The Temptation of Moses, Part 1
Topic: Expository Passage: Numbers 20:1-13
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Numbers 20:1-13 | The Temptation of Moses, Part 1
Good evening! Welcome! Thanks for tuning in to our Sunday night Bible study. If you are a member or regular attender here at Life Point, we’re so glad to have you, and if not, we’re glad to have you too! Please feel free to post in the comments section and say hi so that we know which ones of our friends are watching. Also, feel free to share this video in your news feed so that others can view it as well. It is encouraging to hear of a number of people who would not regularly attend church watching church services online. Holding services this way is not optimal nor would we want to do it forever, but praise God for that unintended/God-intended consequence of COVID-19! So sharing this video in your newsfeed might actually be a form of evangelism.
I’m going to start teaching in just a minute, but Sunday night is our typical time for prayer, so if you have a prayer request, please leave that in the comments. I will circle back around to those requests when we pray at the end of this video.
Alright, please turn in your Bibles to Numbers 20:1-13. Tonight, we are going to return to our series on temptation that we started in Sunday school back in December. You might remember that we began by studying the temptations of Eve and Jesus. Then we went back to Old Testament and spent three weeks talking about sexual temptation in the story of Judah and Joseph. Our last study in this series was on March 1. The next Sunday, we had a missionary (Jeremy Pittsley) with us in Sunday school; and the week after that, we went to two services and cut out Sunday school as a result of COVID-19. And ever since then, of course, we have not had adult Sunday school, so this series has been put on hold. But last week, Pastor Kit asked me if I would take Sunday nights from now on as long as we are unable to meet, so I decided to pick up this series again. I’ve gotten good feedback on it in the past, so I pray that it will continue to be helpful.
Having said that, I realize that some of you do not regularly attend Sunday school, so you haven’t heard the first nine lessons in this series. If that is the case, that’s okay, the lessons can stand alone, so I think you’ll be able to follow along just fine, although I may refer back to a past lesson at times. However, if you did want to go back and catch up on what you have missed, it is all available on our website. Just click on the “Sermons” tab at the top of the homepage, then click on “Series” and scroll down to the “Temptation” icon. (It’s a yellow background with a picture of an apple with a snake inside it.)
Also, I know some of you like to review my written notes as well as the lesson audio. Lord-willing, I will still be typing out my notes even with this new format, and I’m also going to try to record the audio of these sessions using my iPhone. So Lord-willing, I will still be able to send out both the written and audio versions of those notes to you who are on that list. If you’d like to be added to that list, let me know.
This is weird. Last Sunday night was only my second time using Facebook Live, and I think it was a little bit better than the first time, but I still have a ways to go in learning this format. I like it much better when I can see your faces, respond to the visual feedback you are giving me, and ask questions. But this will have to do for now, and I trust God will use it in amazing ways, as we have already discussed. I depend a lot on questions and your verbal responses during our Sunday school hour, and we obviously can’t do that over Facebook. But I will still try to ask questions (even if they end up being rhetorical), and feel free to “butt in” with a comment anytime you want. That won’t bother me at all. You can even interact with each other in the comments section if that is helpful. I may or may not acknowledge those comments depending on the nature of the comments and our time constraints, but I think the discipline of commenting will help you to stay engaged even more.
Alright, you have turned in your Bibles to Numbers 20:1-13! Let’s go ahead and read that passage, and then we will pray (Num 20:1-13).
So far in our series, we’ve dealt with temptation on the macro level with the stories of Eve and Jesus, and then we discussed sexual temptation in the stories of Judah and Joseph. Tonight, we’ll begin talking about anger in the temptation of Moses.
Let’s start here: do you think that anger is a dangerous problem in our day and age? (Just go ahead and say it there in your living room.) Yes! Okay, now let’s break that down a little bit. What makes you think that anger is a problem? Feel free to answer that question in the comments section while I share some statistics.
I have here a Gallup poll that says that in 2018, Americans were as angry as they have ever been since Gallup started tracking these things, with 22% of those being surveyed saying they were angry the previous day. Do you think that number has gone up or down since COVID-19? Obviously, it’s gone way up! People are angry about everything right now, aren’t they? They’re angry that they’re being told to stay home; they’re angry that they still have to go to work; they’re angry that their stimulus check hasn’t come in yet; they’re angry that their stimulus check isn’t larger; they’re angry that the news is blasting this way out of proportion; they’re angry that there are so many idiots out there who aren’t taking this seriously; they’re angry at the stupid liberals who want to kill our economy; they’re angry at the heartless Republicans who all they can think about is money; they’re angry at China for not telling the truth; they’re angry at PPP for not working; they’re angry at their spouses and kids because they have to spend so much time together cooped up in the same house–we are angry about everything! I’ve made it a practice not to go on Twitter because of all of the venom spilling out of people’s mouths (or off their thumbs) in that platform, and I know cable news isn’t much better–or even the mainstream media for that matter! I don’t think you need me to convince you that people around us are mad. Right?
So that answers the first part of my question: anger is definitely a problem. But now, why is it a dangerous problem? What would you say? Again, feel free to add your answer in the comments, but here is my answer in a nutshell. Anger is dangerous because it’s destructive.
In his book, The Heart of Anger, Lou Priolo says that anger is the emotion God gave us in order to help us destroy stuff. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Last week, Marty DeWittie commented on a photo of Klayton that Elise had posted and said boys “have two main motivations: build and destroy.” She should know, right? She raised a couple of boys! And those motivations are not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, stuff needs to be blown up, so to speak, so anger can be good and useful! But when ungodly anger rules the day, we often end up destroying the things that are most precious to us–the things we love most–and more importantly, the things that are most precious to God. Did you ever have a kid who got angry and broke his favorite toy? That’s what happens! The problem is, toys can be replaced, but people cannot be replaced, families cannot be replaced, churches cannot be replaced; and these are the sorts of things that are often destroyed through ungodly anger.
So anger is dangerous because it’s destructive. But also (and more importantly) sinful anger is awful because it brings reproach to the name of Christ. That godly testimony you have spent decades building? It can be torn down just like that. All of a sudden you snap at work and blow off a head of steam, and you just gave occasion to all of those people to blaspheme. That is why it is so important to guard against sinful anger.
I’m not going to say everything there is to be said about anger in the next couple of weeks, just like I didn’t say everything there was to say about sexual temptation in our three lessons on Judah and Joseph. But by examining the temptation of one godly man, there is a lot that we are going to learn about sinful anger and its effects.
Alright, before I go on, I want to stop and see how you answered some of those questions that I have asked. Good! Let’s move on now.
I’d like you to think of this story in Numbers 20:1-13 as a movie. And rather than just letting the DVD run from the beginning, I’d like to start by going to the menu, clicking “scene selection,” and then going to the most intense scene in the movie– vv. 10-11 (Num 20:10-11).
Now, you don’t have to have read God’s instructions to Moses in v. 8 to know that something is wrong here. Here is Moses, God’s chosen leader, the meekest man in all the earth and the epitome of faithfulness, yelling at the people and hitting the rock (which represented God’s mercy and faithfulness–Paul says the rock represented Christ Himself)–hitting that rock with Aaron’s rod that budded–which came straight out of the Ark of the Covenant! This would be like seeing your pastor just totally lose it on Sunday morning in the middle of his sermon and start flipping out on someone or everyone in the congregation all at once and then storm out of the building. This just doesn’t happen! (Or at least, it shouldn’t!) Something is terribly wrong here!
So let’s hit “pause” (okay, Moses’ mouth is wide open, and he’s posed like a baseball batter in mid-swing); and while the movie is paused, let’s ask ourselves a question: how did we get to this point? And you can feel free to answer that question in the comments section as we go along. How did we get to this point? Let’s take a look at some of the causes of Moses’ anger.
Causes’ of Moses Anger
There were many causes of Moses’ anger. The most obvious one was that the people were complaining… again. But there were also other factors that made this a bad day for Moses as well. First, the location where they were camping must have brought back bad memories. They were camping in Kadesh, which, if you are familiar with the story of Numbers, was the very spot where the ten spies delivered their bad report and the children of Israel decided not to go in to the promised land after all! And then God cursed them to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Not exactly a place that brings back the warm fuzzies for Moses!
Second, verse 1 tells us that Miriam had just died. Moses loved his sister very much. After all, Miriam helped save his life when he was a baby! Also, remember how Moses had pleaded with God for his sister even after she and their brother Aaron had rebelled against his leadership! Exodus 15:20 tells us that Miriam was a prophetess and she led the women of Israel in worship after they crossed the Red Sea. Miriam was a leader in her own right, and every indication was that Moses loved her very much. He must have been grieving her death at this time. Did you know that painful circumstances often lead to anger? We’ve seen that with this COVID-19 situation.
A third cause of Moses’ anger was his own disposition. How do we know that Moses struggled with anger? Well, for one, he killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite back in Egypt when he was a young man! He also broke the first set of 10 commandments! (Now, in that case, it seems like Moses’ anger was justified, but that story still indicates that Moses had a temperament that was prone to anger.)
If you have a temperament that is prone to anger, you better be very, very careful. We all have tendencies toward certain sins, and those are the areas in which we need to be most prayerful and vigilant. If you are prone to anger, you should be praying every day, “God, help me control my temper today. Please give me victory over this sin.”
I think a fourth cause of Moses’ anger was fear. Our text does not state that explicitly, but I think if you are reading carefully, you will come to that conclusion. Here’s why I say that. The similarities between Numbers 20, Exodus 17, and Numbers 16 are amazing. Exodus 17 was where the children of Israel complained about having no water right after crossing the Red Sea, and Numbers 16 is about the rebellion of Korah, where Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with 250 leaders in the congregation rise up and challenge Moses and Aaron’s authority. You might remember from that story that Korah, Dathan, and Abiram end up falling into a crack in the earth that closes up over top of them, and the other 250 rebels are destroyed with fire that comes down out of heaven. The next day, the rest of the people complain against Moses and Aaron, and God sends a plague that kills 14,700 of them in a day! Not exactly a pleasant memory for Moses!
But the important thing as it relates to this story is that some of the same wording and phrases that were used in those other two stories I just mentioned are used here as well! In both Exodus 17 and here, the people “contend with” Moses over their lack of water and accuse him of bringing them up out of Egypt to die of thirst in the desert! Both in Numbers 16 with the Korah incident and here, the people of Israel “gather together against Moses and Aaron.” For Moses, this had to seem like déjà vu, and that wasn’t a good thing!
Also, you ought to know that many of these people who are complaining in Numbers 20 are the children of the ones who complained in those other two incidents. How do we know that? Because this incident most likely takes place at the tail end of the wilderness wandering period–quite possibly in the 40th year! This was the generation that was supposed be different, the ones who were supposed to enter the Promised Land–the ones on whom Moses had probably pinned many of his hopes! If I were him, I would be saying, “Oh no, not you too!” And there would be fear there as to whether this generation was actually going to do what God said!
Sinful anger is the result of an idolatrous or misplaced desire for control. That being the case, fear over lack of control often leads to sinful anger.
There are certain people who like to have all of their ducks in a row all the time; so when their world gets rocked, they lash out in anger. We need to be people who trust God all the time and so we are always gentle.
A fifth cause of Moses’ anger was latent bitterness against the people. Turn with me to Numbers 11:11-15. After the people complained for meat, Moses prayed this to the Lord (Num 11:11-15). Now, obviously that is a prayer, so there is a sense in which we should give Moses a break–he was expressing how he feels to the LORD. But even so, I think we would have to admit, Moses’ heart is not in the right place in this passage! “God if You are determined to treat me this way, just go ahead and kill me now!” I don’t think that is how we should pray! So Moses is struggling here. He’s struggling with pent up frustration and latent bitterness against the people. And I think that helps to explain his explosion in chapter 20. Moses does not explode in Numbers 20 over one little incident; he explodes over forty years’ worth of incidents!
By the way, let this be a reminder; latent anger is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Don’t think to yourself, “Ya, I’m angry, but I can control it.” If you do not deal with your anger through biblical forgiveness, it will eventually boil up to the surface, and that may happen at the least opportune time, as it did with Moses.
A sixth cause of Moses’ anger was pride. Look at v. 10 (Num 20:10). There is a lot of comparison going on there! “You are the rebels! We are better than you! We are the heroes and, in some ways, the victims! You are the villains!” This little speech indicates that Moses and Aaron had a highly inflated view of themselves that led to this debacle.
Why does pride often lead to anger? Feel free to answer in the comments section as I press on. Pride often leads to anger because I am arrogant enough to think that I can actually control my circumstances, so then when I can’t, I get angry. Right? We’re back to the control theme again. “I had a plan for this. I got up early, checked Google Maps, had a fail-safe plan for a stress-free morning and still making my appointment down the hill on time… but then this accident came out of nowhere! Ahh! Why do people have to drive like such idiots! If it wasn’t for people like that, I would be at the doctor’s office right now, and I probably wouldn’t have spilled coffee all over myself, either!” You see, when my circumstances get out of control, I look for a scapegoat, even if it doesn’t make sense. Why? Because I was arrogant enough to think that I could control my circumstances in the first place!
Another reason that pride often leads to anger is that proud people have an inflated view of themselves, so they often get annoyed with everyone else who doesn’t measure up to their impossible standards. When my mental script says that I am perfect and everyone else is subpar, that can only lead to me becoming frustrated with others. You think, “I’m really disciplined when it comes to my diet.” “I eat lots of fruit and vegetables”; “I don’t drink soda”; “I count calories”; “I do intermittent fasting”; “I’m vegan”; “I’m keto”; “I eat only organic, gluten-free, non-GMO foods”; or whatever!” But then at the church potluck, all of those people are disgusted! And they feel this anger coming on. Why is that? It’s because you were proud!
A seventh cause of Moses’ anger was his frustration over God’s perceived passivity. Something very significant is left out of this story. Do you know what it is? It is God’s judgment against the people!
In many of those other stories we discussed, God responds very quickly with judgment. But in this case, when Moses is really fed up, he goes to God, and what does God do? He says, “Ya, I get it; they’re thirsty. Why don’t you go and give them a drink? Take the rod, speak to the rock, and water will come out.” “That’s it? Are you kidding me? Aren’t you going to send snakes, or fire, or something!” “Nope! Not this time! I’m just going to give them water!”
I think that, more than anything else, is what makes Moses mad in this passage. I say that because it is after he receives this response from God that Moses’ anger really seems to take over. And so, he subconsciously says to himself, “Well, if God’s not going to do anything about it, somebody’s got to give these people a taste of their own medicine!” Again, it goes back to control.
I think that deep down, Moses is a lot like Jonah: he’s angry about God’s mercy, so he tries to play God in this story, and it doesn’t go well–for him.
Sometimes we get angry because we think God or somebody else isn’t doing his job, and so we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. Brothers and sisters, can I tell you, that is playing with fire. Romans 12:19 says, “’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the LORD.” You do not play God! It will not go well for you!
Don’t take God’s vengeance into your own hands, and don’t take the responsibilities of your authorities into your own hands. You don’t need to make up for a perceived weakness in your God-given authorities! For instance, wives, you don’t over-discipline your children in order to make up for your husband’s passivity. It’s a similar reason as to why we don’t take justice into our own hands on the government level; because that is not your place! Here’s the simple principle: you do what God has called you to do and trust Him with the rest.
Before we go on, let me go back and look at some of your comments. Way back at the beginning of this section I asked how we got to this point.
The Trigger for Moses’ Anger
So there you have seven possible causes of Moses’ anger, but we haven’t even touched the main cause yet, have we? People who counsel on anger talk about “triggers.” What was the trigger for Moses’ anger in this story? It was the people’s complaints (vv. 2-5)!
Like I said, this story probably takes place in the fortieth year of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. The people have wandered around in the wilderness, and now they are back in Kadesh, where they had camped when the spies first went in to spy out the land forty years earlier.
This is the younger generation, because most of the older generation have died off by now. But this younger generation is acting just like their parents! Like their parents, they gather against Moses and Aaron and contend with them–vv. 2-3. Like their parents did after crossing the Red Sea, they complain about lack of water! Like their parents did, they say they wish they had died. They accuse Moses and Aaron of bringing the Assembly of the LORD out into the wilderness to die! They accuse them of breaking their promise and not bringing them into a land of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates! They don’t blame it on God, of course (that would be crazy)–although in a round-about way that’s what they’re doing–but who bears the brunt of this strife? It’s Moses and Aaron! They must have been furious! After all they had done for this people! Was it Moses and Aaron’s fault that their entry into the Promised Land had been delayed forty years? No! It was the people’s fault! How dare they try to pin this on Moses and Aaron again! Moses and Aaron, of all people! Wouldn’t you have been furious?
When you stop to consider all of the factors involved, the amazing thing is not that Moses snapped, it’s that it took him this long to do so! That’s probably why God called Moses “the meekest man in all the earth.” Any of us would have snapped decades earlier!
And yet, the amazing thing about this story is that God doesn’t let Moses off the hook! It almost seems unfair to us! Now, we’ll talk about some of the reasons for God’s seemingly harsh punishment next week, but for today, this is your big idea: there is no excuse for your ungodly anger! Zip! Zero! None! If Moses doesn’t have an excuse, you certainly don’t have an excuse!
So what will you do about your ungodly anger?
Well, I’ve given you a couple of handles this evening. So here are some things you can do. First, deal with the sins that often lead to anger, like bitterness, fear, and pride. It’s one thing to listen to a lesson like this and admit that those sins can lead to anger in some situations. It’s another to do some serious soul searching and ask God and yourself and others whether those sins are present in your life, and then to confess and forsake them if they are. But if sinful anger is a problem in your life, you will never get victory until you address the complex of sins that are causing the anger.
When doctors are working on COVID-19, they don’t just tell everyone to stay home. They don’t just tell everyone to wear masks. They don’t just work to pump out more ventilators. They understand that this is a complex problem that demands a complex response. You have to work on a vaccine; you have to develop new ways of treating patients, etc. In the same way, if you want to get victory over the complex problem of sinful anger, you have got to address the entire array of sins that feed into your anger.
So first, deal with the sins that often lead to anger. Second, learn to recognize your sinful propensities and triggers. I’m not saying this step would have fixed Moses’ problem. Moses knew full well that he struggled with anger and that the children of Israel were his trigger. He didn’t need any psychologist to break that down for him! And yet, the New Testament commands us to watch and be vigilant in the battle against sin. Part of watchfulness and vigilance is knowing yourself and being prepared.
Maybe a helpful exercise for you sometime in the next week would be to write down your triggers. What tends to make you angry? What lies are you believing or what idols are you serving in those situations? What is your typical response and what would God want you to do instead? Journaling on topics like these may seem like a silly exercise, but it could be a great help to you in your Christian growth.
 Lou Priolo, The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Angry Children (Merrick, NY: Calvary Press, 2005), 53.