God’s primary description of himself begins with his compassion, and then his grace. Next is the phrase “slow to anger” (Ex 34.6). The KJV renders that as “longsuffering”; the God’s Word translation says “patient.”
The Hebrew phrase is picturesque; the two words literally mean “long of nostrils.” That is to say, it takes a long time for God’s nose to turn red with anger.
The phrase occurs 13 times in the Hebrew Bible. Moses uses it twice (Ex 34.6; Num 14.18) to describe God’s character. Four prophets—Jeremiah (Jer 15.15), Joel (Joel 2.13), Jonah (Jon 4.2), and Nahum (Na 1.3)—use it similarly. David makes the same statement 3 times (Ps 86.15; 103.8; 145.8), and Nehemiah closes out the Hebrew Scripture’s emphasis on the concept (Neh 9.17).
That’s 10 statements about God’s slowness to anger. (I’ll say more about the other 3 occurrences of the phrase in a bit.) If the Bible says something just once, we ought to take notice. But 10 times? That’s emphasis. God really wants us to see him as slow to anger.
That’s not the picture many of us have of God, especially of “the God of the Old Testament.” Oh, he’s a mean one, he is. He gets angry and strikes people dead. Korah, the rebel against Moses (Num 16.32)—but then, I suppose he deserved it. But what about Uzzah, the poor fellow just following David’s orders to take the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem for installation at the worship center there? The ox stumbled, and the wagon tilted, and Uzzah, just trying to protect the precious ark, reached out to steady it, and ZAP!—he’s dead (2Sa 6.7).
Looks a lot like God lost his temper and lashed out at somebody who was just trying to do what he was supposed to, right?
We tend to get our ideas of God from our fathers. We remember when we were little, and we did something that made Dad mad, maybe without intending to, and he descended on us like Nebuchadnezzar on Jerusalem, and in a burst of anger he put us into a world of hurt for a few minutes. He just lost it, and it took him a while to cool down.
And then we overlay that personal experience on the Uzzah event, and we figure that God just lost it and lashed out, because that’s the way things go.
God is our Father, but he is not our father. Your father, and mine, were fallen human beings, just like us—in fact we’re fallen because they were fallen. For most of us, our fathers did the best they could, but sometimes they failed.
God our Father is not like that, and it’s deeply unfair to impose our fathers’ failures on him.
He’s long of nostrils. He never “loses” his temper or “falls” into a rage. When he’s angry—and he often is, since he is “angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7.11)—that anger has been building for a long time, and it is absolutely and perfectly justified. In the case of Uzzah, God was not surprised when he reached out to steady the ark. He had seen it coming literally forever. Uzzah, an Israelite man, knew better; he knew the Law, as all Israelite men did. He was not innocent. It’s surprising, frankly, that he was so far down the road to Jerusalem, in direct disobedience to God’s clear instructions about how the ark should be handled, before God struck him.
So no, God doesn’t lose his temper. He doesn’t fly into rage over the kinds of things that we do. He controls his anger perfectly and long, exercising it only purposefully and rightly and justly. He tolerated the vile sins of the Canaanites for 4 centuries (Gen 15.16)—during which time, apparently, they had warnings from priests of the Most High God (Gen 14.18)—before moving against them. He withheld judgment on millennia of human rebellion and violence and hate (Ac 17.30) before pouring out his wrath—and when he released that wrath, he did so with a precise surgical strike, focused perfectly on his willing Son, with absolutely no collateral damage (Rom 3.21-26).
You’ve made God angry, consistently and repeatedly. And yet you continue to enjoy his abundant grace with every breath. That’s the kind of person he is.
Now for those other 3 uses of the phrase. They’re about us. David’s son Solomon applies the “long nostrils” principle to people, noting that those who imitate God in this way are wise (Prov 14.29), peaceable (Prov 15.18), and powerful (Prov 16.32).
Reflexive anger is godless. Lashing out is hellish.
So don’t react to an infuriating meme with a “like and share if you want to make Nancy Pelosi lose her mind.”