Saturday, February 23, 2008

Losing It

After yesterday's post I received an email from someone asking, "what was Moses' 'one rash act act of disobedience'." Good question. The story is in Numbers 20. Last summer during the series of meditations on the Fruit of the Spirit, I wrote about this story with a view toward the matter of self-control. As the Moses series ends, I thought it might be worth posting here.


Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank (Numbers 20:11).

For the rest of his life he would remember that moment; he would play it in his mind again and again with a faint hope that at the critical juncture something else might happen and the story would unfold differently. It never did. No matter how deeply we reach into our memory we can never grasp a moment and change it. Pictures of time can be retrieved; time itself cannot.

Were Moses here to tell us the story he might explain to us that he simply ‘lost it.’ The quarreling and complaining had become too much. This time it was the lack of water that provoked grumbling and accusation from among the people. “Why did you bring us out here to die?” Moses handled the situation wisely. He laid the matter before God, and there at the tent of meeting God assured Moses and Aaron that he would provide water for the people, and he told them what to do.

But even after his prayer session, Moses was wound tight, edgy and seething. God had told Moses to speak to the rock and the water would flow. But Moses lost it. He lashed out at the ingrates, named them for the rebels they were, and then he raised his staff and swung it twice against the rock with a sharp slap. And from the rock grace flowed, gushed wet and abundant for the people to drink.

As the water made mud on the dry earth and people cupped their hands beneath the impossible fountain, something inside Moses dried up, shriveled and twisted. He knew the moment had unfolded badly; the great irony was that now Moses was the rebel. God had said ‘speak’ but Moses had felt compelled to ‘strike.’ What should have been an act of obedience had become a loss of self-control.

This story has always troubled me because of its consequences. Moses was told he would not be allowed to enter the land God had promised. After the burning bush, after ten plagues in Egypt, after the waters parting at the Red Sea, after the manna and the quail, Moses was not permitted to cross the finish line. And all because of that moment; the moment of lost self-control, losing it with the people and taking it out with a stick on a rock.

All of us have had moments when we lost it; did something we wish we’d thought about before we did it; said something we shouldn’t have said; spouting off, lashing out, knee-jerk reactions. Every one of us knows what that’s like. This story tells us honestly that lost self-control has consequences, but it is not a story about punishment. If anything we see that God remains faithful. God gives water. God continues to lead the people and fulfill the promise made to them.

This story is a story about trust. What God says to Moses is “you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites” (Nu. 20:12). At root, self-control is about trusting God. Self –control asks “can I stay out of the way long enough for God to act in this situation . . . Can I hold my tongue, can I get a grip on my anger, can I stop indulging this fantasy?” To say “yes” in that moment honors God as holy.

For Today: In what area of your life are you most often tempted to ‘lose it’? What will it mean for you to trust God with that part of your life today?

Prayer: Gracious God, I want my life to show that you are worthy of trust; I want to live every detail of this day knowing that you really have everything under your control. Knowing that your control is sure, my self-control is then possible. Help me to live this way today. Amen.

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