Another great trait ascribed to the
God of Israel is that of being “longsuffering.” According to the Funk and
Wagnall’s Dictionary, the word “longsuffering” means “Patiently enduring
injuries.” The Scriptures insist that God is very longsuffering with us humans,
and that He is not an impulsive, vengeful God who smashes people as soon as they
commit any infraction.
From the beginning of
creation, we see that God has always been very long-suffering. Though both Adam
and Eve sinned a great sin, God allowed them to live to the ripe old age of
nine-hundred-and-thirty-years, before they finally experienced the death penalty
(Genesis 5). Cain, also, was not immediately sentenced to death, after killing
his brother Abel, though he was punished for his sin.
In the book of Genesis,
we read that thousands of years ago the world was totally destroyed because of
its corruption. God’s action was no doubt drastic, but it was definitely not
hasty. Before the decision was reached, we read that God waited until the whole
earth “was corrupt before God and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen
6:11). Verse twelve seems to indicate that, before God decided to wipe out life
from the earth, He took a very close look to make sure degeneracy was truly all
pervasive. “So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for
all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth”(Gen. 6:12). It was only
when evil reached its fullest that God rendered His final judgment: “The end of
all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through
them; and behold I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:13).
God’s longsuffering is
also manifested in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Some may find the total
destruction of the two cities as being drastic, but do they realize how long God
had waited before sentencing the two cities to total destruction? God could have
intervened much sooner. After all, people do not become that degenerate
overnight. Sodom and Gomorrah deteriorated over a long period of time. The
longsuffering God waited patiently until the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah
became “great,” and their sins became “very grievous” (Gen. 18:20).
asked God if He would abandon His destructive plans if only ten righteous people
were found in both cities (Genesis 18:32). Surprisingly, God agreed to spare
both cities for the sake of only ten righteous inhabitants. As the story
reveals, not even ten righteous inhabitants were found.
Clearly, much time went
by for such a drastic level of deterioration to take place. In the mean time,
God saw the violence, the adultery, the fornication, the abounding debauchery,
the revolting incest and waited until it was clearly time to cut out the
malignant tumor. Before doing so, He most probably offered warnings through
“righteous” Lot, who was a living witness of righteousness in the area for a
long time. We also know that Melchizedek, “Priest of the Most High God”(Genesis
15), was in the area, and it is not inconceivable that He might have warned them
example of God’s longsuffering is found in God’s dealing with the Canaanites.
Though it is true that God decreed their total destruction at the hands of the
Israelites, it is also true that, as with Sodom and Gomorrah, God waited for a
long time to intervene until there was no other solution to their debauchery. In
Genesis 15: 16 God foretells to Abraham what would have happened to his
descendents centuries later. He tells them that the Egyptians would have
afflicted his progeny for “four hundred years,” and that, finally, they would
have achieved deliverance (Genesis 15: 13). Why did Israel have to wait that
long? Because, God explains, “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete”
(V. 16). Clearly, God waited hundreds of years before the Amorites became
degenerate enough to deserve total destruction.
With ancient Israel God
showed patience and compassion by waiting long for them to repent and by warning
His people consistently with His prophets, but always in vain. “Yet many years
didst Thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by Thy spirit in Thy
prophets yet would they not give ear” (Nehemiah 9:30).
God is longsuffering
with us Christians as well. Christian converts often start with zeal and total
commitment but, with time, the fervor wanes, and, often, their fight against sin
becomes slack and defeat follows all too frequently. We Christians know better.
We have tasted of the love of God and know what is right and what is wrong; yet
we fail all too many times to maintain Godly standards. Does God wipe us out
because “we know better”? Hardly. He waits and waits for sobriety to occur and
even helps us along with discipline, if necessary, so as not to see us lose our
salvation (Hebrews 12:6).
The Parable of the Fig
Tree, in Luke 13, is also enlightening in this regard. A fig tree (The
Christian) bears no fruit and the owner wants it chopped down, but the dresser
of the vineyard convinces him to leave it for another year to “dig about it and
dung it” (V. 8), hoping for fruit during the next season. If, after much work
and effort, the tree continues to be fruitless, it will be cut down. In this
parable we are again reassured of God’s mercy and longsuffering. He, the dresser
of his spiritual vineyard, is willing to help the fruitless Christian with extra
help. Only after having done all that there is to be done, and, only after it
becomes clear that His efforts are hopeless, will He intervene and chop the tree
At the end of times, we
also see God’s longsuffering in the fact that He even postpones the Great
Tribulation so as to give His sinful people a chance to repent of their sins.
Thus, in the context of Christ’s seeming distant return, the Apostle Peter
emphasizes that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promises as some count
slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish
but all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
From the beginning of
time, to the end of time, God shows Himself to be a longsuffering God. Though He
is a great God of justice and power, He exercises justice with patience, always
hoping that the unrighteous will finally repent. No doubt, God will ultimately
intervene to eradicate evil, but only when there is no hope that any change is
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