Psalm 131: There is a Calm Within the Chaos
This is a follow up from my previous blog, There is a King Above the Chaos. While looking into Psalm 29, I had discovered that during the New Years celebration (Rosh Shoshanna), the Jews would recite both of these Psalms. I was struck by how they dovetail. They seem to give the two sides of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. By reciting Psalm 29, the Jews were reminding themselves of God’s sovereign control over the uncontrollable forces in their lives. By reciting Psalm 131, they were reminded of their need to live in dependant trust, as a child trust his parent (interestingly, the parent representing God in this Psalm is the mother). If Psalm 29 can be titled There is a King Above the Chaos, then Psalm 131 can be titled There is a Calm Within the Chaos. We have the calm pictured in Psalm 131 because we have the King pictured in Psalm 29.
Psalm 131:1-3 Yahweh, my heart isn’t haughty, nor my eyes lofty; nor do I concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me. Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Israel, hope in Yahweh, from this time forth and forevermore.
As I said in the previous blog, the Psalms usually sum up their teaching in the first or last verses. In this case, we have to look all the way to the end of the Psalm (v 3), Israel, hope in the Yahweh, from this time forth and forevermore. This is what the Psalmist took away from his meditation and now that he has written it out, this is what he wants his readers to take away from his meditation. He wrote down these thoughts and his prayer so that God’s people would hope in him. How does this conclusion come about? The first two verses give two remedies for two tendencies which keep us from placing our hope in God.
Psalm 131:1 Yahweh, my heart isn’t haughty, nor my eyes lofty; nor do I concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me. The first remedy is humility, which is the antidote to arrogance. Humility is confidence in God while arrogance is confidence in self. Arrogance here takes two forms:
The first is in looking down on others. We want our superiority to be known and acknowledged. Certainly, we are better people than this other person. Examples of this abound. Church debate – following the example of public debate – often reflects patronizing contempt for those with whom there is disagreement. In other words, we treat God’s image with contempt.
The second form of arrogance here is presumptuousness. We take on ourselves the responsibility to make everything right as we define right. In our relationship with God, this often means that we have to take care of things as God does not understand the issues as we do, neither does God show the sensitivity towards our feelings we think they deserve. In other words, we treat God’s wisdom with contempt.
When we assert ourselves over people and events, we are kicking God out and hope in God has no place in our lives. The step towards hope in God starts with humbly accepting the terms of creation as God has created it. Not looking down on others, not boasting of what we are and know.
Psalm 131:2 Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Verse 2 shows that trust is the antidote to self-centeredness. This verse contains a picture of a weaned child and the Psalmist says that his relationship with God is like that. Let’s look at thepicture.
The first thing to notice is that the child is quiet and composed. During the weaning process, the child is anything but. He is whiney, complaining and worried about his next meal. He has been taken out of his “comfort zone”. Something he considers essential for his survival is being denied him. He is unhappy and demanding until at the end of the process, the whining and fretting have given away to quiet and peace.
So it is with our relationship with God. Early on, God took care of some immature needs, because that is what we needed at that time, but God is not interested in a dysfunctional infantile relationship with his children. He may start denying us some things, maybe asking something from us, maybe it seems like God has turned away completely. We get upset, complain, whine, go on strike and a hundred other things by which we express our displeasure. At the end of the process we find peace in trusting the choices of God who knows what is best.
Another thing to notice is that the child is resting on his mother, the very one who has subjected him to the weaning process. As one writer said, “The child has been broken of regarding his mother as a means of satisfying his own desires and loves the mother for her own sake.” The child finds rest with the very one who from his perspective seemed willing to starve it to death. So, the maturing soul ceases to seek God for his gifts, but now seeks him for his self. God is relentlessly unconcerned about our whims and what our flesh wants. Yet, hope in God takes us to the place where we rest in the presence of God. The antidote for self-centeredness is trust in the one who refuses to indulge our immature desires but in his plan moves us to the image of his Son.
In Psalm 131, David shows that hoping in God means humility which frees us from self-aggrandizement and trust which frees us from enslavement to our self-centered whims.