Psalm 131 consists of a mere fifty-nine words parceled out over three verses (NIV). Because of this, there is the temptation to treat it like a headline—grab the central thought and move on. We’d be poorer for doing so though because the psalms aren’t spiritual fast food. They are not meant to be gulped down while we rush to the next place distractedly glancing at our phones every few seconds. Rather the psalms are food for the soul. We honor them by slowing down and taking time to absorb what they have to say.
One of the things this psalm touches on is humility. Humility is the opposite of pride (v. 1). If pride is thinking the world revolves around you; then humility is the recognition that we are but a small part of a very large universe. Contrary to popular belief, humility is not for the weak or timid. It is a no-holds-barred self-honesty. It is to see ourselves as we are in relation to God as well as to others. The presence of humility means the death of pride.
The first words out of Jesus’ mouth in the Sermon of the Mount were about humility. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). If God is going to reign in our lives, then the first thing we must do is get ourselves off the throne. The psalmist speaks as one who is keenly aware of this and works to protect potentially vulnerable areas of his life (“My heart is not proud . . . my eyes are not haughty. I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me”).
Eugene Peterson refers to Psalm 131 as a maintenance psalm. “It is functional to the person of faith as pruning is functional to the gardener; it gets rid of that which looks good to those who don’t know any better, and reduces the distance between our hearts and their roots in God.” As the pilgrims neared Jerusalem and the temple with its grandeur, it put them in mind of God’s incomparable glory. Humility was the way to draw near to Him.
It still is.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10)