Consider Models of Long-Suffering
“God . . . tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction.”—ROMANS 9:22.
1. (a) How does God’s inspired Word serve for our benefit? (b) In this connection, why is the quality of long-suffering here considered?
JEHOVAH God, our Creator, gave us his inspired Word, the Holy Bible. It is to serve as ‘a lamp to our foot and a light to our roadway.’ (Psalm 119:105) God’s Word also helps us to become “completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) One way it thus equips us is by giving us fine models of long-suffering. This quality is one of the fruits of God’s spirit and is indispensable to our gaining his approval and getting along harmoniously with fellow humans.—Galatians 5:22, 23.
2. What is the meaning of the Greek word rendered “long-suffering,” and who is foremost in displaying this quality?
2 The Greek word translated “long-suffering” literally means “longness of spirit.” Long-suffering has been defined as “that quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish.” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine, Volume 3, page 12) To be long-suffering means to exercise self-control and be slow to anger. And who is foremost among those slow to anger, displaying long-suffering? None other than Jehovah God. Thus, at Exodus 34:6, we read that Jehovah is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.” In fact, eight more times in the Scriptures, Jehovah is spoken of as being “slow to anger.”—Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3.
3. What qualities account for Jehovah’s being long-suffering?
3 Being long-suffering, or slow to anger, is just what we would expect of Jehovah God, for he is infinite in power and wisdom, perfect in justice, and the very embodiment of love. (Deuteronomy 32:4; Job 12:13; Isaiah 40:26; 1 John 4:8) He has control of his qualities, keeping them in perfect balance at all times. What does his Word reveal about why and how he has displayed long-suffering toward imperfect humans?
Long-Suffering for His Name’s Sake
4. For what good reasons has God manifested long-suffering toward sinners?
4 Why is Jehovah long-suffering? Why does he not immediately punish sinners? Not because of indifference or lack of zeal for righteousness. No, but for good reasons Jehovah is slow to anger and does not promptly punish people. One reason is so that his name may be made known. Another reason is that time was required to settle the issues of God’s sovereignty and mankind’s integrity, raised by the rebellion in Eden. Still another reason for God’s long-suffering is that it gives erring ones the opportunity to mend their ways.
5, 6. Why did Jehovah manifest long-suffering in connection with man’s rebellion?
5 Jehovah was long-suffering in dealing with the first human pair in the garden of Eden. When they violated his commandment against eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, he could immediately have executed them and the fallen angel that had deceived Eve. There was no question that Jehovah’s sense of righteousness and justice had been outraged, that he was angry with the three rebels. He would have been perfectly within his rights if he had executed them at once. God had warned the first man, Adam: “As for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” (Genesis 2:17) On the very day that Adam sinned, God called the transgressors to account and pronounced sentence of death. Judicially, Adam and Eve died that day. Yet, our long-suffering Creator let Adam live for 930 years.—Genesis 5:5.
6 God had good reasons for being long-suffering, or slow to anger, in this case. If he had executed those rebels at once, this would not have answered the Devil’s implicit taunt that Jehovah God does not deserve to be worshiped and that he cannot have human servants who will keep their integrity to him regardless of circumstances. Moreover, such questions as these would have been left unanswered: Whose fault was it that Adam and Eve sinned? Did Jehovah first create them so morally weak that they could not resist temptation and then punish them for failing to do so? The answer to all of this is apparent from the account found in the book of Job, chapters 1 and 2. By permitting the human race to increase, Jehovah allowed humans to have opportunities to prove Satan’s charges false.
7. Why did Jehovah not execute Pharaoh at once?
7 When Jehovah was about to deliver his people, the Israelites, from Egyptian bondage, he again proved to be long-suffering. Jehovah could have destroyed Pharaoh and his military forces at once. Instead of doing this, however, God tolerated them for a time. For what good reasons? Well, as time passed, Pharaoh became more stubborn in his refusal to let the Israelites leave Egypt as Jehovah’s free people. He thus showed that he was a ‘vessel of wrath’ meriting destruction for defying Jehovah. (Romans 9:14-24) Yet, there was a greater reason why God was long-suffering in this case. Through Moses, he told Pharaoh: “By now I could have thrust my hand out that I might strike you and your people with pestilence and that you might be effaced from the earth. But, in fact, for this cause I have kept you in existence, for the sake of showing you my power and in order to have my name declared in all the earth.”—Exodus 9:15, 16.
8. For what reason did God not execute rebellious Israelites in the wilderness?
8 Jehovah’s long-suffering was also displayed for good reasons when the Israelites were in the wilderness. How they tried God’s patience by worshiping the golden calf and by failing to exercise faith when ten spies returned with a bad report! God did not wipe them out as his people since his name and reputation were involved. Yes, Jehovah manifested long-suffering for his name’s sake.—Exodus 32:10-14; Numbers 14:11-20.
Long-Suffering for the Sake of Humans
9. Why did Jehovah show long-suffering in the days of Noah?
9 Jehovah has been long-suffering for the sake of humankind ever since Adam wronged all his potential offspring, doing them a great injustice by sinning. God’s long-suffering made it possible for that wrong to be righted in that he allowed time for repentant humans to become reconciled to him. (Romans 5:8-10) Jehovah God also showed long-suffering toward humans in Noah’s day. At that time, “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.” (Genesis 6:5) Though God could have wiped out the human race as soon as he saw this condition, he decreed that he would bring an end to this situation in 120 years. (Genesis 6:3) This expression of long-suffering allowed time for Noah to have three sons, for them to grow up and get married, and for that family to build the ark for the saving of their souls and for the preservation of animal creation. In this way it was possible for God’s original purpose for the earth to be realized.
10, 11. Why was Jehovah so long-suffering with the nation of Israel?
10 Another definition of long-suffering especially applies to God’s dealings with his people. It is “the patient endurance of wrong or provocation, combined with a refusal to give up hope for improvement in the disturbed relationship.” (Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 262; published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.) This points to an additional reason why God was long-suffering toward the Israelites. They repeatedly turned away from Jehovah and came into bondage to Gentile nations. Yet, he displayed long-suffering by delivering the Israelites and giving them opportunity to repent.—Judges 2:16-20.
11 The majority of Israel’s kings led their subjects into false worship. Did God cast the nation off at once? No, he did not quickly give up hope for improvement in the disturbed relationship. Instead, Jehovah was slow to anger. Displaying long-suffering, God repeatedly gave them opportunity to repent. We read at 2 Chronicles 36:15, 16: “Jehovah the God of their forefathers kept sending against them by means of his messengers, sending again and again, because he felt compassion for his people and for his dwelling. But they were continually making jest at the messengers of the true God and despising his words and mocking at his prophets, until the rage of Jehovah came up against his people, until there was no healing.”
12. What testimony do the Christian Greek Scriptures give about why Jehovah is long-suffering?
12 The Christian Greek Scriptures also provide evidence that Jehovah displays long-suffering to help his erring people. For instance, the apostle Paul asks transgressing Christians: “Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and long-suffering, because you do not know that the kindly quality of God is trying to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) To the same effect are Peter’s words: “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 Peter 3:9) Most fittingly, we are told to “consider the patience of our Lord as salvation.” (2 Peter 3:15) Thus, we see that Jehovah is long-suffering, not because of sentimentality or laxness, but because his name and purposes are involved and he is merciful and loving.
Jesus’ Example of Long-Suffering
13. What Scriptural evidence is there that Jesus Christ was long-suffering?
13 Second only to the example of long-suffering set by God is that of his Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is a splendid example of self-restraint without hasty retaliation despite provocation.* That the Messiah would be long-suffering was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in these words: “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.” (Isaiah 53:7) Testifying to the same truth is Peter’s statement: “When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23) How Jesus’ disciples must have tried him with their repeated disputes over who was the greatest! Yet, how long-suffering and patient he was with them!—Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24.
14. What should Jesus’ example of being long-suffering move us to do?
14 We should follow the example Jesus set in being long-suffering. Paul wrote: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as 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. Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.”—Hebrews 12:1-3.
15. How do we know that Jesus was long-suffering and endured trials willingly?
15 That Jesus was long-suffering and endured trials willingly can be seen from the attitude he manifested at the time of his arrest. After rebuking Peter for having taken up the sword to protect his Master, Jesus said: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels? In that case, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that it must take place this way?”—Matthew 26:51-54; John 18:10, 11.
Other Examples of Long-Suffering
16. How do the Scriptures show that Jacob’s son Joseph was long-suffering?
16 Even imperfect, sinful humans can display long-suffering. The Hebrew Scriptures contain examples of the patient enduring of wrongs on the part of imperfect people. For instance, there is Joseph, the son of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob. How patiently he endured injustices inflicted on him by his half brothers and by Potiphar’s wife! (Genesis 37:18-28; 39:1-20) Joseph did not allow these trials to make him bitter. This was evident when he told his brothers: “Do not feel hurt and do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here; because for the preservation of life God has sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:4, 5) What a fine example of long-suffering was set by Joseph!
17, 18. What evidence of long-suffering do we have in the case of David?
17 David is another example of a faithful servant of Jehovah who patiently endured wrongs, manifesting long-suffering. Pursued like a dog by jealous King Saul, on two occasions David could have retaliated by killing him. (1 Samuel 24:1-22; 26:1-25) But David waited on God, as can be seen from his words to Abishai: “Jehovah himself will deal [Saul] a blow; or his day will come and he will have to die, or down into battle he will go, and he will certainly be swept away. It is unthinkable, on my part, from Jehovah’s standpoint, to thrust my hand out against the anointed of Jehovah!” (1 Samuel 26:10, 11) Yes, David had it in his power to end his being hounded by Saul. Instead, David chose to be long-suffering.
18 Consider, too, what happened when King David was fleeing from his treacherous son Absalom. Shimei, a Benjamite of the house of Saul, threw stones at David and called down evil upon him, shouting: “Get out, get out, you bloodguilty man and good-for-nothing man!” Abishai wanted to have Shimei killed, but David refused to retaliate. Rather than doing that, he again manifested the quality of long-suffering.—2 Samuel 16:5-13.
Consider Paul’s Example
19, 20. How did the apostle Paul show himself to be long-suffering?
19 In the Christian Greek Scriptures, we have another fine example of long-suffering on the part of an imperfect human—the apostle Paul. He displayed patient endurance, long-suffering, in connection both with his religious enemies and with individuals professing to be Christians. Yes, Paul manifested long-suffering though some in the congregation at Corinth said: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but his presence in person is weak and his speech contemptible.”—2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:5, 6, 22-33.
20 With good reason, therefore, Paul told the Corinthians: “In every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much, by tribulations, by cases of need, by difficulties, by beatings, by prisons, by disorders, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times without food, by purity, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by holy spirit, by love free from hypocrisy.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-6) In a similar vein, the apostle could write to his fellow worker Timothy: “You have closely followed my teaching, my course of life, my purpose, my faith, my long-suffering, my love, my endurance, my persecutions, my sufferings, . . . and yet out of them all the Lord delivered me.” (2 Timothy 3:10, 11) What a fine example the apostle Paul set for us in being long-suffering!
21. How may the following article help us?
21 Clearly, the Scriptures abound with fine examples of long-suffering. Jehovah and his beloved Son are the prime examples. But how encouraging to note that this quality has been displayed by imperfect humans, such as Joseph, David, and the apostle Paul! The following article is designed to help us imitate such fine examples.
To be long-suffering does not simply mean to suffer long. If a person suffering a long time was frustrated or bitter because of being unable to retaliate, he would not be long-suffering.
How Would You Answer?
□ What does it mean to be long-suffering?
□ Jehovah has been long-suffering primarily for what reasons?
□ In what ways did Jesus show himself to be long-suffering?
□ What Scriptural proof is there that long-suffering can be displayed by imperfect humans?
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Joseph, Jesus, David, Paul, and Job were models of long-suffering
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Jesus displayed long-suffering toward his disciples