Psalm 131 | A Song of Ascents. Of David.
 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.
 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
This is the word of God in Psalm 131.
And in his infinite wisdom, God has given us humans an imagination. He has given us the ability to grasp invisible parts of reality — that’s what the imagination does. The imagination sees parts of reality that are in themselves unseeable — and the way it does this is through metaphor.
And we use metaphors all the time. Metaphor is just a language device that borrows concepts from things we can see in order to describe other things we can’t see. Metaphor is the language of the imagination.
And it’s so common, most of the time we don’t even think about it. For example, say Jack and Jill are in a relationship, they like each other, and things are going really well, and you’re friends with Jack, and then one day, out of nowhere, Jack comes to you and says, “Jill broke my heart.”
Now, there are two things you won’t do here: First, you won’t say, “Ha, that’s a metaphor!” Second, you’re not going to send Jack to a cardiologist. You know better. We get what he means. We do this all time. We borrow concepts from seeable, tangible things in an effort to explain and understand unseeable, intangible things — that’s what puts our imaginations to work.
And that’s why God has given us an imagination — which comes in really handy when we read the Bible, because the Bible is full of metaphor; the Bible speaks to our imagination; and we’re especially going to see that today in Psalm 131.
Psalm 131 Is About Hoping in God
Psalm 131 is the text we’re looking at this morning, and to get into this psalm we’re actually going to start with the last verse. That’s verse 3. And the reason we’re starting with this last verse is because the last verse tells us straight up what David, the psalmist, is trying to do in this psalm. Verse 3 tells us:
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
This means that David wants us to hope in the Lord. That’s what he says. That’s what this psalm is about. David is commanding us to hope, to wait, to trust in God, which is also the same thing that’s said right before this psalm, at the end of Psalm 130.
Which means, we should stop for a second, take a step back, and look quickly at the psalms that lead up to this one.
Leading Up to Psalm 131
Let’s start back in Psalm 127, which we looked at last week. In Psalm 127, we see the idea of children come into view, which is connected (we talked about) to the promise in 2 Samuel 7 when God promised David that a son from his lineage would reign as king forever. That promise comes into view in Psalm 127 as we’re looking toward and moving toward a restored, new Jerusalem. And then right after that, in Psalm 128, we see another portrait of what that restored, new Jerusalem will look like. It will be a Jerusalem of peace and prosperity. Psalm 128, verses 5 and 6,
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
 May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel! (128:5–6)
That’s Psalm 128. Then in Psalm 129 we see that this peace and prosperity includes God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies. Psalm 129, verse 5,
May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!
So peace for Israel means that the enemies of Israel are no more. God must judge them. This is part of a restored, new Jerusalem.
Declaration of Trust
And then Psalm 130 comes in to say, simply, “Amen! God is going to do this!” Psalm 130, verse 7 tells us:
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
o this is a clear command to hope in the Lord, and it’s an important step here in the Songs of Ascents.
Psalm 130 here is a song of faith. It’s a declaration of trust in God. And it works almost like a time-out in the Songs of Ascents. It’s kind of like this psalm sticks its hand up and says, “Hey, all the stuff that’s being said here, I believe it! I’m trusting God to do all of this.” That Psalm 130.
And then the message of Psalm 131 is just like it. Psalm 131 is also about faith. It’s also about hoping in God — except Psalm 131 is really short, and it lands on one fascinating metaphor, and that’s what I want us to see this morning.
What Does It Look Like to Hope in God?
So again, because of the last verse here, and because of the psalms before it, we know that Psalm 131 is about hoping in God. That’s what David wants us to do. We are called here to hope in God.
Now, what does that look like? What does it look like to hope in God?
Well, this psalm tells us it looks like not being proud, but instead being calm. And that’s it. This is a two-point sermon, and that’s it.
Hoping in God means:
Point 1, verse 1 — I’m Not Being Proud
and hoping in God means
Point 2, verse 2 — I’m Being Calm
That’s all we’re going to look at this morning, starting with the first point.
1. I’m Not Being Proud (verse 1)
Notice again the three negative statements in verse 1, all in the first person:
- 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.
And now, you might be wondering a couple questions right away. Is this really pride? What’s David talking about here? And then, second, can we really say we’re not being proud? Are we allowed to say that? Let’s look at this.
Is This Pride?
Notice first that these three statements are sticking with the same overall theme. This is called parallelism in the psalms. It’s when there’s a stack of sentences (we should call them lines) that carries forth the same idea that was introduced in the first line.
Psalm 131 begins with the first line, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up” — and the word there for “lifted up” is translated in other places in the Old Testament as “to be proud.” That’s what it means. Depending on the English translation you’re reading, it might even say that. The NIV translates this: “My heart is not proud.”
And then the second line is: “My eyes are not raised too high.” This literally means to be exalted, but it can also be translated “to be haughty,” depending on the context. So the first two lines are basically saying the same thing. David says, first, my heart is not proud. And then second, my eyes are not haughty.
Which means, pretty straightforward here, David is saying: “I’m not being proud.” And he says it in reference to his heart and his eyes. He is talking about his inner person, his inmost reality, AND he’s talking about the way he sees things. Deep inside me here, and then the way I’m looking out there, I’m not being proud. That’s what he’s saying.
Can He Say That?
Now, can he really say that? This might seem a little strange to us. Are we allowed to say that we’re not being proud? I mean, has David not read John Owen?
Be acquainted, then, with thine own heart! Though it be deep, search it; though it be dark, inquire unto it; though it give all its distempers other names than what are their due, believe it not.
Has David not read Mortification of Sin? It is an unwise thing to trust our own hearts — we’re too broken for that. The book of Jeremiah chapter 17, verse 9 tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” How, then, can David say this here? How can he say that his heart is not being proud?
Well, I think the last line here in verse 1 helps us. He says there, in this third line: “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.”
So the message in the first two lines is continued here in this third line, and the shift has gone from the heart, to the eyes, to now the way he lives. It has become more objective. This third line is an objective reality about something David does not do. It’s an action. He does not occupy himself — the word means to walk by or live by — he does not occupy himself (concern himself) with things “too great and too marvelous for me.” Now what does that mean?
God’s Work in the World
Well, it’s interesting because the words here for things great and marvelous are used elsewhere in the Psalms to talk about God’s work in the world.
Psalm 86:10 — “For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.”
Psalm 136:3–4 — “Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; to him who alone does great wonders, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
So the words “great” and “marvelous” are used to talk about God’s work in the world. God does great and marvelous things. And David is not saying here that he doesn’t think about those things. Of course he thinks about those things! Of course he meditates on those things!
What David is saying here that he doesn’t occupy himself with those things. He doesn’t concern himself with those things. In other words, he doesn’t try to take into his own hands those things that belong to God.
David does not do that. That is something that he can NOT do. He has made a decision here. This is an objective action. He has made the personal resolve: I will not live too big for my britches. I will not try to run reality. I will not pretend to be God.
And because David can say that, because that can be true of him, he can also say: My heart is not being proud. My eyes are not haughty. (He can say that. He does say that.)
Something We Can Not Do
And I think this is good for us hear, because, if you’re like me, we can tend to think of pride as the most elusive sin. It’s the sin that’s extra sneaky. You’re just going about your day, and in a split-second, in how you respond to something, or in how you feel, or because of what pops into your head, all of a sudden you’re dealing with pride, and it’s nasty. And it can feel like we’re just always the vulnerable prey, and that we just always have to be on the lookout for pride.
And I think in a lot of ways that’s true. I think that’s a healthy suspicion. And at the same time, according to this psalm, there is an objective element when it comes to the fight against pride. Okay, get this: There is something we can NOT do, such that when we are NOT doing it, we CAN say, “I’m not being proud.”
There’s an action we can take. There’s something we can NOT do. Do you know what it is?
We can NOT pretend to be God.
Because that is our problem. Our problem is pretending to be God. It’s when we try to assume a role that is meant for God alone. It’s when we ourselves try to do the great and marvelous things that are really up to him. And we should not do that. We should not concern ourselves/occupy ourselves/live in a way that tries to take into our own hands the things that belong to God. We should not do that, and we can NOT do that. That’s what David is talking about here.
But at this point, man, can we get a little more practical? What does that actually look like? If we’re not pretending to be God, if we’re not trying to run reality, what does that look like?
Well, this is where verse 2 helps. Here comes the metaphor. [Point 2, verse 2 . . .]
2. I’m Being Calm (verse 2)
David says in the first line of verse 2: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul.” And that’s interesting. Hear what he’s saying. He says: I’m not being proud, I’m being calm. Isn’t that something? He doesn’t say humble. He doesn’t say meek. Instead, he sets in contrast to pride calmness and quiet. To not be proud is to be calm.
And I can’t help but think back to Psalm 127 last week. In Psalm 127 anxiety (anxious toil) is contrasted with sleep. And here, in Psalm 131, pride is contrasted with calm. And if we put them together, basically they’re both showing us two different ways to live.
In Psalm 127 — You can have the anxiety of trying to do God’s work for him . . . OR you can get rest.
In Psalm 131 — You can have the pride of pretending to be God . . . OR you can be calm.
Both are getting at the same thing. There are two options here. There is either the life of unbelief or the life of faith. You either don’t trust God or you trust God — and Psalm 131 is meant to give us a picture of what it means to trust.
The Picture of Trust
Psalm 131, remember, is about hoping in God. What does it mean to hope in God? It means . . .
I have calmed and quieted my soul.
Like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
oping in God looks like a young child sitting in his mother’s lap and not throwing a hunger tantrum.
That’s the picture here. Look what he says: his soul is like a weaned child with its mother. And you know what a “weaned child” is. It’s a child who has been around long enough to know that he doesn’t have to go crazy every time he wants to eat. And moms in here are really going to get this, but I think we all can imagine what this looks like. How many of you have ever held (or seen someone hold) a hungry baby?
What are they doing? They’re crying. They’re squirming. They’re restless. They’re inconsolable. And that can happen when anyone holds a hungry baby, but especially when mom holds a hungry baby.
I’ve seen this happen with five different hungry babies at our house. Sometimes their face changes colors, it turns straight red, and they start throwing their body around in rage. Babies throw tantrums when their hungry, but especially with mom, because in their little minds, mom has been known to possess the resources they demand. [And they can smell. These little things can smell. And when they do it’s just over.]
Have you ever seen this? Have you ever seen a mom hold a hungry baby?
Yeah, that is not what faith looks like.
See, what’s happening there with the hungry, crying baby is that they live under the illusion that they only eat by protest. They live under the illusion that they are in control. The baby hasn’t learned to trust mom enough to know that she is going to feed him.
Because God Is Faithful
I remember hearing Melissa say that one time, and it’s stuck with me. I think it was Micah. One day when he was little, he was hungry and Melissa put him in a high chair while she prepared food for him, and I remember he was just going crazy. He was crying and throwing himself around. And Melissa said to him, “Buddy, trust me. I’m going to feed you.” . . . . And that’s it.
See, as a child grows and matures, they figure out that all the rage really isn’t necessary to get the food they need. They learn to trust: mom is going to feed me without me having to throw a fit. They learn that: because mom is going to take care of me, I can be calm.
And see, David says that’s what has happened in his soul.
His soul is like a young child who can sit calmly in his mother’s lap. That’s what it looks like to hope in God. And that is an amazing image to me. It helps us see the unseeable. Our imaginations get the metaphor: “Like a weaned child is my soul within me.” I can wait calmly for God to do what he has promised. I can be calm because God is faithful.
David is saying here, within the Songs of Ascents: God will send the promised son. God will make a restored, new Jerusalem. I can calm and quiet my soul by remembering that God will do what he has said.
Christ has come, and Christ will come again. And like this psalm, we can hope in God for that. We can hope in God for that, and in all the little things along the way. This image — that we can be calm because God is faithful — applies to the Christian life in the big things and the little things.
In All Things Along the Way
So let’s close like this:
Think about where you’re at right now in your life. Think about whatever it is you’re hungry for, in the big things and the little things. What are you hoping God will do — in your relationships, in your work, in your family, even in the plain everyday moments of your life? What do you want to see God to do? Think about them.
Now, when it comes to these things, is your soul like a child sitting quietly with his mother?
Are you hoping in God, or are you throwing a soul-tantrum?
All right, look, if we’re honest, we know we can throw soul-tantrums. We’re trying to grow out of this, but at least every now and then, we can’t sit still, we don’t remain calm. It’s hard to trust God like this. David says he’s doing it here in Psalm 131; he shows us what it looks like; but we know he didn’t always do it well. He was a broken human like us. David didn’t always get it right, BUT, there was a Son of David who did. There is a greater David.
Many years after Psalm 131, in the little town of Bethlehem, this son of David, this greater David, was born, and his name is Jesus. And the Bible tells us that Jesus, fully human, walked on this earth in our shoes. He experienced the same things we experience, and yet, he never sinned. Which means — he always hoped in God. He always trusted his Father. And even before his death, when he knew what was coming, he yielded to the Father’s will: “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). And in the moment of this death, just before his last breath, he said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).
Jesus trusted his Father. In all the places where we throw our tantrums, Jesus has been calm. Jesus is calm, and because of him, we can be calm, too. We can. That same Jesus who was calm in the chaos lives in us now by his Spirit, and he’s making us more like him. And that is the promise. He’s working on us, to show us more of his glory and to effect in us our everlasting good. He is doing that. So we can calm down.
And that’s something I love about this Table. Jesus feeds us here. This is his body and his blood. This is his bread and his cup. We don’t do anything but receive it. Think about this: we just sit here. We sit still, we still calmly, we trust him. And he provides what we most need. He effects in us our everlasting good.
And today as we share the Table, I want us to remember that. As we remember the death of Jesus for us, let’s receive the bread and cup with calmed and quieted souls, because of who he is.