Psalm 131 is one of the shortest psalms - and chapters in the Bible. It is one of the Songs of Ascents, a collection of psalms (120-134) most likely written for pilgrims making the journey to worship God in Jerusalem, and later resonating with all those who understand that the life of faith is a kind of pilgrimage in and of itself. Like the more familiar Psalm 23, it is a “psalm of confidence”, a song expressing simple trust in a great God, using a vivid image to picture something of what that relationship looks like in practice. This is my own fairly literal translation of the Hebrew:
My heart has not been high,
my eyes have not been raised,
I have not walked in great things,
in wonders beyond me.
No! I have stilled and quieted my life,
like a weaned child with its mother,
like the weaned child upon me is my life.
Wait, O Israel, on Yahweh,
from now and until forever.
The opening statements capture some of the challenges to a life of simple trust we so often face – a high or proud heart, raised or arrogant eyes, the desire to live and walk amongst those things that seem lofty and important but are in the end a distraction from what is most vital. In contrast, the life of faith is one that is able to be still, to let go of the things that everyone else is striving after – power, prestige, success.
The key metaphor the psalmist uses for this stilled and trusting life is a weaned child with its mother.
What is it about a weaned child in particular that so captivates the psalmist’s imagination? The contrast seems to be with a child who is at the mother’s breast to be fed – thus hungry and seeking, interested in having its desires met ... and quickly! A weaned child, on the other hand, is already sated. It lies in its mother’s arms not for food, but for relationship, content purely to be held and know the peace and security that comes from being loved.
How often do we come into God’s presence purely because we want something from Him? Do we miss out on the delight of resting in His loving arms, knowing that we already have all we need, knowing that he finds immense joy in simply being with us? The picture speaks to me of the contentment we can find when we are truly trusting Him.
The end of the line speaks of the weaned child upon “me,” which may imply that the author of this psalm was in fact a mother. A mother sitting with a sated, content child in her arms may experience something of the pure trust relationship our heavenly Father seeks with us. But the image speaks to all of us, mothers and non-mothers alike. Throughout the Psalms, the call to Israel is a call to all of God’s people. Here everyone who lives in relationship with Him is invited to centre themselves in the same way. To see themselves as the stilled and quieted weaned child, resting in His presence, waiting upon Him, enjoying Him and finding contentment in simply knowing that we are His.