My spirit shall not always strive with man, … (Genesis 6:3)
It seems out of character for God to run out of patience. We know God to be infinite in love and mercy. “The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression …” (Numbers 14:18). The word translated “longsuffering” is actually a Hebrew construct of two words: ’arek, which means long, patient or slow, and ’aph meaning nose or nostril and implies the flaring of the nostrils in anger. So the sense here is that the Lord is patient or slow to anger, but this does not imply infinite patience.
Peter writes, “The Lord is … longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The Greek word translated “longsuffering” is makrothuméo, which means to be long-spirited. The Spirit could take revenge, if He liked, but refuses to do so. The word also means “forbearing,” that is, to hold back from doing something. God is within His rights to call down judgment upon every sinner, but He is holding back.
In our text, the Hebrew word translated “strive” is duwn and it means to judge. Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit said that, “he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8), but this striving has its limits. “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men … whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). God is infinite in his love and mercy, but He has set a limit on His patience.