Psalm 131 is in the category of ascent psalms. Psalms of Ascent are songs that were often sung on the way to Jerusalem (and, perhaps also by priests going up the steps of the Temple). Jerusalem was built on a hilltop, and to visit the holy city was an upward climb for those from all the cities that surrounded it. Jewish people often went to Jerusalem during feast days, to make sacrifices or visit the temple and celebrate the holy festivals that happened throughout the year.
Like the Hebrew meaning of the word, an ascent indicates a movement upward.There are 15 Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120 to 134, and they are becoming some of my favorites of the psalter.
Although Psalm 131 doesn’t clearly mention the journey to Jerusalem, there is still a movement “upward”. David uses a word picture to help us understand this movement.
Three verses hold a great lesson for pilgrims on the way, on the way upwards to God!
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.
The word picture is that of a weaned child as David connects the direction of his heart to the Lord in the long walk called “life.”
No doubt, David’s opening verses are stating that his heart was lifted up, his eyes were too lofty in pride. David, like me, wanted to know things, had to know things. And when David didn’t know, he occupied all his time to figure it out.
The pilgrim journey is filled with hardship. This life we live, as we follow Jesus, is not without trials or suffering. There is great pain and grief, even among those who have put their trust in the Lord.
And with these trials come lessons, changes, and hearts that are being transformed. God’s design is perfect and will always accomplish its purpose.
Pilgrims ache to know the “why” to calamity, the “why” to suffering, the “why” to loss. No doubt, it was the same for David. The same for those on that long journey to Jerusalem on that upward ascent.
David didn’t know or understand, yet he knew who did (and so do we). He doesn’t let the “why’s” occupy his mind, he doesn’t get lost in things that are too marvelous for him (like the mystery of God’s providence that are beyond our grasp to comprehend). Here, he gives us the picture of a quiet and calmed soul…”like a weaned child with its mother.”
The weaned child has learned. The weaned child no longer cries for what he formerly found indispensable. The weaned child is mature enough to not need what he wants, now!
David finds rest in the One who knows and understands everything. God’s perfections are sufficient to trust in (especially when we consider our own imperfections and short comings).
I want that kind of maturity. It’s called contentment. Probably Paul nails it when he says in Philippians 4:11-13…
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
David’s plea to Israel (which then was repeatedly sung on the pilgrim journey): Trust in the Lord, hope in Him whose perfect knowledge is a bulwark for our hope.
That’s the wall of defense that I need – God’s perfect knowledge has no cracks, no shortcomings.
I don’t have to understand everything that God is doing in my life or what is next. I don’t have to know the “why” behind the trials or suffering. I already know Him who knows everything perfectly.
It’s a journey for a reason. Contentment doesn’t happen overnight. Trust isn’t like turning on a faucet.
In fact, weaning also doesn’t come quickly. Weaning is a process, a struggle we might even say. I suppose you could even equate to a point, that weaning is like suffering in a reverse kind of way (suffering is getting what you don’t want, weaning is not getting what you do want).
Weaning, like suffering, is necessary for maturity.
By God’s grace, we are on the upward climb, the ascent toward Him. Yes, there are days when it feels like we have tumbled all the way back down from that upward climb, but God is committed to his purpose to conform us, and he will do it (Philippians 1:6).