In the BBC video series The Life of Mammals, host David Attenborough climbs a tree to take a humorous look at a three-toed sloth. Getting face to face with the world’s slowest moving mammal, he greets it with a “boo!” Failing to get a reaction, he explains that going slow is what you do if you are a three-toed sloth living primarily on leaves that are not easily digested and not very nutritious.
In a rehearsal of Israel’s history, Nehemiah reminds us of another example and explanation for going slow (9:9–21), but this one isn’t comical. According to Nehemiah, our God is the ultimate example of going slow—when it comes to anger. Nehemiah recounted how God cared for His people, instructing them with life-giving laws, sustaining them on their journey out of Egypt and providing them with the Promised Land (vv. 9–15). Although Israel constantly rebelled (v. 16), God never stopped loving them. Nehemiah’s explanation? Our Creator is by nature “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 17). Why else would He have borne so patiently His people’s complaints, disbelief, and distrust for forty years? (v. 21). It was because of God’s “great compassion” (v. 19).
What about us? A hot temper signals a cold heart. But the greatness of God’s heart gives us room to patiently live and love with Him.
When the priests of Israel led their people in declaring their God to be slow to anger, they were reflecting together on a big and ancient story (Exodus 34:5–7). Looking up from the rubble of past mistakes, the “children” of Israel affirmed their trust in a God who remained patiently willing and able to help them—something He would do even as they suffered the consequences of the sins of their ancestors, the wrongs of their enemies, and their own deep regrets (Nehemiah 9:1–3).