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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Psalms 131

Verses 1-3


“A Song of Degrees.” See introduction to Psalms 120:0. In the superscription this Psalm is ascribed to David, and although it is so short, it contains marks of its Davidic origin. “This short Psalm,” says Perowne, “one of the most beautiful in the whole Book, assuredly breathes David’s spirit. A childlike simplicity, an unaffected humility, the honest expression of that humility as from a heart spreading itself out in conscious integrity before God—this is what we find in the Psalm, traits of a character like that of David.”


We have here—

I. Humility in certain of its features. “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Here are three negative features of humility.

1. The absence of the proud heart. “Jehovah, my heart is not haughty.” In the heart of the truly humble man all high thoughts of self-righteousness, and all notions of self-reliance, are effectually abased. He is “poor in spirit,” conscious of spiritual poverty and deep need, and consequently humble before God.

2. The absence of the “high look.” “Nor mine eyes lofty.” Hengstenberg: “Pride has its seat in the heart, and betrays itself especially in the eyes.” (Compare Psalms 18:27; Psalms 101:5; Proverbs 6:16-17.) The man of proud heart will look disdainfully upon his fellow-man, as the Pharisee did upon the Publican, in the parable of our Lord. That Pharisee may fairly be regarded as an illustration of spiritual pride, and the Publican of sincere humility.

3. The absence of ambitious projects. “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” The marginal reading is the correct one. The Psalmist did not strive with or after things that lay beyond his power or his sphere.

(1.) He did not seek to know the mysteries of the humanly unknowable. Even if we could “understand all mysteries and all knowledge,” that would not give rest to our soul.

(2.) He did not attempt to do that which was beyond his power. Rest is not attained through the efforts of daring and “vaulting ambition.”

“I would not have the restless will

That hurries to and fro,

That seeks for some great thing to do,

Or secret thing to know;

I would be treated as a child,

And guided where I go.”

A. L. Waring.

II. Humility as connected with contentment and rest. “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother; my soul is even as a weaned child.” Perowne’s note is excellent: “I have stilled my soul, i.e., the pride and passions which were like the swelling waves of an angry sea. The word is used in Isaiah 28:25, of leveling the ground after the clods have been broken by the plough. The E. V. uses ‘behaved’ in the old sense of restraining, managing, as for instance in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, ‘He did behave his anger ere’t was spent.’ The next two clauses of the verse would be more exactly rendered:—

‘As a weaned child upon his mother,’

(i.e., as he lies resting upon his mother’s bosom); ‘As the weaned child (I say), lies my soul upon me.’ The figure is beautifully expressive of the humility of a soul chastened by disappointment. As the weaned child when its first fretfulness and uneasiness are past no longer cries, and frets, and longs for the breast, but lies still and is content, because it is with its mother: so my soul is weaned from all discontented thoughts, from all fretful desires for earthly good, waiting in stillness upon God, finding its satisfaction in His presence, resting peacefully in His arms.

“ ‘The weaned child,’ writes a mother, with reference to this passage, ‘has for the first time become conscious of grief. The piteous longing for the sweet nourishment of his life, the broken sob of disappointment, mark the trouble of his innocent heart: it is not so much the bodily suffering; he has felt that pain before, and cried while it lasted; but now his joy and comfort are taken away, and he knows not why. When his head is once more laid upon his mother’s bosom, then he trusts and loves and rests, but he has learned the first lesson of humility, he is cast down, and clings with fond helplessness to his one friend.’ ”

And M. Henry: “Thus does a gracious soul quiet itself under the loss of that which it loved, and disappointment in that which it hoped for, and is easy whatever happens, lives, and lives comfortably, upon God and the covenant-grace, when creatures prove dry breasts.” Pride is never satisfied, never restful, but fretful and discontented. Humility is content with the Divine allotments, and restful in the Divine love. The childlike spirit is simple, docile, modest, and lowly. Such a spirit was the Psalmist’s.

III. Humility growing into hope. “Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.” The ancient Hebrews were animated by great hopes. But greater and more exalted are the hopes of the Christian. He hopes for complete triumph over evil, for utter purity of heart, for the vision of God, for transformation into His image, &c. “We are saved by hope.” But mark the characteristics of this hope,

1. It is Divine. “Hope in the Lord.” The Christian’s hope rests not in anything transient, changeable, or limited; but in the eternal, unchangeable, infinite, holy God. A true hope resting in Him “maketh not ashamed.”

2. It is common. “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” It was not the exclusive privilege of the poet, the priest, the prophet, or any one class. The whole nation is here called to exercise it, and rejoice in it. In the inspiring and glorious hope of the Christian believer all men may share.

3. It is present. “From henceforth.” If we have not cherished this hope hitherto, we may begin to do so at once. We should cherish it at all times and under all circumstances.

4. It is perpetual. “From henceforth, and for ever.” Hope, like faith and charity, is an abiding thing. Earth and time cannot exhaust the hope of the Christian. His being will eternally rest in God. His expectation will be directed to Him for ever. In heaven itself the child of God will have much to hope for; further discoveries of the perfection and glory of God, and further growth of the faculties and capacities of his own being, will for ever invite him onward.

Now, this glorious hope grows out of humility. The humble soul claims nothing, yet hopes for everything, from God. Humility is the root of all Christian graces.

“Humility, that low, sweet root,
From which all heavenly virtues shoot.”


Humility is becoming in us, agreeable to others, and acceptable to God. Prayerfully and diligently let us cultivate it.

“The bird that soars on highest wing

Builds on the ground her lowly nest;

And she that doth most sweetly sing

Sings in the shade when all things rest:

In lark and nightingale we see
What honour hath humility.
“The saint that wears heaven’s brightest

In deepest adoration bends; [crown

The weight of glory bows him down

The most when most his soul ascends;

Nearest the throne itself must be
The footstool of humility.”—Montgomery.


(Psalms 131:1)

If good men cannot always use this language of David, it is their prevailing desire to be able to do so; and if at any time they have been “exalted above measure,” like Hezekiah, they will humble themselves for the pride of their hearts (2 Chronicles 32:26).

I. The humility he displayed.

1. This is a grace of the Spirit—the fruit and product of inward religion. Humility is not a plant that grows in Nature’s garden. Of all the evils in our corrupt nature there is none more natural than pride: this is the grand wickedness—self-exaltation in our own or others’ esteem. St. Augustine truly said: “That which first overcame man is the last thing he overcomes.” Nothing can effectually overcome it but Divine grace. If we imagine that we can humble our own proud hearts by our own strength, we shall be disappointed. That pride, which is the curse of our nature, has struck its roots too deeply within us for any human arm to pluck it thence. We are not able to plant a single grace in our hearts, nor to preserve it when planted; but every spiritual good is God’s gift, a gift as freely bestowed as the rain that comes down from heaven. But though we are thus weak and worthless in ourselves, the Holy Spirit generally works His purposes of grace by the use of means, and through these He allows and commands us to seek His grace. He is ready to pour down His richest spiritual gifts, &c.

2. It is peculiarly acceptable in the sight of God. The Lord “giveth grace unto the humble.” He gives grace to make them humble, to keep them humble, and then honours the grace He has given. There is no mansion He loves so well as a sinner’s humble heart. (Comp. Isaiah 57:15.) “He giveth grace to the humble;” pours it out plentifully upon devout and humble hearts. His sweet dews and showers of grace slide off the mountains of Pride, and fall on the low valleys of humble hearts to make them fertile and prosperous. The law of God’s procedure is, that “before honour is humility.” He pours the oil of grace into none but broken hearts. God first humbles, then exalts. So David, Abigail, Moses, Luther. As the lower the ebb the higher the tide, so the measure of our humility is often the measure of our exaltation: the lower the foundation of our humility, the higher is the crown of our glory (1 Peter 5:6).

3. This grace has shone most brightly in the most eminent saints. Specify Moses and Elias under the Law; Isaiah and Daniel among the Prophets; and John the Baptist and Paul under the Gospel. But Christ is the great Exemplar and Pattern.

II. Some of the methods in which the possession of this grace will be shown and attested.

1. It will regulate our inquiries after truth. “I do not exercise myself in things too high for me.”

2. It will be seen in the exercises of devotion. The Pharisee stood and boasted; the publican smote upon his breast and prayed.

3. It will prepare us to receive the principles and doctrines of the Gospel as the basis of our acceptance with God. It led Paul to a simple dependence upon Christ—renouncing everything else. (Comp. Philippians 3:4-9.) He neither depends upon his graces as a Christian, his attainments as a man, his labours as an Apostle, nor his success as a minister. Dependence on Christ must flow from humility of heart. Nothing but a heartfelt sense of our sinfulness will lead us to the Cross, or keep us there.

4. It will be seen in practical submission to God’s will.

III. Some of the means of producing it

1. Meditate upon the greatness and holiness of God.

2. Keep near to the Cross of Christ.

3. Frequently review your transgressions and sins.

4. Think of your obligations to Divine grace.

5. Anticipate the Judgment Day.—The Late Samuel Thodey.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 131". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.