Longsuffering: God's Glory

“You can’t tell me that God is good! I’ve read all those accounts in the Bible in which he ordered entire cities to be destroyed. A good God wouldn’t do something like that!” The argument sounds convincing. It is true that God occasionally ordered Israel to utterly destroy cities and nations. Israel’s first king was deposed by God for not carrying out such an order.
What this argument fails to acknowledge is the longsuffering of God. Before God reached the point of declaring the death penalty, he almost always gave ample opportunity for the offenders to change.
A case in point is Canaan. When Israel crossed the Jordan River to possess the Promised Land, they were instructed to “… conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them” (Deuteronomy 7:2, NKJV). That sounds awfully harsh. But have we noticed what God said to Abraham more than four hundred years prior to this? In revealing the future of Abraham’s descendants, God foretold their hard sojourn in Egyptian bondage. One reason why this was necessary was that “… the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). By the time Israel began driving out the inhabitants of Canaan, they had been given many opportunities to repent. They had proved themselves incorrigible.
Israel herself was the beneficiary of God’s longsuffering. After entering the Promised Land, the people soon joined themselves to the idolatry of the Canaanites. God sent enemies to oppress his people in hopes of causing them to turn away from the idols. The book of Judges chronicles thirteen episodes of rescue by deliverers sent by God. Can any human examples of longsuffering like that be found?
Still later in Israel’s history, God tried time and again to turn his people from self-destructive sins. By the time of the prophet Ezekiel, the verdict had been handed down: destruction of Judah by the wicked Babylonians. But it was not a verdict God enjoyed reaching: “Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'” (Ezekiel 33:11). One can hear the throbbing of God’s heart as he speaks those words.
These examples are typical of God as he is revealed in the Bible. He is not portrayed as hard, cold and eager to send sinners to their graves. He longs to forgive so the relationship can be restored. But there have to be signs of repentance.
Moses made a bold request in Exodus 33:18 when he asked, “Please, show me your glory.” God accommodated that wish, but not as most would have expected. The revealing of God’s glory meant declaring his true and essential nature: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth …” If you want to see the glory of God, look at how eager he is to forgive sinners if they will respond to his initial show of grace.
Peter got the message. He urged his readers to “account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:15). Indeed, we should all rejoice that God suffers long with us. It is one of the most glorious facts of his nature that we can proclaim.

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Tim Hall

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