Published on February 21st, 2011 | by Stephanie S. Smith
Like a Weaned Child with its Mother
Psalm 131:1-3 “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.”
The biblical authors and even Christ Himself call God “Father,” so this is a rare reference here, casting God as a “Mother” figure. It immediately raises questions: why is God described here as maternal? And why does David, a warrior, write this metaphor posing himself as an infant at his mother’s breast?
My Bible Study Approach
I try to structure my Bible study first with reading the text, then paying attention to my initial questions about it. Then I take time to address the hermeneutical questions: what did this passage mean to the people who heard it when it was written? And what does it mean for God’s people today?
I can answer a few things right away: my Bible notes that it was written by David, it also notes that this is a “song of ascents”, and because it is in the Psalms I know that the genre of this passage is poetry, distinctive for its emotional expression and creative quality. I searched a few commentaries for the historical setting of this psalm, which I could not find. However, some scholars speculate that David wrote it when he was being hunted by Saul. I consulted the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia to learn what a “song of ascents” is: a song sung by pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem to celebrate Jewish feasts. So David composed this piece on a journey, perhaps preparing his heart for worship on the road approaching Jerusalem.
I read the psalm several times, noticing the structure. First David addresses God, a plea-like assurance of his humility, and then he turns to address Israel. At first, this last phrase puzzled me because it seems abrupt and almost off-topic, but by this shift in audience, David is advocating his personal experience of humbling himself as a communal movement. His hope for Israel is that they too will quiet their souls, cease their complaining, and wait on the Lord.
Then I meditated on the metaphor of the weaned child with his mother, considering the similarities between this image and David’s quiet soul. First, a weaned child denotes maturity, as the child no longer depends on his mother for sustenance. Perhaps then David is expressing that he has outgrown his “neediness”, no longer crying for his mother as a resource to satisfy his hunger, but content just to be in her loving arms. Considering the context of when this psalm was written, it seems that David is approaching worship in Jerusalem and has determined that, like a weaned child with his mother, he will draw near to God because he loves Him, and not because he wants to “get” something out of him. And then in the last verse, David urges Israel to do the same.
What are your thoughts on this passage? On this method? Do you have other notes I should consider?