Do you struggle with anger? If so, you are not alone. There is a righteous anger, based in a jealousy for the glory of God. And then, there is unrighteous anger, based in jealousy for MY reputation, MY comfort, MY respect, etc. The Scriptures speak to both, but our sin struggle is comes out of the unrighteous. On Sunday we’ll look to Proverbs for God’s wisdom regarding anger, but Numbers 20 illustrates the point for us through story. Let’s go there together.
Wednesday, September 18th
Larger Portion of Scripture - Numbers 20
Focused Passage for Reflection - Numbers 20:2-13
Reflecting on the Text:
Do you know what just gets under my skin? Grumbling! I can feel my blood boiling now just thinking about it! Never mind the fact that I can be a world champion grumbler myself. That’s beside the point and no one asked you anyway. Grumbling makes me angry! And when the grumbling is a grumbling against me…well, watch out!
There. That’s it. Let’s take a deep breath. Did you feel it? Just thinking about someone else complaining about me got me going. How about you? What happens to your blood pressure if you let yourself go down that rabbit trail? It’s probably not good. And it probably won’t end well. It certainly didn’t for Moses.
What was going on in Numbers 20? The people of Israel gathered around Moses and Aaron to complain. It wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t even the first time they complained about water. But this time seemed to send Moses over the edge. They complained to him, about him. They blamed him. They made it his “fault” that they were taken out of Egypt, where, in their memory banks, they had all they wanted and life was peaceful. But here, out in the dessert, they had no water. In essence they were asking Moses what he was going to do about it.
Moses’ first response was good. He went to the tent of meeting and worshipped, falling on his face in the presence of the glory of the LORD. And there, the LORD spoke to Moses, giving him clear and precise instructions. “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.”
The instructions were clear, but something happened within Moses when he came back face to face with the people. He lost it! He lost it with his words, screaming out at the people calling them rebels. And then he lost it with his actions. He didn’t tell the rock to yield water. He struck the rock. Twice!
The LORD, in His mercy, provided water for the people. But He was not done with Moses. There would be consequences for his action. Now it may be hard for us to get our arms around those consequences, but maybe that says something about us and our lack of understanding of the glory of the LORD. But no where do we hear of Moses complaining. He seems to get it. He had sinned against the LORD, and as a result he would no longer be the one to lead the people into the promised land.
But what was the sin? Was it the outburst of anger? Or was it the reason behind the anger? Verse 12 is telling. The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron and made clear the sin behind the sin of their angry outburst. “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel…”
Moses was angry and he acted out of his anger. But behind the anger was a lack of belief. Oh, I have no doubt of Moses saving belief in the Lord his God and His promised Redeemer. Scripture is clear on that front. But in the moment, he forgot. As the people grumbled against him, he was jealous for his own reputation and didn’t believe that the Lord could, or would, prove His own holiness. Moses’ practical unbelief in the moment was the sin behind the sin of his angry outburst.
How about us? Can you relate? I can. If I am honest, my anger has a way of blinding me to the glory of God. Or maybe, in my blindness to the glory of God, I grow angry…particularly when I feel disrespected. But God is still gracious. He provided for the people. And though Moses had to deal with the consequences of his sin, the LORD provided for him.
Psalm 4:4 tells us, no commands us…”Be angry and do not sin.” Just like Numbers 20, this is a hard verse to get our arms around. But maybe the way to follow it is to continue to believe, even in the midst of grumbling, that the God of glory is also the God of grace.
Questions for personal reflection:
Do you struggle with anger? How have you prayed through this struggle? How does Numbers 20 stir you on to pray through the struggle?
Think through a recent angry outburst. What was the “sin behind the sin” that stirred you to anger? What might it look like for you to repent of the more foundational issue of practical unbelief?