[this part comes as a continuation of part 1, being more of the background to Psalm 131, this now being the explanation and application of it]
With these details in mind, it can now be asked, why did David write what he did in Psalm 131?
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131)
David begins this part of his prayer with, O Lord, my heart is not lifted up (1a). David had proved this by his lifestyle, as we have seen before in the examples of Goliath and Saul, among many others. He was a living example to Israelites of one who had the ‘right’ to be proud, but who chose to humble himself before God. David here confesses this, boldly declaring this to be true about his character. As in many other places, it is not saying that David had attained a perfectly humble heart, but that he strove to be so continually. If he were perfectly humble, why would he pray this way to God? Praying implies asking, and such praying is important to the Christian, to express to God the desire to be complete in a certain area—humility being this one. This is the first of David’s three references to pride, and they are all visual images. This is of a heart (being the center of emotion to the Jewish reader, much like we think of our mind), that is not self-exalting, a mind that does not think itself important. A person may very well look and act in humility, but only God can read the depths and intangibles of the mind. David opens this to God’s prying hands, that he might be openly examined, and have pride removed at the root.
Next he prays, my eyes are not raised too high (1b), stating that he was not ambitious for gain beyond what God gave him; he was content with what was given to him. Perhaps the image could be referenced to someone that has eaten a full and good meal, yet upon seeing more food in another place, while still being full, wishes to gorge himself on that food also. In the context, this is truly a strange statement to David, from a worldly standpoint. He was king, and he was to lead his people to victories, how could he be content already? Kings of the world have largely been known to possess a great greed to conquer, gain riches, and be acclaimed as better than any predecessor. David was nothing like this, by his actions, and his prayer shows his desire to be more so like this. Then is despondency and laziness the attitude we should hold to? Absolutely not! Solomon, David’s son, taught, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a). What David is doing in this statement, is admitting his position before God. Man can do nothing without God’s enabling, as Isaiah proclaims,
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (40:6b-8)
Next, David examines his actions, I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me (131:1c). As one can see, he is clearly working from the root of the sin of pride, to the outward appearance of it. Many times Christians desire to strip themselves of the outward appearances of sin, but leave the soul and mind without remedy. We must be holistically healed, as Christians, first of the heart, but true inner change must lead to outer change. David realized that there were many difficulties in life, hard things to understand, which were far beyond him. Even Solomon, the wisest man on earth, and his son, often stopped short of pretending to understand the depth of philosophy. He stated that man was but “vapor” and his pursuits were passing as the thinnest of vapors, yet he could not completely understand why (e.g. Ecclesiastes 1:1, Amplified Bible). Moses warns against the arrogance of trying to understand things beyond our ability, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV). Clearly there is a distinction made by God between what is fully clear to mankind and what has not been declared to us.
How can man possibly understand the Trinity in its fullness, or the incarnation of Christ, or God’s sovereignty coinciding with man’s free will? Such a man is arrogant, as Spurgeon elegantly puts it, like “a little child that has just come off its mother’s knee and it expects to understand a book on trigonometry, and cries because it cannot” (3:114).God cannot be ‘put in a box’ as many theologians would have Him, and to this Spurgeon also has strong words: “Some want to shape the Scriptures to their creed, and they get a very nice square creed too,…it is wonderful how they do it, but I would rather have a crooked creed and a straight Bible, than I would try to twist the Bible round to suit what I believe” (3:114).
David, similarly responds to such pride in intelligence, [b]ut I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me (Psalm 131:2), this being the climax of the Psalm. The job of the Christian and of the preacher, are not to be occupied with oneself, but to rid oneself of pride and live a life for God and others. So now we in David, after laying open to God’s eyes these three forms of pride, a desire to be rid of it. But why would David want to have all of his pride extracted? Sin, even the great sin of pride, has great sweetness to doing it. It is delightful to be full of pride, but David longs for the greatest of all sweetness, God himself, portrayed in the loving arms of a mother. How disconsolate, frustrating, and agonizing is a child who will not stop crying? For most crying in a child is pride, especially as grows slowly older, for now they seek to take advantage of their mother’s love and force them to give them all they desire. There is no care for the mother herself, for her needs, for her tiredness.
Such is a baby Christian, one who has never matured. He is stayed in his pride, as any in the world, and seeks only self-gratification. Even in church, in the front of the line, at the head of discussions, speaking endlessly on things he could never understand. Is this not common? But the mature Christian kindly listens, advises, and continues to love those who pretend to be something, as if the church were a hierarchy. If this is seen in church, how much more is this seen in the Christians’ relationship to God? We treat Him as a ‘cosmic lottery machine,’ and a ‘sugar daddy.’ But man was not made to satisfy himself, but for the glorification of God, that God might be made great and us becoming something through Him (John 3:30).
To rest, calmly and quietly in His faithful arms is to be truly blessed. Blessed are we when we are as a weaned child, no longer asking God to constantly bless us, but recognizing that we have already blessed beyond our every need. Surely needs to require prayer, but how little do we pray for others, and how much less to we simply praise God in our prayers? We must learn to love God for His sake, not for ours, or because He has blessed us. God loves us out of love itself, his character (I John 4:10), should we not love Him in return, and trust in Him without alteration? If we were truly as a weaned child with God, resting quietly in a mother’s arms, would we have anxiety or fear? “He who fears God needs fear no one else; but he who reaches that point has undergone a painful weaning” (C.H. Spurgeon 3:114). The natural man has much to fear, much to be anxious angry about, much to be angry over, and much bitterness to harbor. But the Christian man has the freedom to not have such burdens. What holds us back from the blessing and freedom of being a weaned child before God? Our “two dearly beloved sins” – pride and ambition (3:114).
After this profound image, David calls out, O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 131:3). And the call rings out for us as well. David was a living example of a man who had forsaken pride and arrogance, in order to come humbly before God. He had matured as a Christian to understand that the truly blessed life was one a trusting in God, and not in oneself.
How much more was Christ such an example to us, a perfect and complete example! He humbled himself beyond all comparisons, stooping to wash our feet, and take our filthy sins upon his body, that we might forever be free in Him (e.g. Phil. 2:1-11). In Him is everything we are! Surely man is but dust (1 Cor. 15:47), yet in Christ we are sons of God (Gal. 3:26), God’s chosen people (1 Peter 2:9), and heirs to heaven (2 Cor. 4:17). It is to this end that C.H. Spurgeon calls us: “live mainly upon the simplicities of the gospel, for, after all, [it is] the food of the soul” (3:115).
The gospel is one that humbles us before our inability to save ourselves, to fulfill even the least of our needs, the greatest being our innumerable sins (Psalms 130:3). Ours is to trust God, to believe in our fortress, that He cares for us as a mother, and our response is to kill pride and to be satisfied in His character of love and mercy. For, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34). In our world full of anxiety, business, and frustration, this truly is good news. Our restless souls long to be satisfied, and the many souls in this world scurry about seeking to put it to rest. But how can you rest by running? Let us trust God, and set ourselves in His hands, and wait for Him to direct our steps, knowing that He will give us work to do for His glory, with full enjoyment, for our greatest good, and to His glory.
Calvin, John. Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Ed. Rev. James Anderson. Vol. VI. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999. Print.
Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Treasury of the Bible: Psalm 112 to Isaiah. Vol. III. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981. Print.