Psalm 103:8

Sermon preached on March 10, 2002 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2002. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Some years ago I heard a story about Madalyne Murray O'Hare, the famous atheist. She went out in a thunder and lightning storm and dared God to strike her with lightning. She was seeking to prove that God didn't exist. She dared God to strike her dead- but He didn't. The lightning didn't come near her.

Did that prove that God doesn't exist? No. But it is a very good example of God's patience. He didn't immediately punish her for her blasphemy. God put up with her sin. He was patient with her. He showed her love and compassion. He gave her time to repent.

That's the way that God is. He is patient with sinners. He is slow to anger. He bears with sinners, putting up with them and their sin. He deals with sinners patiently. He gives them opportunity after opportunity to turn from their sin.

This morning we are going to look at God's patience. It's a wonderful topic. We should be continually praising God for His patience. Every day we ought to be thanking God for His great patience and for the loving way that He treats us. Where would we be without it? Where would we be if every transgression received immediate punishment? We would be in hell, experiencing the pains of everlasting punishment. How horrible it would be.

But thankfully, God does not treat us as our sins deserve.

God is patient. He is slow to anger.

That's why we're all here this morning. It's because He hasn't repaid us according to our iniquities.

In themselves, our sins are deserving of immediate punishment. In a sense you could say that they cry out to God for immediate punishment. Remember what God said to Cain after he killed his brother, Abel? (Genesis 4:10)

"Listen! Your brother's blood
cries out to me from the ground."

All our sins are like that. They cry out for punishment. We see this as well in James 5 where God rebuked the rich who were oppressing the poor. He said, (verse 4)

"Look! The wages you failed to pay
the workmen who mowed your fields
are crying out against you."

Our sins cry out for punishment. But God does not treat us according to our sins. Lamentations 3:22-23 testifies to this. It says,

"Because of the LORD's great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness."

God deals patiently with us. Instead of giving us what our sins deserve, He blesses us with good things.

That's what it has been like from the very first sin. When
Adam and Eve sinned, God could have cast them both into hell. But He didn't. He was patient with them. Instead of giving to them the full extent of what their sins deserved, He was patient with them. Indeed, He gave them a promise about One who was going to come to crush Satan's heat. (Genesis 3:15) Instead of consuming them in His anger, He began telling them about Jesus. As Psalm 103 says, (verse 8f)

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust."

God is slow to anger, abounding in love. John Calvin comments on verse 9, where it says that God will not always accuse.

"David, from the attributes ascribed to God in the preceding verse, draws the conclusion, that when God has been offended, he will not be irreconcilable, since, from his nature, he is always inclined to forgive… David tacitly intimates that God institutes an action against sinners to lay them low under a true sense of their guilt; and that yet he recedes from it whenever he sees them subdued and humbled."

This is what our God is like. Patience is part of His character. It is intimately related to His love and His goodness. God is a compassionate and merciful God. He does not take pleasure in punishing sin. God hates to see sinners die. We see this in Ezekiel 33:11. God declared,

"As surely as I live,
I take no pleasure
in the death of the wicked,

but rather that they turn
from their ways and live.
Turn! Turn from your evil ways!
Why will you die,
O house of Israel?"

God is a God of love. He is slow to anger. Even though people curse and mock Him, even though they totally disregard His commandments, even though they commit the most horrible of crimes, He is patient with them.

We have an example of this in the crucifixion of Jesus.
Remember how Jesus asked for the forgiveness of those who were nailing Him to the cross? To nail Jesus to the cross was one of the most heinous sins in the history of the world. The soldiers who did that deserved to have fire from heaven come down and consume them, like it did to the 50 soldiers who came to arrest the prophet Elijah. (2 Kings 1:10, 12) But Jesus was patient with them, asking that His Father forgive them.

Now what this means is that
in a certain sense, God punishes very unenthusiastically. In a certain sense, it's almost like He hates to deal harshly with sinners. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. As Donald Macleod puts it,

God is angry only reluctantly.

He writes, (Behold Your God, p. 95)

"God is angry only reluctantly. He delights in mercy and loves forgiving. By contrast, judgment is a 'strange work'."

In referring to God exercising judgment as a 'strange work' I believe Macleod is referring to Isaiah 28:21 which refers to God punishing sinners. It reads,

"The LORD will rise up
as he did at Mount Perazim,
he will rouse himself
as in the Valley of Gibeon —
to do his work,
his strange work,
and perform his task,
his alien task."

John Calvin summarizes one interpretation of this verse. (Note: Calvin himself does not think this is the best interpretation.)

"Some think that this 'work' is called 'strange,' because nothing corresponds better to the nature of God than to be merciful and to pardon our sins; and that when he is angry, he acts against his will, and assumes a character that is foreign to him and that is contrary to his nature. By nature he is gentle, compassionate, patient, kind, slow to anger, as Scripture declares by many words and by a variety of expressions his infinite compassion. (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8.)"

I don't think we want to say that God's anger is 'contrary to His nature'. God is perfect and all of His attributes are in perfect harmony. His punishment of sin is righteous and thoroughly good.

Yet having said that, we do need to recognize that punishment is not a work that God takes delight in. There is no pleasure in it for Him.
Donald Macleod writes, (Behold Your God, p. 95-96)

"He will resort to it if need be, but it is alien to His instincts. He is slow to wrath (Psalm 103:8) and unwilling to afflict (Lamentations 3:3) Even as He contemplates those who are steeped in guilt He hesitates to execute judgment. 'How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? My heart is turned within me. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim' (Hosea 11:8f). The salvation of His people fills the Lord with joy (Jude 24). But the destruction of the wicked gives Him no pleasure (Ezekiel 18:23, 32)."

What a God we serve! He delights in mercy. He delights in showing compassion. As the prophet Micah said, (Micah 7:18)

"Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy."

Who is like our God? How wonderful He is. He doesn't delight in punishing. No, for Him in a certain sense it's an alien work. Our God is a God who is, (James 5:11)

"full of compassion and mercy."

Our God is a God who rejoices over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:7, 10) Remember how God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai? We read, (Exodus 34:6-7)

"And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming,
"The LORD, the LORD,
the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands,
and forgiving wickedness,
rebellion and sin."

Remember God's dealings with His people in the wilderness? They were a stiff-necked and rebellious people. Yet How did God deal with them? Nehemiah 9:17 describes it this way,

"They refused to listen
and failed to remember the miracles
you performed among them.
They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion
appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.
But you are a forgiving God,
gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love.
Therefore you did not desert them,"

What a God we serve! How thankful we ought to be for His patience.

The great question is:

Why is God so patient?

We're already seen that it's part of His character. He does not willingly afflict. It's intimately related to His love and compassion. In this regard it's important for us to note that God's patience has a goal. It is this:

God's patience is designed to lead people to repentance.

We see this quite clearly in Romans 2:4. The apostle Paul wrote,

"Or do you show contempt
for the riches of his kindness,
tolerance and patience,
not realizing that God's kindness
leads you toward repentance?"

God does not want people to perish. He is kind and compassionate toward them. He is patient with them. This patience is designed to bring them to repentance.

We see much the same thing in
2 Peter 3:9. The apostle wrote,

"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise,
as some understand slowness.
He is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance."

God gives people time to repent. He is patient with them.

If you're not a Christians what this means is that

you need to make sure that you don't abuse God's patience.

God has been so patient with you. When you sin the earth does not open and swallow you up. When you sin fire does not come down from heaven and consume you. How should you react to that? Should you go on sinning, thinking that sin will not have consequences? Should God's patience harden you in your sin?

No, no, no. God forbid. God's kindness should cause us to flee from our sins. It should cause us to hate and abhor them. It should cause us to embrace Christ.

If you're not a Christian, you need to go to Jesus.

You need to go now. In 2 Corinthians 6:2 the apostle Paul wrote,

"I tell you,
now is the time of God's favor,
now is the day of salvation."

God's patience isn't going to last forever. God is 'slow to anger'. But there is a time when God knows (in His wisdom) that patience is no longer appropriate. Then it's too late. Hebrews 10:26-27 says,

"If we deliberately keep on sinning
after we have received the knowledge of the truth,
no sacrifice for sins is left,
but only a fearful expectation of judgment
and of raging fire that will consume
the enemies of God."

Go to Jesus, go to Him now. When you consider how God has treated you, the grace, love and compassion with which He has treated you—how can you do anything but embrace Jesus? Go to Him now.

Lastly, you Christians, you need to be patient with others, especially with your fellow believers.

God is patient with people. So should you be.

According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man's feet and gave him food and drink.

The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, "Don't you worship God?" The old traveler replied, "I worship fire only and reverence no other god." When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out his tent into the cold night air.

When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, "I forced him out because he did not worship you."

God answered, "I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?"

Christians, be patient with unbelievers. Don't give up praying for them. Don't give up witnessing to them after you've done it two or three times. God is patient with them, so should you be.

Christians, be patient with one another. Yes, others have many faults and they need to be corrected and taught what God requires. But do it with love. Do it with great patience. God is being patient with your fellow Christians. So you, too, should be patient.