If we were asked “Who was the most patient man in the Bible?” many of us might answer “Job,” as the Scriptures specifically refer to the patience of the afflicted patriarch as being widely known (James 5:11). But this verse does not say that Job was the most patient individual, and his patience, although incredible, apparently had to do with short-term problems that were intense, rather than ones that lasted for years.
To recognize who was probably the most patient individual recorded in the Scriptures we need to look at the life of Moses and to carefully piece together the information the Bible gives us about that leader.
The book of Acts states that Moses was forty years old when he killed the slave abuser and fled in fear from Egypt (Acts 7:22-29). Acts also tells us that Moses then lived forty years in the wilderness before God called him: “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai” (Acts 7:30).
The book of Exodus confirms these figures when it tells us Moses’ age when he first spoke to Pharaoh: “Moses was 80 years old and Aaron 83 when they spoke to Pharaoh..." (Exodus 7:7). As we know, after Pharaoh finally released the Israelites, Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness (Number 32:13). Finally Deuteronomy tells us that at the end of that time Moses died at age 120 on the edge of the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 34:7).
So, Moses spent forty long years hiding out in the wilderness before God called him. God could certainly have worked it out for Moses to have been acquitted or exonerated in Egypt so that he could have stayed home until it was time to lead the Israelites out of that land, but God didn’t do that. He let Moses flee and let him live miles from anywhere for four decades. Could it be that Moses was given the opportunity to learn patience in those long, slow desert years? Moses then spent forty years leading the Israelites through more desert and doubtless more slow years – during which Moses’ patience was tried endlessly.
The Israelites in Moses’ care complained continually with an almost ceaseless refrain of “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” (Numbers 21:5, etc.). On a number of occasions they are said to have grumbled against Moses directly – blaming him for their self-caused problems. Yet throughout all this provocation Moses was almost unfailingly patient with them, often pleading with God on their behalf and asking God, in effect, to be patient with them. We see this especially on the occasion when God threatened that he would wipe out the Israelites for their sinfulness and make a new nation through Moses (Exodus 32:9-10). Moses exhibited incredible patience throughout those years of problems.
Certainly Moses may have became impatient at times – his striking the rock twice at Meribah (Numbers 20:8-11) may have been the result of a moment of impatience when water did not appear immediately. This event led to Moses being denied entry into the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12), but in this we see that God was holding him to an exceptionally high standard – perhaps because patience was the quality needed above all else in the job God had called Moses to do.
At the end of Moses’ life, after waiting forty years to see the Promised Land, Moses displayed patience again in humbly accepting God’s decision that he would not, at that time, enter the land for which he had worked and waited so patiently.
Many of the characters whose stories are told in the Old Testament displayed patience, yet perhaps none more so than Moses. It is interesting that the book of Ecclesiastes contrasts patience with pride (Ecclesiastes 7:8) – because we are told that Moses was: “ .. a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
Moses seems to have learned patience over forty years to then do a supremely patience-requiring job for a further forty years. In that regard, Moses truly learned to act like God – who was patient with Israel that whole time, too. And there is a lesson in this aspect of Moses’ life for all of us. Just as Moses doubtless did not realize he was being prepared to be patient, so we may not realize that some of the things that we feel impatient about may be being used to prepare us also. That can be a very encouraging thought.