When God Drags His Feet
When God Drags His Feet
Main Idea: Believers can pray with confidence for God to be glorified when he provides timely help and righteous vindication.
I. Ask God to Help You Immediately (70:1,5).
II. Ask God to Humiliate His Enemies (70:2-3).
III. Ask God to Honor His Name (70:4).
The phrase dragging your feet is usually understood to be an idiom for moving slowly and reluctantly because you don’t want to do something. From the perspective of eternity, God is always on time, and he never operates from a posture of not wanting to help his children. However, from our earthly perspective, it appears sometimes that he’s dragging his feet a little bit, especially when we’re feeling the weight of opposition to our Christian faith. The psalmist apparently knew that feeling. He prays here in Psalm 70 as if God were dragging his feet and in no hurry to answer him.
While Psalm 70 is attributed to David, the intent is for it to be performed “to bring remembrance.” The only other time this term appears is in the heading of Psalm 38. Some see it as referring to the incense offering, in which case Psalms 38 and 70 were to be recited during the presentation of that ritual (Wilson, Psalms Volume 1, 967). The words are pretty much a repeat of Psalm 40:13-17; it may have been separated out as a stand-alone prayer for help to be offered during the ceremony mentioned above. Some commentators also see it as an introduction to the combined composition of Psalms 70 and 71.
Whether seen as an introduction to the next psalm or as an independent piece, this prayer appears to be driven by the psalmist’s perception that God is procrastinating. So he’s crying out to him with three urgent requests. He wants God to help him immediately in the face of enemy attack, to humiliate his enemies, and to honor his own name. When we’re in similar perilous and pressing situations and we need God to act now, believers can find help in making these three requests together.
Ask God to Help You Immediately
This psalm is bookended by the psalmist’s plea for immediate and urgent help. Three elements characterize his predicament. First, the psalmist’s back is against the wall. The appeals “hurry” and “do not delay” are cries of desperation. Second, the psalmist has zero resources of his own from which to draw (v. 5). Third, the psalmist has his God. He cries for the Lord “to rescue me . . . to help me!” (v. 1), for he is “my help and my deliverer” (v. 5). The psalmist has great confidence in God’s ability and faithfulness to deliver him because he’s seen him do it so many times in the past.
These same characteristics illustrate the Christian journey on both sides of conversion. We’re all in the desperate and urgent situation of not having any resources to deal with our sin problem. Outside of God’s intervention we’re doomed to eternal destruction away from his blissful presence. But in the cross event, God—in Christ—shows himself strong as our help and deliverer. When we cry out to him in repentance and faith, he saves us with a grand demonstration of divine faithfulness. This is exactly why we tend to think in terms of prayer when we are describing how a person comes to Christ. We often describe it as asking Jesus into our hearts or praying to accept Christ. There’s nothing wrong with those depictions as long as we’re using them to describe our desperate cry to God to save us.
For us as God’s children, the same is true. Just as we have no fleshly ability to earn our justification, we’re bankrupt of resources to live out the Christian life and experience sanctification. In our flesh we’re vulnerable to the manipulation and control of Satan’s influences. But we have God! We find ourselves at his mercy, the one whose mercies are new every day. Our spiritual and emotional dependence is on him through Christ’s presence within us. And our natural and dependable recourse in the face of oppression is to cry out and trust in him for help. We pray for him to deliver us from the one who hounds us and who seeks to wreak havoc on our Christian lives. God is always faithful to respond.
In addition, he’s always right on time in doing so. Paul said, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). Of our desperate need for help in the Christian life, the author of Hebrews reminds us,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16)
Whether we are coming to Christ or navigating tumultuous waters in our walks with him, God in Christ is always faithful to respond to our cries at just the right moment!
Ask God to Humiliate His Enemies
At the heart of the psalmist’s request is for his enemies to be ashamed, embarrassed, and perturbed over their efforts to oppose God and his people. Their defeat is not enough. The psalmist evidently looks toward a broader effect of God’s judgment against them. He wants others to see his vindication and, subsequently, to fear God. When God responds to his prayer, the psalmist wants the righteous to rejoice and the disobedient to dread.
Still, David’s petition certainly implies the utter defeat of those who are opposing him. His adversaries are described as those who mockingly say, “Aha, Aha!” Like an overconfident opponent in a professional wrestling match prior to the first bell, they taunt him and gloat with the arrogant expectation of his utter defeat. So David prays that they would be “turned back” by God’s hand, that his utter embarrassment of them would make them “retreat” in shameful defeat. Essentially, David is asking for God to once again flip the script on his enemies and turn their haughty heckling into their own humiliation.
Few commentators and other interpreters make any direct application of David’s prayer in these verses. On the surface it does seem strange for us to ask God to humiliate our enemies as opposed to just disciplining them. Even if we make direct application of the psalmist’s imprecations for God to wipe out his adversaries, it’s awkward to go to this extreme. After all, athletes are penalized for taunting their opponents. But once again the ultimate motive is the key. If all we want is for our enemies to see that we ultimately have the upper hand on them, then our motive is for our glory and honor, which is totally sinful and unacceptable. However, if our true desire is for the broader populace to see God’s hand and honor his name, then it’s perfectly good and right for us sometimes to pray for God to humiliate our enemies. The secret is that we pray for their humiliation out of the heartbeat of our own humility.
We once again should be reminded that to pray like this is to pray like Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). We know Jesus’s arrival will be characterized by the humiliation of those who’ve opposed him and his gospel. When Babylon the great falls in the book of Revelation, a voice from heaven says,
As much as she glorified herself and indulged her sensual and excessive ways, give her that much torment and grief. For she says in her heart, “I sit as a queen; I am not a widow, and I will never see grief.” For this reason her plagues will come in just one day—death and grief and famine. She will be burned up with fire, because the Lord God who judges her is mighty. (Rev 18:7-8)
The arrogant boasting of the wicked one and his armies will be laid low for all to see. Their humiliation will be on display for everyone to behold and ponder (cf. Rev 18:9-20). When we pray for Jesus’s kingdom to come, we’re essentially praying for his enemies to be humiliated.
Ask God to Honor His Name
Here’s where we find solid ground on which to ask God to hurry up. The obvious counterpart to the humiliation of God’s enemies is the honor of God’s name. So it’s perfectly natural for the psalmist to follow his request for the former with a request for the latter. He knows that the humiliating overthrow of God’s enemies will not only give relief to him but also will give joy to all “those who love [God’s] salvation” (v. 4). Ross observes, “The contrast is clear: shame for those who seek the life of the psalmist, joy for those who seek the Lord” (Ross, Psalms, vol. 2, 508).
Don’t miss, however, the object of the joy for which David is asking on behalf of God’s people. It’s not their deliverance, their enemies’ defeat, or even their joyful satisfaction itself. The end game for the psalmist is that God’s people will proclaim his greatness!
Herein lies another balance for us as we wrestle with the ethic of praying for God’s enemies to be humiliated. The glory of Christ and the glory of man cannot coexist. It’s one or the other. Either he is exalted and mankind is principally humbled, or mankind is exalted and he is perceived to be humbled. We know that our great and glorious Lord ultimately will not allow anyone to steal his glory; he’s the only one worthy of it. So, if he’s exalted, it follows that those who try to steal his glory will be humiliated.
Furthermore, our assignment to make disciples among all people is the practical pathway of declaring Christ’s glory among all nations (Ps 96:3; Matt 28:18-20; Rev 14:6-7). If we obediently follow his instructions, then the enemies of the gospel naturally will be humiliated. These words in Psalm 70 constitute another compelling argument for us to leverage all that we are and all that we have to proclaim Christ’s glory and gospel to all people. When we do so, the name of Christ is honored and gospel haters—by default—are humiliated. When we don’t, gospel haters are exalted, and the name of Christ—by default—is scorned. Our prayers for God’s enemies to be humiliated and his name to be honored go hand in hand. In essence, they’re two sides of the same coin.
Does God move too slowly for you sometimes? I often hear people say that when God answers prayer, he either says, “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” In this psalm David won’t take no for an answer (69:13), and he’s not big on the idea of waiting. His prayer here seems to teach us that we can press God about the timing of his answer as well as about the subject of our prayer. “When the ax is about to fall, there is no time for ‘Wait’” (Goldingay, Psalms 42–89, 361). When you’re in a jam, throw your pride to the wind and don’t be afraid to yell, “Help! Now!” But when you do, make sure your desperate cry is aired against the backdrop of a desire for God to be glorified among all people. That needs to be our ultimate motivation to secure his help sooner rather than later.
Reflect and Discuss
- Have you ever found yourself questioning God’s timing? What were the circumstances?
- Looking back on those circumstances, do you see God’s wise timing?
- What are some specific things God has taught you while you were waiting on him?
- How has God, in reality, already answered our eternal cries to him?
- Even though we are firmly and eternally in Christ, why do we still have troubles in this life? Do we, like the psalmist, have enemies?
- Notice David’s desire for his enemies: that they be utterly ashamed. Does this contradict Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to love your enemies?
- Can the glory of man and the glory of God coexist? In what way is David actually praying according to God’s will?
- Is David’s prayer one of vengeance or for God’s glory? In other words, is David’s desire for his enemies to be ashamed man centered or God centered?
- In verse 5 David says that he is “oppressed and needy” and desperate for God’s help. Even though our situation may be different from David’s, are we still, in essence, oppressed and needy? How so?
- Surely David knows God’s will is immanent, yet he still cries to him. If God is sovereign, why petition him?