One of the shortest psalms of the Bible gives us a beautiful picture of the kind of peace and quiet that God wants us to experience:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131:1–3)
It is the peace and quiet of a weaned child. What is that?
Great Humility Looks Like a Small Child
When David said his heart was not lifted up and his eyes were not raised, his original Hebrew readers would have clearly understood what he meant. His son, Solomon, later used similar imagery when he wrote, “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin” (Proverbs 21:4). David was talking about pride.
We tend to think of David as a humble man, which is a right tendency because he often was. But humility didn’t come naturally to David. He, like us, was all too aware of the incessant prideful impulses of his fallen nature, which at times he followed and which led him into grievous trouble. Therefore, David, like us, was often painfully aware of his pride-induced transgressions, and there were times his sin was ever before him (Psalm 51:3).
We don’t know the events that prompted David to pen this short psalm. But we know two things: 1) His afflictions were many (Psalm 34:19) and 2) We often respond to our own afflictions the same way. We quickly lift our hearts and raise our eyes in pride when we are opposed or maligned or suffer in some way.
David’s life was frequently embattled and often threatened. With the complexities and tragedies he faced, it must have been difficult to set aside the things “too great” for him — the “why’s” he couldn’t figure out. We only need to think of how hard it is to set our anxieties and fears aside, things “too marvelous” for us, and rest in trust on God’s promises. We know just how easy it is to grumble and not to be humble.
So in these few words, David is giving us a model of what it looks like to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand (1 Peter 5:6): Great humility typically looks like a small child.
Why a Weaned Child?
But David has a particular child in mind: a weaned child. “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2). Why did David choose a weaned child as his model of humility?
A nursing child is a beautiful picture of a restful, comforted dependence on a mother’s provision. It is an idyllic picture of what it looks like to receive necessary nourishment at a needed time from a trusted source.
A weaned child is a different picture altogether.
In ancient Near Eastern cultures, children weren’t weaned from breastfeeding until at least three years of age, and sometimes older. By those ages, children’s cognitive and verbal abilities were normally quite developed. This meant that the transition from the familiar comfort and nourishment of a mother’s breast to no longer receiving such comfort and nourishment would have been psychologically and emotionally more difficult than for a younger child. One can imagine a three year-old’s tears and anger and insistence and complaints and pleas and repeated physical attempts to nurse again, only to be denied by the one person who had up to that point been the source of such intimate comfort and nourishment. Why won’t Mommy nurse me anymore?
A recently weaned child is a child who has experienced deprivation, disappointment, confusion, and grief. Such a child who has quieted his soul and is peacefully sitting beside his mother, no longer demanding what has been denied to him, is a child who has submitted his will to his mother’s will. The reasons why being denied his mother’s breast is the best thing for him are still “too great” for him to understand. But he has endured the struggle, worked through the grief, dried the tears, and is finally willing to trust his mother’s wisdom that “solid food is for the mature” (Hebrews 5:14). He is beginning to bear the peaceful fruit that comes from the discipline of a loving parent’s training (Hebrews 12:11).
Child-Like Hope in the Lord Forever
So a weaned child is the picture of peaceful humility that illustrates David’s hope in God. David does not fully understand the reasons for his deprivation, disappointment, confusion, and grief. He has endured struggle, dismay, and tears. But now he sits in peace beside his divine Parent, chastened and humbled and willing to trust that God knows what’s best for him.
And it is in this spirit of a weaned child that David says to us, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), “O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131:3). Hope in the God who weans his children. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6; Proverbs 3:12), and his painful weaning is for our good, even though this good may be too marvelous for us to yet understand.
If we trust in God now, if we will place our hope in him now, we will know peace, and our hope will last forevermore.
More from Desiring God
Take a Break from the Chaos | Our souls need quiet retreats. We may not know how badly we need silence and solitude until we get to know them. Some counsel on taking a retreat.
Join Me in Soul-Satisfaction in God | John Piper preaches on Psalm 131 and explores a kind of contentment, or stillness, or quietness of soul, that is rooted not in circumstances, but in God — a God who never changes in his utter commitment to us in Christ.
The Painful Discipline of Our Heavenly Father | John Piper unpacks Hebrews 12:3–11 and explores God’s design in his sovereign governing of our adversaries and circumstances. The design of God is love. Our pain is not the effect of God’s hate, but of God’s love. Will you believe this?