How long is God's forbearance? We could also ask how long will God put up with people who are foolish, rebellious, recalcitrant, stubborn, and stiff necked. Know anyone like that?
I usually think of myself as being a person of long forbearance. I can put up with someone who is troublesome for a pretty long time. But not for forty years...or longer.
Moses says about the people of God, "You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as he has known you." (Deut. 9:24) That sounds to me like a basic personality trait. These are folks you can count on to find something to complain about, who are going to break all the boundaries set up for them, who always think they know what's best inspite of what God has said and done to the contrary. They push God to the limit.
Moses even has to lay prostrate before the God for forty days and nights, praying to the Lord to take a deep breath and think twice about just wiping them out and being done with them once and for all. "Don't pay attention to their wickedness and sin", Moses pleads with God.
That's not exactly the highest praise for the people God has chosen for relationship, for the people God has completely given himself to.
And yet the question of forbearance always comes up in the context of and is answered by God's willingness to give the people another chance to truly be his people. Moses smashed the first set of tablets with the ten commandments on the ground. God makes another set. God writes out his will for his people again. Forbearance is defined by the nature of God's love - steadfast, eternal, always able to renew, redeem, and save the broken people.
How long is God's forbearance? "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son..." (John 3:16)
Lord, help me to know today the length, breadth, and depth of your love for me. Help me to see where I have tested you, ignored you, gone off on my own way. And yet you have still forgiven me and kept the way open for me to come back to you. Thank you. Amen.