Practical Application of the Word of God
Moses didn’t go into the Promised Land with the Israelites because of an incident, near the end of his life, in which he was literally blind with rage.
I often hear this incidence described as a lack of faith, but I disagree with that. I don’t think Moses ever lacked faith in God, but Moses, like each of us, struggled with control over his own human nature until the day he drew his last breath. This incident is one of the times he lost the battle.
We know a lot of things about Moses and we know a lot about how God viewed Moses.
We know that the Lord spoke with him face to face (Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:8). We know that God inspired it to be written that Moses was the most humble man who had ever lived on earth (Numbers 12:3).
Throughout the first five books of the Bible, we see Moses endlessly, it seems, entreating God to forgive the Israelites’ rebellion and disobedience and not to destroy them, even rejecting God’s desire to wipe them all out and promise start over with Moses to build His nation.
We see Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus Christ in the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17. And in the book of Jude, we’re told that Satan, who would have used Moses’ body to create an idol for the Israelites (the Jews of Jesus’ time had already made Moses into an idol, much the way we humans still tend to take people, living or dead, and exalt them above God and His word), contended with the archangel Michael for Moses’ body.
From these scriptures, it’s clear that Moses found favor in God’s sight and that, although he lost spiritual battles along the way, with God’s spirit, he won the spiritual war, and now awaits the first resurrection with the rest of the saints.
But here’s what we also know about Moses. He had a really bad temper, probably all his life. We catch the first glimpse of his temper we see in Exodus 2:11-13.
We get another glimpse of his temper when he comes down from the mountain with the God-written 10 commandments on the two tablets of stone the first time and smashes them into pieces and grinds them up and puts them into the drinking water because of Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf.
And I will freely add the caveat that this could have been a symbolic gesture that reflected the fact that Israel had already broken the verbal agreement they made with God in Exodus 20, but I’m inclined to believe that Moses’ rage blinded him to the fact that he was destroying something that God Himself had created with His own hand.
Why? Because I’ve wrestled with a temper all my life too, not unlike Moses.
And there have been a few times when hitting something (or someone, when I was a kid in school), throwing something, or breaking something was the culminating act of my rage.
Fortunately, it hasn’t happened very often (and happens less often as time passes because I probably work harder – and, by that, I mean it takes a ton of effort at times to keep a lid on it that will just wipe me out physically and emotionally – on controlling my temper and my anger than just about anything else in my life), but there is a level of frustration that goes with the anger that makes the hands seem as if they take on a life of their own and a punch or something else gets thrown or something gets broken.
And I cannot tell you why there is something satisfying, on a human level, about doing something physical to express the anger and the frustration (and it also, at least for me, takes the wind out of the anger’s sails and brings me back to a rational mind), but there is.
That doesn’t make it right or excuse it, but I understand Moses’ temper because I wrestle with my own temper in much the same way.
Here’s the interesting thing about Moses’ temper and my temper. We both seem to have pretty long fuses.
I know Moses did because we see it in scripture. He didn’t blow up at everything all the time. I don’t either. I can put up with stuff seemingly forever, much like Moses, without losing my cool.
And then, all of the sudden, something that should be easy to get through with my temper intact, just as Moses should have been able to easily get through another lament by the Israelites for water and God’s instruction on how He would provide it with his temper intact, flips the switch and I blow up.
Much like Moses did in Numbers 20. And I can pretty much put myself in Moses’ shoes and fill in the gaps of the summary we’re given in that chapter of the incident.
Moses was 120 years old when this happened. He had spent 40 years wandering in the desert, not because he (or Joshua and Caleb, for that matter) did anything wrong, but because of Israel’s refusal to go into the Promised Land the first time God told them to.
And for 40+ (the grumbling and complaining started before the Israelites ever left Egypt) years, Moses had to listen to the Israelites in his face and in God’s face with something always being wrong. That’s a long time to have people in your face and pushing your buttons.
There’s an interesting statement that Moses is recorded as having said just before he struck the rock instead of speaking to it, as God had instructed him, in Numbers 20:10: ““Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?”
I’m inclined to believe that this is actually a summarizing statement from a much-longer discourse that Moses gave. I suspect that Moses went through the whole 40+ years and enumerated every incident of grumbling and complaining. I imagine he recalled every time he went to God to intervene for them and their total lack of appreciation and gratitude.
As Moses went through these things, I think he got angrier and angrier as he talked until he’d worked himself up into a rage that produced the statement in Numbers 20:10. Additionally, he was so blinded by the rage that he hit the rock to get the physical release of the anger that hitting something produces.
I will guarantee you that as soon as Moses realized what he’d done, he realized that he had gone against God’s instructions and he repented. The reason I can guarantee that is that every time I let my anger get out of control and I come back to my senses, I understand immediately that I’ve sinned and I go to God and repent because that’s not how and who I want to be. And that wasn’t who Moses wanted to be.
But there was a lesson here for Moses and there’s a lesson here for us. Moses wasn’t allowed to go into the Promised Land, at the very end of his life, because he didn’t exercise self-control and his rage gave place to the devil.
Moses repented and he will be in God’s kingdom, but a pattern of rage, uncontrolled and unrepented of, will exclude us being part of God’s kingdom. The apostle Paul, inspired by God, makes this very clear in Galatians 5 when he compares the works of the flesh, one of which is outbursts of wrath (in other words, rage), with the fruit of God’s spirit.
And self-control is what Moses lacked in the instant at the rock. And it’s what I’ve lacked when I’ve allowed my temper to overtake me.
And the lesson is that self-control is the key that we must continue to use and apply until our very last breath. Even if we lose battles along the way, we must recognize that we’ve lost them, go to God in repentance – which means a commitment to act to change – and ask for forgiveness, and be even more diligent to be on guard against allowing our anger to turn into rage.