Our Long-Nosed Lord

Penny the dog
Penny the dog

When I was first training Penny, I couldn’t find a leash to use, so I used a 30’ lasso.  She mastered the simple commands real quick.  Sit, stay, down, roll, were all things that she could do.  I had just bought a book about training stock dogs, so I set out to work on some stock training with her.  Penny and I set out to work with a few sheep just to see how she would do.  When I let her go the first time she freaked.  Instead of herding the sheep she took off straight towards the herd and lept over the back of one of them.  I began yelling at her from across the pen.  She did a great job of pretending to not hear me.  Three laps around the pen later she came to a sliding stop at my feet.  I attached my lasso to her collar and let her take off again.  I commanded “down” and she felt a quick jerk as she neared the herd.  I didn’t have too many problems with her during this phase of her training because I was in position to enforce my commands.  She had the freedom to act, a 30’ check cord, but accountability in her actions.  This is the same relationship we have with our big-nosed God.

The Hebrew word for “nose” is an ambiguous word.  In the same  way that “hand” and “power” of the Lord are inter-changeable, the “face” and “presence” of the Lord can be substituted for one another, the “nose” and “anger” of the Lord are semantically connected.  It makes sense really.  Have you ever seen someone’s nose and face turn red when they get angry.  If not, just come visit me when I’m working on my truck or playing golf and in thirty seconds, you will have a clear picture.  The authors of Scripture, when talking about anger, knew this human phenomenon of blood rushing to peoples faces at times of rage so the Hebrew writers used the same word and nuance for nose and anger.

The Lord is described multiple times as having a long-nose.  In the NIV this expression is translated as “slow to anger”.  The first time the phrase appears in scripture, it comes in the Lord’s description of himself.  God had just passed by Moses on Mt. Sinai, showing off his glory. (Ex. 33.14-23)  Moses next experience is to chisel another 2 stone tablets (Ex. 34.1) on account his breaking the last two. (Ex 32.19)  The next morning, Moses carried the new tablets up on the mountain and the Lord descended in a cloud.  There on Mt. Sinai, Moses and the Lord stood and had yet another conversation.  This one would begin with God, as he passed by Moses, describing himself:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger [lit. long of nose], abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…”

The Lord, in his own words, is ‘long of nose”.  Presumably, and I’m only speculating here, it seems to be a reference to the time it take’s God’s long nose to turn red.

Regardless of the explanation of the origin of the idiom, the meaning is clear: long of nose is equated to slow to anger.  This is a central aspect of the Lord’s character.  It surfaces at key times in His relationship with his people.  After the people rebel, grumbling against Moses and God about bringing them out of Egypt, it was Moses who reminded God of His strength in being “long of nose”. (Num. 14.17-18)  As most can attest, there is considerable strength in not blowing your top!  When the people had returned from exile, to resettle Jerusalem, they spend ¼ of the day confessing their sins, and another ¼ of the day worshipping and reading from the Book of the Law.  At this time, the Levites preached to them a message of their history, quoting God’s self-description (Neh. 9.17) to remind the people of God’s worthiness of praise.  David, leading the way for the Levites, used it as a declaration of praise (Psalm 103.8;145.8).  When we see God for who he really is, worship is our natural response.  David affirms God, in the same way, amidst his prayer times (Psalm 86.15).  Joel and Jonah both latch on to the “long nose of the Lord” during their own messages and trials (Jonah 4.2; Joel 2.13).  All of these references were rooted in the Lord’s revelation of His character in Exodus 34…but why would the size of the Lord’s nose really matter?  Moving from semantics to theology…

The context of this phrase, “long of nose”, provides some coloring to its significance.  Yahweh also “maintains love to thousands and forgives wickedness.”  Just because God gets angry, sometimes its even with his people, it doesn’t change the fact that he loves us and forgives us.  The next phrase, “et he does not leave the guilty unpunished” shows his justice and his hatred of sin.  Our love of something is only proportionate to our hatred of that which opposes that love.  A dad’s love for his daughter, is shown in the lengths he will go to defend her.  As a buddy of mine says, “he’s got a gun, a shovel, and land….I doubt anyone would find you!”, when a young man arrives to take his daughter out.  Yahweh’s slowness to anger is the balancing act between showing love and dishing out wrath.  Where as I can let others get away with too much at the expense of those I love, I sometimes am too quick to anger in dealing with others.  My “nose” is often too short.

The size of God’s nose shows us his passion, his desire, for us.  He loves us so much that he doesn’t wipe of off the face of the earth at every mis-step, but he hates sin so much that he acts upon it with vengence for what it has done to us.  Sin doesn’t define us nor does it become our identity…sin is something we as those that were created in the image of God, struggle with, get bound too, and enslave ourselves too.  God is slow to anger, meaning he does act, but the leash is long.

If you were listing God’s attributes, where would you put ‘slow to anger’ on the list?  What is one specific example of a lesson that it took you a while to learn from God?

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