God Is Not Slow Regarding His Promise
“HOW long, O Jehovah, must I cry for help, and you do not hear?” Those are the words of the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk, who lived in the seventh century B.C.E. But they do have a familiar ring, do they not? It is human nature to want to have the things that we dearly long for right away or as soon as possible. And this is especially true in our age of instant gratification.—Habakkuk 1:2.
In the first century, there were some who apparently felt that God should have fulfilled his promises sooner. They had become so impatient that they even considered God to be slow or late. On this account, the apostle Peter had to remind them that God’s view of time is quite different from ours. Peter writes: “Let this one fact not be escaping your notice, beloved ones, that one day is with Jehovah as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.”—2 Peter 3:8.
According to this way of figuring time, an 80-year-old person has lived only about two hours, and all of mankind’s history has lasted only about six days. When we look at things from this perspective, it becomes easier for us to understand God’s way of dealing with us.
God, however, is not indifferent to time. On the contrary, he is very time conscious. (Acts 1:7) Peter, therefore, goes on to say: “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) Unlike humans, God does not feel pressured to do things as if time were running out for him. As the “King of eternity,” he has a marvelous overview and can determine when in the stream of time his actions will do the most good for all involved.—1 Timothy 1:17.
After explaining the reason for God’s apparent slowness, Peter sounds this warning: “Jehovah’s day will come as a thief.” That is to say, the day of accounting will come just when people are not expecting it. Then, in the following verses, Peter points to the marvelous prospect for those manifesting “holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion,” namely, that they may survive into God’s promised “new heavens and a new earth.”—2 Peter 3:10-13.
This should make us appreciate all the more that God’s judgment has not yet come. His patience has made it possible for us to come to know his purpose and to adjust our lives in order to receive his promised blessings. Should we not view “the patience of our Lord as salvation,” as Peter argues? (2 Peter 3:15) There is, however, another factor in God’s patience.
A Measure of Error to Be Filled
Studying God’s past dealings with mankind, we note that he often withheld his judgment until all hope of improvement was gone. In connection with God’s judgment upon the Canaanites, for instance, he pointed out their sins to Abraham long in advance. But the time for the execution of his judgment was not then due. Why not? The Bible says: “Because the error of the Amorites [Canaanites] has not yet come to completion,” or as the Knox version puts it: “The wickedness of the Amorrhites [had] not reached its full term.”—Genesis 15:16.*
About 400 years later, however, God’s judgment came, and Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, took over the land. A few of the Canaanites, like Rahab and the Gibeonites, were saved because of their attitude and actions, but for the most part, they had reached an extreme level of uncleanness, as is revealed by modern archaeological excavations. They practiced phallic worship, temple prostitution, and child sacrifice. Halley’s Bible Handbook states: “Archaeologists who dig in the ruins of Canaanite cities wonder that God did not destroy them sooner than he did.” In the end, the Canaanites’ ‘measure of sin was full’; their wickedness had “reached its full term.” No one could rightfully accuse God of being unjust when he let the land be cleansed while sparing those who had shown a right attitude.
We find a similar picture in Noah’s day. Despite the fact that people before the Flood were wicked, God mercifully decided that their time would continue another 120 years. During part of that time, Noah served as “a preacher of righteousness.” (2 Peter 2:5) As time passed, their wickedness apparently ripened. “God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.” (Genesis 6:3, 12) Their ‘measure of sin was full’; the passing of time had brought their wrong inclinations to full bloom. When God acted he was fully justified. Only eight persons proved righteous in God’s eyes, and he saved them.
The same pattern is seen in God’s treatment of Israel. Despite their having behaved in an unfaithful and depraved way, God had patience with them for hundreds of years. The record says: “Jehovah . . . kept sending . . . his messengers, sending again and again, because he felt compassion for his people . . . But they were continually . . . despising his words and mocking at his prophets, until the rage of Jehovah came up against his people, until there was no healing.” (2 Chronicles 36:15, 16) The people had reached a point where improvement was no longer possible. Only Jeremiah and a few others could be saved. God could not be called unjust when he finally brought judgment upon the rest.
God’s Time to Act Is Here
From these examples we can see that God is withholding judgment on the present system of things only until the time is ripe. This is expressed in the order given to God’s symbolic executioner: “‘Put your sharp sickle in and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, because its grapes have become ripe.’ And the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and he hurled it into the great winepress of the anger of God.” Notice that mankind’s wickedness had “become ripe,” that is, it had reached a point beyond the possibility of improvement. When God executes judgment, there will be no doubt that his intervention is justified.—Revelation 14:18, 19.
Considering the above, it is clear that God’s judgment against the world must be near because the world has taken on the characteristics that warranted God’s judgment in the past. Everywhere we look, the earth is filled with violence, just as it was before the Flood of Noah’s day. People’s attitudes are becoming more and more like what is described at Genesis 6:5: “Every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only bad all the time.” Even the gross sins that brought God’s judgment against the Canaanites are commonplace today.
Especially since World War I, mankind has experienced appalling changes. It has seen the earth drenched with the blood of millions. Warfare, genocide, terrorism, crime, and lawlessness have erupted worldwide. Famine, disease, and immorality have stalked our globe. All the evidence indicates that we now live among that wicked generation of which Jesus said: “This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matthew 24:34) The world is now filling its “measure of sin.” “The clusters of the vine of the earth” are becoming ripe for the harvest.
Time for You to Act
The apostle John was told that as the time of judgment nears, two types of ripening will take place. On the one hand, “he that is doing unrighteousness, let him do unrighteousness still; and let the filthy one be made filthy still.” But on the other hand, “let the righteous one do righteousness still, and let the holy one be made holy still.” (Revelation 22:10, 11) This latter development is taking place in connection with the worldwide Bible educational work conducted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The objective of that work is to teach people what God requires of them so that they can be counted as worthy of receiving everlasting life. This activity now reaches out to 233 lands through some 87,000 congregations.
God is not slow. Patiently he has allowed individuals the time needed to “put on the new personality” in order to come in line for his promises. (Ephesians 4:24) Today, God is still waiting, despite the constantly worsening conditions in the world. Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world are doing all they reasonably can to share with their neighbors the knowledge that leads to eternal life. (John 17:3, 17) Happily, each year over 300,000 people are responding and being baptized.
With everlasting life in view, now is the time, not to wait, but to act. For in a short while, we will see the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: “Everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all.”—John 11:26.
A footnote on this verse in The Soncino Chumash states: “To deserve expulsion, since God does not punish a nation until its measure of sin is full.”
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God’s executioner was told to thrust in the sickle when the vine of the earth had become ripe
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Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are helping people to come in line for God’s eternal blessings