This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
When others test our patience, we often respond in regrettable ways. When pressures weigh heavy, we find ourselves lashing out at those who would provoke us. We justify these sorts of responses as understandable. After all, the agitator had an obligation toward consideration and awareness.
Yet, sometimes careful Bible readers observe Jesus speaking strong words toward his opponents and find license to speak from a heart of anger against others. Moreover, the Prophets often speak in direct and piercing ways to the people of God in rebuke? But does Scripture justify a short fuse?
Though many of us do not regularly turn to the Book of Numbers, several scenes in the book prove pivotal for the life of Moses and the children of Israel. Numbers contains the rebellion of the people against the command of God to enter Canaan. Likewise, in the narrative of Numbers, Moses relates the event in which a donkey speaks to a man. Numbers 20 contains another such scene. Famously, the text of Numbers 20 contains Moses’s action which condemns him never to enter the Promised Land. Most of us know offhand that Moses led God’s people to the border of Canaan, never entering; however, we do not often recall exactly how the situation developed. See Numbers 20:1.
Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there.
Miriam died there. The sister of Moses died at Kadesh. The sister who oversaw the concealment of Moses among the reeds in the Nile, and the woman who led the victory song celebrating the vanquishing of the false god-king Pharaoh by the One True God. Miriam, who suffered a sudden bout of leprosy for speaking against Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman, died at Kadesh. Familial deaths often lead to more complex feelings than one might initially expect, and the sister, celebrator, and meddler of Moses’s life died leaving all the complicated feelings in the heart of Moses as one might expect. Numbers 20:2–5 relates the aftermath,
There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why then have you brought the LORD’S assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.”
How would any normal person handle such a thing?
The people of Israel once again chose the wrong time to reveal the worst of their hearts. Just after the exodus from Egypt, the people groused over their new status as sojourners, yearning for slavery again. Again, at the foot of Sinai as God made himself known to them again via terrifying wonders of nature, they demanded an idol to praise in his place. As their leader, prophet, and intercessor grieved his sister, they chose once again to commemorate a significant event with the most treasured of man-made sacraments: complaint.
Moses responded how many of us would as related in Numbers 20:9–13.
So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
For us, Moses’s reaction carries with it a mountain of validity. Can God’s people do anything but forget his repeated miraculous providences? Has ever such a large group of people seen such signs and wonders as those who trod the dry bed of the Red Sea? In common parlance, Moses had something to say, and it needed to be said. Even so, before God, his words and actions constituted a lack of faith, disqualifying him from entering Canaan.
When we approach Scripture on Jesus’s own terms, we see all of it points us to Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit desires us to see the Son in Moses’s failure in his grief over Miriam’s death.
How would we meditate on Christ from Numbers 20? See Matthew 14:11–14.
And [John’s] head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to
Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.
Recall John the Baptist’s relation to Jesus. Jesus had a cousin in John. Moreover, John fulfilled prophecy as Jesus himself would. Isaiah 40 called for John to prepare the way for the Messiah. Both men stood prophetically against the dead religion and wicked practices of their day, receiving sinners into public repentance. John’s opposition to Herod Antipas rendered him incarcerated and decapitated. The greatest of the prophets died to satiate the petty desire of Herodias.
Upon hearing of John’s death, Jesus moved to sequester himself from the crowd, and yet, the throng followed him still. The crowd often did not understand him, and it sometimes contained objectors and questioners. Conspirators against him likely moved in and out of these crowds. When grieved over his cousin and forerunner’s unjust death, Jesus deserved some time alone. His circumstances merited time to ache in his own way.
As the people followed, did Jesus lash out? Does Matthew relate, “And the Lord spake saying unto them, ‘You mindless sheep? Canst thou give the Messiah a few minutes respite? Pray that you do not get on my last nerve!’”
He felt compassion on them and healed their sick. These people would soon eat of the multiplied bread and fish as Jesus would feed over 5000 men with five small loaves and two fish.
We sympathize with Moses, but we need Jesus.
Where Moses fails in Numbers 20, Jesus succeeds in Matthew 14. Honoring the supremely gracious Father, he acts out of pity for the crowd, healing their sick. Their approach of Jesus only marginally improves over their forebears in the wilderness. No advisor would counsel a leader to face such a situation while grieved over the death of a loved one. However, neither Moses nor Jesus received a choice. Moses acts in human impatience, and Jesus reveals the long-suffering character of God. The kindness and patience shown by Jesus serves as a piece of the righteousness credited to the repentant in Christ. Christian, God does not look to your failure in similar circumstances; he looks to the faithfulness of his Son.
When we see the failure of Moses in the wilderness, we long for the true Deliverer, the Redeemer who never fails, even when pushed past the brink of reason. Where Moses has a passion for God’s Law and his desires, interceding for God’s people, Jesus reveals the lovingkindness, the covenant love of the Almighty for the ones for whom the Father sent him.
We should not presume upon the grace of Christ, sinning to cause its abundance. Yet, we should not assume his grace a small thing with an abundance of exceptions. Jesus receives the broken and misguided. He accepts the ill-timed. The time to turn to him is now. This is the hour to honor the Savior.