The Secret Of Humility (Psalm 131)

The Secret Of Humility
(Psalm 131)

Jerry Clark

Mr. Jerry Clark resides in McMinnville, Tenn. This is his twelfth in a series of fifteen studies on Psalms 120-134.

A song of the goings-up:

1. O LORD, my heart has not been high
and my eyes have not-been exalted,
And I have not concerned myself with things too great
and with things too wonderful for me.

2. Instead, I have adjusted and quieted my soul,
as the child that is weaned from its mother,
as the weaned child is my soul within me.

3. O Israel, hope in the LORD from now and forever.

It is significant that this brief psalm, which H. C. Leupold referred to as one of the great gems of the Psalter”

(Expositions of the Psalms, Baker), should occur at this particular point in the series of fifteen Psalms of Degrees. After the experience of the previous psalm (130), we would naturally expect a rousing statement of victory or praise. Instead we come to an unusually terse testimony of a man who has discovered a simple but astounding truth, a truth which may well be the most important yet encountered in this series.

I. The Assessment (1)

Just as presidents and governors periodically deliver an assessment of the nation or state, so here we have what might be called a “state of the soul” address. The author has looked “within,” made an assessment of his spiritual state and now declares that his condition is one which could best be described simply as humility.

He insists first of all that his heart is not “high” nor his eyes “exalted.” In addition, he has not meddled in matters beyond his “jurisdiction.” “Great things” (gadowl) and “wonderful things” (pala’) are both capable of being used in a good sense of things which are noble or miraculous (cf. Isa. 9:6 for the latter). Here, however, they have the implication of “proud things.” The attitude eschewed is that of discontent and dissatisfaction with the things we have (possessions, position, etc.) which makes us always groping after more and (supposedly) better things. The astounding revelation here is that such an attitude is actually the result of pride within — a haughty heart. We grow dissatisfied with that which we have and yearn for more because we feel that we deserve more than we have, we deserve more from life than what we are getting.

Even in religious matters, such discontent may develop: we may seek religious knowledge or experience for the wrong reason (in order to, or because we do, feel superior to others who have not experienced the particular experience that we have or have not attained to the knowledge that we have). The only REAL reason to seek any religious knowledge or experience is that we might “know HIM” (Phil. 3:10), the One who loved us and died for us, and, by knowing Him, be better qualified to serve Him.

David, upon looking within, discovered a singular lack of discontent or pride. From an examination of his life, we realize that this claim of humility was no idle boast. As a “man after God’s own heart,” he seemed indeed free from the ordinary manifestations of pride. He was willing to be humiliated for God’s sake (2 Sam. 6:21) and this humility made him patient, willing to wait for God to fulfill His promises to him in his own way and time. For example, despite many opportunities to kill Saul, he consistently refrained; when deposed by Absalom, he refused to fight back; when cursed by Shimei, he accepted it; and, perhaps most significantly, on those occassions when he was convicted by God of his sins, he repented (cf. 2 Sam. 12:13; 24:10) .

II. The Adjustment (2)

Having described a state of beautiful humility in his innermost life, the psalmist now details — using two important words and a simple figure of speech — the process by which he reached this state.

“Adjusted” is shavah, literally to level, equalize, counter-balance or adjust. It is used in Isaiah 28:25 of levelling plowed ground and in 40:4 of “making (rough places) plain.” “Quieted” is damam, to be speechless from astonishment.

The psalmist has adjusted his soul and quieted it, but in light of what? Obviously something which has “astonished” him into silence and a new understanding (and, therefore, assessment) of life and self. The answer is that he has seen God. The only secret of true humility is not false or pretended modesty or continual self-deprecation, but a true view of God Himself.

Perhaps the best Biblical illustration is Job, a man who certainly manifested a certain type of religious or social pride. His “new view” of God, however, prompted a new look at himself, and a readjustment of his view of self (and what self deserves from life) with God’s view of the same (Job 42:5, 6). Other men who experienced this genuine humility after a “new vision” of God include Isaiah (Isa. 6:5) and Peter (Luke 5:8).

David compares this to the experience of a child who, being weaned, is not able to lay restfully upon its mother’s breast without restless craving. In the same way, David’s “soul, which is by nature restless and craving, is stilled: it does not long after earthly enjoyment … but it is satisfied in the fellowship of God” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Eerdmans).

True humility, then, is that which results from looking at God, self and life the way they REALLY are (i.e., from God’s point of view) rather than the way we think they are or want them to be. Pride results in restlessness, yearning, greed and —quite naturally — unhappiness since these yearnings can never be truly or totally satisfied. Humility, however, results in trusting God and being satisfied with what we have and, therefore, happiness.

III. The Advice (3)

As is common in these psalms, the psalmist draws an important lesson from Israel — and us — from his own experiences. He exhorts Israel to “hope” in the LORD “for ever.” Hope (seber) implies both waiting and trusting. Having seen a new vision of God and seeing God as He is, we are now to trust God; i.e., to realize that God truly has our own best interests at heart and, therefore, we wait for Him to achieve these interests His way, using us as we submit to His workings in our lives (Rom. 8:28) .

David here illustrates the need for “continual repentance” in the life of every believer; not simply “feeling sorry for our sins” (though this may be involved) but a continual readjustment of our lives in line with God’s revelation of Himself and ourselves.

Like any finely tuned and precision-built machine, we need this continual readjustment and it is this “divine readjustment” which makes for a quiet spirit; trust in God and —ultimately — happiness.