Some years ago, my wife, Cathe, and I were in New York City with some friends. The ladies decided to go shopping at Macy's on a very rainy day. I offered to hail a cab so they wouldn’t get wet.
As I waited with the cab, a man jumped in front of me and started to step into it. “Sir, hold on,” I said. “This is my cab.” In response, the man gave me the one finger salute within three inches of my face. I nudged him aside and said, “It’s my cab!” He moved away and we all got in. I was feeling really good about myself — I showed that guy! Then, it hit me: I was in New York City to preach. I thought: what if this guy shows up at the meeting and says: “hey, that’s the guy who shoved me when I was trying to steal his cab!”
Have you ever been disappointed in yourself? Well, we can take comfort in the fact that people in the Bible struggled with the same emotions you and I do.
Lately, I’ve been studying the life of Moses. He was a man who experienced anger too.
- When Moses saw an Egyptian slave driver beating an Israelite slave, he murdered the Egyptian and buried him in the sand (Exodus 2:11-15).
- When Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments God had just given him and saw the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf, he smashed the stone tablets on the ground (Exodus 32:15-19).
- When God told him to speak to a rock so that water would come out of it, he struck the rock twice (Numbers 20:10-13).
Here are three lessons I’ve learned from Moses about being angry:
Unchecked anger is damaging.
Unchecked anger keeps us in bondage. It hurts us, our relationships with others and our relationship with God. Moreover, anger has a negative effect on our health. According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), anger suppresses our immune systems, sets us up for heart attacks and strokes and upsets our digestive systems, in addition to a host of other maladies.
It’s easy to lose our tempers and be uptight. But if we claim to follow Jesus, then we should be different. I’m not saying that we should never be upset. We can’t, however, allow anger to become our default response. Jesus said his followers would be known by their love, not by their anger.
Anger is a choice.
Let’s hone in on that famous moment that Moses struck the rock. Before this incident, God gives Moses specific instructions:
“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV).
But what does Moses do? He strikes the rock — twice.
Moses was tired of the Israelites’ incessant whining. He was not in the mood to speak to a rock. He wanted to hit something, and he did.
When I reflect on moments of anger in my own life and in the life of Moses, I realize anger is a choice. While it is not wrong to feel anger, it is wrong to lash out in anger.
Some may say, “But Pastor Greg, Jesus got angry and flipped tables. And he was sinless!”
They’re exactly right. Jesus was God and I am not. My anger often results in sin — Jesus’s didn’t.
The great thing about choices is just that: they’re choices. When people or circumstances upset us, we can choose to forgive rather than be bitter. We can choose to respond in kindness rather than in anger.
Anger is less than God’s best.
After Moses struck the rock, God said to him and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).
After all that Moses had done, this was why he was barred from entering the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for 40 years. In his anger, Moses took matters into his own hands and missed God’s blessing.
We do this all the time, don’t we?
People seem especially angry these days, fighting over everything. Those who wear masks scream at those who don’t. Those who choose not to wear masks mock those who do. I believe God desires to speak through us and use us to bring hope to a hopeless world. But he won’t use us if we persist in anger and insist on our own way.
Thankfully, anger doesn’t have to have the last word in our lives.
In Hebrews 11:24-28, we read that Moses lived “by faith” as a man who “was looking to the reward.”
What about Moses’s failures?
Moses is not remembered for his anger because God is merciful and gracious. Ultimately, Moses finished his race and entered the Promised Land. No, he didn’t lead the Israelites into the literal Promised Land. But when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, Moses appeared with him. He received his reward.
What happened with Moses in Exodus and Numbers was just a part of his story, not the end of his story. And because God is a Redeemer, our story isn’t over yet, either.
Next time, I’m just going to let the guy have my cab! You too.