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Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock 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 burned 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 forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your 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 mocked him through their actions (74:10). The ruins of Jerusalem continue to defame the Lord. Thus, Psalm 74 calls out: “Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long” (74:22). We might say, “God, get up and defend yourself!”
Yet God does not rise up, at least not yet. God did not immediately smite Babylon. God allowed those who insulted him not only to live, but even to flourish for a season. How counterintuitive this is! How apparently inconsistent with a God who is so powerful that he created all things (74:12-17), even the day and the night (74:16).
This picture of God holding back reminds me of the last hours of Jesus’s 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 your sword back in its place . . . for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:52-53). Yet, Jesus held back. Why? Because God’s purposes needed to be fulfilled through his suffering and death.
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, “Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock 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 TO CONSIDER:
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?
Gracious God, it is so common today for your name to be insulted. People say such terrible, slanderous things about you. Yet you hold back.
Rise up, O Lord, and reveal your glory! May those who malign you be overwhelmed by your holiness and mercy. May your justice and love capture them.
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.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: The God of Vengeance?
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