The Long-suffering of God an Eternal Blessing to Mankind
“LOVE IS LONG-SUFFERING.”—1 Cor. 13:4.
1. (a) How is Jehovah depicted in the Scriptures? (b) Why is Jehovah long-suffering?
THROUGHOUT the Holy Scriptures we learn of the long-suffering of God. In the Bible Jehovah is depicted as a God of gentle disposition, One who would rather bless than punish. His forbearance suspends even the deserved stroke, when sin committed cries for vengeance. Jehovah’s long-suffering endures repeated provocations from men and angels. He is called by the psalmist a God “slow to anger.” (Ps. 103:8) Jehovah suffers long because he is God and because he is love, for “God is love.”—1 John 4:16.
2. (a) Define long-suffering. (b) How is long-suffering rendered in many Hebrew Scripture passages?
2 Long-suffering is endurance of ill-treatment without irritation or retaliation. It means possessing a spirit that is tolerant of those whose conduct or speech exasperates and provokes to anger or indignation. The literal meaning of the Greek word of which “long-suffering” is the translation is “long-tempered,” the opposite of our familiar expression “short-tempered.” In three Hebrew Scripture passages (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15) the New World Translation substitutes “slow to anger,” a more literal rendering of the Hebrew phrase “length of face or nostrils, where anger flares up,” for the Authorized Version’s “long-suffering.” In many passages, however, such as at Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; 145:8; Jeremiah 15:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2 and Nahum 1:3, the two translations are interchangeable. The two expressions “long-suffering” and “slow to anger” are, therefore, seen to be synonymous or of the same meaning.
3. What is the English meaning of the word “suffer,” and how does this agree with the Scripture definition of the word?
3 The English word “suffer,” as used, is given various meanings, among which is: to permit, or tolerate; to hold up, or delay; such as holding up or delaying the execution of a judgment. The Scriptural meaning of the word “suffer” is often the same. It means being slow to express anger, forbearing, disposed to defer, that is, to permit the wicked one to take his own course until God’s due time to act.
4. What does long-suffering not mean, and why?
4 Long-suffering does not mean a lowering of the standards of justice regarding right and wrong. We are assured of this fact by the prophet Moses who wrote of Jehovah: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deut. 32:4) Those who despise God’s forbearance are ignorant of the purpose for which it is manifested. Those who mistake it for weakness, or for injustice or indifference are simply morally blind.
5. Why is long-suffering not pacifism?
5 The long-suffering of God is not pacifism either. It may be and is accompanied by war to the death against evil or wrongdoing. The inspired Proverbs tell us: “Do not become envious of the man of violence, nor choose any of his ways. For the devious person is a detestable thing to Jehovah, but His intimacy is with the upright ones. The curse of Jehovah is on the house of the wicked one, but the abiding place of the righteous ones he blesses.” (Prov. 3:31-33; Ex. 20:5, 6) Jehovah does not compromise with the wicked, but is patient with them, “because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance” and live.—2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 3:17-21.
6. In what way is long-suffering more than patience, and how is this proved in the case of Israel?
6 Long-suffering is, therefore, more than patience. The word implies not merely patient endurance in the face of provocation, but a refusal to give up hope for improvement in the disturbed relationship. This aspect of long-suffering is seen when Jehovah, through the prophet Isaiah, said to ancient Israel: “I have spread out my hands all day long to a stubborn people, those who are walking in the way that is not good, after their thoughts; the people made up of those offending me right to my face constantly.” Still God does not disown or destroy them. Why not? The prophet continues: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘In the same way that the new wine is found in the cluster and someone has to say, “Do not ruin it, because there is a blessing in it,” so I shall do for the sake of my servants in order not to bring everybody to ruin. And I will bring forth out of Jacob an offspring and out of Judah the hereditary possessor of my mountains; and my chosen ones must take possession of it, and my own servants will reside there. . . . But you men are those leaving Jehovah, those forgetting my holy mountain, . . . I will destine you men to the sword, and you will all of you bow down to being slaughtered; for the reason that I called, but you did not answer; I spoke, but you did not listen; and you kept doing what was bad in my eyes, and the thing in which I took no delight you chose.’” (Isa. 65:2-12) So Jehovah exercised a peculiar kind of long-suffering in behalf of those who would prove faithful to him. These he promises to bless with precious possessions, whereas the wicked he will eventually devote to destruction.
LONG-SUFFERING TOWARD MANKIND
7. Why is it well for mankind that Jehovah is long-suffering, and what purpose does Jehovah’s long-suffering have in view?
7 Fortunate for mankind that Jehovah is long-suffering, a God slow to anger. For where would any of us be if he dealt with us only on our merits and deserts? Had Jehovah dealt with the first human pair strictly from the standpoint of his justice after they disobeyed him, the human race would have terminated then and there. (Gen. 2:17) Only God’s love and its fruitage “long-suffering” prevented a total catastrophe at that hour. The long-suffering of God had in view the magnifying of his glory by means of the Seed of his promise.—Gen. 3:15; John 3:16; Gal. 5:22.
8. (a) How and why did Jehovah have to demonstrate his long-suffering before the Flood? (b) What vital purpose did his long-suffering serve?
8 Shortly after man’s expulsion from Eden Jehovah had to continue demonstrating his forbearance toward mankind. In the days of Enosh men began “calling on the name of Jehovah” in a reproachful way. (Gen. 4:26) Wickedness mounted with a growing population. Men and angels defied God. A point was reached where “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only bad all the time.” The divine record says: “And the earth came to be ruined in the sight of the true God and the earth became filled with violence. So God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.” (Gen. 6:5-12) For the sake of the earth and a few decent souls on it (only eight in all), God called a halt to wickedness by destroying the wicked in the Flood. (1 Pet. 3:20; Gen. 7:17-23) His patience had reached its limit. Nevertheless, his long-suffering served a vital purpose. It justified the decision to wipe the earth clean. Not one of the Flood survivors, not for a moment, questioned the wisdom of Jehovah’s mighty act. The long-suffering of God left no room for doubt as to its rightness.
9. How was Jehovah’s long-suffering a blessing to mankind after the Flood, and how was it regarded?
9 The forbearance of Jehovah provided mankind with a fresh, new start in the earth. It allowed for the human race to continue. The Flood should have indelibly stamped men’s minds with fear and reverence for Jehovah their Savior, but it did not. The offspring of the Flood survivors soon mistook the long-suffering of God for indifference. In the words of the psalmist they said in their hearts: “God has forgotten. He has concealed his face. He will certainly never see it. Why is it that the wicked one has disrespected God? He has said in his heart: ‘You will not require an accounting.’” (Ps. 10:11, 13; Eccl. 8:11-13) Wickedness reached another climax in Abraham’s day.
10, 11. (a) How was Jehovah’s long-suffering demonstrated in connection with the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? (b) What warning example remains in this for us?
10 At Mamre, Abraham, the faithful servant of Jehovah, pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. But Jehovah argued that these cities had become totally corrupt. “The cry of complaint about Sodom and Gomorrah, yes, it is loud, and their sin, yes, it is very heavy,” Jehovah told Abraham. (Gen. 18:20) Nevertheless, Abraham begged for the preservation of these cities. It appears that he could not believe that they were completely debauched beyond saving. So he pleaded: “Will you really sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:23) Abraham felt that there were still some good people left in Sodom, that it would be unfair to the righteous ones there to destroy it. So he begged God: “Suppose there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city. Will you, then, sweep them away and not pardon the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are inside it? It is unthinkable of you that you are acting in this manner to put to death the righteous man with the wicked one so that it has to occur with the righteous man as it does with the wicked! It is unthinkable of you. Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is right?”—Gen. 18:24, 25.
11 Then Jehovah answered Abraham: “If I shall find in Sodom fifty righteous men in the midst of the city I will pardon the whole place on their account.” But Abraham pressed further: Suppose you find forty-five, or just forty, or thirty, or only twenty, or perhaps ten, what then? Surely if there were less than ten decent people left in Sodom, Abraham apparently felt satisfied that it did not deserve to stand. But ten righteous persons could not be found, only four. Many people today feel that the world is not morally and spiritually as bad as Jehovah’s witnesses say it is. They speak hopefully of the world. Yet the Holy Bible compares it to Sodom and Gomorrah that were unable to produce ten righteous souls in the day of their judgment. These cities went up in fire and sulphur, a fact confirmed by Jesus Christ and archaeology. This world, according to God’s Word, will also have an end.—Gen. 18:26-33; 19:1-29; Luke 17:29, 30; 2 Pet. 3:7.
12. What good purpose did Jehovah’s long-suffering serve in connection with these cities?
12 Abraham did not complain to God when Sodom and Gomorrah went up in flames. He did not bemoan the loss of property or pity the loss of lives there. The ungodly received their due reward. God’s exercise of long-suffering obliges, yes, compels the servant of God to be completely satisfied with the justice of God when it is administered. It leaves no doubt in their minds that the wicked were justly dealt with, and that Jehovah indeed is a God slow to anger and full of loving-kindness and truth. It further helps them to appreciate that “salvation of the righteous ones is from Jehovah; he is their fortress in the time of distress. And Jehovah will help them and provide them with escape. He will provide them with escape from wicked people and save them, because they have taken refuge in him.”—Ps. 37:39, 40.
GOD’S LONG-SUFFERING AND ISRAEL
13. How did Jehovah manifest his long-suffering to ancient Israel, but how was it regarded?
13 Nowhere in the Bible is the long-suffering of God so evident as it is in his dealings with the ancient nation of Israel. Here was a people Jehovah had rescued from Egyptian slavery and made them into a mighty nation. He both favored and distinguished them above all other peoples. Upon them he showered both temporal and spiritual benefits over a period of many centuries. At length he even sent his only-begotten Son among them. Even though they put his Son to death on the torture stake, Jehovah had, in infinite mercy, ordered the first proposals of his good news to be made to them. He besought them, by his prophets, apostles and ministers, to accept of his salvation by means of his Son Jesus Christ. Still the vast majority would have none of it. They strangely mistook the design of God’s goodness. It ought to have led them to repentance, as it did a remnant, but, instead, the greater number by far were aggravated at the kindness of God and were base in their ingratitude. They somehow were led to conclude that God’s abundant mercy and long-suffering toward them meant that he would always favor them, however ungratefully they rebelled against him. History proves they were badly mistaken in their conclusion.—See Nehemiah 9:4-35 and Acts 2:14-47; 7:51-53.
14, 15. (a) Was Jehovah’s long-suffering wasted? (b) What further lesson do we have regarding the long-suffering of God?
14 The long-suffering of God was not wasted on the Jews. It did serve its purpose. It gave a remnant an opportunity for repentance. The discoveries of God’s mercy furnished them with motives and encouragements to turn from their wicked past and to do what was right. They thus became recipients of God’s favor to become his spiritual sons in a heavenly kingdom with Christ as its head.
15 The Jews, however, that rejected the long-suffering of God were in fact the losers. Their loss meant gain for the Gentiles who had been afforded the opportunity to become members of the heavenly kingdom because of Jewish unbelief. Their continued stubbornness resulted in the loss of Jehovah’s favor and therefore a loss of his protection and blessing, as was well demonstrated in 70 C.E., when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman legions. It benefits neither Jew nor Gentile to treat lightly the long-suffering of God.—Romans, chapter eleven.
BEHIND GOD’S FORBEARANCE
16. Why is Jehovah long-suffering, according to the apostle Paul?
16 But why the long-suffering of God? Is it merely for the salvation of men that he has suffered their indignities? Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, answers for us: “If, now, God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction, in order that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, namely, us, whom he called not only from among Jews but also from among nations, what of it? It is as he says also in Hosea: ‘Those not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved “beloved”; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God.”’” (Rom. 9:22-26) In other words, God by means of his long-suffering is taking out a people for his name. And by means of them, he is magnifying himself in all the earth.—1 Cor. 3:9, 16, 17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Acts 15:14.
17. What blessings to mankind have resulted because of the long-suffering of God?
17 These ones become Jehovah’s witnesses, ordained to declare abroad the excellencies of their God Jehovah. Of them the apostle Peter wrote: “You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that you should declare abroad the excellencies’ of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. For you were once not a people, but are now God’s people; you were those who had not been shown mercy, but are now those who have been shown mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:9, 10) God’s mercy and long-suffering have enabled these to become his sons, his children, or people. “If, then, we are children,” wrote Paul, “we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together. Consequently I reckon that the sufferings of the present season do not amount to anything in comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:3, 4, 14-18; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15) What a thrilling prospect, for these make up the heavenly kingdom with Christ! And they are to rule the earth with him for a thousand years, bringing everlasting blessings to mankind. By means of them Jehovah will glorify the very place of his feet, according to his written promise. (Isa. 60:13) Thus we see that behind the long-suffering of God is the vindication of his name and Word by means of Christ and his kingdom.
LONG-SUFFERING EXEMPLIFIED IN JESUS CHRIST
18. In whom was Jehovah’s long-suffering exemplified, and how?
18 Among men on earth, Jehovah’s long-suffering was exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote: “We look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) How long-suffering Jesus was with the sick and the poor! How long-suffering he was with Pilate and Herod! How long-suffering he was with those who staked him, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Of Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “He was hard pressed, and he was letting himself be afflicted; yet he would not open his mouth. He was being brought just like a sheep to the slaughtering; and like a ewe that before her shearers has become mute, he also would not open his mouth.” (Isa. 53:7) He did not complain or murmur, but rejoiced in suffering, for he was aware of the joy set before him.
19. In what way was Jesus Christ’s long-suffering an example for us?
19 Jesus taught men how to suffer long and with true dignity. By his example, he showed his followers how to put up with the weaknesses of their associates. Remember how Jesus put up with Peter, Thomas and the other apostles, and how he built them up after his resurrection. (John 20:24-29; 21:15-17) He demonstrated how to put up with the errors and the infirmities of drunkards, lepers and prostitutes. He endured the abuse of ignorant questioners, the malice of evil-minded men, and he did so without repining, without irritation or retaliation, which example recommends itself for us to follow.
20. What lessons are there to be learned from long-suffering?
20 There are lessons to be learned in suffering, lessons that even the perfect man Jesus was made to learn. The Scriptures say: “In the days of his flesh Christ offered up supplications and also petitions to the one who was able to save him out of death, with strong outcries and tears, and he was favorably heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered; and after he had been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation to all those obeying him.” (Heb. 5:7-9) The lesson of obedience must be learned by all those who will gain salvation.—1 Sam. 15:22, 23.
PRESENT NEED FOR GOD’S LONG-SUFFERING
21. How was Jehovah’s long-suffering manifested in modern times?
21 The need for the long-suffering of God in our modern era was highlighted by Jesus Christ, when he said: “Shall not God cause justice to be done for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, even though he long-suffering toward them? I tell you, He will cause justice to be done to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man arrives, will he really find the faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7, 8) When Jehovah God came to his temple for judgment with his enthroned King-Son, he found a great need to be long-suffering toward those professing Christianity in the earth. Those dedicated to him were steeped in Babylonish religion. Their garments were spotted with religious hypocrisy and political compromises. God suffered long with their weaknesses. In time the honest-hearted appreciated the long-suffering of God and repented of their sins and ordered their lives aright. Jehovah, then, blessed them with the privilege of becoming his witnesses in all the earth. They were given the glorious treasure of service to announce the established kingdom of God and the rapid approach of the war of the great day of God the Almighty at the place called Armageddon.—Matt 24:14; Rev. 16:16.
22. In what way was Jehovah’s long-suffering rewarding to mankind?
22 Rewarding indeed has been the long-suffering of God. It has resulted in increased glory to God. For mankind it has meant a Redeemer and a renewed hope for everlasting life. (Titus 1:1, 2; 1 John 2:25) Jehovah’s long-suffering has made possible a Kingdom government, with many spiritual sons, for the blessing of mankind. In these last days not only has his long-suffering made possible for the number of the body members of the Kingdom to be completed, but it has also opened up a way for a great crowd to respond to God’s mercy and receive of his salvation. In addition, it has resulted in true worship being reestablished in the earth and the presence of a society of spiritually clean people dedicated to God’s purpose. This is marvelous in our eyes, for if it had not been for the long-suffering of Jehovah no flesh would have been saved. (Matt. 24:22) But now we see the precious fruitage of God’s long-suffering with well over a million people praising him. Truly Jehovah has enhanced his glory through his long-suffering!
23. (a) What warning is given in connection with the long-suffering of God? (b) What should Christians always bear in mind so that they do not miss the purpose of God’s long-suffering?
23 With this good news, however, comes a word of warning that we individually and collectively not miss the purpose of Jehovah’s long-suffering. The apostle Peter wisely cautions us pointedly, saying: “Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” Then the apostle adds: “Yet Jehovah’s day will come as a thief.” The wicked will be destroyed. We want ever to be assured and impressed with those facts—Jehovah’s day will come—the wicked will be destroyed. Since that is the case, “consider the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Therefore, take advantage of it. For those who do, there await eternal blessings in the new order of God under Christ, blessings resulting from the long-suffering of God.—2 Pet. 3:9-18; Gal. 6:9.