Theme: A Humble Trust in God
In this week’s lessons, we learn of our need to love God for who he is and to trust him completely.
Scripture: Psalm 131:1-3
It is hard to imagine anyone spending three years with Jesus Christ and still wanting to be important himself, instead of just letting Jesus be important. But we do, and the disciples did even after years of exposure to Jesus’ teachings.
Matthew tells us about something along these lines that happened not long after Jesus’ transfiguration. The Lord had been healing the sick and teaching, and had attracted so much attention that the disciples had begun to be impressed with themselves just because they were hanging around with Jesus. They were sure Jesus was going to set up his kingdom very quickly. So they began to wonder which of them would have the most important position in the kingdom when Jesus did it. They asked him, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1). I do not know what kind of answer they expected, but I know that the answer they got was not what they expected. Jesus called a little child and had him stand among them. Then he said, “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” (vv. 3, 4).
It was a serious answer. In order to be saved from sin and enter God’s kingdom, they had to become like little children, and in order to become like children they had to change, for they were not at all like that then—seen in the way they were jockeying for “top dog” position with each other.
The person who wrote Psalm 131 had learned that lesson and had changed. In fact, his psalm is a record of what had happened and a testimony of the point to which he had come when he wrote it. It is a short psalm, only nine lines in three verses. It is one of the easiest of all psalms to read, but its lesson is also one of the hardest to learn. Spurgeon said that it is “a short ladder,” yet one that “rises to a great height.”1
The heading identifies this as another psalm of David. There are four of David’s psalms among the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 122, 124, 131, 133), and this is the third. Many scholars, including a large majority of modern ones, do not want to acknowledge David as the author because they consider this specific collection (Psalms 120-134) to have been written after the exile. Yet among these Songs of Ascents there is no psalm that is more like David in its content and tone. It is a humble composition, and it is Davidic in its use of humble metaphors. The same writer who had compared himself to a sheep under the care of its divine shepherd earlier (Psalm 23), here easily compares himself to a child in its mother’s arms.
Franz Delitzsch is one of the best older conservative commentators on the psalms. He did not think David wrote Psalm 131. He thought it was by a later author. But he also thought of it as an intended echo of David’s reply to his wife Michal in the incident described in 2 Samuel 6:16-23. When the Ark of God was brought to Jerusalem, David was so joyful that he danced in the procession dressed only in a common priestly ephod, rather than proceeding in a stately manner clad in his royal robes. Michal despised him for it and called him “a vulgar fellow.” But David replied, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (v. 22).
David was not a person to stand upon his honor. Quite the contrary. He was willing to humble himself (and did humble himself), because he knew that at best he was merely an unprofitable servant of the only true and ever to be exalted Most High God.
But if this psalm is by David, why should it appear here among the Songs of Ascents? Especially since it does not have any obvious connection with Jerusalem or with those who were on a pilgrimage to it. The best answer seems to be because it follows so naturally on the previous psalm. Psalm 130 was about the grace of God in salvation, a grace manifested apart from any human works. This psalm is about humble trust in God, which should follow this for those who have been saved. In this sense, it is a pilgrim psalm after all, but the pilgrimage involved is now a spiritual journey in grace.
1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 36, Psalms 120-150 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 136.
Why did Jesus instruct the disciples to become like children?
Who is the author of the psalm? How do we know?
What answer does Dr. Boice give for including Psalm 131 in the Songs of Ascents?
Application: Do you stand before God humbly, as David did? Or are there areas of pride that you need to ask the Lord for grace to remove?
For Further Study: The Psalms have much to teach us about trusting the Lord, particularly when circumstances are not going the way we think they should. James Boice’s expositions on the Psalms not only make for meaningful personal or family devotions, but can also be used to prepare Sunday school lessons or other group studies in your church. Order your copy of the three-volume paperback set and receive 25% off the regular price.