God Is Long of Nose

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

An image of a wooden Pinocchio doll with a long nose.

During the first semester of my freshman year in college, I was required to take a natural science course. During one class, the professor asked the students to measure their noses. Though I don’t remember the point of this strange exercise, which might have been about understanding terms like “mean,” “mode,” and “average,” I do remember that I was the proud possessor of the shortest nose in the class.

Though I haven’t thought of that incident for many years, the memory returned once I began studying the biblical meaning of the Hebrew idiom for patience, which can also be translated as “longsuffering” or “slow to anger.” The phrase is ’erek appayim, which is literally translated “long of nose.” Armed with that information, you now realize that Exodus 34:6 could be translated like this:

"Yahweh! The LORD!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am long of nose
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.”

In English having a long nose means you have a habit of lying.  But in Hebrew it means you have a habit of being patient. Though God’s nature is to be patient, he can be provoked. Consider Psalm 18:7 which depicts God’s anger, saying “Smoke poured from his nostrils.” The psalmist evokes the image of flared nostrils and a nose that’s red with rage. Because God is slow to anger, it takes a long time for his nose to get red.

According to Proverbs, having a long nose is associated with wisdom and great understanding. It also enables the wise person to calm those who are quarreling.  By contrast, those with a qebar appayim, a short nose, are quick tempered and impatient. They are hotheads and fools.

The next time you feel your face flushing scarlet or your nose turning red, remember the phrase “long of nose.” Allow yourself to enjoy the humor of that image. It may prevent you from becoming impatient and doing something foolish. Remember also that frustration, irritation, annoyance, and anger is not God’s default setting. Patience is. When he looks at you and others, his heart is filled with so much love and faithfulness that he is always ’erek appayim.

Originally published June 28, 2018.