Turning Confusing Problems Into Clear Principles
Study Guide, April 8, 2018
Pastor Clay Olsen
Good mottos can be very helpful in dealing with this often confusing life of ours. Like, here are some examples of just good logical and helpful mottos that I came across. ‘Trust, but verify’; ‘Life doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be wonderful’; Use friendliness, but don’t use your friends; and ‘I just don’t want to look back and think: I could have eaten that’.
Seriously though, it does help to try to condense complicated issues into manageable mottos or principles. Even better is when a good motto is based on a Biblical principle. And like we started pointing out recently, a real help is to try to develop the habit of turning confusing problems into clear principles; clear principles based upon the Scriptures. Then you can better manage the messes that arise in your life.
For an example of this we return to Moses again and see that even Moses could have benefited from this Biblical principle: “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” We know it from the passage of Eph 4:26-27- “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” NASU And why would this have really helped Moses? Well, because, as we earlier saw, even though Moses had a lot of hair, it seems that dealing with the grumbling Israelites over the years had caused him to pull out most of it by the time the wilderness wanderings were completed. Listening to their complaining and their bickering day after day caused even Moses to do something that cost him the privilege of entering into the land God was giving the people. And it shows us that if even Moses can lose his cool when dealing with grumbling people, then we need to be especially careful about keeping our act together. Now, that’s kind of long for a motto or a principle, so we’ll just leave this part under the heading of: ‘Just saying…’
But check this out: Num 20:2-12- “There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the Lord‘s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord‘s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!” Moses and Aaron turned away from the people and went to the entrance of the Tabernacle, where they fell face down on the ground. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, “You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to demonstrate My holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” NLT
That’s one of those times where no doubt Moses wished he could have a ‘do over’. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the first time that God brought water from a rock for the people. However, the first time Moses was supposed to strike the rock. Notice: Ex 17:5-6- “The Lord said to Moses, “Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile, and call some of the elders of Israel to join you. I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.” NLT So the first time Moses was instructed to ‘strike the rock’, and the second time he was instructed to ‘speak to the rock’. Do you recall the fact of how God used nearly everything in the Old Testament as a type or a lesson for something He intended to reveal in the New Testament? Look at this in 1 Cor 10:3-4- “…and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” NASU Remember, it was the Pre-Incarnate Christ that was in the cloud that went with them by day and in the fire at night. That’s why in the first instance that the Lord said to Moses, “I will stand before you on the rock. Then strike the rock.” With the Shekinah Glory standing on the rock, Moses was supposed to strike it. What a powerful image that must have been! The rock was a type of Jesus Christ, who was struck for us on the cross. He was smitten for our transgressions. This was a picture of that. This is one of the reasons that explains why the next time Moses was wrong to strike the rock when he should have only spoken to it, because it violated God’s later revelation about the fact that Christ died for sin once for all. He was struck for our sins and that finished it. And the water was a type of the Holy Spirit whose coming was made possible by Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. Therefore, all that was needed now, or all that we need to do now is to speak to the Rock…or to ask Christ for the living waters of His Spirit and He will give it all as a free gift. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said this in John 7:37-38- “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” NASU Even the waters flowing from the rock in the wilderness was a preview of this!
But Moses anger got in the way of this important prophetic object lesson. But that’s not all it did, for, you see, the thing about unrestrained anger is that it usually doesn’t just mess up one thing…no it usually messes up lots of things all at once. Like here, not only does Moses not speak to the rock like he was supposed to do, but he now speaks to the people in a way that he wasn’t instructed to speak to them. In anger he starts by calling them a name… “Listen, you rebels!” So now he gives them a label. And the problem with giving people a label is that it’s kind of like giving livestock a branding. For one thing, it’s painful to get branded, and secondly, it pretty much sticks with you. It’s hard to take back a branding once you give it, and it’s hard to forget as well.
Moses would have had every right to rebuke them by telling them that they were acting rebellious against their God. He would have had every right to reprove and admonish their sinful actions. We are actually called to rebuke and admonish sinful actions. What we are not called to do is, in unrighteous anger, brand others with name calling. But there’s a fine line between controlled rebuke and unrestrained anger. Remember that part about “…and do not give the devil an opportunity”? As has been aptly stated: ‘If Satan cannot stop you, he will push you too far.’ Be on the alert for that, particularly with anger. Like here, this was so unlike Moses, who was one of the most humble and godly people ever. But again, remember the ‘push you too far’ thing? Your greatest strength can become your greatest weakness if it falls into the wrong hand of controlling it. Satan will use any means, any people, to twist your strengths into becoming weaknesses if you do not guard against it. Satan is always trying to push righteous anger into becoming unrighteous anger and then unrighteous actions. And if he can do that, then you lose both your moral authority and your proper reward, like even Moses later did.
And, remember something else; once you resort to calling someone a name, you have generally just lost your leverage in your argument. When people are labeled or called a name, they immediately tend to forget what their offenses actually are and instead just focus on how you offended them by calling them a name. I once worked in an organization that was managed by a tyrant. I know that’s a name, but I’m using this person as an illustration, not as a co-worker, anymore. But inevitably this man would cause good people to eventually come to the place where they had had enough. And so they would either just quit, or they would give him a piece of their mind before they quit. And often they would begin by calling him a name before they were done listing their grievances. And now here’s the important point about all this: Afterwards, all this man would focus on was the offense of being called ‘some name’, or being labeled in some way, instead of considering the grievances and possibly changing his offensive ways as pointed out in their grievances. Point being: Once they threw what he thought was an unjust name or a label at him, they lost all their leverage concerning their grievances, over which they did have just causes.
But that’s what unrestrained anger can do; it can cause you to sin. Now be sure about this: There is a time for anger; righteous anger that is. “Be angry; and yet do not sin.” Moses was right to be angry about their rebellion against God, their grumbling against God, and their judgmental spirit toward Aaron and himself. The problem is that he gave control of his spirit over to his anger instead of being controlled by God’s spirit in order to rightly handle his anger.
You know the best way to ‘handle’ your anger? Give the ‘handle’ to God. Remember who we are: we are ‘vessels’ of God, and God alone is to have the handle, and He is to then control what is done with the vessel. Now, yes, He may choose to pour out rebuke through us vessels, or reproof through us, or correction through us, or righteous anger through us…and so on. But you see, the thing is, even if it’s time to pour out righteous anger, if we have given God the handle on it; it’s not going to be done in an unrighteous way.
We need to trust God to lead us even when we are angry. So think of yourself as God thinks of you, as His vessel. And keep giving the handle on your emotions over to God. Plus, righteous anger is always more powerful than unrighteous anger anyway. You can even ask God, “Lord, how should we handle this problem over which I am angry?” And the Lord may want to handle it through tough love like He has shown many times in the Scriptures. Or He may want to handle it through tender love. That’s why you also need to ask for wisdom, in order to know what time it is, as in: “…there is a time for everything – a time to tear down and a time to build up – a time to embrace and a time to turn away – a time to be silent and a time to speak – a time for war and a time for peace…” (Eccl 3:1-8) Most people understand the hours of the day, but they still don’t know how to tell time; as in, what the time is calling for in different situations. And so they often just go ‘rogue’ instead of going ‘righteous’.
And for Moses here, who was so irritated by those he was trying to serve, he misjudged both the time and the consequences of His own disobedience to the instructions of God. “Because you did not trust Me enough to demonstrate My holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!”
Remember this: Satisfying God’s righteous desires will always be more rewarding than satisfying our unrighteous desires. Plus, there is never any gain in disobedience to God. Moses had led these rebellious people all the way to Canaan, but because he drew the attention away from God’s glory and onto himself, and did not demonstrate God’s holiness to the people, he forfeited the reward of entering into the land himself.
Mark it down. There is no win in sin. There is only loss. Moses is even an example here of how a believer can lose privileges or rewards through disobedience. It’s why the Apostle Paul cautions us to not lose our coming privileges or rewards in the coming Kingdom through disobedience to the instructions of God for our lives. And note that this wasn’t a Salvation issue for Moses. He was saved by grace through faith in the sacrifice of the coming Passover Lamb, the Messiah, the same as we are. He was saved as a gift of God. But his privileges and rewards were based upon his obedience as a saved follower of God. And in this case, Moses lost his privilege, lost his reward of going on into Canaan.
It’s fascinating though, that he later did, as remember who was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus in Judea or the land of Canaan? Right, Moses and Elijah. So, he finally got there, but in this instance, he did lose his reward of entering the land because of his disobedience to God’s instructions.
Don’t lose any of the privileges or rewards God wants to give you from either disobedience to God’s instructions for your life or from not giving the glory to God for His works through your life or from not demonstrating the holiness of God through your life. And especially, don’t let the rebellious and irritating ways of others around you pressure you to blow past righteous anger into unrighteous anger. Once you go rogue into ‘unrighteousness’ you have not only lost your righteous authority, but you also lose your righteous reward. Remember, don’t let the enemy win by pushing you too far into sin. No one is supposed to push you around anyway. We are only to be led by the Spirit of God, to whom we given the handle for using us, as His vessel, any way that He wants. And remember this as well: God’s ways are always the most satisfying anyway! There is no sin on earth that is more satisfying than obedience to the Will of God and the Word of God.