Longsuffering

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Exodus 34:1-14

“Describe yourself” says the interviewer, with a glint in their eyes.

You really want the job.  How to sound humble but also omni-competent? “What to reveal about myself?” Probably the less the better.

“Why is he asking?” you wonder.  “Doesn’t my track record speak for itself?  Won’t he see pretty quickly who I really am?”

It can be a very awkward question.

But Moses has the nerve to ask it of God Most High.  Still on the top of mount Sinai, he asks the unseen LORD:

Please show me your glory (Exodus 33:18)

Glory eh?  What should we expect that to look like?  Dazzling special effects?  Breath-taking displays of raw power?  No, here is how God reveals His glory.  He responds,

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”  (Exodus 33:19)

This is the LORD’s glory.  Goodness, grace and mercy.  And it’s all summed up in His “name”.  His name is His divine character and it’s what the LORD promises to proclaim next time He visits Moses.

Well in Exodus 34 it happens.  The unseen LORD comes down to describe Himself – to proclaim His name.  He descends again to the top of Mount Sinai in a cloud,

and stood with Moses there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.  And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.  (Exodus 34:5-7)

Right there at the heart of God’s name – His character – is that lovely word “longsuffering.”  We have William Tyndale to thank for its entrance into the English language.  In translating Galatians 5:22 he rendered the Greek word makrothumia as “longsuffering” – a word that previously did not exist.  This “longsuffering” is one aspect of “the fruit of the Spirit” – that life that is birthed in the believer by the Spirit of Christ. Makrothumia means patiently bearing heat without disintegrating.  And it’s the same word that the ancient Greeks used when translating Exodus 34.

The original Hebrew phrase is actually two words: “long” and “nose”!  The nose (or nostrils) are associated with anger.  And so, as often as not, the phrase is rendered “slow to anger.”  But as someone with a considerable proboscis of his own, I think we should return to biblical roots and proclaim the great godliness of big noses.  I digress.

The Most High describes Himself as “long-nosed”.  Or, idiomatically, “longsuffering”.  He is merciful, gracious, forgiving.  The phrase “abounding in goodness and truth” might be translated “full of grace and truth.” These traits give us confidence.

But He also mentions His justice.  He won’t clear the guilty.  He will pay back iniquities.

So how do we put all this together?  What does it look like to be longsuffering but also to punish wickedness?  How do we know if we are recipients of His patience or His punishment?  And, more fundamentally, how do we know that God’s not doing what we do in job interviews?

There are plenty of gods out there and they all claim to be kind.  Plenty of religious texts speak of a merciful deity.  How can we believe this one?

Well Moses knows the name of the LORD.  He hasn’t just heard God speak His name.  He has seen the name in action.

Back in Exodus 23, God tells Moses about His Angel who He will send ahead of the people.  The Angel leads, commands and forgives the people all because the Father’s “name is in him.”  (Exodus 23:20-22)

The character of God Most High is perfectly expressed in His Son.  And Moses has seen that character because he has witnessed, first-hand, the saving acts of Christ. So after hearing the Father proclaim His name, Moses is overjoyed:

Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord I pray thee, go among us.  (Exodus 34:8-9)

Moses tells the Lord (the Father), he wants his Lord (the Son) to continue leading them.  The name he has heard, is the name he has seen in salvation, and he gladly bows to the gracious God he has met in Christ.

This, then, is how we can be assured of the character of God.  We see it in the saving acts of Christ.  God does not merely describe Himself, He sends Christ among us to ‘walk the talk.’

When we look at Christ crucified how can we possibly deny the longsuffering mercy of God. There on the cross, Jesus is patiently bearing the heat Himself. And at the same time He is revealing His determination to judge.  The name of God makes sense as we look to Christ.  The punishment and the patience come together.  And in the words of the Apostle John:

we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Jesus is the very Character of God taking flesh.  And if we see Him for who He is, we too will bow to the ground like Moses and desire His company all our days!

Plenty of gods claim to be glorious.  But their glory doesn’t look like this.  Plenty of gods claim to be merciful.  But we’ve never seen the evidence.  With Jesus we get something very different.  In Jesus we have seen the character of Almighty God.  When we see His arms outstretched to the guilty, who can doubt the depths of His divine longsuffering?

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