On numerous occasions, throughout the Old Testament, we read about “the anger of the Lord” (Ex 4:14; Num 11:10, 33; 12:9; Deut 6:15; 7:4; 11:7; Josh 7:1; 23:16; Judg 2:14, 20; 3:8; 2 Sam 6:7; 24:1; Psa 106: 40; Isa 5:25; Jer 4:8; 12:13; Zeph 2:2). The Lord’s anger is certainly a cause for healthy fear among any who deviate from His will. Earl Radmacher notes, “The idiom for anger in the Old Testament translated literally is ‘the nose burns’ or ‘the nose becomes hot’ (Gen 30:2; Ex 4:14)…The nose is symbolic of anger because an angry person breathes heavily or noisily.” It is true that God displayed His anger among His own people because they repeatedly turned away from Him and pursued sin and idolatry. God, being righteous and holy, naturally gets angry at rebellion and sin, and we should thank Him for it. According to Charles Swindoll, “God is right in being angry at the sin and disobedience of His people who pain and displease Him (Ex 32:10). God’s anger, though fierce (Jer 25:37), is not sinful or evil. It has its source in His holy character, which is rightfully offended by the sinful rebellion of His creatures. God’s anger often results in His chastising (Psa 6:1; Isa 12:1) and punishing His people (2 Sam 6:7; Jer 44:6).” The Bible reveals the Lord “is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day” (Psa 7:11). Knowing this about God, it is good that we fear Him.
However, though God does get angry and righteously judges sin and sinners, we also see a number of Scriptures that tell us He is “slow to anger.” The Lord described Himself to Moses, saying, “The LORD, the LORD God, is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex 34:6). Moses picked up on God’s language and repeated it back to Him in a prayer, saying, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression” (Num 14:18). Based on these qualities in God, Moses prayed for Israel, saying, “Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Num 14:19). And the Lord heard Moses’ prayer and forgave His people (Num 14:20). Being slow to anger is another way of describing God’s patience toward us.
Others throughout the Old Testament echoed this same language. Nehemiah said, “You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh 9:17). On three occasions, David said, “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Psa 86:15), and “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Psa 103:8), and “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness” (Psa 145:8). Joel said to his people, “Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of calamity” (Joe 2:13), and Jonah said, “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2). That God is slow to anger could explain why America, with all our sins, has not yet been judged.
But how slow is God to become angry before He judges the sinner? Well, He is as slow as He needs to be, depending on the attitude and actions of people. God’s timing for judgment is always wise, patient, and just. The Lord waited one hundred and twenty years before judging the evil generation of Noah’s day (Gen 6:3). Amazingly, God waited four hundred years before rendering judgment on the wicked Canaanites (Gen 15:16). After four hundred years, the Canaanites had sinned away their day of grace, and their guilt required His judgment (Lev 18:24-30; Deut 9:1-5). For twenty-three years, God spoke to His people through Jeremiah the prophet, but the Judahites refused to listen (Jer 25:3). God gave Nebuchadnezzar twelve months to think about the Lord’s sovereignty before punishing him (Dan 4:29-32). Every sinner of accountable age who dies without Christ, will face eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). For some, this period of grace could be days, months, or years. For others, it could be decades, or even more than a century. In the end, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Don’t test the Lord’s patience! Trust in Christ as your Savior and don’t be foolish by sinning away your day of grace (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph 2:8-9).
What’s amazing, is that God was quick to forgive and show kindness when people humbled themselves, even in the slightest way. For example, King Ahab was a wicked ruler who reigned over Israel for twenty-two years (1 Ki 16:29), and Ahab “did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him” (1 Ki 16:30). By the end of Ahab’s life, it is written, “Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel” (1 Ki 21:25-26). However, even wicked Ahab, after hearing God’s judgment against him (1 Ki 21:20-24), responded in humility and “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently” (1 Ki 21:27). And God, because He is quick to show grace and mercy, turned from His anger against Ahab, saying to His prophet Elijah, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days” (1 Ki 21:29). Even the most wicked, as long as they have breath, may taste the Lord’s goodness if they humble themselves before Him. Even wicked men such as Nero, Domitian, Hitler, Stalin, or Mao Zedong may be in heaven, if they turned to the Lord and believed in Christ before they died. Only God knows.
God has certainly been slow to anger and patient with us, as Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). The Lord tolerated my nonsense for many years before disciplining and humbling me, for which I am thankful that He was patient and did not destroy me. Now, as His growing child, I keep short accounts of my sin by coming before His “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16), and confessing my sin to Him directly. The apostle John, writing to Christians, said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). By faith, I trust God at His Word, that when I confess my sin to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive me of that sin, and to cleanse me of all the sins I may have forgotten. And God does this every time! To be faithful (πιστός pistos) means God does the same thing over and over without failure. And God is just (δίκαιος dikaios) to forgive my sin because Christ has already born it on the cross. But if I neglect to confess my sin daily and to deal with it through ongoing spiritual growth, then I may face God’s loving corrective discipline (Heb 12:5-11). I avoid corrective discipline by daily confession and advancing to spiritual maturity by learning and living God’s Word in all aspects of my life (1 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).