By Samuel Csonka
God throughout all the ages has continued to let man remain on this earth because he is longsuffering. . . . God is truly thinking of us, and desiring our reconciliation. He does not wish to see us continue on our pathway to destruction.
In Exodus 34:5-7,we find Moses on Mt. Sinai ready to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Before this happened, though, God came down and presented himself before Moses:
Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long- suffering, and abounding in good- ness 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.
God described himself to Moses as “longsuffering.” In this article, let’s examine the longsuffering character of God:
1. God is very longsuffering, but his longsuffering has limitations. Since God created man to be a free moral agent (ability to choose right or wrong), he has had to deal with man’s sin. For about 1500 years after creation, man’s sin grew worse and worse; At least, until we read of God’s reaction to it in Genesis 6:5-7: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’”
Of course, we know that he kept Noah and his family alive, so that the human race was not totally annihilated. But soon after this we see man up to his old ways of trying God’s patience and longsuffering, and doing what pleased himself instead of what pleased God.
Even 900 years after this, when God had rescued the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, they turned their hearts away from God. Psalm 78 provides us with a very nice outline of the things that Israel did to test God’s patience:
Psalm 78:10-11 says, “They did not keep the covenant of God; they re- fused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them.” Verse 17 continues: “But they sinned even more against Him by rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness.” Notice God’s reaction to them: “Therefore the Lord heard this and was furious; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel, because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in His salvation” (Ps. 78:21- 22). Continuing his longsuffering and patience with them, he provided them with sustenance and protection. But, “In spite of this they still sinned, and did not believe in His wondrous works. Therefore their days He consumed in futility, and their years in fear” (Ps. 78:32-33).
They went back and forth, back and forth, rebelling and returning, sinning and repenting. “But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, And did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath; for He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again” (Ps. 78:38-39).
Throughout the long period of the rule of judges and the dynasties of kings, Israel continued the same oscillation — back and forth, rebelling and returning. Then by the mouth of Jeremiah, the prophet of Anathoth, God spoke these words: “If you will return, O Israel, says the Lord, Return to Me; and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight, then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, ‘The Lord lives,’ in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory. For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabit- ants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings’”(Jer. 4:1-4).
God gave them fair warning that his longsuffering was running out. But, still they remained disobedient. And, after the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminded them of how they had tested God and worn out his patience with them. He said, “So the Lord could no longer bear it, because of the evil of your doings and because of the abominations which you com- mitted. Therefore your land is a desolation, an astonishment, a curse, and without an inhabitant, as it is this day” (Jer. 44:22).
Even so, God did not utterly destroy the people. In Isaiah 48:9, he declared through the prophet: “For My name’s sake I will defer My anger, And for My praise I will restrain it from you, so that I do not cut you off.” He had promised to save a remnant of the people to bring them back into the land for he had a future purpose to accomplish.
Years later, the Levites of the remnant of Israel who returned to Jerusalem remembered God’s patience and the limit of his long- suffering. While remembering their father’s sinful ways, they exclaimed, “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” (Neh. 9:30).
Throughout all these thousands of years, God’s longsuffering had been tested and tried. Man, due to his sin and incontinence, had revolted against the mandates of the Al- mighty God and received his just reward for it.
Now, come ahead several hundred years, to the New Testament age. Re- member the future purpose that God wanted to accomplish? The apostle Paul in Romans 9 refers to this, and also to God’s longsuffering in order to accomplish this purpose. He says, “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 on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared be- forehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (vv. 22-24).
The reason that Paul gives for why God was so patient with the Israelites, was so that God, through the lineage of David, might bring forth the Messiah to be the Savior of all — both Jew and Gentile. He had also mentioned this in Romans 3:25-26, where he wrote of the Christ “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God had, through his love and forbearance, offered mankind the very thing which he needed, but couldn’t provide for himself — redemption from sin. Yet, knowing this, the majority of the people of Paul’s day rejected Christ and his teaching. Why? Because of the very thing that separated man from God in the first place, and that still separates him from God — sin. Sin, in the form of selfishness, worldliness, unrighteousness, and just plain wickedness, had been the reason for their rejection of God and his Word.
Even Jesus himself, during his last days on the earth had this to say about his chosen people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37). It is sad to look back on all the chances that they had to make peace with God, but squandered.
Nevertheless, God throughout all the ages has continued to let man re- main on this earth because he is longsuffering. Peter reveals the main goal of God’s longsuffering in 2 Peter 3:9 where he writes: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long- suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God is truly thinking of us, and desiring our reconciliation. He does not wish to see us continue on our pathway to destruction. He wants us to return to him. God’s words: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11), could be applied spiritually to every man. “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4).
Truly God has been, and continues to be, longsuffering to those who reject him and his will. But, the time is coming soon in which sinful man will receive his just reward. For the apostle Paul through the Spirit of God says: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil . . .” (Rom. 2:5-9).
Now, what about you? You who have lived on this earth for “X number of years” and have still not obeyed the gospel of Christ. What are you waiting for?
In Romans 1:20, Paul proclaimed that all men through- out the ages were without excuse before God: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” If those who had not even heard the gospel of Christ are without excuse, what about those who have heard it time and time again? Remember — God’s longsuffering has a limit, and yours runs out on the day that you die. Haven’t you made him wait long enough?