Do You Appreciate God’s Patience Toward You?
“Jehovah . . . is patient with you because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.”—2 Pet. 3:9.
1. (a) Why do we appreciate persons who are patient with us? (Prov. 25:15) (b) What can result when we become impatient with others?
ARE we not glad when people deal patiently with us, not treating us harshly? We appreciate it when they take into consideration our problems and circumstances, kindly assisting us to the extent of their ability. Life today is accompanied by enough problems without one’s being subjected to needless pressure from impatient persons. Moreover, if we were to become impatient ourselves, this would not make our life more enjoyable. Rather, we would be irritating others and making it more difficult for them to deal kindly with us. Our impatience could even hurt persons to whom we look for help and encouragement.
2, 3. (a) What conviction is vital for us to remain patient when seeing godless people prosper? (Ps. 37:1-6; Heb. 11:6) (b) How does Ecclesiastes 8:12, 13 show that it is always best to be a person who fears Jehovah?
2 But how can one remain patient when one sees injustice and oppression, and when godless people seem to prosper? It calls for faith. Yes, we must be convinced that Jehovah God will set all things straight. This is in keeping with what King Solomon observed and was inspired to record: “Although a sinner may be doing bad a hundred times and continuing a long time as he pleases, yet I am also aware that it will turn out well with those fearing the true God, because they were in fear of him. But it will not turn out well at all with the wicked one, neither will he prolong his days that are like a shadow, because he is not in fear of God.”—Eccl. 8:12, 13.
3 Human justice may be lax and criminals may be able to escape punishment through some legal loophole. Lawless persons may think that they are getting away with something. But, as Solomon pointed out, their badness brings no reward. Their life passes quickly, “like a shadow,” and all their shrewdness and scheming will be of no benefit in lengthening it. On the other hand, fearers of God are not really put at a disadvantage. They preserve a clean conscience, find satisfaction in doing what they know to be right and, even if they should die, have the hope of being raised to life. In the final analysis, ‘it does indeed turn out well with those fearing the true God.’
4 Further, true Christians do well to keep in mind that the lawlessness that is disturbing to them is also distressing to Jehovah God. We know this because of what the Bible says about the way he felt toward the violent world of Noah’s time. We read: “Jehovah saw that the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time. And Jehovah felt regrets that he had made men in the earth, and he felt hurt at his heart.” (Gen. 6:5, 6) Yes, Jehovah regretted that mankind had turned out so bad that he was obliged to destroy them. He was deeply hurt over the fact that they misused their life and his abundant provisions for their existence. Centuries later, the prophet Habakkuk wrote of Jehovah: “You are too pure in eyes to see [with pleasure] what is bad; and to look [approvingly] on trouble you are not able.”—Hab. 1:13.
5. According to 2 Peter 3:9, why has Jehovah exercised patience?
5 Nevertheless, the Almighty God has patiently put up with rebellious mankind. Why? “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.” (2 Pet. 3:9) Note that God’s patience has been for the benefit of Christians, for the apostle Peter addressed fellow believers with the words, “he is patient with you.” Just what does this mean?
6. Why can it be said that Jehovah’s patience has been for the benefit of true Christians?
6 The apostle was showing that what some people interpreted as slowness on God’s part should be viewed in an entirely different light. The fact that Jehovah’s day of vengeance has not yet come proves that he loves mankind, that he wants people to live, not to die. At one time Christians were unbelievers and, hence, did not have an approved standing before him. Had the Most High executed his judgment against the ungodly world then, they, too, would have perished. So God’s patience has worked to the salvation of Christians, even as it opens up to all the opportunity for salvation. Should we not be grateful that this has been the case?
7. (a) Will Jehovah be patient with disobedient mankind indefinitely? (Isa. 55:6, 7; Zeph. 2:2, 3) (b) What proves that we are living in the “last days”? (c) Why do we especially have to exercise patience?
7 Of course, the time is fast approaching for Jehovah God to bring to a close the present ‘day of opportunity’ for those now living to come into an approved relationship with him. (2 Cor. 6:2) Bible prophecy and Bible chronology point to the time since 1914 C.E., with its increasing crime and violence, wars, food shortages, earthquakes, fear and unrest, as the “last days” for this ungodly world. (Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:7-36; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) As long as this system continues in its “last days,” Christians must keep on exercising patience, confidently looking to Jehovah God to bring relief through his Son Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:6-9) This is so because these “last days” will continue to be “critical times hard to deal with.”—2 Tim. 3:1.
PROPHETS AS PATTERNS OF PATIENCE
8. Whose example of patience did the disciple James point to, and what question might this raise?
8 Now especially, therefore, we need to draw encouragement from the example of patience that ancient servants of God set. “Brothers,” wrote the disciple James, “take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of Jehovah.” (Jas. 5:10) Just what did these prophets face, and why?
9. (a) What kind of response did the prophets receive from their countrymen? (b) Why did they continue showing patience toward the Israelites for many years?
9 Often the prophets found that their fellow Israelites refused to listen to them, insisting on continuing in their own lawless ways. The Bible provides the following summary of the situation in Israel and Judah: “Jehovah kept warning Israel and Judah by means of all his prophets and every visionary, saying: ‘Turn back from your bad ways and keep my commandments, my statutes, according to all the law that I commanded your forefathers and that I have sent to you by means of my servants the prophets’; and they did not listen.” (2 Ki. 17:13, 14) Yet, despite such unresponsiveness, prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah faithfully served for decades. They were concerned about the welfare of their countrymen, appreciating that acting in harmony with the prophetic warnings meant life.
10. What kind of suffering did the prophets experience during the reign of King Ahab?
10 The people’s general failure to listen was not the only obstacle with which the prophets had to contend patiently. Many were reviled, physically abused and even killed. In the time of Israelite King Ahab, for example, all prophets of Jehovah that his Baal-worshiping queen Jezebel could seize were put to death. One hundred others, helped by God-fearing Obadiah, escaped by hiding in caves. (1 Ki. 18:4, 13) During the same time, Jehovah, because of what he had in mind for him, protected his prophet Elijah from falling into Ahab’s hands. (1 Ki. 18:10-12) Later, even Elijah fled for his life from Jezebel. (1 Ki. 19:2, 3) But Jehovah God sent him right back into the land to continue his prophetic work. (1 Ki. 19:9, 15-18) At another time King Ahab ordered that Jehovah’s prophet Micaiah be put into prison with a reduced allowance of food and drink. Why? Because Micaiah had truthfully declared the word of Jehovah.—1 Ki. 22:26, 27.
11. What suffering faced Jeremiah during his many years of prophesying?
11 Another prophet who endured much was Jeremiah. Men from his own hometown Anathoth threatened to kill him. (Jer. 11:21) Once a mob, including priests and false prophets, seized the prophet in the temple area and threatened him with death. (Jer. 26:8-11) The Bible reports that he was “struck” by the temple commissioner, priest Pashhur. This may mean that Pashhur ordered that the prophet be beaten. With such a high official taking the lead in abusing Jeremiah, the rest of the people must have been emboldened to heap jeers, ridicule and abuse on the prophet. Then, like a criminal, Jeremiah was put in stocks overnight. (Jer. 20:2, 3, 7, 8) Arrested under the false charge of having fallen away to the Chaldeans, Jeremiah was imprisoned in the “house of fetters” under such bad conditions that his life was in jeopardy. He appealed to King Zedekiah, who thereafter had him put in custody in the Courtyard of the Guard. (Jer. 37:11-16, 20, 21) Later, Zedekiah yielded to the demands of the princes to have Jeremiah turned over to them. These princes sought to kill the prophet by throwing him into a miry cistern.—Jer. 38:5, 6.
12 Truly, Jeremiah suffered much evil at the hands of his countrymen. But he continued to exercise patience, not becoming embittered toward them. For instance, after King Zedekiah had turned him over to the princes who were seeking his death, the prophet showed concern for that weak monarch’s welfare. Jeremiah pleaded with him: “Obey, please, the voice of Jehovah in what I am speaking to you, and it will go well with you, and your soul will continue to live.” (Jer. 38:20) Earlier, when contemplating the terrible judgment to come upon Judah and Jerusalem, Jeremiah had expressed, not feelings of vindictiveness, but sorrow. He said: “Over the breakdown of the daughter of my people I have become shattered. I have grown sad. Outright astonishment has seized hold of me. Is there no balsam in Gilead? Or is there no healer there? Why is it, then, that the recuperation of the daughter of my people has not come up? O that my head were waters, and that my eyes were a source of tears! Then I could weep day and night for the slain ones of the daughter of my people.” (Jer. 8:21–9:1) What patience, what love, Jeremiah displayed toward his people, the Israelites!
13. What shows that the prophets were distressed by the conditions that they saw? (Jer. 5:3, 4)
13 We should never forget, however, that Jeremiah and the other faithful prophets keenly sensed the terrible injustices and oppression that were being carried on in the land. They longed for relief. The prophet Habakkuk, for example, was moved to exclaim: “Why is it that you make me see what is hurtful, and you keep looking upon mere trouble? And why are despoiling and violence in front of me, and why does quarreling occur, and why is strife carried on? Therefore law grows numb, and justice never goes forth. Because the wicked one is surrounding the righteous one, for that reason justice goes forth crooked.”—Hab. 1:3, 4.
14 Nevertheless, the faithful prophets did not allow their personal desires for relief to cause them to become impatient with Jehovah or to stop proclaiming his message. As long as Jehovah was exercising patience for a purpose, they were willing to bear reproach as they proclaimed his message: “Turn back, turn back from your bad ways, for why is it that you should die, O house of Israel?”—Ezek. 33:11.
FINE EXAMPLES IN PATIENCE SHOULD STIR US TO ACTION
15. Why do we have even greater reason to be patient than did the Hebrew prophets?
15 Surely, if the ancient Hebrew prophets could be so patient when faced with great hardships, we have even greater reason to be patient. Why? Because we have so much more than the prophets had. The prophets were looking forward in faith to the coming of the Messiah but knew that they would not be alive to see that grand event. Jesus Christ told the Jews: “I truly say to you, Many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things you are beholding and did not see them, and to hear the things you are hearing and did not hear them.” (Matt. 13:17) Many of the things the prophets were awaiting in faith were fulfilled centuries ago. Moreover, many living today have personally witnessed the fulfillment of yet other prophecies. (Rev. 6:1-8; 17:8) By giving his life in sacrifice, Jesus Christ furnished an unchangeable guarantee that all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. (2 Cor. 1:20, 21) Daily we see evidence that we are living in the “time of the end.” (Dan. 11:40-43; 12:1, 4; Matt. 24:7-14) Hence, Jesus Christ’s encouragement applies to us: “Raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) Yes, soon the Son of God as “King of kings and Lord of lords” will take action against the ungodly, bringing welcome relief from all suffering and oppression.—Rev. 19:11-21.
16. How can we demonstrate that we appreciate Jehovah’s patience toward us?
16 Should we not patiently wait for that great day, especially since it is so near? Should we not want to help as many as possible to learn of God’s way of salvation? And when it comes to the shortcomings of others, should we not be willing to put up with these patiently? If we sincerely appreciate that God’s patience has meant salvation for us, we will be stirred at heart to do so.
THE PRECIOUS FRUITAGE OF PATIENCE
17. What illustration found at James 5:7, 8 shows that exercising patience is essential if we are going to see fine fruitage?
17 Our continuing to exercise patience, in imitation of the faithful prophets, can lead to our seeing fine fruitage. This is evident from what the disciple James wrote: “Exercise patience . . . , brothers, until the presence of the Lord. Look! The farmer keeps waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, exercising patience over it until he gets the early rain and the late rain. You too exercise patience; make your hearts firm.”—Jas. 5:7, 8.
18. While the farmer cannot hasten the rain or the growing of crops, what can he do in anticipation of a harvest?
18 The farmer can do nothing to hasten the rain or the growing of his crops. He can do his job as an industrious agriculturalist in preparing the soil, sowing the seed and caring for the cultivated field. But he has no control over the rains, nor can he change the Creator’s fixed laws relative to the growth of his crops. His waiting in circumstances that he cannot change, waiting in harmony with Jehovah’s laws, is referred to as the ‘exercising of patience.’ Eventually, as the farmer continues doing what he can, the plants grow and there is fruitage.
19. How does patience enter the picture when it comes to producing fruitage in the form of genuine disciples?
19 So it is with true Christians today. It is our responsibility to proclaim the “good news” to others and to teach God’s Word to interested persons. (1 Cor. 9:16; Matt. 28:19, 20) But, by our ingenuity or methods that we might devise, we cannot produce or speed up spiritual growth. For this, we must wait on Jehovah while we patiently do our part, acting in full harmony with his Word. The apostle Paul made this clear when he wrote: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God kept making it grow; so that neither is he that plants anything nor is he that waters, but God who makes it grow. Now he that plants and he that waters are one, but each person will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers.” (1 Cor. 3:6-9) Jehovah God will not fail to do his part. May we, therefore, prove to be faithful fellow workers of his, thereby showing that we appreciate Jehovah’s patience toward us. Then, how happy we will be to see some of what we have planted and watered coming to full Christian growth! Yes, there will be fruitage in the form of genuine disciples of Jesus Christ.
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Though suffering much at the hands of his fellow Israelites, the prophet Jeremiah continued to exercise patience