The Character of God:
Longsuffering = Slow to Anger = Patient
Old Testament, Hebrew arek aph
Psalm 86:6-17; Psalm 103:6-14
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
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.
Exodus 34:6-9 (Jewish Publication Society Bible)
Numbers 14:11-24 (3/1/2011)
6-7 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed: 'The LORD, the LORD, God, merciful and
gracious, arek aph long-suffering, and abundant in goodness
and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and
transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.'
8-9 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. And he said: 'If now
I have found grace in Thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray Thee, go in the midst of us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance.'
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.
Numbers 14:18 (Jewish Publication Society Bible)
Psalm 86:6-17; Psalm 103:6-14 (3/2/2011)
18 The LORD is arek aph slow to anger, and plenteous in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.
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.
(Jewish Publication Society Bible)
Joel 2:1-13 (3/3/2011)
Psalm 86:15 But Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion and gracious, arek aph slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth.
Psalm 103:8 The LORD is full of compassion and gracious, arek aph slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
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.
Joel 2:12-13 (Bible in Basic English)
Nahum 1:1-6; Jonah 4:1-11 (3/4/2011)
But even now, says the Lord, come back to me with all your heart, keeping from food, with weeping and
Let your hearts be broken, and not your clothing, and come back to the Lord your God: for he
is full of grace and pity, arek aph slow to be angry and great
in mercy, ready to be turned from his purpose of punishment.
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.
Nahum 1:1-3, A Prophecy Against Ninevah (my revision of the King James Version):
1 The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
2 God is jealous, and the LORD takes revenge; the LORD takes revenge, and is furious; the
LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserves wrath for his enemies.
3 The LORD is arek aph slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all
acquit the wicked: the LORD has his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust
of his feet.
Jonah 4:1-2, God has forgiven the Ninevites (my revision of the King James Version):
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
2 And he prayed to the LORD, and said, I ask you, LORD, wasn't this what I said, when I was yet
in my country? Therefore I fled before to Tarshish: for I knew that you are a gracious God,
and merciful, arek aph slow to anger, and of great kindness,
and you repent from evil.
Other Aspects of God's Character
Glory, Old Testament
Holiness, Old Testament
Longsuffering, Old 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
Copyright 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
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Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
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for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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