Recently, we brought to a close the Jewish year with a solemn celebration of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). I was at our local synagogue for this event. Actually, the meeting took place in our village community center not far from our home (as there was just not enough space at the synagogue).
Over and over, throughout the Day of Atonement services, the worshiping community broke out into a familiar song in Hebrew, reciting the very words YHVH pronounced as He shielded Moses from the power of his own presence (Exodus 34:6-7). One of the truly intriguing things that God declared about himself is hidden beneath the English translation. God said that He was אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם (prounced: erech apaim).
If you can’t read Hebrew, don’t feel bad (although God knows you owe it to yourself to start learning some Hebrew already). Not many in attendance knew the meaning of this Ancient Hebrew phrase. You see, the phrase arech apaim means, “[He] has a long nose.” What in the world could that possibly mean in reference to God? The answer is actually very simple.
When a person gets angry his nose is visibly enlarged as he/she expresses his/her indignation. The fact that God has a very long nose (nose is even plural here) is a beautiful ancient Hebrew expression signifying that God is very slow to anger. I am so happy that most of our English translations get it right:
“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם), and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Ex. 34:6-7, NASB)
May God’s very long nose be felt by us during the next cycle of His immense mercy and grace! And may our noses also get longer and longer as we get to know Him in an even more intimate way!