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Longsuffering in the Psalms and Prophets

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Covenant Reformed News

August 2016  •  Volume XVI, Issue 4


God’s Longsuffering in the Psalms and Prophets

In the last issue of the News, we considered God’s longsuffering (or His being slow to anger) in the Old Testament historical books: Exodus 34:6-7, Numbers 14:17-18 and Nehemiah 9:17.

We turn now to three references in the Psalms: “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (86:15); “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (103:8); “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy” (145:8).

These three texts have at least four things in common. First, they were all inspired by the Holy Spirit and penned by David, according to their headings, as the fruit of his meditation upon God’s law, especially Exodus 34:6-7 and Numbers 14:17-18. Second, only God’s “positive” attributes are mentioned in all three verses: His compassion, grace, mercy and truth are spoken of in connection with His longsuffering. Third, all three are references to Jehovah’s longsuffering to His beloved people (including us). Fourth, all three references to God’s longsuffering in the Psalms are found in songs of praise. There is a lesson here for us too!

Moving to the twelve minor prophets, we come first to Joel 2:13: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.”

Again, we notice, first, that only God’s “positive” perfections are here mentioned: His grace, mercy and kindness are spoken of in connection with His longsuffering or being slow to anger. Second, like the three passages from the Old Testament historical books (Ex. 34:6-7; Num. 14:17-18; Neh. 9:17) and the three verses from the Psalms quoted in the second paragraph, Joel 2:13 is addressed to God’s people, Israel. Third, this text is a call to repentance in which the prophet appeals to part of God’s earlier self-revelation to strengthen his exhortation. For us too, God’s longsuffering, both in Himself and to us, is an encouragement to confess our sins from our hearts.

The next minor prophet to refer to God’s longsuffering is Jonah: “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (4:2).

A pattern is emerging! First, along with God’s longsuffering or being slow to anger, we read here of His grace, mercy and kindness. Again, they are all “positive” divine attributes. Second, the prophet is referring to God’s people, this time (elect) Gentiles. Third, Jonah knew God’s self-revelation at Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:6-7) and Kadesh-barnea (Num. 14:17-18), and so understood that, since Jehovah had sent him to preach to Nineveh, God had His people there to whom He would show Himself longsuffering, gracious, merciful and kind.

This is the reason why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place. He did not want to see the wicked Assyrians—Israel’s enemies—saved. Especially was this the case because Jonah knew, given the wickedness of the N. Kingdom, that God, in turning to the Gentiles, would turn away from the Jewish people whom the prophet loved.

Our third and final passage in the minor prophets is from the vision of Nahum: “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (1:3).

Like the two verses from the Pentateuch (Ex. 34:6-7; Num. 14:17-18), Nahum first mentions God’s “positive” perfection in saving His people (“The Lord is slow to anger”) and then His “negative” attributes (“The Lord is ... great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked”) in His mighty punishment of the impenitent wicked, as the One who “hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm.”

Though Nahum 1 mostly concerns the judgment of the Most High upon Assyria, verse 3a (“The Lord is slow to anger”) is not the only bright note for His elect people in the chapter. We read that “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (7). We hear the gospel in Nahum 1: “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off” (15).

Moving from the above three passages in the twelve minor prophets, we come finally to the only reference to God’s longsuffering in the four major prophets, Jeremiah 15:15: “O Lord, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke.”

Here only one divine attribute is mentioned: God’s longsuffering. In this text, it is not towards Israel as a nation, for the elect’s sake. Instead of being exercised towards a corporate body, God is longsuffering to an individual believer: Jeremiah himself. The prophet’s prayer is this: “Do not, O Lord, in Thy longsuffering over me, allow my persecutors to destroy me.” God is not longsuffering towards the wicked who afflict Jeremiah for he asks the Lord, “revenge me of my persecutors.” Rev. A. Stewart

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 16
  • Issue: 4
Stewart, Angus

Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)

Ordained - 2001

Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001

Website: www.cprf.co.uk/

Contact Details

  • Address
    7 Lislunnan Road
  • City
    Ballymena
  • State or Province
    Co.Antrim
  • Zip Code
    BT42 3NR
  • Country
    Ireland
  • Telephone
    (01144) 28 25 891851

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