But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment (Matt. 5:22).
For the rest of his life he would remember that moment; he would play it in his mind again and again hoping 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.
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. 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 gave vent to his anger. He raised his staff and swung it twice against the rock with a sharp slap. And from the rock grace flowed, gushing 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. That’s what anger does to us. What should have been an act of obedience had become a loss of self-control.
All of us have had moments when we lost it. We’ve done or said something we wish we’d thought about before we did it or said it. This story tells us that venting our anger can have destructive consequences. Sometimes the one my anger kills is me.
Jesus drew a straight line from the angry heart to the murderous hand. In both, the self has become so inflated that there is no room for God. This helps us understand God’s instruction not to take revenge on someone else. God says that “vengeance is mine. I will repay” (Romans 12:19). When we strike out in revenge, venting our anger or taking a life, we have usurped God’s rightful place.
The story of what happened to Moses is not simply a story about punishment. 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, the alternative to venting our anger is 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?” When we say “yes” in that moment we honor God as holy.
In what area of your life are you most often tempted to ‘lose it’? Is it at home with the kids, at work with your colleagues? What will it mean for you to trust God with that part of your life today?
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, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.