Attributes that Anchor Us: God is Longsuffering

The longsuffering of God is a divine attribute that is precious to the hearts of the people of God. Instances of the exercise of this wonderful quality are found in both OT and NT Scriptures. It is seen in the Lord’s dealings with individuals, groups of people and nations.

Demonstrations of God’s Longsuffering

The history of the antediluvian world reveals the moral degradation that existed, combined with a preoccupation with material things and worldly pursuits. The Lord expressed His displeasure and warned of judgment to come through the faithful preaching of Enoch (Jud 14,15). The apostle Peter tells us that the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah. This was seen in the 120 years that God allowed men before the flood. During that time, they would have observed the activities of Noah and his family as they constructed the ark, and would have heard the earnest voice of that preacher of righteousness seeking to persuade the antediluvians to escape the impending doom. The longsuffering of God was further evident in the additional seven days that the door of the ark remained open after Noah, his family, and all the designated living creatures had entered the ark.

The Lord testifies to His own character in Exodus 34:6: “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.”[1] Moses takes up this same language as he entreats the Lord for the people of Israel in the face of their willfulness and ingratitude, their waywardness and disobedience in the wilderness pathway: “The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Num 14:18). The history of the Lord’s dealing with the nation in the wilderness, during their occupation of the land, the days of the judges and then of the kings, all testify to His goodness, faithfulness and care. A wonderful climax to the longsuffering of His dealings will be seen when He turns to a nation that has been set aside because of their rejection of the One who was sent to be their Messiah. The words of Zephaniah 3:17 will then be realized: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”

The history of King Manasseh as recorded in 2 Chronicles 33 relates an outstanding example of God’s longsuffering in the life of this rebellious individual. The years of his childhood would have been marked by the wholesome, caring influence of a godly father, King Hezekiah. The chronology of events in Scripture would give basis for thinking that something of the movements of the prophet Isaiah and his prophetic utterances would have been known to Manasseh. Following his father’s death and elevation to the throne, the young king embarked on a pathway of rejection of godly influence, abandonment of moral principles, and denial of divine restrictions, as he plunged into idolatrous practices. The Lord spoke to Manasseh through the words of the seers but there was no turning from his wicked ways (see 2Ch 33:10,18). He was finally brought to repentance through the chastisement and affliction in Babylon. There was then a humbling before God, an entreaty for forgiveness, and a turning away from his iniquitous practices. The offering of both peace and thank offerings were an expression of the peace that he found and his gratitude towards God for the riches of divine mercies shown to him.

A well-known NT instance of the longsuffering of God is seen in the life of Saul of Tarsus. The message and testimony of Stephen as Saul witnessed his martyrdom, and the faces of the Christians whose imprisonment and deaths he effected, must have brought deep piercings of conviction within his soul. This all climaxed on the road to Damascus in the encounter with the risen Christ as the Lord exclaimed, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Act 9:5). Paul later stated: “I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1Ti 1:16).

Design in God’s Longsuffering

The word longsuffering is linked with other divine qualities in several passages of Scripture. Mercy and grace are coupled with longsuffering as Moses cites God’s ways in Exodus 34:6 and Numbers 14:18. The apostle Paul mentions goodness and forbearance with longsuffering in Romans 2:4. Goodness describes the disposition of God to bestow blessing; mercy suggests the pity He shows to the erring one; forbearance indicates the restraint He exercises in withholding judgment upon sin. Longsuffering has an added feature. It suggests a patient endurance with disobedient persons and provocative situations so that good and blessing can ultimately be enjoyed. The description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 pictures the actions of the Lord Himself who “beareth all things … hopeth all things, endureth all things” (v7). Indeed, “love suffereth long and is kind” (v4). This was seen in the life of Manasseh and in the experience of Saul of Tarsus, and will be seen in a wondrous way in the recovery and redemption of the people of Israel.

The apostle Peter states in 2 Peter 3:9 that the Lord is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This would be an encouragement for us to continue praying for the salvation of lost souls despite the lack of interest being seen on their part, even when there is an expressed opposition to God and His word. Parents can be encouraged as they long for the salvation of unsaved children who have refused the message of the gospel, who seemingly resist the work of the Spirit of God in their lives and choose a pathway that is contrary to God and His Word. The truth of God’s longsuffering will be a stimulus to Sunday school teachers and others who are seeking to plant the Word of God in the lives of the young. It will give an impetus to those who preach the gospel as they sow the living Word. The understanding of the Lord’s ways will be combined with confidence in the ability of His Word to accomplish repentance and faith in the individual. We are to remember Peter’s words: “Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2Pe 3:15).

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.