Usually when we think of discontentment, it rides upon waves of negative connotations. However, discontentment can be both right and righteous when it refers to hungering for more of God: His presence, His ways, His Word.
A holy hungering for more of Him, a desire to experience and know more of His character and to see more of His handiwork in our lives, these are evidences of the stirring of God’s Spirit.
Psalm 85 provides a picture of such divine discontentment.
What Had Been
This particular psalm, attributed to the sons of Korah, was likely written shortly after God’s people were returned to their land from a long Babylonian captivity. One can imagine the poet-songwriter (s) standing in front of a familiar field, reminiscing what it had once been and recognizing what it had currently become.
Much like homeowners who have evacuated land for a hurricane returning to a home at once familiar and foreign after all the damage, the recently returned exiles were likely filled with mixed emotions. Delight to be home on their own soil mixed with devastation at the decline of what had once been.
Fields that were once fertile and well-tended were likely overgrown with wild growth. Homes that had once been tidy were reduced to heaps. The Psalmist knew that all that had once been was only to be attributed to God’s hesed, His favor, His special love for His covenant people.
Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. Psalm 85: 1-3.
The fruitful fields were a result of the face of God turned toward His people.
What Could Be
Remembering what was once, the psalmist moves into a holy discontent for the present. It was not enough that God had delivered them back from Babylon. Rather, the writer hungers for God’s face and His presence once again. He doesn’t think it well enough that God had once been near to His people in the former generations. He boldly asks God to come and do it again with this generation.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Psalm 85: 4-7.
Stories passed down from generations of old left the psalmist wanting to see God show up again, restoring and reviving not only the physical soil but also the spiritual soil in the souls of the people.
What Will Be
The sparks of divine discontentment and holy hungering being stoked, become full fires of confident hope in God.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Psalm 85:8-9.
The psalmist is sure that God will turn His people back towards Him, that He will speak shalom which means completeness, soundness, wholeness, peace over His people. He imagines the uniting of disparate things, heaven and earth, love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace. He can almost see fruitful fields restored.
Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way. Psalm 85: 12-13.
The One who Came
While this psalm was not intended to be messianic in nature, one cannot help but see the hints of the coming redemption in the psalmists longings and hopes. In fact, the language in v 10-11 bears a strong resemblance to the introduction to John’s gospel where Christ is described as being full of grace and truth (John 1: 14).
The writer was more right than he could have known when he predicted that salvation was near and glory would dwell in the land. Qarob, the Hebrew word translated near in v 9, can literally be translated as a close relative, a kinsman, a neighbor. In Christ, salvation quite literally became kin, became a human neighbor. In His tenting among us (also in John 1:14), Christ came near and His glory was among men.
While the psalmist looked ahead to a fuzzy future, we look back upon a crystal clear cross. May we, like the psalmist, be filled with a divine discontentment and a holy hunger for more of His nearness for ourselves and our generation. Turn us towards your Cross, O Christ.