With a mere three verses, Psalm 131 is one of the shortest chapters in the Bible. If it is ever true, however, that good things come in small packages, this psalm is proof of that. Charles Haddon Spurgeon—the prince of preachers—said of this song of David:
Comparing all the Psalms to gems, we should liken this to a pearl: how beautifully it will adorn the neck of patience. It is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn. It speaks of a young child, but it contains the experience of a man in Christ. Lowliness and humility are here seen in connection with a sanctified heart, a will subdued to the mind of God, and a hope looking to the Lord alone.
He aptly describes this little psalm. It would be missed by the hurried reader and considered of almost insignificant value to one impressed with size and choice of terms, but it nevertheless contains a timely message. David composes lyrics that address a hazardous and dangerous habit in this song: impatient arrogance. He is saying that he is not proud or haughty or interested in being seen, heard, or noticed. In fact, he is announcing his plan to move out of the limelight and away from that place of public attention.
Genuine humility isn’t something we can announce very easily. To claim this virtue is, as a rule, to forfeit it. Humility is the fairest and rarest flower that blooms. Put it on display and instantly it wilts and loses its fragrance! Humility is one character trait that should be a “closet utterance,” as W. Graham Scroggie puts it, not something we announce from the housetop. Humility is not something to be announced. It simply belongs in one’s life, in the private journal of one’s walk with God, not in a book that looks like a testimony but comes across more like a “bragimony.”
David, however, isn’t bragging in Psalm 131; he writes this song as a part of his own devotional life. It is a conversation with the Lord that we are invited to overhear, a brief poem in which he states his convictions concerning his removal from the public eye.
We know nothing of what prompted the writing of this song. The occasion leading to the writing of many of the ancient biblical songs remains a mystery. We can enter into the occasion in our imagination, however. Often we feel humbled and crushed after we have sinned and/or made a series of mistakes—after we have “blown it.” At those times we are genuinely interested in finding the nearest cave and crawling in. At other times, when we get a glimpse of our own pride and become sick of our deceptive attempts to cover it up, we fall before God and ask to be removed and made obscure. And then there are those occasions of heart-searching experiences: Times of sickness. Days of deep hurt. Painful waiting. Disappointing events. Loss of a loved one. Removal of a friend. Loneliness. Pressure. At those crossroads, the traffic of people seems overbearing, the flashing of lights seems so vain, and the noisy crowd, so repulsive. During such times one longs for obscurity and silent, humble communion with the Creator. Any of these occasions could have prodded the sweet singer of Israel to write this song of humility.