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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).

            Kind-hearted Abraham 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 as well.

                 Another wonderful 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 down.

            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 forthcoming.


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