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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Psalms 131

Verses 1-3

Psalms 131:1-3

A QUIET, because self-quieted, heart speaks here in quiet accents, not unlike the "crooning" of the peaceful child on its mother’s bosom, to which the sweet singer likens his soul. The psalm is the most perfect expression of the child-like spirit, which, as Christ has taught, is characteristic of the subjects of the kingdom of heaven. It follows a psalm of penitence, in which a contrite soul waited on Jehovah for pardon, and, finding it, exhorted Israel to hope in His redemption from all iniquity. Consciousness of sin and conscious reception of redemption therefrom precede true lowliness, and such lowliness should follow such consciousness.

The psalmist does not pray; still less does he contradict his lowliness in the very act of declaring it, by pluming himself on it. He speaks in that serene and happy mood, sometimes granted to lowly souls, when fruition is more present than desire, and the child, folded to the Divine heart, feels its blessedness so satisfyingly that fears and hopes, wishes and dreams, are still. Simple words best speak tranquil joys. One note only is sounded in this psalm, which might almost be called a lullaby. How many hearts it has helped to hush!

The haughtiness which the psalmist disclaims has its seat in the heart and its manifestation in supercilious glances. The lowly heart looks higher than the proud one does, for it lifts its eyes to the hills, and fixes them on Jehovah, as a slave on his lord. Lofty thoughts of self naturally breed ambitions which seek great spheres and would intermeddle with things above reach. The singer does not refer to questions beyond solution by human faculty, but to worldly ambitions aiming at prominence and position. He aims low, as far as earth is concerned; but he aims high, for his mark is in the heavens.

Shaking off such ambitions and loftiness of spirit, he has found repose, as all do who clear their hearts of that perilous stuff. But it is to be noted that the calm which he enjoys is the fruit of his own self-control, by which his dominant self has smoothed and stilled the sensitive nature with its desires and passions. It is not the tranquillity of a calm nature which speaks here, but that into which the speaker has entered, by vigorous mastery of disturbing elements. How hard the struggle had been, how much bitter crying and petulant resistance there had been before the calm was won, is told by the lovely image of the weaned child. While being weaned it sobs and struggles, and all its little life is perturbed. So no man comes to have a quiet heart without much resolute self-suppression. But the figure tells of ultimate repose, even more plainly than of preceding struggle. For, once the process is accomplished, the child nestles satisfied on the mother’s warm bosom, and wishes nothing more than to lie there. So the man who has manfully taken in hand his own weaker and more yearning nature, and directed its desires away from earth by fixing them on God, is freed from the misery of hot desire, and passes into calm. He that ceases from his own works enters into rest. If a man thus compels his "soul" to cease its cravings for what earth can give, he will have to disregard its struggles and cries, but these will give place to quietness; and the fruition of the blessedness of setting all desires on God will be the best defence against the recurrence of longings once silenced.

The psalmist would fain have all Israel share in his quietness of heart, and closes his tender snatch of song with a call to them to hope in Jehovah, whereby they, too, may enter into peace. The preceding psalm ended with the same call; but there God’s mercy in dealing with sin was principally in question, while here His sufficiency for all a soul’s wants is implied. The one secret of forgiveness and deliverance from iniquity is also the secret of rest from tyrannous longings and disturbing desires. Hope in Jehovah brings pardon, purity, and peace.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 131". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".