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Mind Your Temper Moses! Learning About Anger From the Man Who Lost the Promised Land

Years ago, I lived in a small town in Georgia. And by small, I mean one red light and two restaurants small. You had to drive half an hour to find anything exciting. So, if you didn’t want to drive half an hour you had a few options. One was to sit on your porch and wait for someone interesting to walk by.

Then, you could get their attention and talk for a while. The other option was to go walking yourself. When I would go for a walk in this small town, I would often find myself in the local cemetery. It sounds morbid, I know, but it was a very interesting cemetery because the town was established in 1872, and the cemetery was even older than that.

You could often find stories simply by reading the dates on the tombstones. For instance, there was one tombstone that carried a sad story. It was a single stone but it carried two names with the same date of death: a mother and her infant, who both passed in childbirth.

What I found most interesting, though was the descriptions that family members had chosen to be the final word on a person’s life, such as “Loving Mother” or “Devoted Son.” Some descriptions were longer than others, but someone chose the words to place on the tombstones as the final description of this person, a summary of who they were.

This often led me to think about what people would put on my tombstone one day. What will people say about me when I’m gone? How will they summarize my life, my personality and my actions? That’s a big question.

In the word of God, on some occasions, God led the writers of the Bible to summarize people in this way.

Abraham was called the friend of God in Isaiah 41:8

David was described as a man after God’s own heart in Acts 13:22

And Moses is described as the meekest man in all the earth in Numbers 12:3

(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)

Numbers 12:3

I have to admit, this description of Moses has always surprised me a bit because this is the same man who murdered someone in anger. This is the same man who prayed on a few occasions for God to kill his entire congregation. This is the same man who lost the promised land because of his temper!

10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? 11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. 12 And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

Numbers 20:10-12

It is obvious that Moses had some issues with anger when pushed to a certain point, and yet God called him the meekest man on all the earth. So, if this guy, who lost his temper on a few occasions, was the meekest man in all the earth, how do you think you and I would add up? Have you lost your temper more than a few times? I certainly have. In fact, I often feel like I’m losing it on a daily basis.

Can the meekest man in all the earth teach us a few things about our temper?

Learning About Anger

I’m Good Till I’m Pushed

I’ve often heard people use this phrase to describe their temper. “I’m good till I’m pushed.” I’ve probably even said this myself. But what are we really saying when we use phrases like this? Basically, we are saying that I’m easy to get along with as long as everything is going my way. I’ll be nice to you if you are nice to me. You push me, I’ll push you back. This is the trap that Moses fell into early in his life.

11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.

Exodus 2:11-12

This event had lasting consequences for Moses. In the following verses we see that, although he thought he had kept his crime a secret, it was already known. When he discovered this, he ran away from Egypt and lived in Midian. So, this one act of anger changed the entire course of his life. It also did not help his reputation among the Israelites either. Before Moses fled he is reprimanded by one of the Israelite slaves in verses 13-14.

13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? 14 And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.

Exodus 2:13-14

We may think we have our anger under control. Moses thought he had the thing hidden in the sand, but it was already known. When we try to control our anger, it will always wind up getting the best of us. When we try to hide the consequences of our anger, it will always come out.

The Two Types of Anger in the Bible

There are two types of anger. We will use Biblical terms here. The first type of anger is righteous indignation. This is anger at sin and injustice. Now, one might argue that Moses was angry over injustice when he killed the Egyptian.

At first, yes, but then he let his anger run out of control. As a member of the royal family, he had the authority to deal with the Egyptians justly for his actions. But his anger caused him to lose control of his actions, and instead, he murdered the man and then tried to cover his crime. So, that was definitely not righteous indignation.

Righteous indignation is a godly anger over sin and injustice. This type of anger spurs us to right the wrongs. It gives us the boldness we need to confront uncomfortable situations. It gives us the courage to take a stand for what is right.

We see Jesus Himself experiencing this type of anger in the Bible.

And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

Mark 3:5

And also again in Matthew 21:12-13:

12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.


In both instances, Jesus is angry over sin and is attempting to right a wrong. Note: he does not do wrong himself.

Here is where Moses fell short. He let his anger drag him into a sinful action. Even righteous indignation can drag you into a sinful action if you are not being led by God. This is where Ephesians 4:26-27 is so important.

26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.

Ephesians 4:26-27

The devil finds himself a place where anger is raging.

Which brings us to the second type of anger: malice. The word anger is used often in the Bible, and it is often used in conjunction with God. Obviously God was angry on multiple occasions, and on some occasions we see the phrase “the wrath of God,” even being used.

Anger and even wrath are both different from malice. Anger is just an emotion that bubbles up when we think something isn’t right or doesn’t suit us. This can be shallow or noble, but it is just an emotion. Emotions of themselves can’t hurt anyone. Wrath is intense anger. Both anger and wrath can be righteous. But what about malice?

Malice is defined as “the intention or desire to do evil,” specifically to do evil to someone who has made you angry. So, malice would be considered anger that is out of control. We can safely say that malice is anger that is so far out of control that it is dragging you into sin yourself.

This is the type of anger that got the meekest man on earth in trouble.

The Lure of Malice

We have all felt malice. “I’ll show him,” or “Just wait, she’s going to regret doing me wrong.” Perhaps our malice only went as far as imagining what we might do or say to hurt the other, but many of us have gone beyond imagining and acted out our malice.

People are accused of “crimes of passion,” every day. This literally means they either attacked or, in some instances, even killed someone in a fit of anger, just like Moses. Good people who you may have never thought capable of killing someone can do so if they are angry enough.

Most people do not go that far, but sometimes we will go pretty far. There are many ways to let loose your malice on someone. There are many ways to make sure they feel your vengeance without murdering them. Slander is a popular way to express malice. Hijacking someone’s work or maybe even their relationships is another.

What about spilling a sensitive secret that could have life-changing consequences for someone? Some show their malice in a very subtle way by withdrawing love, attention and affection. We see this a lot among married couples. One goes suddenly cold in order to teach the other a lesson. Parents do this to children as well.

None of these actions are actions of righteous anger. Remember, righteous anger has an end goal of righting the wrong, not making the wrong worse. Malice always makes the wrong worse. Malice takes one wrong and then adds more wrongs to the mix.

Think of it this way, Ephesians 4:6 says, Be ye angry, and sin not. That is righteous anger, being angry and not sinning. Malice is the opposite, “be ye angry and sin.” See the difference? It will be very helpful if we memorize Ephesians 4:6, “Be ye angry and sin not,” and also memorize the opposite phrase, “Be ye angry and sin.” If we keep both of these phrases in our mind it will help us to identify when anger is heading toward malice. Remember, all anger has the potential to be malice, but it never has to go that far.

What Are You Really Angry About?

Anger can be a very obvious emotion. Someone pulls out in front of you in traffic and you get angry. This person just endangered your life. Most people would think it’s pretty understandable to be angry over that. But anger can also be a mysterious emotion.

Have you ever experienced feeling angry over small, non-consequential things? Have you ever felt angry over nothing at all? I have. What is that about? How is it that you can wake up one morning and something that never bothered you before has suddenly filled you with anger? Let’s look back at the story of Moses in Numbers 20.

10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? 11 And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. 12 And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

Numbers 20:10-12

Now, there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye. Let’s go back a few verses so that we can better understand why God has brought down such a harsh punishment on Moses and Aaron here. In the opening of Numbers 20, the children of Israel are complaining yet again that they have no water. This has happened a few times during their journey.

Moses had received specific instructions in Numbers 20:6-8 concerning this problem with water.

6 And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto them. 7 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 8 Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.


Now, it seems so far so good. There is a problem. God has given Moses a solution to that problem. Go “speak” to the rock and water will come out. Moses, however, leaves this meeting with God angry. So angry, in fact that when he approaches the rock, he does not share with the people what God has shown him, and most importantly he does not obey what God instructed him.

He is so angry that he is going to let his anger drag him into sin. So, instead of speaking to the rock, as he was instructed, instead he smites the rock twice.

This was significant. God wanted to increase the faith of the people by showing them a miracle. Moses allowed his anger to get in the way of God’s instructions. And for that, God says that Moses will not join the people in the promised land.

Why, though, was Moses so angry? Why was he not relieved that God had a solution to their problem? Why did this situation upset him so much? Especially considering that God had already solved water-related problems for the children of Israel on multiple occasions. This was not the first time God had given Moses very specific instructions concerning water.

God turned the river in Egypt to blood after telling Moses to smite the river with is rod – Exodus 7:20

God parted the waters of the Red Sea telling Moses to lift his rod over the sea – Exodus 14:21

God sweetened the waters of Marah which were undrinkable so that the Israelites could drink by telling Moses to cast a certain tree into the waters to purify it – Exodus 15:25

God brought water from a rock the first time, and in fact, on this occasion, God DID instruct Moses to smite the rock – Exodus 17:6

Moses has had four miraculous interactions with water in which God did exactly what He said He would do. So surely this was not a faith issue. It seems very unlikely that Moses was doubting God could bring forth water from the rock. So, why in Numbers 20 does Moses turn so angry, angry enough to disobey God and lose the promised land? Was he really this angry over water?

Think back to a time when you have been under tremendous stress. A time when everything is going wrong. A time when no matter what you do it doesn’t seem to be enough. Perhaps you are living in a time like that right now.

During these times, we can develop what some people call a “light trigger.” This means that we are constantly in a state of agitation. Anger is boiling just below the surface 24/7 and anything, big or little, can bring it raging out.

I believe very strongly this is what happened to Moses in Numbers 20. He had already seen God perform four miracles with water. On all four occasions, God had given him very specific instructions, Moses followed those instructions and there was a miracle. But on this occasion, Moses is many years into his journey with the Children of Israel. He is almost to the end of the 40 years of wandering.

Some scholars estimate the episode with the waters at Meribah in Numbers 20 would have taken place roughly in 1407 BC which is 39 years after the beginning of the Exodus. So, Moses has been with these complainers for 39 years. He has dealt with battle after battle.

He was not angry about the water. He was not angry about God’s instructions concerning the water. He was angry about everything. He had lost his perspective of the big picture. All he could see was another obstacle, another problem. He had even lost his wonder and awe over God’s miracles.

We can get there. We can get so blinded by the stress of day-to-day problems that are popping up that we completely shut out the wonder of God’s miracles. We allow this anger at everything, and nothing in particular, to drag us into sin. We refuse to follow through on even the simplest instructions from God.

God told Moses to simply speak to the rock. Of all of the miracles God had performed for Moses concerning water this would have been the simplest one. This one would have required the least amount of effort from Moses. He wasn’t asked to raise his staff and keep it raised like he was asked to over the Red Sea. He wasn’t asked to strike the river like in Egypt.

He wasn’t asked to smite the rock like in Exodus. This time, it was the simplest of instructions, just speak to the rock. But Moses had gotten himself in such a state of agitation that he couldn’t follow through even with this.

God called Moses the meekest man on earth, and Moses got to this place of anger. He got so far drawn into anger that God said Moses would never see the promised land. The objective of Moses’ entire ministry was to reach the promised land, and now he would never see it. How anger can destroy a lifetime of work and ministry!

How many times has your anger destroyed something? Relationships, opportunities, or maybe just the peace of the day? Most of the time, our instructions from God are pretty simple, but we get in the way of our own selves.

Why Do We Blow Up?

Ephesians 4:6 says, “Be ye angry and sin not.” It sounds delightfully simple, doesn’t it? But we all know that it isn’t as easy as just saying, “Well, I am angry, but I’ll just be good and not let it drag me into sin.” My experience with anger has often been that while in a state of anger I will react before I’ve really thought about my reaction at all. After the incident, I’m left thinking, “What in the world did I just do? What did I just say?” Can you relate?

So, in the heat of anger, it is difficult to keep perspective. It is difficult to think rationally even. Why are we like this?

The truth is, our anger issues were there before we blew up. What I mean is that most of our anger is not so much a reaction to what is happening to us, but is rather a reflection of what is already going on within us. Our inner state is already agitated, and then something in the outside world sets us off.

Think of anger like a fire. Your internal state of being can be set for anger, just like setting up a fire. Imagine you are sitting in front of a fire pit. You collected wood, you arranged the wood, you may even douse the wood in gasoline. Now, at this point, there is no fire. You have all the potential for a fire.

You are only lacking one thing: the spark. You sit down in front of your fire pit. Remember, there is no fire, but there is all the potential for fire. When someone else comes along with a match and throws it your way, there’s a blow-up.

This is how most of us spend our days. We keep our internal state of being arranged constantly for potential fire. All it takes is someone to come along with a match, and we go up in flames.

Now, let’s imagine the same person comes along with the same match. You are sitting in front of the same fire pit, but now it is empty and clean. There is no wood. There is no gasoline. The fire pit has been swept clean. The same person throws the same match into the same fire pit. What happens this time? You will see the match there. It will burn, but just for a moment. There will be heat, but it will be short-lived. Within seconds, the match will burn itself out. There is no blow-up.

Our anger is not necessarily a reaction to what is happening to us. Our anger is a reflection of what is already going on within us. Are you setting yourself up for a blow up every day? We blow-up because we already had everything inside of us set for a blow-up.

What Can We Do?

The only way we can be angry and sin not, be angry without blowing up, is to keep our heart and our mind clean and clear. Clean and clear of what?

Think back to our illustration of the fire. You have the wood and the gasoline. Think of this wood and this gasoline as the internal junk that you hold on to. Grudges, hurt feelings, disappointments, worry, anxiety, and discontentment.

All of these, plus others that you can fill in for yourself, are the junk that we hold onto. When this junk stays and stays inside, it creates the perfect environment for explosions of anger when the right situation (the match) comes along. The more junk you hang onto inside, the more likely you are to blow up when an anger-inducing situation happens.

What we can do is keep our hearts and minds clear of the junk. We do this through prayer, meditation, and daily alone time with God, and shedding stress. This is why David said in Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

This must be done on a daily basis. We must cleanse ourselves of the mental junk. We must seek forgiveness for what we have done. We must extend forgiveness for what others have done. We must also shed the natural stress of the day.

We have already cited Ephesians 4:26 a few times, “Be ye angry and sin not,” but there is a second part to the verse. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Now many interpret this to mean you should not go to bed while still angry at someone. This is a good interpretation and we should not go to bed while angry with someone, but another definition of the word wrath here is “exasperation.” Ah, stress! Do not let the sun go down on your stress. This may have nothing to do with another person. This is just the natural result of living some days.

Figure out ways to shed that stress so that you are not walking around full of “exasperation.” That exasperation, that stress is fuel for angry explosions. Exercise, meditation, gardening, hobbies, spending time with friends we all have a thing that cleanses our hearts and minds of exasperation. Practice these things often. Keep your heart and mind clean.


The meekest man on earth fell into sin because of anger. After all those years of struggling, Moses failed to obey God in a big way because he was filled with frustration, exhaustion and exasperation. When the situation of the water presented itself, it was the match that ignited all the stuff he was carrying around inside.

Anger is a natural emotion. God gave it to us. It can be useful. However, when we are walking around filled with junk in our hearts and minds, and that junk stays doused in gasoline just waiting for the spark of anger, it is then that anger becomes damaging instead of useful. The more we keep our hearts and minds clean, the better we will be able to deal with anger in a healthy, spiritual way.


Friday 1st of December 2023

This is so powerful and transformative. It leads you to repent over our malice. Thank you for this.