The Character of God: 
Longsuffering = Slow to Anger = Patient

Old Testament, Hebrew arek aph

Exodus 34:1-9
Numbers 14:11-24
Psalm 86:6-17; Psalm 103:6-14
Joel 2:1-13
Nahum 1:1-6; Jonah 4:1-11

Other Aspects of God's Character

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Exodus 34:1-9 (2/28/2011)

This week’s word about God’s character is “longsuffering.”  The Hebrew is arek aph, literally “slow to anger,” and it’s translated as “slow to anger” a number of times.  Other times it’s translated “patient.” 

Now, we know that sometimes a cat is a small feline, and sometimes a cat is a jazz musician.  When a word is translated several different ways, it pays to look at the context and see if it actually could mean different things in different contexts.  Arek aph does not – it just tends to get translated differently (in the same translation, that is) in exactly the same contexts, and one of those contexts is the most common description of God’s character:  “merciful and gracious, arek aph long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation.”  In this exact phrase, arek aph gets translated more than one way. 

So it is well to remember that longsuffering equals slow to anger equals patient, not as synonyms, but as exactly the same word in the Hebrew text.
Numbers 14:11-24 (3/1/2011)

God demonstrated his mighty power in Egypt, but apparently the Jews had a short memory.  As soon as they got out into the desert, they started complaining about the food, whining that they were better off in Egypt, and worshipping a golden calf.  The LORD was miffed about all this and decided to start over from scratch, but Moses talked him out of it. 

The argument Moses uses is twofold.  First, at the moment the Egyptians and the other nations are really impressed with God’s power; however, killing his own people would suggest that he couldn’t take care of them, and that would make him look bad.  Second, Moses says, “You said yourself that you are slow to anger.  Show your power by giving the people a little more time.”

God replies, “FINE, I won’t kill them all.  Nevertheless, the particular people who saw my miracles in Egypt but don’t believe now are not going to see the promised land.”  The point is, even though God is slow to anger, you still have to take the consequences of your own actions.
Psalm 86:6-17; Psalm 103:6-14 (3/2/2011)

Ordinary people can be holy, and kings and whatnot can have glory, so just out of curiosity, I checked to see whether any human being is described in the Bible as slow to anger.  No, but three proverbs hold this up a virtue to be pursued (14:29, 15:18, 16:32).

We also encourage each other to be patient.  When you are trying to explain something, and the explainee is getting impatient, what do you say?  Probably you say, “Now, bear with me here.”  Be patient with me; excuse my lack of clarity; remember who I am.   

David tells us three times (Psalms 86, 103, and 145) that God bears with us.  Why? Because he knows what we are made of; he remembers that we are dust.
Joel 2:1-13 (3/3/2011)

When my kids were little, I explained to them, taught them, scolded them, yelled at them, threatened them, sent them to their room, fined them, and even spanked them.  (I didn’t ground them, because they never went anywhere – but they knew it was theoretically possible.)  Only once did I ever get angry with them.  The rest of the time, I was teaching them what was expected of civilized human beings and demonstrating that uncivilized behavior has consequences.  Do the crime; do the time.

God’s children, the people of Israel, had trouble learning what was expected of them, so he also did a lot of explaining, teaching, scolding, yelling, threatening, sending to foreign places, and spanking.  Fortunately, God is slow to anger.  Even when the well-deserved punishment is on its way, repentance usually persuades him to commute the sentence to time served.
Nahum 1:1-6; Jonah 4:1-11 (3/4/2011)

This week we’ve seen that God is slow to anger, i.e., patient or longsuffering.  Several of the larger contexts, however, show that “slow” is not the same as “never.”  God has no truck with sin.  His patience is not to be confused with tolerance for sin, but rather as giving us time to repent.  God prefers repentance to punishment, but it’s our call.
Other Aspects of God's Character
Glory, Old Testament, New Testament
Holiness, Old Testament, New Testament
Longsuffering, Old Testament, New Testament
Steadfast Love, Old Testament, which is Mercy in the New Testament
Graciousness, Old Testament, which is Grace in the New Testament
Jealousy, Old Testament
Intolerance of Sin, Old Testament, New Testament

Copyright 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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