“But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psa 86:15).
Longsuffering is the quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish. It is the opposite of anger, is associated with mercy, and is a moral attribute of God.
Did God know the amount of longsuffering that He would need to extend to man in order for man to have a relationship with Him? This is a question worth pondering. God desired to create and relate to man; He did not hedge at creating mankind due to the sheer amount of longsuffering that would be required.
The Bible contains many illustrations of God’s longsuffering. Adam and Eve experienced the longsuffering of God after they had sinned. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). He could have required Adam and Eve to kill an animal and make their own clothes. But God did a special work to meet a need of man. It would appear that God killed some animals and made clothes of the skins. In the midst of Adam and Eve’s failure and punishment, we see the fullness of compassion, the fullness of graciousness, and the fullness of longsuffering. We also see God’s compassion in driving them out of the garden so they would not eat of the Tree of Life and live in their sin forever.
God’s longsuffering was also illustrated when God set a mark on Cain. God could have allowed Cain to experience the results of sowing and reaping for the problem that Cain created for himself. But God in His longsuffering put a mark on Cain so that others would spare his life.
God saw that the wickedness in noah’s time was very great. The justice of God would have demanded immediate judgment. God waited while the ark was being built and for one hundred twenty years stayed His hand. “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1Pe 3:20). During this time God, in His longsuffering, saw fit to have Noah preach repentance as the ark was being built.
Lot and his family also experienced the longsuffering of God. “And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city” (Gen 19:15- 16). Here we see that the longsuffering of God is related to His mercy. God, in His longsuffering, endeavors to pull people way from their bad habits, evil desires and from all the things that are not good for them. He wants to take people by the hand and lead them away from destruction to a safe place where they will not get hurt.
God’s longsuffering can also be seen in His dealings with the children of Israel. When Moses was on the mount, God assured him of His longsuffering: “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, the LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth…” (Exo 34:6). and yet while Moses was up on the mount speaking with God, aaron had helped the people make and worship the golden calf. True to His word, God chose to be longsuffering and stayed His hand rather than destroy His people.
During the time of the judges, the children of Israel fell away from God and worshipped Baal and other gods. God allowed spoilers to spoil them until they would come to the end of themselves. But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, He would raise up a deliverer who would save them from their enemies. Time and time again, this pattern repeated itself and time and time again God responded in longsuffering. “For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off” (Isa 48:9). Even though they turned their back on God, He chose not to give His glory to others. In Ezekiel 20:16 God said, “Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness.” God used the word nevertheless in this chapter to show how he responded with longsuffering when the children of Israel did not deserve it. He pleads with His people face to face to walk in His statutes.
Another example is found in the life of Elijah. Through the miraculous power of God, he had called down fire on the altar on Mount Carmel causing the people to shout, “The Lord, He is the God.” But soon after witnessing this awesome power of God, Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life. “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (1Ki 19:4) This man of God became so discouraged that he requested that God take his life. But God was patient with Elijah’s changeableness. He was longsuffering with Elijah’s emotions as He sent an angel to feed him. Only later did a longsuffering God say, “What doest thou here, Elijah.”
God also showed his longsuffering to Jonah. “Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jon 1:17). While Jonah was running and turning his back on God, God was stretching out His kind hand to Jonah to save him. Later, after nineveh had repented as a result of Jonah’s preaching, Jonah was angry that God spared nineveh. “And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jon 4:2). This verse proves that Jonah knew the longsuffering character of God but expressed ungratefulness for it by being angry that God had been longsuffering to the Ninevites. But even then God continued to be gracious with Jonah. God gave the experience of the withering of the gourd to help Jonah understand more of His longsuffering character and Jonah’s selfishness.
Let us summarize the truths that we learn from these illustrations of God’s longsuffering.
• God’s longsuffering helps us with the problems we create for ourselves.
• God’s longsuffering extends life when we should rightfully die.
• God’s longsuffering is consistent with providential timing.
• God’s longsuffering is for our correction and for our character development.
• God’s longsuffering considers our frailty and limitations.
• God’s longsuffering brings experiences into our life to help us become longsuffering with others as He is with us.
• God’s longsuffering is for the purpose of rescuing the perishing.
May we be grateful for the longsuffering that God has extended to each of us. One way to show our thanks to God is to extend it to our fellowman.