceding struggle.” (Maclaren)
iv. “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)
v. “We have been clinging to the breast of some human help and comfort. Presently the strong, wise hand of God puts us gently from it, and turns us to other sources of consolation. At first we passionately resist with outcry and strife. But the Comforter comes and hushes us as on the very lap of God.” (Meyer)
vi. “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)
vii. When God allows things or circumstances in our life that wean us from things we used to rely 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 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)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission