Psalm 131 – Humbled and Content

Click here for more messages from the Psalms of Ascent Series.
Click here for more messages from the book of Psalms.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.

The Psalms of Ascent | Stepping Stones to God’s Heart

“Humbled and Content” (Psalm 131)

“I have stilled and quieted my soul.” (Psalm 131:2)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Stepping Stones to God’s Heart.” We are studying the Psalms of Ascent together (Psalms 120-134), and today we come to the shortest psalm yet. Charles Spurgeon called it “one of the shortest psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn.” It’s just a little step, but once taken it will carry you a great distance.

We actually travel quite a distance from Psalm 129 to Psalm 130 in the Psalms of Ascent. Psalm 129 was an imprecatory psalm where the psalmist was waiting for vengeance on God’s enemies. Psalm 130 was a penitential psalm where the psalmist was asking for forgiveness for his own sins. And Psalm 131 is a psalm of humility where the psalmist comes to a place of quiet contentment in God’s presence.

As we’ve worked our way through the Psalms of Ascent we’ve had quite a few surprises along the way. One surprise was after the first psalm of triumph we went back to a psalm of trouble. And it was then we learned that the Christian life is not smooth sailing all the way, but has plenty of ups and downs and is often three steps forward two steps back. Another surprise was last week’s psalm where we learned that the closer we get to God the more aware we become of our sin and our need for God’s mercy.

The big surprise when we come to Psalm 131 is that this is a psalm of triumph, but God’s triumph looks a lot different than the world’s triumph. Instead of talking about power and wealth and fame, Psalm 131 is all about humility and contentment. And so even though this is a Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 131 teaches us that the way up is actually down. Psalm 131 might seem like a step down, but this truly is a step upward to God. As James 4:10 says: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)

This is a psalm of David. There are four psalms of David in the Psalms of Ascent, and this is the third of four. (Psalms 122, 124, 131, 133) David is a good example of someone who learned the truths of this psalm well. When David was hunted by Saul, he refused to take matters into his own hands, but trusted God to make him king when the time was right. David is a wonderful example of someone who learned the twin truths of humility and contentment. (Read Psalm 131:1-3 and pray.)

————————-

Is your soul quiet today or disturbed? One of the most precious experiences in life is to quiet your soul in God’s presence – to know his peace, his rest, his comfort. God makes that available to us at all times, but we do not always avail ourselves of it.

There may be any number of reasons why your soul is disturbed or agitated; crying out rather than quiet and restful. You may have a guilty conscience; you may be worried about something or envious of someone; you may be distracted or fatigued. But God wants you to have a quiet heart, a soul at rest.

Sometimes we wonder why we are so discontent in life and so anxious in our souls. The Bible tells us that it has to do with an attitude of pride. And so we come to Psalm 131. Psalm 131 is only three verses, but each verse has a simple and clear instruction for us to follow. 1) Practice humility. 2) Learn contentment. 3) Live in hope. Those who practice humility before the Lord find contentment and rest.

I. Practice humility (1)

Well, if those who practice humility find contentment and rest, then the first thing you need to do is practice humility. We see this in verse 1 where David prays: “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1)

Some people say that you can’t speak about your humility, that the moment you do, you’re being proud again. But it depends on who you’re speaking to and your attitude when you speak. David is not boasting about his humility to others. Rather he is confessing his humility to God. The whole psalm speaks of a sweet, gentle humility before the Lord. David is not boasting; rather he is actually humbling himself before God even as he speaks.

David begins by praying “Oh Lord!” These words come first in the Hebrew, and I believe that’s important. He begins by addressing his God, his Lord, his Master. Humility begins with a focus on the Lord. Everything that follows takes place within the context of that single cry, “Oh Lord!”

   A. Do not be proud in your heart
      – Proverbs 16:5, 18:12

There are several things we can learn from David’s prayer here in verse one. First of all, do not be proud in your heart. That’s how David begins his prayer: “My heart is not proud.” (Psalm 131:1a) The word translated “proud” in this verse is a word that means “high, lofty, or tall.” It’s the same word used to describe Saul in the book of 1 Samuel where we are told that Saul was “a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 10:23) When used of the heart, this word takes on the meaning of being proud or haughty, lifting your heart up high. The proud heart is pride in relation to your self.

Your pride is the main obstacle between you and God. Pride is what caused Satan to fall, and pride is what caused Adam and Eve to listen to Satan in the garden. Proverbs 18:12 says: “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12) Notice the contrast there in Proverbs 18. Before you fall down, your heart is proud or lifted up. Proverbs 16:5 warns us: “The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:5)

Do you want to practice humility? It starts with your heart. Do not be proud in your heart.

   B. Do not be proud in your attitude towards others
      – Proverbs 30:13; Romans 12:16

Secondly, do not be proud in your attitude towards others. We see this in the second part of David’s prayer: “My eyes are not haughty.” (Psalm 131:1b) The word for haughty in this verse means “to be raised high or lifted up.” It was often used for just lifting up an object, for example, Moses lifting up his staff in the book of Exodus (Exodus 7:20). It is the same word used of the Lord in Isaiah 6:1 where Isaiah says: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1)

There is a good lifting up of our eyes as we saw in Psalm 121 where we lift up our eyes to the Lord: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2) But there is also a wrong lifting up of our eyes where we lift them up only to look down on other people. And that’s what David means by “haughty eyes” here in Psalm 131. Proverbs speaks of “those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful.” (Proverbs 30:13) Haughty eyes are those which are disdainful of other people and always looking down on them. You can either look up to the Lord or look down on other people. But you can’t do both at the same time.

If the proud heart has to do with pride in relation to your self, haughty eyes have to do with pride in relation to others. This is the pride that is constantly putting others down, constantly comparing yourself to others, constantly convincing yourself that you are better than others. As Willem VanGemeren says: “The proud person looks, compares, competes, and is never content.”

Romans 12:16 tells us: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” (Romans 12:16) If you want to practice humility, you need to rid yourself of haughty eyes.

   C. Do not feel that you have to know or understand it all
      – Deuteronomy 29:29; Job 42:3; Psalm 139:1-6; Jeremiah 45:5

Do not be proud in your heart. Do not be proud in your attitude towards others. And thirdly, do not feel that you have to know or understand it all. Look at the end of verse one now: “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1c)

It’s interesting, in the first part of verse one David talked about the heart. In the second part he talked about the eyes. And now here metaphorically he talks about the feet, because the word translated “concern myself” is actually the Hebrew word for “walk.” It can be used for physically walking, but it is also used in the sense of how you walk or conduct yourself in life.

The word that is translated “things too wonderful” is used many times in the Psalms and is especially used to speak of God’s wonders or mighty deeds. In other words these are things that are too high for us, things that are beyond our power or too difficult for us to understand.

So what is David saying in this verse? He is saying: “I have learned not to walk above my means. I have learned not to reach beyond my grasp. I have learned not to expend great effort trying to do things beyond my ability or attempting to understand things beyond my comprehension. I am willing to admit that there are things I cannot do, and many things I do not understand. And that’s okay, because my walk is humble, not proud. I’m not caught up in greatness, or achievements or accomplishments. I maintain a lowly, humble walk before the Lord, and I bow my knee to his great power and understanding.”

Do you want a simple translation of all that? David is basically saying: “I quit trying to play God.” If the proud heart has to do with pride in relation to self, and proud eyes have to do with pride in relation to others, the proud walk has to do with pride in relation to God.

How about you? Have you quit trying to play God? Or are you still desperately trying to control everyone and everything around you? I saw a great sign once on a wall that went like this:

         Good Morning!
         This is God,
         I will be handling all of your problems today.
         I will not need your help.
         So, relax and have a great day!

I like that. Chill out. Relax. Let God be God. Deuteronomy 29:29 says: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

You don’t need to know or understand it all. And you don’t have to inform everyone else what you think about every issue that comes along. It seems everyone’s got an opinion these days whether we know the facts or not, and social media makes it even easier to broadcast those opinions to others. So chill out; relax. You might be a wonderful person, but let me assure you, you make a terrible God.

It’s okay to admit you don’t know it all. When God confronted Job at the end of his trial, Job was appropriately humbled. He confessed: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3) Our knowledge is not like God’s knowledge. David writes in Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar … Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely … Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:1-6)

Psalm 131 also has to do with your inordinate desire to be important. So much of life is ordinary, doing our daily tasks to the glory of God and for the good of others, and so often we want so much more. Some of us need to hear God’s rebuke to Baruch son of Neriah in Jeremiah 45:5: “Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.” (Jeremiah 45:5) Seek great things for the Lord, yes, but not for yourself.

Psalm 131 teaches you to be humble in your walk before the Lord. Be content with who God has made you, and be content with the gifts God has given you. Never ask God for someone else’s station in life. Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote: “It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plan as regards myself; well assured as I am that the place where the Savior sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for me.”

So enough with playing God. It’s time to practice humility. Do not be proud in your heart. Do not be proud in your attitude toward others. Do not feel that you have to know or understand it all. God knows, and that is enough.

II. Learn contentment (2)

So that’s the first part of this psalm. Practice humility. The next part tells us what happens when you practice humility. You learn contentment. Look at verse 2: “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:2) And there are three instructions about learning contentment here in verse 2. Be still before the Lord. Quiet your soul. Rest like a weaned child with his mother.

   A. Be still before the Lord
      – Psalm 46:10

So first of all, be still before the Lord. That’s what David says at the beginning of verse 2: “I have stilled and quieted my soul.” (Psalm 131:2a)

The word translated “stilled” in this verse is a word that means “to make still or level or smooth.” Here it refers to ceasing from motion. Imagine a rough sea with the waves chopping up and down, and then imagine the still surface of a lake or pond. That’s what this word means. And here David speaks of calming or soothing your own soul. David is saying that he has eliminated those things which agitate his soul, those very things we just looked at in verse one – pride in self, pride towards others (comparing), and pride towards God (trying to run your own life).

And if you want to learn contentment, you need to do the same. You need to level your soul before God and smooth out all the conflicting emotions. Part of this is just being still before him and acknowledging that he is God and you are not. As Psalm 46:10 says: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

   B. Quiet your soul
      – Psalm 62:1; Matthew 11:28-30

So first of all, be still before the Lord. Secondly, quiet your soul. David says: “I have stilled and quieted my soul.” (Psalm 131:2b) The word “quieted” here means to be motionless or silent. So David has stilled his soul – no more agitation. And he has quieted his soul – no more crying out.

A quiet soul only comes from God. It his gift to us. David writes in Psalm 62:1: “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” (Psalm 62:1) Jesus offers rest for the soul to all who come to him. He says in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Do you want rest for your soul? Come to Jesus, and he will give you rest. When you practice humility, you learn contentment. And part of that contentment is having a still and quiet soul.

   C. Rest like a weaned child with its mother
      – Isaiah 57:20-21; Matthew 18:3-4

Be still before the Lord. Quiet your soul. And then thirdly, rest like a weaned child with its mother. Back to verse 2: “… like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:2) Notice the repetition of the lines here (“like a weaned child”). It’s another poetic device similar to the repetition we saw in Psalm 130 last week. (“more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”)

What is a child like during the weaning process? Well, they are agitated, and they are noisy! They are the exact opposite of the still and quiet soul we have just been talking about. But David in this psalm has come through the process. Yes, there was a time when he was more like a screaming baby. But now he is like a weaned child. He finally realizes that he doesn’t need what he thought he needed before.

This picture of the weaned child in verse two is a picture of perfect peace and contentment. What used to provoke fussing and crying and desperation, now no longer affects you. When you let go of your pride, and your comparing, and your trying to run your own life, you too can be quiet and still. You don’t need those things anymore, because you are learning to be content in Christ. The weaned child has reached a new stage of maturity. And if we are to grow and mature as Christians, we must still and quiet our own souls.

Weaning is a child’s first experience of loss. It is a difficult but important lesson that you can’t always get what you want in life, and that you can’t always have your own way. Unfortunately some of us are still trying to learn that lesson. You’d think we would have learned it back when we were weaned! But weaning is a process. It’s a battle to wean a child, and it’s a battle for God to bring us to this place of quiet contentment and rest.

God doesn’t want us to be childish, but he does call us to be child-like. Jesus said in Matthew 18: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4) And so as believers we are no longer to fight and claw and clamor for the things of this world. God wants to wean us from pride and self and all that the world has to offer. He wants us to be like children, dependent on him and content in him.

And that’s really the point of this whole image. The weaned child is content with the mother, and we are to be content with God. I like how Alec Motyer puts it: “Mum is no longer there to meet demand; it is enough that she is there; not now the breast to feed, but the hand to hold, the cuddle that assures, the kiss that makes it better.”

Artur Weiser has a wonderful section on this in his commentary on the Psalms. He writes this about the person who has learned to rest like a weaned child with its mother:

“His soul rests on God’s heart and finds its happiness in intimate communion with him, not like an infant crying loudly for his mother’s breast, but like a weaned child that quietly rests by his mother’s side, happy in being with her. Here his heart has found rest; he knows himself to be safe with God and to be sheltered in the love of his heavenly Father. No desire now comes between him and his God; for he is sure that God knows what he needs before he asks him. And just as the child gradually breaks off the habit of regarding his mother only as a means of satisfying his own desires and learns to love her for her own sake, so the worshiper after a struggle has reached an attitude of mind in which he desires God for himself and not as a means of fulfillment of his own wishes. His life’s center of gravity has shifted. He now rests no longer in himself but in God.”

This restful state of the believer contrasts sharply with the restlessness of the wicked. We read in Isaiah 57: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (Isaiah 57:20-21)

There is no peace for the wicked, but there is perfect peace and contentment for the child of God. So stop your struggling. Stop your restlessness. Be still before the Lord. Quiet your soul. Practice humility, and learn contentment.

III. Live in hope (3)

And then finally, live in hope. Look at verse 3 where David finishes the psalm: “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 131:3) As we’ve seen with all the other psalms of triumph, David closes the psalm with a word of blessing or prayer for or about Israel. Borrowing language from three of the earlier Psalms of Ascent (121, 125, and 130), David encourages and invites all Israel to put their hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

   A. Put your hope in the Lord
      – Psalm 130:7

First of all, put your hope in the Lord. This picks up on Psalm 130:7 from last week where the psalmist wrote: “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” (Psalm 130:7) Here David invites others to come share the same restful peace that he has experienced within his own soul.

   B. Both now and forevermore
      – Psalm 121:7-8, 125:2

And then he stresses that this hope is both now and forevermore. This picks up on Psalms 121 and 125. Psalm 121: “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8) Psalm 125: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 125:2)

The “now” tells you that you can trust in God for all your present needs. And the “forevermore” tells you that you can trust in God for all your future needs.

It’s interesting, David began this psalm by addressing God: “O Lord!” Now he closes the psalm by addressing God’s people: “O Israel!” When you stop looking at yourself and start looking at the Lord instead, you will then begin looking around to see how you can help and encourage others as well.

CONCLUSION: Psalm 131 teaches us a simple but profound truth. Those who practice humility before the Lord find contentment and rest. But when we are proud in our hearts, when we are arrogant in our attitude towards others, when we demand to be like God and know it all, our hearts are restless and discontent.

Do you want a quiet and restful soul? Then you need to confess your pride before God. You need to repent of a proud attitude towards others. You need to let go of the need to know and understand it all. Practice humility. Learn contentment. Live in hope.

There is no peace for the wicked, but when you come to Christ and practice humility before the Lord, you will find rest for your soul and contentment in your heart.

————————————————————————————-

Note: Samuel Cox has a wonderful summary of this psalm. He writes: “We do too commonly busy ourselves with things too great and wonderful for us. And hence it is that we are so restless and perturbed. There is no peace but in the humility which leans on God, which trusts in Him, which confesses weakness and ignorance and guilt; which is not ashamed to say, ‘I do not know,’ ‘I cannot tell;’ which rejoices not in the faults and defects of others, but rejoices in whatever is true in them and good and kind. Only as we recover the spirit of a little child, of a weaned child, and rest in simple lowly faith in God shall we enter into the peace which passeth all understanding.”

© Ray Fowler

You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this message provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and that you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For any web postings, please link to the sermon directly at this website.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copies:
By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

Click here for more messages from the Psalms of Ascent Series.
Click here for more messages from the book of Psalms.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.