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What the Bible says about God's Forbearance Meant to Lead us to Repentance
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Nehemiah 9:30-31

Israel had a yo-yo like obedience to God. Sometimes they were up, sometimes they were down. How long did God forbear with them? If we consider that the Exodus happened in about 1440 BC, and the Israelites were taken out of the land in 720 BC, He forbore with seven hundred and twenty years of their constant breaking of the covenant. Does that not say something about the patience of God—His forbearance—even with Israel's terrible sins—apostasy, spiritual adultery?

He certainly punished them and gave them many chances to repent. They would be obedient for a while, then they would fall again. He would forbear with them and give them a chance to repent, but they would not. So He punished them again to leave us an example of how God will deal—does deal—with us.

How often did God not give Israel what she deserved? Countless times! In His mercy and patience, He gave the Israelites time and space to repent. So in the end, as it says here, He had to lower the boom. They received what they deserved. He just delayed the punishment until it could no longer be delayed anymore, because He wanted them to repent.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Forbearance

Ecclesiastes 8:9-13

This passage carries forward Solomon's thoughts on the use of power by a stern ruler who exercises his governing powers tyrannically (verses 5-8). How might it affect those of us living by faith? Verse 9 poses a circumstance that may prove critical for us, as even now our rulers in this nation are growing ever more dictatorial, and there seems to be no waning of governmental tyranny in sight.

This thought leads Solomon into commenting on a situation in verse 10 that seems to echo the paradox explored in middle of chapter 7. Realities within a community do not always follow the patterns that we expect to be fair and just. The wicked are sometimes blessed with long, comfortable lives and wealth, and are acclaimed as benefactors in the city. In contrast, the righteous are treated unjustly, suffering under the powerful wicked who bear rule over them. The persecutors grow stronger in their hatred while the righteous are pushed ever lower in the estimation of others.

Solomon is reminding us that occasions arise when a reversal of retribution and reward occurs. Wisdom is not the answer in every occasion. These reversals are undoubtedly happening in our nation at this very time. Cruel, persecuting sinners are being acclaimed and rewarded, while those practicing God's way are persecuted in the courts by being jailed and heavily fined, and their reputations are destroyed for their holding fast in obedience to God's laws. It is no wonder that Solomon declares these injustices to be vanity. This situation will produce no good results.

Verse 11 confirms that, because the governing authorities do not exercise the powers of their office, they tend to encourage the growth, both in their intensity and number, of the injustices being committed by the evildoers. This ugly truth reveals the depravity of the human heart. If evil deeds were swiftly punished, human nature would be deterred to some degree. However, the reality is that, because justice is often so painfully slow, people seem to get away with almost anything, even murder. Human nature eagerly follows the path of least resistance. If lawbreaking is not punished, it quickly proceeds to greater numbers and intensity.

We are living through such a time. Seeing God has not intervened to stop these injustices, people are taking advantage of His forbearance. How should we view this? We must look on His delay positively—as a merciful gift to us—giving us more time to repent, overcome, and grow. In addition, who knows how many more He will bring to repentance as He delays?

God clearly states in Exodus 34:6 that He is “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We must respond by holding fast in our faith to the loving wisdom by which He always proceeds. Paul writes in Romans 2:4, “God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (English Standard Version). The unconverted always abuse God's patience by making it an excuse for immorality. Scoffers always abound among those who do not know God (II Peter 3:4).

There is no doubt the wicked want the “good times” to keep on rolling for them. However, beginning in verse 12, God assures us that there will indeed be a final righting of all the injustices present in this world. Even in verse 10, He gives a hint of this, declaring that the prosperous and publicly acclaimed wicked will be buried and then forgotten. Their reputations are swallowed up in the grave along with their bodies and forgotten. Their names may indeed live on but only in infamy.

In verses 12-13, He strongly assures us that the righteous, though they also sin on occasion, will have their days prolonged, perhaps indicating everlasting life. But for the sinner who does not fear God, the future is bleak, like a shadow that vanishes when light disappears. Justice will be done. The wicked are not to be envied.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fifteen): Deference

Ecclesiastes 8:12-13

Solomon had enough wisdom to understand that, in the end, such evildoers would be punished. The wheels of God's justice may work slowly, but they work and never stop working. Perhaps the supreme folly of all is that man deceives himself—that because it is customary for God to be patient, longsuffering, slow to anger, and forbearing, we forget that His tolerance is designed to lead us to repentance. Instead of taking advantage of His patience and coming to Him in humility for forgiveness, we tend to continue to revolt through sin. The supreme folly of a converted person is to delude himself that somehow he can get away with sin.

The Old Testament, far from being a record of a belligerent and wrathful God, is actually a revelation of extreme patience, mercy, and grace.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Justice and Grace

John 8:10-11

Consider that this woman caught in adultery is indeed an obviously sinful woman; she had a reputation as a loose woman. The Pharisees had caught her in the very act of cheating on her husband, and that was probably only one of her many sins. We would likely not be wrong in calling her a wicked woman.

In every way opposite to her is Jesus Christ, sinless and perfect. The Pharisees, themselves sinful, attempt to force Him, a Man of unimpeachable character, to condemn a sinner—to them, a foregone conclusion: "And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" (John 8:3-5). However, Jesus' approach to the situation is poles apart; His reaction and attitude throughout this vignette is completely contrary to that of the Pharisees.

In their reading of the Old Testament law concerning the punishment for adultery (Leviticus 20:10-11; Deuteronomy 22:22), this was an open-and-shut case: The woman had been caught in the act, they had two or three witnesses, the law was clear, so there should be a stoning! This appears to be unequivocal. The law does indeed prescribe the death sentence by stoning. What more proof does Jesus need?

Despite everything weighing against the woman, Jesus approaches the matter differently. He clearly understands that the woman had sinned. He realizes there were witnesses to that effect. He knows the law and the penalty, but He does not leap to a verdict of condemnation.

Recall that, for some time, He does nothing but write on the ground (John 8:6). He lets the matter simmer. While the carnal Pharisees agitate for answers and demand action, Jesus patiently waits. God works with us in the same way. We can become infuriated when God fails to answer us immediately after we say, "Amen," but giving us time for things to work out is a consistent pattern with Him. We can be certain that He does this when we are accused before Him, even when we are guilty as charged, as the remainder of the passage in John 8 shows.

Because we are so familiar with the character of Jesus, we can appreciate how shocking His statement in John 8:11 is: "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." One would expect a just God to say, "This is the law. This is your infraction, so this is your punishment." But we understand that God is love and that He is gracious and merciful, so when He does not say, "I condemn you to be stoned," we tend to pass over it without thinking.

However, first-century Jews would have been astounded to hear such a thing! They may have been the most judgmental people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. One little infraction of the law was enough to condemn a person. Excommunication was so common a practice that people stood in great fear of the Pharisees (see John 9:22). What Jesus says was a radical concept, one that contradicted everything they had been taught.

Moreover, Jesus had every right—as God in the flesh, to whom the Father had committed all judgment (John 5:22)—to condemn her to death, but He shows mercy. He does not react in anger to reinforce how bad her sin was. He does not even preach at her. He simply commands her not to sin like this anymore, and He lets her go to work it out for herself.

However, He does not pass up an opportunity to teach the crowd: "Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12). He teaches that He, being that Light, has given us an example to follow in situations like this. A sinner condemned to die produces nothing. Only with further life and light will he or she have the chance to repent and grow in character.

That is how God works with us, and are we not happy that He reacts to our sins with patience and mercy? So we should forbear with our brethren (Colossians 3:12-13).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


 




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