The Secret Of Contentment (Psalm 123)

The Secret Of Contentment
(Psalm 123)

Jerry Clark

Mr. Jerry Clark of Morrison, Tenn., continues to provide us with practical instruction in this the fourth of his series of fifteen articles on Psalms 120-134.

A song of the goings up:

1. Unto You have I lifted up my eyes,
O Dweller in the heavens!

2. Behold, as the eyes of the servants are lifted up
unto the hand of their lords,
As the eyes of a maid-servant are lifted up
unto the hand of her mistress,
So are our eyes lifted up unto the LORD our God
until that He will be gracious to us.

3. Be gracious to us, O LORD, be gracious to us,
for we have been filled to overflowing with contempt;

4. Our soul has been filled to overflowing with the
mocking of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud.

A careful study of these fifteen Psalms of Degrees will reveal a definite pattern. F. W. Grant remarked that “these fifteen psalms are… in fact five threes, a little pentateuch of song, answering to the larger pentateuch of the Psalms as a whole” ( The Numerical Bible: Psalms, Loizeaux Brothers). In each group there is an “ascent” from trouble and persecution to faith and trust, and finally to triumph and praise.

In actual fact, the Christian life IS somewhat cyclical: there ARE recurring periods of trials, followed by renewed faith in God and the resultant praise and joy. Yet this cycle is not like a ring which goes around and around but always returns to the same starting point, but rather like a spiral — going around but always with a definite progress UPWARD — so that day by day (IF we allow the Lord to have His way in our lives) we grow more and more Christ-like (2 Cor. 3:18).

This Psalm carries us back to the trials of Psalm 120 (the first in the series), yet here we find an important difference, an attitude which marks an advance over the previous Psalm.

The Contrast

This Psalm expresses, first of all, a contrast between an inner attitude (contentment, vv. 1-2) and outer circumstances (contempt, vv. 3-4). This attitude of the soul is that of “lifted up” eyes, an attitude similar to that of a servant or handmaid. Here we do not have the strident cries for help expressed in Psalm 120, but rather a calm, serene, even contented expression of trust as we expectantly wait for the Lord’s help.

This attitude is the more remarkable when we look at the circumstances (vv. 3-4): contempt of the proud and the mocking (or derision, see Psa. 2:4) of those who are at ease (a synonym for the secure and prosperous).

The Contentment

In Philippians 4:11 & 12, the Apostle Paul declares, “I have learned … to be content … in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” This word “instructed” (mueomai) means literally, “I have learned the secret” of being content in any situation. Psalm 123 also reveals to us this same secret that Paul later learned, the secret of experiencing and maintaining joy, confidence and contentment in the midst of adverse conditions (Phil. 4:4, 11, 13).

The “secret” is found in the two words expressing service in this Psalm. Each of these words reveals a distinct and vital aspect of the Christian life. The word “servant” is ‘ebed, which refers simply to a worker or bondman (Deut. 28:68). The root (‘abad) means to toil or labor in any capacity (as “to till the soil,” Gen. 2:5). “Maid-servant” is shiphchah, a bondwoman (as in Deut. 28:68). This word comes from a root meaning “to spread out” or “extend,” and it is used in the sense of the extension of the household by the addition and inclusion of such servants. The related word mishpachah means ‘family.”

These two words sum up the basics of the Christian life: ‘ebed refers to responsibility, shiphchah to privilege. The first expresses our obligation to serve, the second the resources that are available to us as we carry out our tasks.

What are the responsibilities of a servant? First, submission to his Master’s will. Surely, much of the discontent of today arises from a lack of submission. Submission means far more than mere “lip-service” or grudging obedience. It refers to the inner attitude of life which willingly arranges its own life to fit in with that of another. This will always, of course, result in outward obedience. Christians are to submit to Christ, Christian women to their husbands, and children to their parents (1 Cor. 11:3). There is also to be mutual submission among Christian brethren (1 Pet. 5:5).

A second responsibility is dependence: we depend on our Lord to supply our needs (Phil. 4:19). We stand in need of grace (Psa. 123:2b), and since He is able to supply this grace — and does — we therefore trust in Him. Trusting the Lord makes us independent of this world’s mad scramble for security and thus able to remain “content” in the midst of the “ups and downs” of this life.

Yet, as the word “maid-servant” suggests, there are privileges to being a part of a family. The primary privilege is, of course, access: the right to come into our Lord’s presence and make known to Him our need (Phil. 4:6; Heb. 4:16). This promise of answered prayer which is available to “family members,” the expectation of our needs being met, and the assurance of security all result in joy (Phil. 4:10).

The Connection

A second question arises, however, from a consideration of this Psalm: What is the connection between the contentment and the contempt? We have already seen (in Psa. 120) that trials draw us closer to the Lord and make us more dependent on Him, giving us opportunities to both submit to His will and to exercise our privileges, thereby growing in humility and faith. At the same time, however, the contentment WE display in the midst of adversity will itself draw the contempt of those who do not have this contentment. Our very faith and joy in the midst of trouble will often incite the ungodly to engage in bitter scorn and ridicule (John 15:19). This, in turn, will further work to our own sanctification! A cycle indeed, but one which — while not always pleasant to the natural man — will result in the growth of Christian qualities such as contentment in the midst of contempt, security in the midst of uncertainty, and joy in the midst of adversity.

Today, of course, our privileges are greater — we are not only servants but also “sons” — yet the truths implied in the relationship of servant and Master still abide (Phil. 1:2; 2:7). If we would have contentment and joy in our own lives today, let us fulfil our responsibilities and exercise our privileges, submitting to our Lord’s will and depending on Him to meet our every need!