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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Psalms 131

This brief psalm is entitled “A Song of Degrees of David.” There is nothing in it to forbid the idea that it was composed by him, for it is wholly in his spirit and manner. It is not known, however, on what occasion it was written, nor why it has a place among the “Songs of Degrees.” It would seem to have been prepared on some occasion when the author had been charged with being of a lofty and proud spirit; with meddling in matters that were above him, or above his condition in life; or with making such suggestions about public affairs as were considered to indicate a self-confident, or an aspiring mind. Without being able to determine this by any certain facts, the supposition which would seem most to accord with the contents of the psalm would be that it was written when he was a young man; when he had expressed, in the presence of others, some sentiments on public affairs which were interpreted by them as denoting a forward and self confident spirit.

If so, then this psalm was probably a private meditation on what he had done, and was of the nature of a personal examination of his spirit and motives. Knowing, as we do, what David was afterward - his great talents as a warrior and a king, and his ability to manage public affairs - it would not, in itself, be strange or improbable that, in early life, and even when a shepherdboy, he might have advanced opinions which would be regarded as beyond his age, as unbecoming his condition, and as manifesting a disposition to meddle with matters above him; and that he might have been rebuked for this. If it were so, we may suppose that a pious and a modest youth would give himself to self-examination, to determine whether that was the spirit which actuated him, and this psalm may have been the result of such an examination: a deep self-consciousness that such was not the spirit which influenced him; that these were not the motives which prompted him to do what he had done.

The psalm, therefore, may, perhaps, without impropriety, be regarded as furnishing evidence of the early manifestation of a disposition on the part of David to study public affairs, and of an early manifestation of a knowledge on that subject which was regarded as above his years and his station; and, at the same time, of his readiness to profit by rebuke, and to examine his real motives; and of his consciousness that he was not actuated by self-confident and aspiring views. The psalm manifests a humble spirit, and a spirit of confident trust in God. If the interpretation thus suggested could be confirmed - or if it may be allowed - the psalm would be one of the most valuable records of the early life and character of David. It would add to the interest of this conjecture, if we might suppose that this psalm was left among the effusions of his early years - among, as we should say, his “private papers,” and was discovered after he was dead, and was then arranged and published among these “Songs of Degrees.”

Verse 1

Lord, my heart is not haughty - Though this is charged upon me; though I may have said things which seem to imply it; though this might appear a just inference from my conduct - yet I am conscious that this is not my real character. What I have said was not the result of ambition.

Nor mine eyes lofty - I am conscious that I am not ambitious and aspiring - as I am accused of being. What I have said is not the result of such a feeling, nor should such a charge be brought against me.

Neither do I exercise myself - Margin, as in Hebrew, walk. I do not walk about among such things; I do not pry into them; I do not meddle with them. What I have said or done is not, as has been said concerning me, the result of a meddlesome and interfering spirit. It may seem to be so; my own consciousness tells me it is not so. The interpretation put upon my conduct may be natural; but I am conscious to myself that it is not the right interpretation.

In great matters, or in things too high for me - Margin, as in Hebrew, wonderful. The word wonderful would apply to matters suited to excite astonishment by their vastness, or their unusual nature - as prodigies or miracles; and then, great and lofty truths. It would apply also to things which might be regarded as far above the capacity of a child, or of one in obscure life, and with slight advantages of education; and, as above suggested, it may have been the accusation brought against him, that, in respect to public matters, matters of state - or to the more elevated doctrines of religion - he had manifested a spirit unbecoming one in early years, and of humble rank, and that this indicated a desire to meddle with matters which he could not understand, and which could not pertain to him. He was conscious, he says, that he was not actuated by that spirit.

Verse 2

Surely I have behaved and quieted myself - Margin, as in Hebrew, my soul. The Hebrew is, “If I have not soothed and quieted my soul.” This is a strong mode of affirming that he had done it. The negative form is often thus used to denote a strong affirmation. The full form would be, “God knows if I have not done this;” or, “If I have not done this, then let me bear the consequences; let me be punished.” The idea is that he was conscious he had done this. Instead of being arrogant, proud, and ambitious - instead of meddling with matters above him, and which did not belong to him, he had known his proper place. He had been gentle, calm, retiring. The word rendered behaved means properly to be even or level; then, in the form used here, to make even, smooth, or level; and it is used here in the sense of calming the mind; smoothing down its roughnesses; keeping it tranquil. Compare the notes at Isaiah 38:13, in our version, “I reckoned” (the same word as here) “till morning,” but where the correct translation would be, “I composed or calmed myself until morning.” So the meaning here is, that he had kept his mind calm, and even, and gentle.

As a child that is weaned of his mother - See Isaiah 28:9. There have been very various interpretations of this passage. See Rosenmuller in loc. Perhaps the true idea is that of a child, when weaned, as leaning upon its mother, or as reclining upon her breast. As a weaned child leans upon its mother. That is, as a child, accustomed to the breast, and now deprived of it, lays its head gently where it had been accustomed to derive its nutriment, feeling its dependence, hoping to obtain nourishment again: not angry, but gently grieved and sad. A little child thus clinging to its mother - laying its head gently down on the bosom - languishing - looking for nourishment - would be a most tender image of meekness and gentleness.

My soul is even as a weaned child - literally, “As a weaned child upon me my soul;” that is probably, My soul leans upon me as a weaned child. My powers, my nature, my desires, my passions, thus lean upon me, are gentle, unambitious, confiding. The Septuagint renders this in a different manner, and giving a different idea, “Had I not been humble, but exalted myself as a weaned child doth against its mother, how wouldst thou have retributed against my soul!” The Hebrew, however, requires that it should be otherwise interpreted. The idea is, that he had been gentle; that he had calmed down his feelings; that whatever aspirations he might have had, he had kept them under; that though he might have made inquiries, or offered suggestions that seemed to savor of pride or ambition, he had been conscious that this was not so, but that he had known his proper place, and had kept it. The sentiment here is, that religion produces a child-like spirit; that it disposes all to know and keep their right place; that to whatever inquiries or suggestions it may lead among the young, it will tend to keep them modest and humble; and that whatever suggestions one in early life may be disposed to make, they will be connected with a spirit that is humble, gentle, and retiring. Religion produces self-control, and is inconsistent with a proud, an arrogant, and an ambitious spirit.

Verse 3

Let Israel hope in the Lord ... - The connection would seem to require us to understand this as the assertion of him who had been accused of thoughts which seemed to be too lofty. As the result of all his reflections (of those reflections for which he was rebuked and charged with pride, but which were really conceived in a modest spirit) - as expressing what he saw that seemed to be in advance of what others saw, or to indicate a habit of thought beyond his years - he says that there were reasons why Israel should hope in the Lord; that there was a foundation for confident trust; that there was that in the divine character which was a just ground of reliance; that there was that in the course of events - in the tendencies of things - which made it proper for the people of God, for the church, to hope, to confide, to feel assured of its ultimate and permanent safety. This would indicate the nature of the suggestions which he had expressed, and which had exposed him to the charge of arrogance; and it would also indicate a ripe and mature habit of thinking, beyond what might be expected from one in very early life. All this was, probably, applicable to David in his early years, as to the reflections which might have foreshadowed what he would be in future; this was eminently applicable to David’s Descendant - greater than he - who, at twelve years of age, astonished the Hebrew doctors in the temple with “his understanding and answers” Luke 2:47; this gives a beautiful view of modesty joined with uncommon gifts in early life; this shows what is always the nature of true religion - as producing modesty, and as prompting to hope.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 131". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.