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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Psalms 131

Verses 1-3

Psalms 131:1-3

Lord, my heart is not haughty.

The negative and positive excellencies of true religion


1. Freedom from superciliousness.

2. Freedom from restlessness.

3. Freedom from worldliness.


1. To have the soul fixed on the supremely desirable for ever.

2. To have the soul fixed on the attainable for ever. Is the Lord desirable? Aye, supremely so. Is He attainable? Undoubtedly. He comes within the reach of all that hunger and thirst after Him. (David Thomas, D. D.)

The humble and tranquil mind

In this brief psalm there are three different states of mind described. The first is humility: the psalmist disclaims for himself all pride and ambition (verse 1) The second is tranquillity. The psalmist claimed for himself that he had attained to complete spiritual quiet, to perfect rest of heart (verse 2). And the last state of mind is that of immortal hopefulness, sustained in vigour by the thought of the wisdom and goodness of the Lord (verse 3). The psalmist claims for himself that he has attained that which in other psalms he longed for, and prayed for, and chided himself because he could not get. In another psalm he exhorts himself: “Rest in the Lord,” etc. In another he chides his wandering spirit for restlessness, and says, “Return unto thy rest,” etc. And what in other psalms he strives after and prays for, in this psalm he has attained. Here is the fulfilment of the promise, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” Let us now confine ourselves to his spiritual quietude; for, as we need the example of his lowliness to rebuke our pride, so we need his quiet to rebuke our disquiet and unrest. We have to do with three portions of time--the past, the present, and the future; with three sources of disquiets--the retrospect of sins past, the sins of the present, and the gloomy anticipations of the future. There is in every man’s heart a silent fountain of disquiet and unrest. Sometimes the hand of remorse, sometimes the hand of dissatisfaction, and sometimes the hand of foreboding comes, and the fountain is opened and fills the spirit with its bitter waters. Nor is there any guarantee for our spiritual quiet, till we have found something to master remorse for the past, dissatisfaction with the present, and foreboding of evil for the future. First, we must get peace of conscience, an assurance of God’s forgiving love. I believe that Christ bare my sins on the tree; when I rest on that fact my assurance of perfect and everlasting forgiveness, it is then that I am sprinkled with the blood of Christ and washed in the fountain. It is only this that we can rest on, only this that will smooth and silence our spirits. For the dissatisfaction that arises from the present, there is one remedy--to cultivate such a faith in the wisdom and goodness of God’s providence as will make our submission to Him in affliction cheerful and comparatively easy. Meet all the calamities that come upon you in a right spirit, and say, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight”; thus the troubled spirit is smoothed and silenced. Those fears that come from the anticipation of the future--how are they to be lulled? By cultivating the same faith in God. God is love to-day. God will be love to-morrow, and for evermore. God is wisdom to-day. He will be wisdom to-morrow, and the next day, and for evermore. God is king to-day, and God will be king to-morrow, and for ever. (C. Vince.)

Lowliness and meekness

The compiler of the Songs of Degrees saw a connection between this psalm of David and the anonymous hymn preceding; for each of them contains the exhortation, “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” He seems to have regarded that, and may himself have composed it, as a fit introduction to the present. The same spirit of patient trust and love breathes in them both; but in David’s the situation appears to be more happy. Different stages in the career of the son of Jesse are pointed out as the occasion of the psalm. One is when Saul and his servants treated him as an aspirant to the crown. Not so, he seems here to say. The Lord knows that I am not traitorous and ambitious. If I fight, it is in self-defence, not for self-exaltation; and I would be content never to war at all. I am in the hands of Providence. Another time in his life selected, with some countenance in the fact that it is the theme of the next psalm, is when he brought up the ark to the new sanctuary on Mount Zion (2 Samuel 6:21-22). Equally well the psalm may agree with other situations in his history. Disclaiming pride, showing humility, and recommending hope in the Lord, it is a permanent song of Israel, suitable for all seasons. From the point of view of those for whom the Songs of Ascents were collected, a meaning of this psalm seems to be that, though brought back to their own land, yet the Israelites must not be a haughty and defiant people. Pride is a disease of the heart. David offers a sound heart to the Lord. “Lord, my heart is not haughty. In the same way he submits himself to the Physician in Psalms 139:23-24. It is like Peter’s appeal (John 21:17). Lowliness is recommended throughout the Bible in statements, precepts, and examples; and passages which show the danger of pride proclaim the blessedness of humility. Without it nothing is pleasing to God. Our incarnate Lord taught it by example, symbol, and speech (Matthew 18:1-6; Mark 10:13-16). Childlikeness is not childishness, but the halo of the saint, the likeness of the angel, the mind that was in Christ. A subdued and quiet spirit is serenity at home, equanimity in business, wisdom in learning, God’s pursuing smile. The character of the weaned child before the Father of spirits should be retained in youth, through manhood, and into age, growing more and more in heavenly promise. Why should not the watchful soul, ransomed by the Son, endued with the Spirit, loved by the Father, be childlike to the end? O Wisdom of God, our Pattern and Saviour, whose love surpasses that of women, and on whom we more depend than the weaned child on his mother, we would listen to Thy guiding voice, cling to Thee with even and peaceful hearts, and be little children in Thy protecting arms (Psalms 18:27; Psalms 51:17; Psalms 138:6; Proverbs 11:2; Proverbs 16:19; Proverbs 18:12; Proverbs 22:4; Isaiah 57:15; Micah 6:8; Matthew 11:29; Matthew 23:12; Luke 18:14; Romans 12:3; Romans 12:10; Romans 12:16; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:5). (E. J. Robinson.)

Nor mine eyes lofty.--

Pride shown by the eye

Pride has its seat in the heart; but its principal expression is in the eye. The eye is the mirror of the soul; and from it mental and moral characteristics may be ascertained, with no small degree of precision. What a world of meaning is sometimes concentrated in a single glance! But of all the passions, pride is most clearly revealed in the eyes. There can scarcely be a mistake here. We are all familiar with a class of phrases which run in pairs. We speak of sin and misery; holiness and happiness; peace and prosperity; war and desolation. Among these may be numbered the proud heart and the haughty look. A proud look is one of the seven things which are an abomination unto the Lord. It is said of Him, “Thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.” And hence David makes the acknowledgment: Lord, Thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that pride has no existence in my heart. Thou knowest that no pride flashes forth from mine eyes. (N. McMichael.)

Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.--

Divine mysteries to be studied with humility

1. The deep things of God should be approached by us with all lowliness of heart; and they should be studied, as it were on our knees. There are mysteries in the Divine nature which cannot be understood (Job 11:7). An inscrutable darkness rests on all those points where the Divine and the human elements come into contact. The purpose or the foreknowledge of God: how can it be reconciled with our responsibility? How can the Eternal Spirit touch the springs of the heart, and move them at His pleasure, without destroying the moral freedom? How can the Divine and the human natures meet together without confusion, so as to form the one person of our adorable Redeemer? A loving humility is of more value here than theological science. If we would understand Divine things we must first love them, and place ourselves under the teaching of the Holy Spirit. One cannot admire enough the prayer of Anselm, a profound divine of our own country, in the eleventh century. “I do not seek, O Lord, to penetrate Thy depths. I by no means think my intellect equal to them: but I long to understand in some degree Thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe; but I believe, that I may understand.”

2. Meanwhile, amidst this partial darkness, there are two topics of consolation.

(1) On all matters connected with our salvation, whatever difficulties may exist in theory, there are none in practice.

(2) What we know not now, we shall know hereafter. (N. McMichael.)

The responsibility of thinking

The text carries us into the region of thought. It recognizes the responsibility of thinking. It presupposes the possibility of choosing and refusing in the entertainment of subjects. It implies that there are wholesome topics of thought and unwholesome; and that a man is just as much bound to discriminate in the things he thinks of as in the employment of his hours, the formation of his habits, or the selection of his friends. Most men know perfectly well that they can control thought--that they can make “the porter watch” the comings in as well as the goings out--the entrances of thought as well as the exits of action. But the remarkable thing in the text is the enlargement of the responsibility of this self-control from the nature and quality, to the scale and size, of the thoughts. We can well believe that the holy and devout psalmist did not suffer his heart to entertain licentious and lascivious thoughts--that he did not compose these sweet songs, or wend his way towards Zion, with the love of sin allowed in him, or with the power of sin reigning. He speaks not of low but of high thoughts--not of grovelling but of soaring imaginations--as the disallowed and discountenanced inmates. And there can be no doubt that there is a danger in this direction. There are not only evil desires, sinful lustings, to make frightful havoc of the life and of the soul; there are also speculations and rovings of thought, which give no other warning of their nature than this, that they belong to districts and regions beyond and above us--that they are fatal to the quietness and the silence of the spirit--that they cannot be entertained without reawakening those restless and unsatisfied yearnings which were just beginning to still themselves on the bosom of infinite love. Of this sort, sometimes, are the ambitions of this life. Ambition has a use as well as an abuse. St. Paul himself, who had counted all things loss, yet, thrice in his epistles, speaks of ambition as his life. We use ambition in our education. We waken up drowsy energies by proposing to them prizes of effort. We bid them even “strive for masteries.” Competition itself, though it be the near kinsman of that “emulation” which St. Paul puts among the works of the flesh, is yet enlisted among the soldiers of Jesus Christ, if so be it may sublime itself at last into an effort which desires no man’s crown. Nevertheless, we all feel that there is an ambition “which o’erleaps itself,” not more in the arrogance of its successes than in the extravagance of its expectations. There are men who would have been not only happier but greater if they had been less ambitious. There are men whose humbler efforts would at least have been respected, but whose more adventurous seatings have ended only in ridicule. That which is true in the ambitions of this life, whether professional or intellectual, is not less true in religion. It might seem that the psalmist wrote of this--it is for the sake of this, certainly, that we make his words our text to-day. They are exemplified within the Church, and without. They are exemplified in the treatment of Revelation--by believers, by doubters, by foes. The doctrine of the Trinity has been turned oftentimes, from a “mystery” in the Divine sense, into a “mystery” in the human. The soul should have calmed and hushed itself in that presence, as before the revelation of a Father, a Saviour, and a Comforter, not three Gods but one God--each Person necessary to the repose and to the activity, to the comfort and to the life, of every one of us, as we struggle along the path of difficulty into the clear light and into the perfect peace of a world in which God shall be all in all. Instead of this, speculation has been busy, and controversy has been busy, and logic has been busy, and rhetoric has been busy, and the whole matter has been referred and relegated from the tribunal of the soul to the tribunal of the intellect--theologians have exercised themselves in matters too wonderful for them--prayer has been intermitted for wrangling, and every nutritious particle has been extracted and exterminated out of the bread of life. It is impossible to live the life of this age and not to inquire. Close ear and eye--scepticism is in the air. It was always in books, now it is in society. But how shall a young man in such times, educated or uneducated, exercise that calming and hushing, that behaving and quieting which the text speaks of? Who shall prescribe the right to speculate, and the no right? Who shall lay down the conditions, present or retrospective, under which a rational being, ordained or unordained, shall be at liberty to exercise himself in great matters, foe high for him or for any man? It cannot be done. We will not say that there is always a want of seriousness in the scepticism of to-day, None the less there may be many a grievous error, many a deep-lying fallacy, in the process of that search. I will name two. There are those who, as soon as a doubt enters, cease instantly to pray. They count it an insincerity to call upon Him in whom they are not certain that they shall always continue to believe. If there be a word of truth in the Gospel, the way of faith is the way of prayer, and the man who has ceased to call upon the God of his life is no longer so much as an inquirer whether that God has spoken to us in His Son. Let the cry go forth even into the darkness--it shad “calm and hush,” it shall “behave and quiet” the soul that would inquire, the soul that would know. “They worshipped” although--yea, “they worshipped” because “they doubted!” Yet one other thing. Many, when the faith is shaken, count it an insincerity to listen to any evidence but what they call the logical. They resent it as almost a fraud put upon them if any one offers the moral beauty of the Gospel, or the spiritual satisfaction to be found in it, or the cumulative force of recorded effects and consequences of believing, as furnishing, alone or altogether, any argument at all in belief of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. If mathematical demonstration is impossible, then, for them, it shall be impossible to believe. That conviction which the first Christian doubter made to hang upon the sight and upon the touch, they suspend upon the cogency of the Christian syllogism as it stands for the nineteenth age. We protest against this splitting and parcelling of the being. The man is one, and but one. Intellect, and heart, and conscience; the power to judge, the power to admire, the power to adore; the instinct of truth, the instinct of good, and the instinct of beauty--all these things must march as one towards the investigation of the Divine: the thing which we believe must be the satisfaction of them all, and each one must contribute its quota to the evidence, and its voice to the verdict. The counsel of the text is the counsel of wisdom, when it makes reverence, when it makes humility the condition of all knowledge that is worth the name. We may so educate and so discipline our own soul as that health shall be the reward. (Dean Vaughan.)

Things too high for me

It is something to know that there are such things. To know that well is to be wise. What is one of the secrets of power? It is to keep within your own ability; you can describe a circle six feet in circumference, but not seven feet. To know that is true wisdom. To know that I cannot write the “Iliad” saves me time; it amounts to a revelation; it guides, limits, chastens my ambition. To know that you are not a statesman is half the battle of life. God has not put the flame of statesmanship within you, nor the flame of poetry, nor the flame of music. It is when people are trying to be and to do what the Divine election never intended them to be or to do that they are foolish and weak, and that life ends in futility. To know this and to do it would remodel our whole life.

1. Who can understand the mysteries of Providence? They are too high for me. Here is a soul all purity, and yet God seems to frown upon that poor life more and more. That life has no opportunity, no home, no work, no joy, no song. Oh, it is sad! How is it? We cannot tell; we must wait; in centuries to come we shall know. But I have noticed that even such a soul complains less than the people who look upon it. The soul has its own inmost delights; it says--It is well; I must wait for the Lord patiently, and at last I will see why it was; meanwhile, I have bread to eat that the world knoweth not of” there is a general impression that I am forsaken, but in my soul I know that God is with me. This is a mystery of grace. God’s children are not so forsaken as they sometimes appear to be; the Lord knoweth His own, and He will not deny His own autograph, His own seal of love.

2. Who can understand Providence itself? It is its own greatest mystery. There is a greater mystery than the mysteries of Providence, and that greater mystery is Providence itself. The greatest mystery is God. What is Providence? Shall we break up the word into provideance? “Provide”--it is the word of a housewife; provide--see for, prepare for, arrange for; they will be back presently from the plough, have the meal ready; from the school, be ready with the little feast; from abroad, have the welcome ready prepared. This is providing for, seeing for, seeing after, being eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. This is the mystery of the Divine rule. It is too high for me.

3. But need we go so far away as to speak of the mysteries of Providence and of Providence itself? There is a mystery quite as great, and that is me itself. Who am I? What? Whence come? What is this life, this palpitation, this perpetual wonder and mystery? I think, I pray, I disbelieve, I harden myself into distrust; I have said, in moments of madness, “There is no God.” Why, I am a mystery myself; the me stands next to the God in mysteriousness. If men would heed this doctrine they would be quieted often. Why go out of themselves to find mystery? The greatest mystery is at home--your own soul. Understand man, if you would understand God. So then we are humbled down into little services, domestic ministries, fraternal action of sympathy and healing and assistance. Yes, that is so. We do not need our wings yet. There is no humiliation in growth. Let us realize this doctrine and be sober-minded. Let us do just what little we can do. Yet it is not little, but very much; for God directs it, God accepts it, man needs it; all love is a gift Divine.

4. Here is a lesson to those who have great spiritual ambitions; men who want to be great readers of Divine mysteries, of Providence, of the plans and purposes of God. The Voice says--By and by, in a century, in a millennium, thou shalt see God. This is a hidden hope; this is not a mere sentiment, it is an inspiration, a source of strength, a great confidence; hold it and be strong. And here is a lesson to those who want to push their inquiries too far here and now. There be those who say to the preacher, and the teacher, and the expositor--How so? Explain this; what about this mystery? What is the answer to this great question? The answer is--Wait: what thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter.

5. Here is a great lesson for all those of us who wish to live to-day, simply, earnestly, usefully. A man may stretch himself so high to see things beyond the stars that he may fall over the next stumbling-block: it should be ours to look around us, and below us, and see what we can do that is useful. Do not be the great man, the grand, mysterious soul, the cloud-flier, the planet, discoverer and wanderer, but keep thee near the shore, and keep thee near the haunt of poverty, and the bed of pain, and the nursery of childhood, and the school where ignorance seeks to be taught; be faithful in few things, and God will make thee ruler over many things. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verses 2-3

Psalms 131:2-3

As a child that is weaned of its mother.

The weaned soul hoping in the Lord

In the same hour in which the soul of man is by grace weaned from itself and-its own high thoughts, it begins to hope and rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, for a man to have the Lord alone for his confidence seems, to the unrenewed mind, the highest presumption; to put a present, an immediate trust in the Lord for all the future, in time and in eternity, is thought to be unhallowed boldness, and not humility or weanedness of heart. The whole dealings of God with man bring us back to the ever memorable words of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 11:25-26).

The first weaning of the soul the grand event of a man’s history. When God begins to deal with you in saving grace. He weans you from self, in its various forms, according to our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 16:24). This self-denial includes weaning from the world, from your own will, from your own strength.

The joy in the Lord that springs up in every weaned soul. The Lord your is now ransom, your righteousness, and the well of living joy within you.

The daily weaning of the soul through life. The soul has to be weaned from all that must be forsaken, from that which may be either granted or denied, and from its own wisdom and way in the kingdom of heaven on earth.

The earnest desires and the fruitful work of every weaned soul.

1. The weaning of the soul from self and from its own earthly affections neither stupefies the mind nor quenches the fire of all nobler desires.

2. The gracious weaning of the soul prepares and fits us for fruitful work. In grace, the helplessness of the child is combined with the strength and energy of the man. Except we receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, we cannot enter therein; yet it is the same kingdom of heaven that suffereth violence, and which the violent take by force. (A. Moody Stuart, D. D.)

The weaned child

An aged minister once made the confession to another concerning this passage--“I wish it were true of me; but I think I should have to make an alteration of one syllable, and then it would exactly describe me at times: ‘My soul is even as a weaning rather than a weaned child,’ for,” said he, “with the infirmities of old age, I fear I get fretful and peevish and anxious, and, when the day is over, I do not feel that I have been in the calm, trustful frame I could desire.” And we have often to make the same confession. We wish we were “as a weaned child,” but then we are not. To the child weaning is one of its first troubles, and no doubt it is a terrible trouble to the poor little heart. But it gets over it somehow. It is a very happy condition of heart which is here indicated, and I desire to promote it in you. So--

Let us think what the psalmist meant by it. Look at the context and you will see that he meant--

1. That pride had been subdued in him. “Lord,” he says, “my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty.” We are all proud by nature. The Lord Mayor is not a bit prouder in his gold chain than the beggar in his rags. Great I grows without any watering, for the soil of nature is muddy, and the rush of pride takes to it mightily. You need never be troubled about a man’s keeping up his opinion of himself; he will be pretty sure to do that. David could say, “My heart is not haughty.” His brother Eliab said that he was proud when he went down to carry his father’s present to his soldier brothers, but it was not so. Whatever faults he had, he certainly had not that of vanity. Now, it is a great blessing when the Spirit of God keeps us from being proud. After all, we are nobodies, and we have come of a line of nobodies. The proudest peer of the realm may trace his pedigree as far as ever he likes, but he ought to remember that, if his blood is blue, it must be very unhealthy to have such blood in one’s veins. The common ruddy blood of the peasant is, after all, far healthier.

2. And next he tells us that he was not ambitious. “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters.” He was a shepherd; he did not want to go and fight Goliath, and when he did he could say, “Is there not a cause?” Else he had kept in the background still. We shall never be as a weaned child if we have got high notions of what we ought to be, and large desires for self. Baruch thought he was somebody, tie had been writing the Word of the Lord, had he not? But the prophet said to him, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.” We often seek after great approbation. And sometimes we are ambitious to do great things in the Church. The great destroyer of good works is the ambition to do great works. He is the best draughtsman, not who draws the largest but the most perfect circle.

3. He was not intrusive. “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.” Many men vex themselves because they will do what David did not. They want to understand everything. Some want to shape the Scriptures to their creed, and they get a very nice square creed too, and trim the Bible most dexterously; 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 what I believe. The same evil comes up when we want to know all the reasons of the Divine providence. Why this happened and why that. When we begin asking, Why? Why? Why?--what an endless task we have before us! Now, from the simile itself we gather that the condition of heart David spoke of was like one who was able to give up his natural food. What nature loves the soul gives up. And that he had conquered his desires. Paul had, for he had learnt in whatever state he was therewith to be content. And doubtless, also, therewithout. And that as the child depends upon its mother entirely, so he depended upon the Lord.

The excellence of this condition. Desires will no longer worry you. You give your thoughts to something better than the things of earth. Note the psalm which follows this, for there David declares he will build for the Lord of Hosts. When you are free from fretting, worrying, and self-seeking, you are free to work for the Lord.

Is this state attainable? Certainly. David said, “My soul is even as,” etc. Not that he hoped it would be. What is the way to get it? The psalm tells us. “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” “Easier said than done,” says somebody. Yes, except by faith; but to faith it is easy enough. You unconverted, may the Lord make you first a child, and then “as a weaned child.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The nature and effects of a weaned disposition of soul

From what does grace wean the soul?

1. From the dry breasts of the world (James 1:27; 1 John 2:16).

(1) From the profits of the world (Hebrews 11:26).

(2) From the pleasures of the world.

(3) From all worldly comforts whatsoever, making it take up its rest in God (Luke 14:6).

2. From the foulsome breasts of sin, so that it loathes that which it loved before.

How is the soul weaned from these things?

1. Grace lays gall and wormwood upon these breasts, and so embitters them to the soul that it is made willing to give over sucking them (Hosea 2:6-7). Now, there are two things that serve to embitter these breasts.

(1) Continual disappointments from them. Though the man is always seeking satisfaction from them, he can never get it. Like the prodigal (Luke 15:16).

(2) Severe wounds arise from them. The man leans with great delight on the broken reed; and, ere he is aware, it pierceth through his hand. He sucks eagerly at the breast, and, instead of milk, wrings out blood.

2. The Lord fills the soul with better things (John 4:14).

What are the effects of a weaned disposition of soul?

1. The weaned soul is a resigned soul.

(1) To the will of God’s commandments.

(2) To the will of His providence.

2. The weaned soul is cheerful, and not fretful in its resignation. What God does is not only well done, but best done; so says the weaned soul.

3. The weaned soul stands on other grounds, when created comforts are with him, and even when created streams are running full: he draws his support in both cases from God as the fountain.

4. The weaned soul will stand without them when these are gone, for they were not the props on which his house rested. Such a soul can adopt the prayer of Habakkuk 3:17-18.

5. The weaned soul uses creative comforts passingly. They follow the directions of Paul (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

6. The weaned soul casts itself upon the Lord, without carnal anxiety, as the weaned child depends on the mother’s care (Philippians 4:6). (T. Boston, D. D.)

Weanedness of soul

Its nature. It presupposes a power left in the soul of loving and desiring. It is not the destruction of its appetite, but the controlling and changing of it. A weaned child still hungers, but it hungers no more afar the food that once delighted it; it is quiet without it; it can feed on other things; so a soul weaned from the world still pants much as ever for food and happiness, but it no longer seeks them in worldly objects. There is nothing in the world that it feels necessary for its happiness. This thing in it it loves, and that thing it values, but it knows that it can do without them, and it is ready to do without them whenever God pleases. Could you give up all you have at God’s call? and when you had done so, instead of saying, “There goes all my happiness,” could you say with a calm, though perhaps with a bleeding, heart, “I can be happy still; my best treasure is yet left”? Then yours is a weaned soul.

Its sources. Our souls are as fast bound to the world as they were at first, or faster. We shall never leave it of our own accord. It is God’s own right hand that must draw us from it. And how? The figure in the text will partly tell us.

1. By embittering the world to us.

2. By removing from us the thing we love.

3. By giving us better food. Worldly pleasures debase the soul; they dispose it to sink deeper and deeper in its search for happiness, and to take up with viler things; the soul is always the worse for them: spiritual pleasures exalt the soul; they give it a distaste for all that is low and vile, and teach it to aspire to the very highest objects.

Its advantages.

1. It will save us from much sin.

2. It will keep us quiet under our many troubles. (C. Bradley, M. A.)


What is implied in this representation of submission to God.

1. That we labour to be satisfied with what God appoints.

2. That we can do without what God does not appoint.

3. That we have higher comforts than those which God sees fit to deny.

The considerations which are adapted to cherish such a submission.

1. All the events of Providence are a discipline for promoting the welfare of good men.

2. Jesus Christ submitted to the will of God.

3. The demand of submission in its present form is only temporary. Submission is the character and blessedness of heaven; but there are no evils to be submitted to there.

The advantages which result from this submission.

1. It creates a just and a religious independence of men.

2. The submission which has been represented inspires with hope in God.

3. This submission quickens our desires for heaven. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The suppression of self-will

This is one of the shortest of the Psalms, and one of the most beautiful. It is unique. The grace of Christian humility is here before its time. The bird sings before the sun has risen. The spirit of Jesus is here. We almost expect the psalm to conclude with the words, “Blessed are the meek.” God’s benediction of peace rests upon a lowly soul. The hand of God has gently rocked a weary spirit to rest. The Authorized Version does not give the full meaning of the text. We should read, “As a weaned child upon his mother, so lies my soul upon me.” The subject, then, is the suppression of self-will. Let us think of the good which is possible through failure, of the beatitude of disappointment, the peace of defeat. We see men putting forth all their powers in some noble cause, but the good results are strangely withheld. They conceive holy designs, which, like that of David to build a temple, are frustrated. Jesus Christ will not have even His work preferred before Him. The final sacrifice which some men are called upon to make is not the sacrifice of a pleasure, or the relinquishment of some precious treasure; it is the sacrifice of a dear purpose by which they hoped to bring glory to their Lord. They are required to turn from the path of hallowed service, to renounce the holy enterprise. John Ruskin has told us how, when he came into clearer light, his hope of some better service was cut off by failure of health. “Just when I was coming out of school, very sorry for having been such a foolish boy, yet having taken a prize or two, and expect now to enter upon some more serious business than cricket, I am dismissed, by the Master I hoped to serve, with a ‘That’s all I want of you, sir.’” To give up what is dear to them is for some men comparatively easy, but to give up what they deemed dear to Christ,--to bind on the altar of sacrifice the one offspring of our heart, which gave such fair promise that in it men should be blessed,--that is hard. But it has to be done to the bitter end. No angelic voice stays the descending knife. Now, it is not difficult to see that, in many cases, these disappointments and failures are inevitable. Men are prone to exaggerate their powers, and to minify the hindrances which are before them. They have an attractive programme of bills which they propose to carry, but they underrate the forces of obstruction, and it is not in their power to enforce a closure. Now, there is no more searching test of character than disappointment. How charming the way in which John the Baptist accepted the narrowing sphere, and acquiesced in the circumstances which consigned him to comparative obscurity and silence. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That exquisite humility gives the transfiguring touch to a noble soul. It sheds a softened splendour upon the granite peaks of his character. It is possible for a man to be victorious even in defeat. Success may be good, but failure may be better. Disappointment brings a richer dower than achievement. No man need be ashamed of failure, or afraid of it, after the Cross of Christ. Now, this weaning of the soul, this spirit of chastened submission, this complete suppression of self-will, this hearty acquiescence in the will of God, do not come easily to a man. The soul does not gain these heights without struggle. This psalm, tranquil as it is, bears traces of sore conflict. There is in it the echo of a storm. “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself.” The word “behaved” here bears a meaning which we do not now attach to it. It means to hold in, to restrain. The psalmist has known tears, protests, demands, complaints. Passion and pride have raged like swelling waves. But all this is over now. “Lord, my heart is not haughty,” etc. He does not seek “a position above him involving duties and responsibilities too heavy.” He accepts the limitations of his life, and adapts himself to them. He is at last “willing, having tried all other ways, to try just God’s.” Observe, this is not a state of torpor, which leads one to retire from service, and sit, with folded hands, in dull inaction. Nor is it a state of weakness, in which a man ceases from effort because it seems to fail. It is a submission that is full of hopefulness. It implies a persuasion that, though we seem to fail, God’s cause never fails; a calm conviction that, though the good result is deferred, it will surely come. There are men who, when thwarted, hindered, disappointed, foiled, in the midst of their broken purposes and crushed hopes, cry, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” When that hour comes the soul enters into rest. “Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned.” There are rich feasts for weaned souls. The joy of conquest is poor beside the ecstasy of renunciation. The complacency of attainment, the pride of achievement, the flush of success, grows pale before the peace of disappointment. If there is one way in which, more than in any other, God is glorified upon this earth, it is when a man takes the bitter cup of disappointment, and says, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” Such men are victorious over defeat by accepting it. Surrender is the supreme grace of the Christian soul. When a man bows meekly down before the will of God, he has reached the highest good. (J. Lewis.)

The quiet mind

This psalm is called “a Psalm of David,” and there seems no sufficient reason for doubting that it comes from his pen. Probably it belongs to one or other of the few peaceful seasons of his troubled reign, in which he was at leisure to practise that self-discipline which makes men strong, and those habits of meditation which make men wise. We have here a rare and a beautiful state of mind; and there are two expressions in this second verse which will help us to understand it. “I have behaved and quieted myself;” literally, “I have stilled and hushed my soul.” The idea seems to be that of checking and restraining himself. The man has reproved his wayward impulses; he has arrested unreasonable ambitions and unseemly desires; he has taken himself in hand, and has dealt firmly and faithfully with that turbulent compound. His mind, for a time long or short, and from causes which he does not explain, has been like a troubled sea; and he has ruled the raging of its waters, and hushed the violence of the storm. The second expression is more striking still. For some reason or other the psalmist has not only been in a stormy mood, but in an uneasy, fretful, unsatisfied mood as well. He has been like a child passing through its first troubles. There is no vehemence in what he is here alluding to. His soul is not in arms. It is irritation, disappointment, unsatisfied desire, with perhaps a general sense of not being able to make the thing out. But it is all over now. From many a source of earthly joy and satisfaction he has had to wean himself away. And he has done it. The painful business is over; and in the sweet content of a tranquil, satisfied, and assured mind, his “soul is even as a weaned child.” Humility--a just estimate of oneself, a just conception of what one is, what one has a right to demand from life, what one really has a right to be angry and disappointed over; a clear perception of our relations to a Divine Being, to this great and wondrous universe in which we find ourselves, and to man, our brother and fellow-traveller: this is the sweet secret of peace, now and always. Have you ever known pride happy? You could as soon find a cone standing unsupported on its apex. Pride, in every form of it, is a monster with many mouths; and some of them are always crying, in all the bitterness of unsatisfied desire, “Give, give!” Notice here how thoroughly in this matter David is at one with a Greater than David (Matthew 11:27-28). Not until we have brought down those high and haughty minds of ours; not until we have learned, I do not say the sad, but the sober look; not until lofty imaginations are in the dust at our feet, imaginations which in every direction are their own scourge,--can we know anything of the weaned condition of David’s mind, or enter “into the rest which remaineth for the people of God.” I hardly know which to admire the more in David--his profound wisdom, or his profound piety. Certainly it is as sure a mark of wisdom to know the limits of inquiry in any direction, and reverently to bow to them, as it is within such limits to reverently prosecute such inquiry. And the piety of it all is quite as great as the practical wisdom. It is so eminently characteristic of a true and trustful child to be able and willing to say, “I cannot understand these things; but my Father knows all about them.” Is that childish talk? Then let me be a child. I have read somewhere, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Do you tell me that it is not knowledge? I say, it is better than knowledge; for it comes of the love that shall endure, when knowledge shall have “vanished away.” (J. Thew.)

Verse 3

Psalms 131:3

Let Israel hope in the Lord.

Hope in the Lord

Humility is the root of hope. Hope is the blossom of meekness. As these graces of the true child develop themselves in the heart of a man, he cherishes the Divine, the sublime conviction that it is God the Spirit who is working within him, “both to will and to do.”

A large portion of experimental religion, and of the Divine life within a man, may be considered under the form of hope. Religious experience is a strong and well-grounded expectation that the promises which God has made to us will not be broken. Such expectation will triumph over the delusion of our senses, over the bitter accusations of our consciences, and the apparently stern decrees of God’s providence. “We are saved by hope.” A young Christian begins by hoping for salvation, and the earnest worker hopes for his reward. God’s servant bears his precious seed and casts it into the furrows, but he could not do so without the hope. All the strongest intuitions of faith are of the nature of hope. We are “prisoners of hope” so long as we are pent up in this “durance vile” of flesh and death. The essence of faith is to “turn to the stronghold,” and look for the changeless life beyond the reach of our present turmoil, temptations, and disappointment.

There are certain characteristics of hope expressed in this psalm which we can at once transfer to our own experience.

1. It is a Divine hope, “hope in the Lord”; “hope thou in God”; “truly my soul waiteth upon God.” The confidence of Israel in their own destiny and deliverance sprang not from their strange history, not from their own mental power, not from their value in their own esteem, not from their deserts, but from the Lord Jehovah. The root of their being was the eternal, ever-living, holy, faithful, covenant-keeping God. He could not be untrue, and He had promised.

2. It is a diffusive hope. The hope of the psalmist was strong enough to quicken the hope of all around him: he sang, “Let Israel hope in the Lord.” A Christian’s hope should be so thorough and earnest, and rational and life-giving, that he should be able to say by his very look, “I hope in the Lord, why should not you?” and should thus move like incarnate sunshine through this dark world, the messenger of peace to ,broken spirits, the conqueror of death to the death-doomed, the minister of joy and gladness.

3. It is a practical hope. This characteristic is to be gathered out of the words “from henceforth.” It takes its start from the actual circumstances in which we are placed. Some one exclaims, “May I not wait until I have received some clearer evidence of the love of God? May I not wait until this mystery of His providence shall be solved? May I not wait until I see whether the promises of God are more decidedly vindicated?” No! take the hint of my text, and in the hour of your deepest depression “hope in the Lord from henceforth.”

4. It is an eternal hope. “From henceforth, even for ever,” is the watchword of our psalm. Our hope should and must take the long “for ever” in. It has to do with unchanging realities, with an everlasting salvation; it looks forward to unseen things; it anticipates the ultimate fulfilment and accomplishment of all things that have been spoken by holy prophets since the world began. (H. R. Reynolds, D. D.)

Confidence in God

1. His nature invites our confidence. Boundless in love, He longs intensely to do us good. Infinite in knowledge, He is acquainted with every aspiration of our heart. Unsearchable in wisdom, it is easy for Him to form the best plans for accomplishing His purposes. Omnipotent in power, all agencies are at His disposal, and none can stay His hand from working.

2. His deeds also invite our confidence. They furnish the most instructive commentary on His character. He has uniformly manifested Himself as a God who delights in mercy: He has never failed to succour those who hoped in Him. (N. McMichael.)

Hope evermore

Tennyson sings of “the mighty hopes which makes us men.” Have you ever thought of the worst loss which can come to a man? Loss of property? That is a sad loss, but not the worst. Loss of friends? That is a sad loss, but not the worst. Loss of opportunity? Nor is that the worst of losses. Loss of hope, when the heart dies, and the courage fails, and the hands hang listlessly, and a man begins only and sadly to drudge--this, the loss of hope, is the blackest loss. “I’ve just got back from Washington, where I’ve been since the election, trying to get an appointment,” said a politician. “Gave up hope, eh?” said a sympathizing friend. “Oh no,” was the quick reply. “I came home to hope. It’s cheaper to hope here.” I like that: hope any way. Get, if you must, the cheapest place to hope, but hope!” (W. Hoyt, D. D.)


Psalms 132:1-18

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 131". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.