Jehovah Is a God of Long-Suffering

“Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.”​—EXODUS 34:6.

1, 2. (a) Who in the past benefited from Jehovah’s long-suffering? (b) What does the word “long-suffering” mean?

THE people in Noah’s day, the Israelites trekking through the wilderness with Moses, the Jews alive when Jesus walked on earth​—all lived under different circumstances. But all benefited from the same kindly quality of Jehovah​—long-suffering. For some, it meant their very lives. And Jehovah’s long-suffering can mean our lives too.

2 What is long-suffering? When does Jehovah show it, and why? “Long-suffering” has been defined as “the patient endurance of wrong or provocation, combined with a refusal to give up hope for improvement in the disturbed relationship.” This quality, therefore, has a purpose. It looks particularly to the welfare of the one causing a disagreeable situation. Being long-suffering does not mean condoning wrong, however. When the purpose for long-suffering is accomplished or when there is no point in putting up with the situation any more, long-suffering ends.

3. What has been the purpose of Jehovah’s long-suffering, and what is its limit?

3 While humans can be long-suffering, Jehovah is the supreme example of this quality. In the years since sin disturbed the relationship between Jehovah and his human creation, our Creator has shown patient endurance and has provided the means whereby repentant humans can improve their relationship with him. (2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 4:10) But when his long-suffering has achieved its purpose, God will take action against willful wrongdoers, bringing the present wicked system to an end.​—2 Peter 3:7.

Consistent With God’s Primary Attributes

4. (a) How is the idea of long-suffering expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures? (See also footnote.) (b) How does the prophet Nahum describe Jehovah, and what does this reveal about Jehovah’s long-suffering?

4 In the Hebrew Scriptures, the notion of long-suffering is expressed by two Hebrew words that literally mean “length of nostrils” and are rendered “slow to anger” in the New World Translation. * Speaking of God’s long-suffering, the prophet Nahum said: “Jehovah is slow to anger and great in power, and by no means will Jehovah hold back from punishing.” (Nahum 1:3) Hence, Jehovah’s long-suffering is not a sign of weakness and is not without limits. The fact that the almighty God is at once slow to anger and great in power shows that his long-suffering is the result of purposeful restraint. He has the power to punish, but he deliberately refrains from immediately doing so in order to give the wrongdoer the opportunity to change. (Ezekiel 18:31, 32) Jehovah’s long-suffering is, therefore, an expression of his love, and it demonstrates his wisdom in the use of his power.

5. In what way is Jehovah’s long-suffering compatible with his justice?

 5 Jehovah’s long-suffering is also compatible with his justice and righteousness. He revealed himself to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger [“longsuffering,” King James Version] and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.” (Exodus 34:6) Years later, Moses sang in praise of Jehovah: “All his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) Yes, Jehovah’s mercy, long-suffering, justice, and uprightness all work together harmoniously.

Jehovah’s Long-Suffering Before the Flood

6. What remarkable evidence of long-suffering has Jehovah displayed toward the descendants of Adam and Eve?

6 Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden permanently severed their precious relationship with their loving Creator, Jehovah. (Genesis 3:8-13, 23, 24) This alienation affected their offspring, who inherited sin, imperfection, and death. (Romans 5:17-19) Although the first human couple were willful sinners, Jehovah allowed them to produce children. Later, he lovingly provided the means whereby the descendants of Adam and Eve could be reconciled with him. (John 3:16, 36) The apostle Paul explained: “God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, therefore, since we have been declared righteous now by his blood, shall we be saved through him from wrath. For if, when we were enemies, we became reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, now that we have become reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”​—Romans 5:8-10.

7. How did Jehovah show long-suffering before the Flood, and why was the destruction of the pre-Flood generation justified?

7 Jehovah’s long-suffering was seen in Noah’s day. Over a century before the Flood, “God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.” (Genesis 6:12) Still, for a limited time, Jehovah showed long-suffering toward mankind. He said: “My spirit shall not act toward man indefinitely in that he is also flesh. Accordingly his days shall amount to a hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3) Those 120 years allowed faithful Noah time to produce a family and​—when informed of God’s decree—​to build an ark and  warn his contemporaries of the coming Flood. The apostle Peter wrote: “The patience [a quality related to long-suffering] of God was waiting in Noah’s days, while the ark was being constructed, in which a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.” (1 Peter 3:20) True, those outside Noah’s immediate household “took no note” of his preaching. (Matthew 24:38, 39) But by having Noah construct the ark and serve perhaps for several decades as “a preacher of righteousness,” Jehovah offered Noah’s contemporaries ample opportunity to repent of their violent ways and turn to serving Him. (2 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 11:7) The eventual destruction of that wicked generation was fully justified.

Exemplary Long-Suffering Toward Israel

8. How was Jehovah’s long-suffering manifested toward the nation of Israel?

8 Jehovah’s long-suffering toward Israel lasted much longer than 120 years. Throughout the more than 1,500 years of their history as God’s chosen people, there were comparatively few periods when the Israelites did not try God’s long-suffering to the limit. Only weeks after their miraculous deliverance from Egypt, they turned to idol worship, showing gross disrespect for their Savior. (Exodus 32:4; Psalm 106:21) During the succeeding decades, the Israelites complained about the food Jehovah miraculously supplied in the desert, murmured against Moses and Aaron, spoke against Jehovah, and committed fornication with pagans, even sharing in Baal worship. (Numbers 11:4-6; 14:2-4; 21:5; 25:1-3; 1 Corinthians 10:6-11) Jehovah could justifiably have exterminated his people, but instead he exercised long-suffering.​—Numbers 14:11-21.

9. How did Jehovah prove to be a God of long-suffering during the time of the Judges and during the monarchy?

9 During the time of the Judges, the Israelites repeatedly fell away to idolatry. When they did so, Jehovah abandoned them to their enemies. But when they repented and called on him for help, he exercised long-suffering and raised up judges to deliver them. (Judges 2:17, 18) During the long period of the monarchy, few kings showed exclusive devotion to Jehovah. And even under the faithful kings, the people often mixed true worship with false. When Jehovah raised up prophets to warn against unfaithfulness, the people usually preferred to listen to corrupt priests and false prophets. (Jeremiah 5:31; 25:4-7) Indeed, the Israelites persecuted Jehovah’s faithful prophets and even killed some of them. (2 Chronicles 24:20, 21; Acts 7:51, 52) Nonetheless, Jehovah continued to show long-suffering.​—2 Chronicles 36:15.

Jehovah’s Long-Suffering Not Lost

10. When did Jehovah’s long-suffering reach a limit?

10 History shows, however, that God’s long-suffering has a limit. In 740 B.C.E., he allowed the Assyrians to overthrow the ten-tribe kingdom  of Israel and lead its inhabitants into exile. (2 Kings 17:5, 6) And at the end of the following century, he permitted the Babylonians to invade the two-tribe kingdom of Judah and destroy Jerusalem with its temple.​—2 Chronicles 36:16-19.

11. How did Jehovah make room for long-suffering even when he was executing judgment?

11 Even while executing his judgments against Israel and Judah, however, Jehovah did not forget to be long-suffering. By means of his prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah foretold a restoration of his chosen people. He said: “In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to you people, and I will establish toward you my good word in bringing you back to this place. And I will let myself be found by you . . . And I will gather your body of captives and collect you together out of all the nations and out of all the places to which I have dispersed you.”​—Jeremiah 29:10, 14.

12. How did the return of a Jewish remnant to Judah prove to be providential with respect to the coming of the Messiah?

12 A remnant from among the exiled Jews did indeed return to Judah and revive the worship of Jehovah at the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. In the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes, this remnant would become like “dew from Jehovah,” which brings refreshment and prosperity. They would also be courageous and strong like “a lion among the beasts of a forest.” (Micah 5:7, 8) This latter expression may have been fulfilled during the Maccabean period when the Jews under the family of the Maccabees expelled their enemies from the Promised Land and rededicated the temple, which had been defiled. Thus the land and the temple were preserved so that another faithful remnant would be able to welcome the Son of God when he appeared there as the Messiah.​—Daniel 9:25; Luke 1:13-17, 67-79; 3:15, 21, 22.

13. Even after the Jews had killed his Son, how did Jehovah continue to show them long-suffering?

13 Even after the Jews had slain his Son, Jehovah continued to show them long-suffering for a period of three and a half more years, granting them the exclusive opportunity of being called to become a part of the spiritual seed of Abraham. (Daniel 9:27) * Before and after the year 36 C.E., some Jews accepted this call, and thus, as Paul later put it, “a remnant has turned up according to a choosing due to undeserved kindness.”​—Romans 11:5.

14. (a) In 36 C.E., to whom was the privilege of becoming a part of Abraham’s spiritual seed extended? (b) How did Paul express his feelings about the way Jehovah chooses members of spiritual Israel?

14 In 36 C.E., the privilege of becoming a part of Abraham’s spiritual seed was extended for the first time to those who were neither Jews nor proselytes. Any who responded  also became recipients of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness and long-suffering. (Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:4-7) Expressing deep appreciation for the wisdom and purpose behind Jehovah’s merciful long-suffering, through which he produces the total number of those called to complete spiritual Israel, Paul exclaimed: “O the depth of God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable his judgments are and past tracing out his ways are!”​—Romans 11:25, 26, 33; Galatians 6:15, 16.

Long-Suffering for the Sake of His Name

15. What is the primary reason for divine long-suffering, and what issue required time for settlement?

15 Why does Jehovah exercise long-suffering? Primarily in order to magnify his holy name and vindicate his sovereignty. (1 Samuel 12:20-22) The moral issue raised by Satan over the way Jehovah uses His sovereignty required time to be settled satisfactorily before all creation. (Job 1:9-11; 42:2, 5, 6) Hence, when his people were being oppressed in Egypt, Jehovah told Pharaoh: “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 9:16.

16. (a) How did Jehovah’s long-suffering make possible the preparing of a people for his name? (b) How will Jehovah’s name be sanctified and his sovereignty be vindicated?

16 Jehovah’s words to Pharaoh were quoted when the apostle Paul explained the role of God’s long-suffering in the glorification of His holy name. And then Paul wrote: “If, now, God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction, in order that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, namely, us, whom he called not only from among Jews but also from among nations, what of it? It is as he says also in Hosea: ‘Those not my people I will call “my people.”’” (Romans 9:17, 22-25) Because Jehovah exercised long-suffering, he was able to take out of the nations “a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) Under their Head, Jesus Christ, these “holy ones” are heirs  of the Kingdom that Jehovah will use to sanctify His great name and to vindicate His sovereignty.​—Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14, 27; Revelation 4:9-11; 5:9, 10.

Jehovah’s Long-Suffering Works for Salvation

17, 18. (a) By doing what could we unwittingly be criticizing Jehovah for his exercise of long-suffering? (b) How are we encouraged to view Jehovah’s long-suffering?

17 From mankind’s original calamitous fall into sin up until now, Jehovah has shown himself to be a long-suffering God. His long-suffering before the Flood allowed time for due warning to be given and a means of salvation to be built. But his patience reached a limit, and the Flood came. Similarly today, Jehovah is showing great long-suffering, and this is lasting longer than some may have anticipated. However, that is no reason to give up. To do so would be tantamount to criticizing God for being long-suffering. Paul asked: “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.

18 None of us can know the full extent to which we need God’s long-suffering to make sure that we have his approval for salvation. Paul counsels us to “keep working out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) The apostle Peter wrote to fellow Christians: “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.

19. In what way can we take advantage of Jehovah’s long-suffering?

19 Hence, let us not be impatient with Jehovah’s way of handling matters. Rather, let us follow Peter’s further counsel and “consider the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Whose salvation? Ours and, by extension, that of countless others who still need to hear the “good news of the kingdom.” (2 Peter 3:15; Matthew 24:14) This will help us to appreciate the rich generosity of Jehovah’s long-suffering and move us to be long-suffering in our dealings with others.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 4 In Hebrew, the word for “nose” or “nostril” (ʼaph) is often used figuratively for anger. This is so because of the violent breathing or snorting of an enraged person.

^ par. 13 For a further explanation of this prophecy, see the book Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy!, pages 191-4, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Can You Explain?

• What is meant in the Bible by the word “long-suffering”?

• How did Jehovah show his long-suffering before the Flood, after the Babylonian captivity, and in the first century C.E.?

• For what important reasons has Jehovah displayed long-suffering?

• How should we view Jehovah’s long-suffering?

[Study Questions]

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Jehovah’s long-suffering before the Flood gave people ample opportunity for repentance

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After Babylon’s fall, the Jews benefited from Jehovah’s long-suffering

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In the first century, both Jews and non-Jews benefited from Jehovah’s long-suffering

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Christians today make good use of Jehovah’s long-suffering