Pride and Repose
A SONG OF ASCENTS. OF DAVID. 1 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. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131 (ESV)
Translation and Notes on Psalm 131
Our desires disquiet the heart. Resignation to God’s will makes the soul still.—Pride separates men from fellowship with God. Humility strengthens that bond. The one makes the heart restless; the other imparts quietness and peace.—A childlike disposition, humble, patient and satisfied in God, as the fruit of severe conflict.
Spurgeon, “The Weaned Child” (vol. 121, page 2):
I was once conversing with a very excellent aged minister, and while we were talking about our frames and feelings, he made the following confession: he said, “When I read that passage in the psalm, ‘My soul is even as a weaned child,’ I wish it were true of me, but I think I should have to make an alteration of one syllable, and then it would exactly describe me at times, ‘My soul is even as a weaning rather than a weaned child,’ for,” said he, “with the infirmities of old age, I fear I get fretful and peevish, and anxious, and when the day is over I do not feel that I have been in so calm, resigned, and trustful a frame of mind as I could desire.” I suppose, dear brethren, that frequently we have to make the same confession. We wish we were like a weaned child, but we find ourselves neglecting to walk by faith, and getting into the way of walking by the sight of our eyes, and then we get like the weaning child which is fretting and worrying, and unrestful, and who causes trouble to those round about it, and most of all, trouble to itself. Weaning was one of the first real troubles that we met with after we came into this world, and it was at the time a very terrible one to our little hearts. We got over it somehow or other. We do not remember now what a trial it was to us, but we may take it as a type of all troubles; for if we have faith in him who was our God from our mother’s breasts, as we got over the weaning, and do not even recollect it, so we shall get over all the troubles that are to come, and shall scarcely remember them for the joy that will follow. If, indeed, Dr. Watts be correct in saying that when we get to heaven we shall “recount the labors of our feet,” then, I am quite sure that we shall only do it, as he says, “with transporting joy.” There, at least, we shall each one be as a weaned child.
That there is a fundamental opposition between pride & humility surprises no one. Yet, a deeper correspondence lies than mere opposition. Pride, as shown in this psalm, comes with anxiety and trouble. Thus, a peaceful rest upon God gives rise to humility.
The movement from pride to humility comes through peace. One would think that pride would abate by thinking mean thoughts of oneself – such a course is nonsense. To think bad about oneself is still to think about oneself. That is why up and down on self-esteem does little good. Two species of the same vermin are both vermin.
The Biblical model of humility is not self-debasement as much as it is repose upon God the work of God:
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6–7 (ESV)
Here humbling oneself and casting one’s troubles upon God stand in parallel – by giving God’s one’s anxiety, one comes to humility.
That is why trials may directly lead to humility. Bunyan has this in Pilgrim’s Progress: Christian descends into the Valley of Humiliation, only to be met by the archfiend. Apollyon asks Christian if he thinks that he will actually be admitted when he comes to the Celestial City: for, Christian has failed along the way. The temptation is a temptation to pride: can Christian be admitted on his merits? Christian answers:
Chr. All this is true, and much more which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honour is merciful, and ready to forgive; but, besides these infirmities possessed me in thy country: for there I sucked them in, and I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, and have obtained pardon of my Prince.
Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous rage, saying, I am an enemy to this Prince! I hate his person, laws, and people, and am come out on purpose to withstand thee
The rest and repose flows out of a profound understanding of grace. The trials of this life force us to seek rest in this world. George Herbert’s poem, The Pulley, illustrates this well:
When GOD at first made man
Having a glass of blessings standing by;*
Let Us, said He, pour on him all We can:
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made a way:
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, GOD made a stay,
Perceiving that alone, of all His treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
For if I should, said He,
Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in Nature, not the GOD of Nature,
So both should losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, then weariness
May toss him to My breast.
The Christian may repose without fear and without pride (which is merely self-defense, seen in this light), for God is the one who justifies:
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Romans 4:5 (ESV)
In Romans 5:1-5, Paul ties together the access given to the justified believer with repose – even joy in trials – because the trial can merely make one more fit for the Lord’s service and company – it is the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the very gift of the risen Lord, which makes room for rejoicing in the time of loss.
Then, in Romans 8, Paul ties the surety of God’s love for his redeemed to the fearless repose of the believer in God’s will:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31–39 (ESV)
1שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּֽעֲל֗וֹת לְדָ֫וִ֥ד
Title: a song of assents, of David.
Psalms 120–134 all have a title in the Hebrew text which is translated by RSV as A Song of Ascents (TEV does not include this title). The collection is also called “The Book of Pilgrim Songs.” The Hebrew word translated Ascents comes from the verb “to go up,” but other than this there is no agreement as to what the phrase means. Some take it to indicate the return of the Hebrew exiles from Babylonia; others take it to refer to a stylistic feature found in some of the psalms, in which the order of the statement progresses in a step-like fashion from one verse to the other; others take it to refer to the steps in the Temple precincts which led from one court to the other; the majority take it to refer to the ascent up the mountain on which the Temple was built (Mount Moriah, known as Mount Zion). Thus understood, these psalms are songs which the pilgrims sang as they came to Jerusalem for one of the three major annual festivals (see GECL).
Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 1047.
לֹא־גָבַ֣הּ לִ֭בִּי וְלֹא־רָמ֣וּ עֵינַ֑י
Not high my heart
And they are not high, my eyes.
Delitzsch, vol. III
It is in the heart that haughtiness has its seats; it is specially in the eyes that it finds its expression, and great things are the sphere in which it purposefully moves. (302)
Ver. 1. LORD, my heart is not haughty. The Psalm deals with the Lord, and is a solitary colloquy with him, not a discourse before men. We have a sufficient audience when we speak with the Lord, and we may say to him many things which were not proper for the ears of men. The holy man makes his appeal to Jehovah, who alone knows the heart: a man should be slow to do this upon any matter, for the Lord is not to be trifled with; and when anyone ventures on such an appeal he should be sure of his case. He begins with his heart, for that is the centre of our nature, and if pride be there it defiles everything; just as mire in the spring causes mud in all the streams. It is a grand thing for a man to know his own heart so as to be able to speak before the Lord about it. It is beyond all things deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it? Who can know it unless taught by the Spirit of God? It is a still greater thing if, upon searching himself thoroughly, a man can solemnly protest unto the Omniscient One that his heart is not haughty: that is to say, neither proud in his opinion of himself, contemptuous to others, nor self righteous before the Lord; neither boastful of the past, proud of the present, nor ambitious for the future.
Nor mine eyes lofty. What the heart desires the eyes look for. Where the desires run the glances usually follow. This holy man felt that he did not seek after elevated places where he might gratify his self esteem, neither did he look down upon others as being his inferiors. A proud look the Lord hates; and in this all men are agreed with him; yea, even the proud themselves hate haughtiness in the gestures of others. Lofty eyes are so generally hateful that haughty men have been known to avoid the manners natural to the proud in order to escape the ill will of their fellows. The pride which apes humility always takes care to east its eyes downward, since every man’s consciousness tells him that contemptuous glances are the sure ensigns of a boastful spirit. In Psalm 121 David lifted up his eyes to the hills; but here he declares that they were not lifted up in any other sense. When the heart is right, and the eyes are right, the whole man is on the road to a healthy and happy condition. Let us take care that we do not use the language of this Psalm unless, indeed, it be true as to ourselves; for there is no worse pride than that which claims humility when it does not possess it.
Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.
Not will I go in great ways
And [not] in ways too difficult, too wonderful, for me.
Delitzsch, vol. 3:
The opposite of [great] (Jer. 33.3, 45:5) is not that which is mean and platry, but that which is small, and the opposite of [too wonderful for me] (Gen. 18:14) is not that which is trivial but that which is attainable (302)
Ver. 1-2. Our Father is our superior; it is fit therefore that we be resigned to his will. “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12); how much more our heavenly Father! (Hebrews 12:9). See David’s spirit in the case: “LORD, my heart is not haughty”, etc.: Psalm 131:1-2. As if he had said, “I will keep within my own sphere; I will not stretch beyond my line, in prescribing to God; but submit to his will, `as a weaned child’, taken from its dear breasts”: intimating that he would wean himself from whatever God removed from him. How patiently did Isaac permit himself to be bound and sacrificed by Abraham! Genesis 22:9. And yet he was of age and strength sufficient to have struggled for his life, being twenty-five years old; but that holy young man abhorred the thought of striving with his father. And shall not we resign ourselves to our God and Father in Christ Jesus? —John Singleton (—1706), in “The Morning Exercises.”
Ver. 1-2. It has always been my aim, and it is my prayer, to have no plan as regards myself; well assured as I am that the place where the Saviour sees meet to place me must ever be the best place for mo. —Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1813-1843.
אִם־לֹ֤א שִׁוִּ֨יתִי׀ וְדוֹמַ֗מְתִּי נַ֫פְשִׁ֥י
Surely I have made and I have caused to be calm my soul
Whereas the first verse mentioned resulted achieved, this one shows how they were attained. It wa not without an inner struggle. The writer had to take himself in hand: he ‘stilled and quieted’ his soul. There may have been a time when great plans and mighty projects surged though his thoughts and drove him onward along the road of ambition. In some way he came to see that it is wrong for a man to seek great things for himself and to aim at that type of fame. Leupold, 908-909.
As usually in life, so here, too, humility is the prerequisite of genuine trust. The poet humbly confesses that he has learned to forgo his own lofty projects and proud thoughts; not as if he wanted acquiescently to abandon his claims upon living a full life, but he has found the balance of min that enables him to be satisfied with what has been granted to him. And this balance of mind arises from the fact that his soul is at peace with God. This is all the happiness he needs. Weiser, The Psalms, 777.
Does not open a conditioning protasis; for where is there any indication of an apodosis? Nor does it signify “but,” a signification which it does not have even in Genesis 24:38, Ezekiel 33:;6 – in these passages, as well as the one befor us, it is derived from the well-known formula used in swearing, and is asservating: verily I have …. Delitzsch, vol. III, 302.
It goes back upon the primary notion, to flatten, to make smooth, equal. He has leveled and stilled his soul, so that humility is its uniform and constant condition; he has quited it, so that it is silent and rests and lets God speak and work in it: it like a level plain, a calm expanse of water. Delitzsch, vol. III, 303.
כְּ֭גָמֻל עֲלֵ֣י אִמּ֑וֹ
Like a weaned (child) before his mother
The figure is beautifully expressive of the humility of a soul chastened by disappointment. As the weaned child no longer cries, and frets, and longs for the breast, but lies still and is content, because it is with its mother; so my soul is weaned from all discontented thoughts, from all fretful desires for earthly good, waiting ins still upon God, finding its satisfaction in His presence, resting peacefully in His arms.
“The weaned child,” writes a mother, with reference to this passage, “has for the first time become conscious of grief. The piteous longing for the sweet nourishment of his life, the broken sob of disappointment, mark the trouble of his innocent heart; it is not from the bodily suffering; he has felt that before, and cried while it lasted; but now his joy and comfort are taken away and he knows not why. When his head is once more laid on his mother’s bosom, then he trusts and loves and rests, but he has learned the first lesson of humlility, he is cast down, and clings with fond helplessness to his one friend” Perowne, The Book of Psalms, A New Translation, with Explanatory Notes for English Readers 1898, 627-628.
He follows the three denials with an emphatic assertion (But here indicates emphasis).1 Like the calm surface of a lake, he has stilled and quieted his soul.2 He compares himself to a weaned child with its mother (131:2). Because this child is no longer breast feeding, it can lie contentedly in its mother’s arms, desiring less what the mother can give than the mother herself. An end to self-centered demands means the child can enjoy the mother’s comfort.3 To approach God, not for what He can do for me but because He is my God and Father, is to enjoy a deeper, more satisfying level of contentment.
Stephen J. Lennox, Psalms: A Bible Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition (Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House, 1999), 391.
Fostering a quiet faith (131:2). This state of spirituality has been attained only by struggling with his headstrong self. Many an outburst of self-will has had to be quelled. Here the psalm draws on motifs found in laments and psalms of confidence (cf. Pss 42:6 ; 62:6 ; Beyerlin, Wider die Hybris, 73–75). Eventually the speaker has learned the lesson of dependence on God. His metaphor for such dependence, that of the parent carrying a child, is well attested in the OT to describe the supportive care that Yahweh had ever given the covenant people since the wilderness period (Deut 1:31; Isa 46:3–4; Hos 11:3, as generally emended).
Leslie C. Allen, vol. 21, Psalms 101–150 (Revised), Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 260.
1. It was not self-produced. No child ever weaned itself. 2. It has been the Lord’s work. By his Holy Spirit and his providence he has wrought this wondrous change. Hence we have come to find that what once delighted us so much fails to do so now. The world has become embittered to our taste. Our God has separated us from what we loved and clung to; there was no chance of our voluntarily giving it up, and so God took it away. And he has given us what is better far than that which we have lost (cf. Ps. 63). Higher, purer joys are ours. Also he has blessed our own endeavours after self-denial and renunciation; he has “worked in us to will and to do,” etc. 3. And the result is most blessed. The calm quiet and stillness of the soul; its freedom from fret; its heavenly peace.
IV. WHAT THIS EXPERIENCE LEADS TO. A delight in God, and a conviction of his love and faithfulness, which make him call upon all his countrymen to hope in the Lord. When the soul has this experience, it cannot but commend the Lord to others. It must bear its testimony.—S. C.
Psalms Vol. III, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 255.
כַּגָּמֻ֖ל עָלַ֣י נַפְשִֽׁי
Like a child unto me is my soul
For דוממתי, domamtee, is formed from דום, dum, and has the active sense of reducing to silence. The quiet of soul he alludes to is opposed to those tumultuous desires by which many cause disquietude to themselves, and are the means of throwing the world into agitation. The figure of childhood is elsewhere used in another sense, to convey reprehension. (Is. 28:9.) “Whom shall I teach knowledge? them that are weaned from the milk? and drawn from the breasts?” where the Prophet censures the people for their slowness of apprehension, and being as incapable of profiting by instruction as infants. In the passage now before us, what is recommended is that simplicity of which Christ spake, (Matt. 18:3,) “Unless ye become like this little child, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.”2 The vain desires with which men are carried away, originate in their seeking to be wise and careful above what is necessary. David adds accordingly, my soul over me is quieted, not as expressing the language of self-confidence, but speaking as if his soul lay sweetly and peacefully on his bosom, undisturbed by inordinate desires. He contrasts the wayward and tumultuous agitation which prevails in those of a discontented spirit, with the peace which reigns in the man who abides in the calling of the Lord. From the verse with which the Psalm closes, we see the reason why David asserted his having undertaken nothing in the spirit of a carnal ambition. He calls upon Israel to hope in the Lord, words which must have been abrupt had it not deeply concerned the common safety of the Church, to know that he sat upon, the throne of the kingdom by Divine appointment, in which case the faithful would be certain of the bestowment of the promised blessing. Our hope is of the right kind when we cherish humble and sober views of ourselves, and neither wish nor attempt anything without the leading and approbation of God.
John Calvin and James Anderson, vol. 5, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 141-42.
יַחֵ֣ל יִ֝שְׂרָאֵל אֶל־יְהוָ֑ה
Hope Israel unto/in the LORD
From this time until forever.
Rosscup on Zephaniah 3:12:
God’s restoring of a remnant (12). When God does this work, He will leave intact those receptive to Him to enjoy blessing (cf. Isa. 4:2; Matt. 13:43; 24:40–41). These will be humble and lowly, poor in spirit in having their values in God, not in worldly pride touting self-sufficiency. Their submission to the Lord stands out in their taking refuge in His name, i.e. His power, honor, and will. Fleeing to God as a haven of the soul takes the shape of prayerful, trusting dependence on Him (Ps. 18:2), and this will be the spirit in that final time.
God’s restfulness for a remnant (13). A godly life of victory over deceit (cf. 9) frees the blessed of many burdens guilt can bring. At peace with God and people, they shall feed to their content and enjoy rest without having to deal with unjust exploiters present to make them shake with fear (cf. 3:3, 4). At the same time, they will be free of terror felt in an invasion by enemies (15).
James E. Rosscup, An Exposition on Prayer in the Bible: Igniting the Fuel to Flame Our Communication With God (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 1401-02.
Almighty FATHER, suffer us not to be lifted up with worldly pride; but Thou Who art meek and lowly of heart, teach us to agree in that holy conduct which is pleasing unto Thee, Who livest.
Grant, O LORD, that we, stayed up by the power of Thy holy Majesty, may not be haughty of heart, nor proud of eyes, nor walk in things too great and wonderful for us, but alway be lowly in thought, that we may please Thee throughout the ages evermore. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, One God, world without end. Amen.
J. M. Neale and R. F. Littledale, A Commentary on the Psalms from Primitive and Mediæval Writers, Volume 4: Psalm 119 to Psalm 150 (London: Joseph Masters, 1874), 238-39.