A woman once came to evangelist Billy Sunday and tried to rationalize her angry outbursts. “There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper,” she said. “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” “So does a shotgun,” Sunday replied, “and look at the damage it leaves behind!”
When you read through the books of Exodus and Numbers, you discover that Moses had a lifetime problem with anger. At the age of 40, he killed a man (Exodus 2:11-12; Acts 7:22-24). At the age of 80, he stormed out of Pharaoh’s presence in hot anger (Exodus 11:8). A few months later, he got fed up with the people of Israel and broke the tablets of the law in an act of uncontrolled fury (Exodus 32:15-19). At the age of 120, he lashed out at the nation of Israel and struck a rock in anger. This last event reveals that unresolved anger erodes character, dishonors God, and leaves lasting and painful consequences (Numbers 20:2-13).
After 40 years of leading the nation of Israel, the constant quarrels and complaints wore Moses down (Numbers 20:1-5). The people complained about the food (too boring), the water (not enough), the travels (too long), and the hardships (too many funerals). Someone once said that listening to complaints is like being stung to death by a mosquito.
Somewhere along the line, Moses stopped listening to God. He sought God’s counsel (5). God’s glory appears (6) and the Lord gives Moses three specific instructions: take your staff, gather the people, and speak to the rock (7-8). Initially, it appears that Moses is going to obey (9). However, after being in God’s presence, seeing his glory, and hearing God’s instructions, Moses deliberately disobeys God’s commands.
Moses becomes resentful and judgmental (10a). He lashes out verbally at the people—“You rebels!” He sets himself up as judge and condemns them.
Moses becomes proud (10b). “Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” He acts and speaks like he will perform the miracle all by himself.
Moses disobeyed God’s command (11). Instead of speaking to the rock as God instructed, Moses lashes out at the rock and strikes it twice. Even though Moses lost control, God in his grace provides water for the people.
Moses’ disobedience revealed a lack of trust (12a). When you know God’s will and instructions and deliberately move in another direction, you are telling God, “I do not believe your plan is best.” It is unbelief and a lack of faith.
Moses’ actions dishonored God (12b). Through his actions, Moses stole the glory from God and took it for himself. He elevated himself rather than treating God as holy.
Though anger can be forgiven, it may leave lasting and painful consequences (12c). Because of his actions, God tells Moses he will no longer lead the people into the Promised Land. While it sounds like a harsh punishment for one act, it is really the culmination of a lifetime of uncontrolled anger. It also demonstrates that leaders are held to a higher standard.
It is not enough to merely control your anger. You must strengthen your character by committing yourself to obey God at every stage.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 8, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.