For the Love of God, Volume 2/November 4

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 308 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 2


2 Kings 17; Titus 3; Hosea 10; Psalms 129—131

MANY HAVE OBSERVED THAT PSALM 131 anticipates the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18:1-4, where he asks, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”—and calls a little child to stand among his disciples. In certain respects, the follower of Jesus must be childlike, and this psalm makes its own contribution to that theme. Yet childlikeness is not childishness; simplicity is not simplemindedness; humility is not servility. The psalm will speak with greater power if we reflect on some of its features:

(1) According to the superscription, this is a psalm of David. One may well ask during what period of his career he wrote it. More than one writer has suggested it springs from an early period, before the successes of his middle and later years bred a certain arrogance that would have made it impossible for him to write, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me” (131:1). That is possible, of course. Nevertheless a very young man who has not yet had the opportunity to concern himself with great matters would not be very likely to write these words—or if he did, they would sound vaguely pretentious, a bit like a pompous excuse for not tackling the tough issues. One cannot finally prove the point, but I suspect this psalm is easier to understand if it springs from the end of David’s life, after he has been humbled by such matters as Bathsheba and Uriah, and by the revolt led by his son Absalom. Humbled, less quick to imagine he alone understands, slower to take umbrage, and more impressed by the wise providence of God, David (one imagines) now quietly writes, “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me” (131:1).

(2) Some commentators (and even translations) picture the child of verse 2 as nursing at the breast. But that is not what the text says. David pictures himself “like a weaned child with its mother.” This child, like David, no longer cries for what it formerly found indispensable. This too suggests that David is mature enough now to be giving something up—namely, in the light of verse 1, the confident questing to understand everything, borne of more than a little arrogance. The immaturity he abandons is like a little child squealing to get hold of its mother’s breast. But David has eclipsed that point. He is weaned, and he is content. Cf. Philippians 4:11ff.

(3) The maturity David has reached is grounded not in escapist retreat from life’s complexities, but in trust in the Lord (131:3), whose perfect knowledge is a bulwark for our hope.

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