God Is Longsuffering
When Moses wanted to see the glory of God, the Lord allowed him to see his back but not his face. As God passed before Moses, He proclaimed His own nature, saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7). King David wrote about the longsuffering nature of God, saying, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15; see also Psalm 103:8; 145:8). Again, David wrote, “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8). To be longsuffering is to be purposefully slow in becoming angry at having been treated wrongfully. A longsuffering response to having been treated wrongfully is active, not passive, in withholding retribution against a wrong doer.
On many occasions in biblical times, God demonstrated his longsuffering nature by withholding immediate harm from evil doers. During the days of Noah, “the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years’” (Genesis 6:3). The Apostle Peter noted that “the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:20). When faithless spies persuaded the Israelites that they could not take the land of Canaan, God said He would destroy the people. But Moses responded by reciting God’s own words that the LORD is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” Moses pleaded with God to pardon the people (Numbers 14:17-19), and God did. Nehemiah detailed God’s extensive graciousness toward the Israelites when he recounted their history (Nehemiah 9:7-15). But then he noted that “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 You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:16-17).
To be longsuffering,
i.e., to purposefully display graciousness, mercy, and forbearance, is to allow
time and opportunity for an offender to change. When
God’s longsuffering must
eventually come to an end. Longsuffering may delay but not annul God’s judgment.
In the same passage that God declared Himself to be “merciful and gracious,
longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,” He also described Himself
as “by no means clearing the guilty, visiting
the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to
the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18). Although
God was longsuffering toward evil during the days of Noah, he nonetheless
destroyed evil humanity by a flood (Genesis 6-8). Although God was
Just as God is longsuffering so Christians should suffer long toward those who treat them wrongfully. “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. . . . take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed, we count them blessed who endure . . . .” (James 5:7, 10-11). “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). “Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2; see also Colossians 3:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). “Love suffers long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
Copyright ©, September, 2006, by Robert L. Waggoner. Permission is granted to copy and distribute this document for non-profit educational purposes if reproduced in full without additions or deletions. Why not distribute this document to others? For other essays about God and additional information regarding biblical theism, go to the website www.biblicaltheism.com