NOTE: Almost a year ago I started a series that I've called "Peace or Anger?" It was in response to a request from a friend who struggles with anger. While my postings on this have been infrequent the past few months, this particular posting is the result of months of pondering Moses striking the rock - before I wrote this I pondered it and pondered it. As far as I know this is the final page of this letter to a friend.
With so much anger being exhibited in our society, in so many areas, it seems a fair warning to all professing Christians - we are not called to be people of anger but rather peacemakers. To be people of anger is to court the real possibility that we will fall short of God's calling in our lives - that is a shame, not just for us, but more so for those who we are called to serve.
If we engage in the anger we see around us we will be consumed. This is a warning to me - I don't know about you.
“…and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble before the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water”…and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth…
“But Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Numbers Chapter 20).
Time after time the people of Israel complained to Moses about God and disobeyed the Word of God. How much can one man take before his anger reaches a boiling point? As Moses led Israel through the Red Sea and saw the sea engulf Israel’s enemies he must have thought that they would soon be in the Promised Land. The Egyptians who pursed Israel were dead, the Red Sea was an effective barrier against immediate pursuit, and it was likely that it would take Egypt time to mount a pursuit after recovering from the loss of its king and the flower of it army. Moses could now look forward to the fulfillment of God’s call to deliver God’s people and to lead them into Canaan.
The days, weeks, and months of tension between Moses and Pharaoh were over. The years of slavery for his people Israel were over. Israel was returning to its ancestral home, the home God promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to Moses. Moses was going to know rest and fulfillment and he could live out the rest of his days in peace…blessed peace. Soon Israel would be through the wilderness, soon Israel would displace the peoples living in Canaan, soon Israel would enjoy peace and live under the special domain of Yahweh, the True and Living God.
But life for Moses did not turn out as he expected…once again; there would be forty years of desert wanderings. While the text does not explicitly say that Moses was angry, his words “Listen now, you rebels”, and his action, “Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod”, indicate anger. Apparently Moses thought that the rebellious attitudes and actions of Israel justified not only his anger, but also his disobedience of God’s Word to “speak to the rock”. This is was costly action, for it cost Moses that for which he longed, to enter the land of God’s promise.
Did Moses think that God would understand his anger and not require accountability? Did Moses think that God would justify his anger? Did Moses think that, based upon his close relationship with God (and it was indeed intimate), that God would make allowances for him? We don’t know what Moses thought about God when he struck the rock, but we do know what God said, “…you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel.”
When Moses realized what he had done, how he had violated his relationship with God and what the consequence of that disobedience was, Moses tells us in his own words what he did:
“Then I pleaded with Yahweh at that time, saying: O Lord Yahweh…I pray let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon. But Yahweh was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me: Yahweh said to me. Enough of that! Speak no more to me of this matter,” (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 29).
In human terms, for what other terms can we use, this brought sorrow to God – after all these years God must say “No” to Moses; even as Moses’s heart’s desire was unfulfilled, so God’s heart’s desire for Moses was not fulfilled – Moses did not experience all that God desired for him because Moses did not guard the holiness of God when he indulged in anger.
Just as there was no excuse for Moses’s unrighteous anger, there is no excuse for our unrighteous anger. If we think that God will excuse our anger by realizing that “that’s just the way I am”, or “under the circumstances it was natural that I react like that”, or “God understands and because He will forgive me I don’t need to be concerned about my actions”; we would do well to consider Moses – God will forgive us, but our actions have consequences. Our self-indulgent anger violates the holiness of God, it is our attempt to take control of life, not only our own lives, but the lives of others.
Moses took the things of God, the rod which God had used to equip Moses, and the rock which was God’s witness and provision, and used them in the service of his anger – Moses not only disobeyed the Word of God, he also profaned the things of God. Furthermore, if we consider the New Testament perspective that the rock represented the Messiah, the egregiousness of Moses’s action is shown in a greater light.
Our anger can keep us from fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose in our lives. We are to live life in obedience to Jesus Christ, submitting our will to Him and Him alone, and acknowledging Him as Lord over all of life – sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15) and living lives of witness to Him.
I hope, as I close this letter my friend, that we, that you and I, will together learn to sanctify the Lord in our hearts, in our actions, and in our words. I hope we will remember the good things that our Father has for us, I hope that we will remember that He has called us to bless others in Jesus Christ; and I also hope we will remember that our self-indulgent and foolish anger, our attempt to control life, to exert our will, has the potential to cause us to fall short of God’s full purpose for us in Jesus Christ.
We can take rest in the One who said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). Let us trust and rest in Jesus Christ, submitting ourselves to Him and Him alone – and we will not need to be men of anger, but rather men of peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”