I slammed the cabinet door after forcefully plopping clean bowls into their rightful place. I stormed back to the dishwasher and yanked silverware from their basket before throwing them into their storage place in the kitchen drawer. No one in the house had to ask if I was angry.
Over the years, I’ve gotten much better at controlling my anger. I’ve learned to step back from difficult moments, take a few intentional breaths, and focus on what’s important. Often I can release the situation to God, letting Him deal with both me and the other person.
But every once in a while …
Let’s face it, anger is common. From mild irritation to uncontrolled rage, all of us feel its pricks — including those we consider to be great heroes of the Bible.
The anger of Moses
What is the first thing you think about when you think of Moses?
- The great exodus from Egypt?
- The parting of the Red Sea?
- The Ten Commandments?
- Leading Israel across the desert?
Mighty feats accomplished through the will and providence of an incredible God. They certainly cultivate respect, and we should consider them when we look at the life and character of Moses.
But let’s not scrub him clean until he’s unrecognizable by those who knew him best.
- Killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12). And lest you think this was justifiable, the New Testament reveals that he did this out of selfish ambition (Acts 7:23-28).
- Lost his temper with Pharaoh even though God had warned Moses that Pharaoh would not willingly release the Israelites (Exodus 11:8).
- Furious over the golden calf, he broke the precious tablets containing the Ten Commandments that God had carved out of the mountain (Exodus 32:15-19).
- Then Moses was still so angry, he burned the golden calf, “ground it to a powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it” (Exodus 32:20).
The older Moses still struggled
By Numbers 20, Moses is an old man. The Israelites have been complaining their way around the desert for forty years and are again whining about the lack of water. God said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (verse 8).
All Moses had to do was speak to the rock. Speak. Yet he was old, tired, and, I suspect, still struggling to control his anger.
So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
God said speak, but Moses struck. Not just once, but twice. And the Bible simply records that water gushed out and the people drank. No loud thunderclap or lightning strike. Nothing of any significance to record.
But God wasn’t pleased.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
One act of anger, after a lifetime of angry events, and God declared, “Enough.” Moses would miss out on entering the Holy Land, God’s promise to his people.
The motive behind anger
Psychologist Leon Seltzer says, “Anger is most accurately understood as a potent psychological defense against a variety of more distressing emotions that underlie it. So concealed beneath your anger might be feelings of disappointment; anxiety, worry, or fear; sadness; jealousy; guilt or shame, embarrassment or humiliation, or an exasperating sense of powerlessness.”
We need to consider that.
Perhaps Moses fought disappointment. How many times had God protected and provided for the Israelites and yet they still complained?
Perhaps in great sadness or exasperation he realized how little spiritual maturity the men under him had gained in forty years. Would they never fully trust God?
But as look for underlying motives, we also need to consider the bigger lesson. As Charles Swindoll points out in his book on Moses, God “may be longsuffering, but He will not always remain patient. Forgiving? Yes. But never forget, there are times even forgiven sins bear terrible consequences.”
So what do we do?
What can we learn from the example of Moses so that we do not walk the same path he did and miss out on something we want?
1. Recognize that just because God doesn’t bring immediate dire consequences, He is not endorsing our behavior.
He will usually try to teach us better ways, hoping we will listen to His gentle, corrective whispers.
2. Consider what emotion is hiding under the anger. Are you depressed? Feeling powerless or humiliated? Anxious, worried, or fearful?
Identify the real feelings or problems and deal appropriately with those.
3. Remember that anger is not a long-term solution.
Eventually, God tired of Moses’s refusal to get his anger under control and took action that kept Moses out of the Promised Land. God will also be patient with you, but not forever.
Does one particular person or situation tend to bring more anger to the surface than another? Take some time and ask God to help you see more clearly, identifying within your heart what the real problem is.
The anger and frustration you see displayed by others is just one clue you can use in your search for great friends. If you want to know what else you should be on the lookout for, check out my book in the Beyond Warrior’s Bride series: Other Military Spouses: A Military Spouse’s Biblical Guide to Finding Great Friends.
PS. It’s not just for military spouses!
Swindoll, Charles. Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999. Print.
Seltzer, Leon. “The Anger Thermostat: What’s the Temperature of Your Upset?” Psychology Today. N.p., 2 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 June 2016.