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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 131

Psalms 131

The people of the Lord should be free from all high-flying thoughts and ambitious projects and enterprises, and in childlike humility should expect their salvation only from him, so shall they be safe.

The national reference of the Psalm is clear from Psalms 131:3, where Israel is addressed. Accordingly it must also be Israel, not the Psalmist, that appears speaking in Psalms 131:1-2. The supposition, that in these verses the Psalmist represents his own disposition, and then in Psalms 131:3 exhorts the people to cherish the same, has the analogies against it: in other places, where a similar exchange of the I and the thou occurs, the distinction is only that of an indirect and a direct paraenesis, so that the expression: my heart is not high must import as to its meaning: Israel, let not thy heart be high; comp., besides, on the preceding Psalm. Then the supposition of a general reference of Psalms 131:1-2 is already required by the general analogy of the pilgrim-songs. Finally, Psalms 131:3 does not simply call to the disposition represented in Psalms 131:1-2, but gives to the subject of the two first verses an essential supplement; so that it will not suit to set off Psalms 131:1-2 by themselves—there without high-mindedness, here waiting in faith upon the Lord.

The Psalm is ascribed in the superscription to David, and bears, notwithstanding its small compass, the clear marks of having such an origin. That it must have been composed in a season of prosperity and abundance for the people, is shown by the protestation against cherishing high-minded thoughts and undertakings. The danger in this respect arises only from prosperity; in times of trouble, such as those succeeding the Babylonish exile, they vanish of themselves. Then, the childlike humility and unpretending disposition, growing out of living faith, which here gives utterance to itself, is most characteristic of David, who here, in order to chew Israel how it should be, gave a representation of his own inner man, how it actually was. Finally, Psalms 131:1 carries a close reference to Psalms of David.

The affirmation, that the word: Israel, wait upon the Lord, is borrowed from Psalms 130:7 of the post-exile Psalms 130, precisely reverses the relation. The author of that late nameless Psalm has undoubtedly borrowed it from this earlier one, and done so from regard to the place it occupied in the series, as immediately before the latter.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1. A Song of the Pilgrimages. Of David. Lord, my heart is not high, and my eyes are not proud, and I walk not in great things, and those too wonderful for me. Ver. 2. Truly I smoothed and silenced my soul, like one weaned by mother; like one weaned is my soul with me. Ver. 3. W ait, Israel, upon the Lord, from this time even for ever.

We must not overlook the address to the Lord, with which Psalms 131:1 immediately begins, q. d. Lord; thou who art exalted, and regardest the lowly, and the proud knowest afar off, Psalms 138:6, I do not shut the gate against thy grace, by cherishing a heart that is haughty, &c. Pride, haughtiness, appears generally as the result of prosperity. So already in Deuteronomy 32:15. Of Uzziah it is said in 2 Chronicles 26:16, “And when he was strong his heart was high;” of Hezekiah, in 2 Chronicles 32:25, “And Hezekiah repaid ill the gift which had been done him, for his heart was high, and there went forth wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.” Pride has its seat in the heart, and betrays itself especially in the eyes. Comp. in particular the parallel passages in Psalms of David, Psalms 18:27, “For thou helpest the poor people, and the lofty eyes thou bringest down;” Psalms 101:5, “he who has proud eyes and is high-minded, him will I not suffer.” The הלך with ב of the pathway on which one moves or walks; not: non ingredior res magnas, Gesen.; but: I do not walk in them, my course does not lie in them, I have nothing to do with them. The Piel marks the continued going, proceeding onwards, Too wonderful for any one is everything that lies above his power and sphere. The people of God can never give up their claim to the dominion of the world. This has been always kept in view through the word of God, from the first period of their existence. But it is one thing to hope in meekness and humility for that which God has promised, and another thing with one’s own hand either to attempt high things, for which no warrant or promise is given in the word of God, or to seek in that way to accomplish what has this ground to rest upon. The difference is rendered palpable in the case of David himself. With thankfulness and joy he took from the hand of God the gift of the kingdom. But he resisted every temptation to seize, with his own hand, what God had promised in his own time to bestow upon him. He waited quietly till God had removed his predecessor out of the way. Further, David’s heart nourished itself on the still more glorious promises which he received after his ascension to the throne, as Psalms 18 shows: he was far from that false humility which declines what is offered by God. But he himself moved neither hand nor foot to precipitate the fulfilment. He constantly confined himself merely to defence, and never launched out upon wars of conquest. And if at any time a spirit, of pride rose up within him, as it did at time numbering of the people, he presently returned in genuine repentance to a state of unconditional dependance upon the Lord, and a quiet waiting for his salvation; comp. on Psalms 30. That such a posture of heart is the true way to salvation, that one only attains to the great, when one does not walk in the great, most distinctly do we learn this from David’s example. In Psalms 131:2 the אם לא is to be taken as a solemn asseveration. Only he who can protest after the manner of the Psalmist here, can become partaker of the blessing thence arising. שוה to make like, to even, or smooth, Isaiah 28:25, by the removal of false elevations, comp. Isaiah 40:4. The silencing refers, according to the connection, specially to the stilling of the motions of pride. The point of comparison between the soul and the weaned = the small child (comp. Isaiah 11:8, Isaiah 28:9), is the unpretending humility. Exactly parallel is Matthew 18:3, “except ye be converted and become as little children,” and Matthew 18:4, “whoever therefore humbles himself as this child.” As one weaned, not as such an one smooths and silences, but that it is like, or I am like it. The mother brings the image of the little child vividly before the eye, and she is specially thought of on account of the עלי , upon me, for with me; comp. on Psalms 42:4. According to the idea now generally prevalent, the weaned must form the contrast to the suckling, with its constantly restless desires after its mother’s breast. But by the connection the Psalmist cannot, as this view supposes, wish to express the absence of passion and desire in general, but only freedom from the violent emotions which the lofty spirit awakens, to which also the connection of silencing with evening or smoothing, corresponding to the ταπεινοῦ?ν in Matthew, points:—גמול is, according to the usus loquendi, not the child just weaned, but the small child in minority; the restless desire continues still with the weaned, and the freedom it possesses is the farthest thing possible from being properly a characteristic of it; the mother’s milk is not specially marked as an object of this desire, and is only assumed to be so by these expositors.

In Psalms 131:3 there is opposed to the lofty enterprising after high things by one’s own hand, a still and confident waiting upon the Lord, who will never leave and forsake his Israel, and his salvation. Israel must from this time, even for ever, wait upon his God, so will he be glorified by him from this time, even for ever. For such as put their confidence in God, them he abandons not, while he casts down those who are full of confidence in their own hearts.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 131". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.