When God Holds Back
Arise, O God, and defend your cause.
Remember how these fools insult you all day long.
Psalm 74 was written after the Babylonians overthrew Jerusalem in 587 B.C. In that year, they destroyed the city, and burnt the temple to the ground. The residents of Jerusalem who were not killed were taken to Babylon, where they remained in exile for decades.
In light of the destruction of Jerusalem, Psalm 74 wonders, “O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture?” (74:1). These questions are especially urgent because the mistreatment of God’s own people reflects poorly on him. Those who razed the temple defiled the place that bears God’s own name (74:7). The enemies of God insulted him through their actions (74:10). The ruins of Jerusalem continue to defame the Lord. Thus, Psalm 74 calls out: “Arise, O God, and defend your cause. Remember how these fools insult you all day long” (74:22).
Yet God does not arise, at least not yet. God does not immediately smite Babylon. God allows those who insult him not only to live, but even to flourish. How counterintuitive this is! How apparently inconsistent with a God who is so powerful that he created all things (74:12-17), even “the starlight and the sun” (74:16).
This picture of God holding back reminds me of the last hours of Jesus’ life. When the soldiers came to arrest him on the night before he was crucified, one of his disciples grabbed a sword and began to fight. In response, Jesus said, “Put away your sword…Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” (Matt. 26:52-53). Yet, Jesus held back. Why? Because God’s purposes needed to be fulfilled.
When we see God being mocked today, when we hear people deride the Lord and ridicule Jesus Christ, our hearts are stirred with indignation. Like the psalmist, we pray, “Arise, O God, and defend your cause. Remember how these fools insult you all day long.” Yet God holds back for a time, so that his purposes might be fulfilled. He seeks not to destroy those who malign him, but to save them.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond when God holds back and does not do what you wish he would do? What helps you to be patient when God’s timing doesn’t match your timing?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, it is so common today for your name to be insulted. People say such terrible, slanderous things about you. Yet you hold back.
Arise, O Lord, and reveal your glory. May those who malign you be overwhelmed by your holiness and mercy. May they be captured by your love.
Help me to be a channel of your grace to those who don’t know you, even to those who denigrate you. May your purposes be fulfilled in and through me. Amen.
Here’s how . . . .
This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.