The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5–7)
The heavens of ancient civilisations were populated with gods who fumed and roared, gods who needed to be appeased by costly sacrifices. As the Hebrew people gathered around Mount Sinai, and Moses heard the great words quoted above, they were a people headed for a slow journey to the promised land. A land where people worshipped the god Molech, and sacrificed their children to win his favour. For the ancients, gods were wrathful beings to be bought off and the costlier the sacrifice the better.
God, though, is “slow to anger”. He takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). He patiently awaits repentance, and in his strength endures the petty insults of those who rail against him. He is a rock unmoved in his serenity, waiting for you to turn to him, to cast yourself upon his mercy.
The problem is you can grow to take this for granted. You can mistake God’s patience with indifference. Oh, you might think, God doesn’t really care about this. Or that. Or, even, the other. God’s patience is confused with apathy, with a lack of concern. That is, most emphatically, not the case! He is slow to anger, but that does not mean that doesn’t care. Judgement is deferred, not abandoned.
The question then arises: why? Why this patience?
We might find an answer to that in 2 Peter 3:9. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance”. All should reach repentance. That is the purpose of the patience, it is a merciful slowness to anger. Judgment is coming, but there is time to seek God’s mercy. Judgement is coming, but the judge has provided a way through. Christ awaits, arms outstretched. Will you repent?