A Song of Ascents

Psalms 131:1-3
1 A Song of Ascents. Of David.
LORD, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.
2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.

There are conflicting ideas about why Psalms 120 to 134 are called the Songs of Ascent (or Songs of Degrees in the old King James Bible). One view is that these fifteen Psalms were sung on the fifteen steps leading up to the tabernacle of the temple in Jerusalem. Some scholars have asserted that these songs were sung by the returning Babylonian exiles, but not all of the songs quite fit that scenario. Another view is that they were sung leading up to the major feasts in Jerusalem, when all the Jews would “go up” (ascend) to Jerusalem from everywhere in the Holy Land. In any case, they all are about humbling ourselves before the Lord and seeking His help and His peace forever.

Look at the language in these Psalms:

Psalms 120:1 “In my distress I cried to the LORD, And He heard me.”
Psalms 121:1-2 “I will lift up my eyes to the hills– From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”
Psalms 122:3-4 “Jerusalem is built As a city that is compact together, Where the tribes go up, The tribes of the LORD, To the Testimony of Israel, To give thanks to the name of the LORD.”
Psalms 123:1 “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens.”

And all of them have similar verses, wherein the people of Israel are reminded to turn constantly to the Lord for help, to realize that it is not by their own hand that they have succeeded thus far but only by the Lord’s grace and power. They are urged to return to Him in thanksgiving and praise. And today’s verses from Psalms 131 give us the words of the shepherd-king David, who stood humbly before the Lord and declared his need for God’s wisdom and guidance.

In our modern society, it isn’t easy to be humble. The past few generations have been brought up to be self-sufficient, to be ourselves, to do what feels good to us, to be proud and strong and independent. This constant bombardment of “be yourself” rhetoric has led us away from dependence on the Lord. Today’s situation is frighteningly prophetic, as Moses had warned Israel thousands of years ago:

Deuteronomy 8:11-20
“Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest–when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end–then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’
“And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
“Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the LORD destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the LORD your God.”

Be sure to read that again. Don’t just gloss over it, because that is exactly what has happened here in America and throughout the prosperous Western world. We have lifted up our own hearts and forgotten the Lord who alone gives us power to get wealth. We say to ourselves again and again, “My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.”

But David knew better. He knew that whatever wisdom he might have to rule Israel came from the Lord. He knew that whatever pride he might know should be the pride of serving the one true King of kings and Lord of lords. He knew that whatever peace he knew and whatever prosperity he experienced and whatever might he had ALL came from the Lord. And so even as he looked up to God, even as he went up to worship the Lord, he bowed himself down low and set aside all pride and arrogance and even confidence. He stood before the Lord and proclaimed that the peace and calm he knew was as if he was a weaned child–for such we all are before our Almighty Father in heaven. And isn’t that a great picture? The great King David of Israel, commander of hundreds of thousands and slayer of the giant Goliath, resting in the arms of his Father like a toddler, calm and content, secure in the arms of the One who created the universe, strong in the strength of the One who had lifted him up from shepherd to king.

When we come before the Lord, that is the attitude we must have: no confidence, no pride, no strength of our own. Leave it all behind. Have no hope in our own power or might. Have no hope in our own wisdom or intelligence. Have no hope even in our own peace. No, we are to hope only in the Lord. And so today, before we set out on our day, let us read this Psalm and make the words our own. Let us all bow down before the Lord, laying aside all haughtiness and self-confidence, and tell Him we look up to Him. Like David, let us humble ourselves as we go up to the Lord, and place our hope only in Him.



About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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