The headline in a recent Wall Street Journal was titled “War in the Middle East is closer than you think.” It didn’t say ‘might be closer’ rather “it is closer than you think”. The subhead to that was: “Russia isn’t parked, (It has not stopped its development of the war with the Ukraine.) Iran isn’t pacified, (it’s going ahead full force with its nuclear program.) and both are coordinating strategies with China.”
Russia, Iran, and China are going to become a potent force in the world scene. And given their geography you can see a bull’s eye being painted on the political nation of Israel today. The Palestinians will embrace the Iranians if they can use the Iranians to obliterate Israel. And America is not very strong now in terms of supporting Israel. Nations are divided against one another worldwide.
Yet during the Passover season before His crucifixion Christ was totally focused on why He came as a human; the unity, the oneness of the Father and His creation weighed heavily on His mind because God is creating a unity between the spiritual and the physical realms that would be a witness to the world.
If God’s people could have that unity of mind in the God family, it would be a powerful witness to a very divided and fractured world. It means that we must leave behind the effect developed in us by an environment created by the god of this world.
Inculcating the characteristics of Christ is a process that is essential for God’s intended purpose of creating a family. One characteristic of God that is exemplified throughout the Bible is longsuffering. Without this quality humanity’s connection with God would not exist.
God’s longsuffering begins in the Old Testament and moves forward to when the Holy Spirit becomes available to the human mind.
In Exodus, Moses had a unique experience with God. He asked if he could see Him: “And he said, ‘Please, show me Your glory.’ Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Exodus 33:18-19). Moses was about to see the character and nature of God, His goodness. He put him in a rock, covered him with His hand intending to show Moses His back because no man could see His face and live.
“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,” (Exodus 34:6). The central quality of being merciful and gracious leads to the central quality of longsuffering. He is longsuffering towards us.
The Theological Wordbook states that the Hebrew word for longsuffering implies ‘that God takes a deep breath as He holds His anger in abeyance’. There are many times when God’s anger is completely justified. But there are many accounts where He withholds His anger:
“You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger, And brought them water out of the rock for their thirst, And told them to go in to possess the land Which You had sworn to give them. But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments. They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:15-17).
“Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go. You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out And their feet did not swell” (Nehemiah 9:19-21).
“Yet for many years You had patience with them, And testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful” (Nehemiah 9:30-31).
A very important aspect of God’s longsuffering is the contrast of God’s graciousness and Israel’s rebelliousness. What is the key? Nehemiah 9:26 reveals that they “… Cast Your law behind their backs…”
God gave them His law, a covenant, promises, wonderful blessings and they didn’t want anything to do with it. Nehemiah 9:26 gives good insight into why God is longsuffering: “… That [He] might bring them back to [His] law…”
God allows space for repentance. He did that many times with the nation of Israel. We find in Psalm 86 that Israel misread God’s longsuffering as permission to continue to do some of the same things. But that’s human nature. Nevertheless, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalms 86:15).
This is a beautiful quality of God and it’s for our good. Longsuffering is a characteristic of who and what He is. It becomes a great benefit to whomever He is expressing it.
“The Lord executes righteousness And justice for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalms 103:6-14).
God’s longsuffering is associated with mercy and it equates with pity, to have compassion or empathy. It says “He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.” That is mercy and that is pity. He understands and can put Himself in our shoes. This is the Being who was God, who was with God and became human knowing that humanity needed a Savior (John 1:1-2,14). There is a plan of salvation being laid out and it’s a merciful act of God that He has not lost patience with humanity. But what does God’s longsuffering do for us?
God’s longsuffering provides hope.
Hope is in the space for repentance. God always allows enough space for repentance. He is not harsh and cruel if one foot is over the line. He will warn and He will give every opportunity for somebody to come to repentance. He did with Israel over and over and over. Jonah is a good example.
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:2). Here is a situation where God would be justified in wiping out Nineveh. It’s not an evil act on God’s part. It tells you, “The wickedness has come up before Me.”
“So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, (Declare a fast throughout the city.) . . .Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:5-7,10).
In this case they embraced the graciousness of God and did something about it. So, God took a deep breath and held His anger in abeyance. We can also see in the book of Joel that this godly characteristic is going to be displayed in the future during the Day of the Lord:
“Blow the trumpet in Zion And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the Lord is coming, For it is at hand: . . . Now, therefore, says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:1,12-13).
God’s longsuffering serves as a warning.
The warning is wrapped up in this space that God gives for repentance. He wants something positive to be produced, not just bringing something to an end.
“Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.’ (Moses intercedes on behalf of the people.) . . . And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, . . . Pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’” (Numbers 14:11-12,17-19). These people had space to repent but they did not heed the warning which is representative of carnality.
God desires for humanity to turn from evil ways (Ezekiel 33:11). That’s the attitude of longsuffering. The intent of God’s heart is very clear. He’s wanting a positive result after He expresses longsuffering. But we need to understand that space is not grace. Don’t misread God’s longsuffering as approval.
In the New Testament the Greek gives the same understanding of longsuffering: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
The people were reading into it license instead of grace. God expresses longsuffering on a personal basis now rather than national. All the examples we read in the Old Testament were essentially toward the nation of Israel. When it comes to the New Testament it’s towards individual followers of Christ.
“… Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory…” (Romans 9:20-23).
He could have exercised His anger but He exercised longsuffering instead. He’s trying to bring the Gentiles (unbelievers) into the scope of the plan of salvation. He makes known the more important aspects of His glory and mercy.
And we must factor the same character attributes of God to ourselves; The obvious are the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24). Note that longsuffering is one of the fruits.
The Vines Expository says, “Longsuffering is that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not retaliate or promptly punish; it is the opposite of anger and is associated with mercy.” As followers of Christ, we must develop self-restraint.
We are living in a society that is going to test our patience to the Nth degree. It’s going to be very easy for us not to exhibit self-restraint. We may feel there is justified anger on our part. And anger of itself isn’t wrong. It is how we deal with. There are many things in this world that are so anti-God and so anti-God’s way of life that we will have a difficult time with. We need to develop this quality of longsuffering and the ability to take a deep breath and not just respond immediately with anger.
“Paul says: “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
God’s dealing with Paul showed a pattern by which we can be deeply encouraged. Paul persecuted God’s people even putting some to death. Yet God’s longsuffering and mercy toward Paul is encouraging in that we can know He is willing to give us the same degree of longsuffering. This gives us a sure hope.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . and not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:1,3-5).
Even though justified by faith we are going to experience tribulations because challenging times develop strong, godly characteristics within us. Hope encourages us to be longsuffering which also helps us wait patiently for Him.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). How important is that? “. . . consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation . . .” (2 Peter 3:15).
God gives us space to repent. However, it is not open ended. There is a time when God will say, “That’s enough. You’ve had enough time.” But there will be enough time. That’s the point. God is not willing that any should perish. We will all have the experience of God’s longsuffering so that we can produce good fruit. It is an attribute of God that He extends to enable us to be motivated to value the salvation that we have through Christ.
The longsuffering of God can become a character attribute in us. We need to draw from God’s longsuffering to fuel our personal ability to overcome, to change, to develop. We need to be people who can hold our temper, not be easily angered. We need to take a deep breath and just slowly contemplate the situation and let God handle it.