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Many have observed that Psalm 131 anticipates the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18:1–4, where he asks, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”—and calls a little child to stand among his disciples. In certain respects, the follower of Jesus must be childlike, and this psalm makes its own contribution to that theme. Yet childlikeness is not childishness; simplicity is not simplemindedness; humility is not servility. The psalm will speak with greater power if we reflect on some of its features:
(1) According to the superscription, this is a psalm of David. One may well ask during what period of his career he wrote it. More than one writer has suggested it springs from an early period, before the successes of his middle and later years bred a certain arrogance that would have made it impossible for him to write, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me” (Ps. 131:1). That is possible, of course. Nevertheless a very young man who has not yet had the opportunity to concern himself with great matters would not be very likely to write these words—or if he did, they would sound vaguely pretentious, a bit like a pompous excuse for not tackling the tough issues. One cannot finally prove the point, but I suspect this psalm is easier to understand if it springs from the end of David’s life, after he has been humbled by such matters as Bathsheba and Uriah, and by the revolt led by his son Absalom. Humbled, less quick to imagine he alone understands, slower to take umbrage, and more impressed by the wise providence of God, David (one imagines) now quietly writes, “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me” (Ps. 131:1).
(2) Some commentators (and even translations) picture the child of verse 2 as nursing at the breast. But that is not what the text says. David pictures himself “like a weaned child with its mother.” This child, like David, no longer cries for what it formerly found indispensable. This too suggests that David is mature enough now to be giving something up—namely, in the light of verse 1, the confident questing to understand everything, borne of more than a little arrogance. The immaturity he abandons is like a little child squealing to get hold of its mother’s breast. But David has eclipsed that point. He is weaned, and he is content. Cf. Philippians 4:11ff.
(3) The maturity David has reached is grounded not in escapist retreat from life’s complexities, but in trust in the Lord (Ps. 131:3), whose perfect knowledge is a bulwark for our hope.
Second Kings 17 is a defining moment in Old Testament history. The northern kingdom of Israel comes to an end as a political entity. The trigger for this last step in the destruction of the nation is a piece of deceit perpetrated by her last king, Hoshea. While nominally maintaining her allegiance to Assyria (the regional superpower), Hoshea opened negotiations with Egypt, still an impressive political and military power, in the hope that Israel could come under her umbrella under better terms. Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, could only interpret this as treason and destroyed Samaria, the capital of Israel (2 Kings 17:1–6). He transported the leading Israelites to Assyria and then, as the end of the chapter makes clear, imported pagans from elsewhere in the empire, who intermingled with the poor Israelites left behind.
The rest of the chapter provides us with two explicit explanations, and a subtler, implicit one.
First, the ultimate reason for the destruction of the nation was not political or military, but religious and theological (2 Kings 17:7–17). The nation of Israel succumbed to idolatry. While maintaining superficial allegiance to the living God, they “secretly” built up pagan high places—as if the all-seeing God could be deceived! Asherah poles and Baal worship multiplied. The people ignored the prophets God sent them. “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless” (2 Kings 17:15; cf. Jer. 2:5). Rejecting the temple in Jerusalem, they constructed two calf idols. They worshiped astrological deities, messed around in the occult, and finally sank into the abominable practice of child sacrifice to Molech. “So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence” (2 Kings 17:18).
Second, this chapter explains the origins of the syncretistic religion of Samaria (2 Kings 17:24–41). The immigrant pagans mingled with the remaining Jews of the land. Racially and theologically, the results were mixed. Despite warnings from God (in the form of rampaging lions—no longer found in that part of the world, but at one time plentiful), the best this breed can muster is pathetic: they “worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33). This is the background to the “Samaritans” we come across in Jesus’ day.
The third explanation is only implicit. It is obvious only when this chapter is read in the flow of canonical development. Fallen humanity is judged at the Flood; only a few survive. The patriarchs of the nascent Jewish nation end up in slavery. When God delivers them, their unbelief delays their entry into the Promised Land. The period of the judges ends in debauchery, corruption, decay. And now the period of the monarchy is winding up in similar shame.
God help us: we need a more radical answer than these.
17:1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah began to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned nine years. 2 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him. 3 Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria. And Hoshea became his vassal and paid him tribute. 4 But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up and bound him in prison. 5 Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it.
6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. 9 And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. 10 They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, 12 and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 13 Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”
14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings1 and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.
19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.
21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.
24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the LORD. Therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him2 go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the LORD.
29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.
34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the LORD, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The LORD made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the LORD your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.
41 So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children's children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.
3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.
Grace be with you all.
10:1 Israel is a luxuriant vine
that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built;
as his country improved,
he improved his pillars.
2 Their heart is false;
now they must bear their guilt.
The LORD1 will break down their altars
and destroy their pillars.
3 For now they will say:
“We have no king,
for we do not fear the LORD;
and a king—what could he do for us?”
4 They utter mere words;
with empty2 oaths they make covenants;
so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds
in the furrows of the field.
5 The inhabitants of Samaria tremble
for the calf3 of Beth-aven.
Its people mourn for it, and so do its idolatrous priests—
those who rejoiced over it and over its glory—
for it has departed4 from them.
6 The thing itself shall be carried to Assyria
as tribute to the great king.5
Ephraim shall be put to shame,
and Israel shall be ashamed of his idol.6
7 Samaria's king shall perish
like a twig on the face of the waters.
8 The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel,
shall be destroyed.
Thorn and thistle shall grow up
on their altars,
and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,”
and to the hills, “Fall on us.”
9 From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel;
there they have continued.
Shall not the war against the unjust7 overtake them in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will discipline them,
and nations shall be gathered against them
when they are bound up for their double iniquity.
11 Ephraim was a trained calf
that loved to thresh,
and I spared her fair neck;
but I will put Ephraim to the yoke;
Judah must plow;
Jacob must harrow for himself.
12 Sow for yourselves righteousness;
reap steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.
13 You have plowed iniquity;
you have reaped injustice;
you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your own way
and in the multitude of your warriors,
14 therefore the tumult of war shall arise among your people,
and all your fortresses shall be destroyed,
as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle;
mothers were dashed in pieces with their children.
15 Thus it shall be done to you, O Bethel,
because of your great evil.
At dawn the king of Israel
shall be utterly cut off.
129:1 “Greatly1 have they afflicted me from my youth”—
let Israel now say—
2 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back;
they made long their furrows.”
4 The LORD is righteous;
he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5 May all who hate Zion
be put to shame and turned backward!
6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops,
which withers before it grows up,
7 with which the reaper does not fill his hand
nor the binder of sheaves his arms,
8 nor do those who pass by say,
“The blessing of the LORD be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
131:1 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.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.