WHAT IS YOUR BITTERNESS REALLY COSTING YOU?
Moses is a Biblical hero who through intense struggle, persecution, personal sacrifice, and extreme closeness to the Creator of all things (YHVH) manages to drag potentially millions of people out of Egypt and into the promised land for over 4 decades. As with all of us, Moses' flaws are exposed against the backdrop of this arduous expedition. In this post we will explore Moses's decision to "break faith" with YHVH in Numbers 20:2-13, his subsequent actions as the Israelite people approach the promise land, and the root of bitterness that found fertile soil in Moses's heart. Then we will explore how his story mirrors so many of ours when it comes to anger, hurt, bitterness, and consequences.
ANGER, REBELLION, HOLINESS:
In Numbers 20:2-13, Moses hears the voice of God instruct him to provide water for the Israelites once again while they journeyed through the wilderness. However, this time his response would change his life forever. Numbers 20:2-13 esv "2 Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before YHVH! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of YHVH into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of YHVH appeared to them, 7 and YHVH spoke to Moses, saying, 8 'Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.' 9 And Moses took the staff from before YHVH, as he commanded him. 10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, 'Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?' 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And YHVH said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.' 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with YHVH, and through them He showed Himself holy."
There are some critical pieces of action that need to be reviewed before we continue: 1. People complain, accusing Moses and Aaron of taking them out of Egypt to die. Note, the people do not blame YHVH, they blame Aaron and Moses.
2. Moses and Aaron initially handle this correctly. They fall on their face before YHVH, allowing Him to answer their petition. All they have to do now is obey. 3. Moses does not speak YHVH's words, he claims that he and Aaron will bring water from the rock. They presumptively rob YHVH of His glory as the provider for the people. 4. Moses strikes the rock twice, instead of simply speaking to it. 5. YHVH answers Moses despite his rebellion, and provides for the people anyway. 6. Moses and Aaron are corrected for their unbelief, and they are excluded, because of one wrong action, from the promise land YHVH is giving to the people. All my life I struggled with why YHVH was so harsh with Moses after all he had done. Decades of obedience and suffering just vanish because of one rash decision. However, the text is clear, this wasn't just about disobedience. Moses was YHVH's appointed leader, it is his first and primary responsibility to lead the people into covenant with YHVH by honoring God's holiness before the people (V.12). At the end of Numbers and Deuteronomy just before Moses dies, YHVH offers even more insight into why this single infraction is so detrimental to Moses's relationship with Him.
Numbers 27:12-14 esv
"12 The Lord said to Moses, 'Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)"
Deuteronomy 32:48-52 esv "48 That very day the Lord spoke to Moses, 49 “Go up this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho, and view the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel for a possession. 50 And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, 51 because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” YHVH tells Moses something very interesting, He says that Moses "broke faith" with Him and as a result Moses did not treat Him as holy before the people. This phrase "broke faith" in the Hebrew is the word "maal: מָעַל" and it means to "trespass" or to "act treacherously" as a wife might do against her husband. What Moses did before the people is the exact thing the people had done when they made the golden calf, as the people would continue to do throughout all of history (including you and I). YHVH punished them with instant death. Let's take this a step farther. Moses trespassed against YHVH's direct instruction to him on how to handle the grumbling and complaining of the people. In this moment Moses had the opportunity to once again demonstrate YHVH's enduring faithfulness and love, confirming and supporting God's holiness before the people. Instead, Moses scolds them with an unbridled tongue, calling them "rebels". As if that wasn't enough, Moses in his rage, takes YHVH's honor for himself, by declaring he and Aaron will bring water from the rock for the people. The people didn't know YHVH's instruction, only Moses and Aaron did. As far as they were concerned Moses was speaking the word of God and doing as he was instructed, after all Moses had been speaking to God on their behalf for decades, why would he fail them now? You see, Moses had the peoples' trust, and in his anger Moses abuses this trust people had placed on him. You may be thinking to yourself, "he was just angry, he wasn't intentionally preying on anyone." Well, does the Bible give us a list of justifications for transgressions? Does it permit our rebellion under certain circumstances? What does Scripture say about the responsibility of YHVH's appointed leaders? Let's take a look at some Scriptures that offer some insight into what Moses really did, and why YHVH deals with him so firmly.
James 1:19-26 esv "19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." James sums up what most of Scripture says in such a beautifully succinct way, which offers the perfect rebuttal to Moses's anger. Human anger does not lead to righteousness. It leads to transgressing YHVH by no longer being "doers" of the word, and in most of our cases, just like with Moses, we often do not bridle our tongues, laying aside gentleness and weakness. We too, in our anger behave just as Moses did, lashing out in a manner that only appeals to our flesh and self-justification rather than exhibiting a humble resolve that leads us into obedience that demonstrates to others YHVH's holiness and glory. We must learn before it is too late, that human anger is costly, and learn to live in peace and meekness before YHVH. James continues later with another fitting warning:
James 3:1 esv "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." Moses was certainly dealt with firmly by YHVH, but let's not miss out on the mercy God showed him as well. As I stated earlier, on multiple occasions throughout their wandering, the Israelite people transgress against God in a similar way as Moses did, and they are killed instantly. The earth swallowing some, plagues, sickness, and beyond were decisively inflicted upon the people at the moment of their sin. Moses was not only shown grace and allowed to live, he was able to view the promised land and see the people reach its borders with his own eyes. Which brings us to one more harsh reality, a single sin is a transgression against an all holy and eternal righteous and just God, He must punish sin. We have all walked this path of anger as Moses does, but we must learn from his imperfect example and humble ourselves before the Lord in repentance, instead of justifying our defiance with the sins others have committed against us.
ROOTED ANGER PRODUCES BITTERNESS:
Unfortunately, the Bible never records a single instance following his actions in Numbers 20 where Moses repents of his transgression against YHVH. In fact, he continues to blame them, bitterly holding onto his grudge against them. Deuteronomy 1:37 esv "37 Even with me YHVH was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there."
Deuteronomy 3:23-26 esv
"23 “And I pleaded with YHVH at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon. ’26 But YHVH was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And YHVH said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again."
Deuteronomy 4:21-22 esv
"21 Furthermore, YHVH was angry with me because of you, and he swore that I should not cross the Jordan, and that I should not enter the good land that YHVH your God is giving you for an inheritance. 22 For I must die in this land; I must not go over the Jordan. But you shall go over and take possession of that good land."
Moses continues in his deception, repeating the people are the reason why YHVH was angry with him. Yet 3 times God tells Moses why he was being punished. Moses was blind to his transgression, unrepentant and stubbornly holding onto his self-righteousness before God. In this way Moses continues to repeat the sin that he is being punished for over and over again. Remember YHVH says Moses "did not treat/honor me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel", and every time he repeats this lie, he slanders God before the people, and continues to not honor YHVH as holy before the people. His bitterness and anger has cost him dearly, yet he cannot see his error, instead he wanders about spewing lies with his unbridled tongue and defames YHVH before the people. We too are guilty of this same behavior. We too have become blind and drunk with bitterness, stumbling about casting blame on other for our transgressions rather than humbly acknowledging our sin and repenting before God. The cost for Moses is nearly unbearable as he pleads with YHVH to be released from his punishment, even without repentance. The cost for us is also great.
Hebrews 12:14-17 esv
"14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears."
Matthew 6:14-15 esv
"14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (see also Matthew 18:21-35)
is the burden of bitterness and unforgiveness one that you are willing to carry? Are you willing to pay the price that is required of those who choose not to forgive? It is an enormously costly error, do not be fooled into thinking that you are right and justified not to forgive. Instead, learn to seek, hear, and obey the Father, He is calling us to repentance.
FREEDOM FROM BITTERNESS:
1. Receive Correction: Hebrews 12:7-11 esv
"7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."
Despite our best intentions bitterness and unforgiveness often blinds us entirely to properly identifying and dealing with our own related shortcomings. Moses is never recorded changing his perception and repenting for his sin, despite God being the deliverer of his correction. Why was Moses so blind to his own sin? Is it possible his anger with the Israelites prevented him from truly identifying and dealing with his issues?
2. Know Who You Are: Luke 7:36-50 esv "36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
The woman from the city knows who she is. She doesn't come into the presence of the Messiah by throwing the door open, announcing her arrival, and demanding an audience with Yeshua. No, she comes with the humility that is only possible of someone who has full awareness of exactly who they are...A dirty, rejected, lowly, sinner. Someone who has no right to an audience with the King of eternity. Moses in his moment of sin, elevates himself to a station he is not given. He presumes to be like YHVH before the people declaring he is the one who will provide for them. When we presume the same station, and elevate ourselves to a post we are not given, then we are likely to fall into the same prideful error Moses did. As a result, when people do not respond the way we demand them to, we cannot forgive because our self elevated position won't allow us to humble ourselves to those same people when necessary.
3. Recognize you have been forgiven, and choose to forgive others the same way:
Mark 11:24-25 esv "24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Colossians 3:12-13 esv "12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." The Bible is clear, we are required to forgive as the Father has forgiven us. Bitterness in effect is the greatest barrier to forgiveness. Just as Moses after decades of struggle and frustration with the Israelite people, once again found himself standing before them listening to their complaints. Remember, Moses started out on the right foot, taking his issue before the Father, but when he enters the assembly his anger takes over. How many times should we forgive? When does the Bible give us a justification for unforgiveness? We must understand that YHVH has forgiven us many more times than we will ever forgive other people. Forgive, and do so with sincerity and love, because we too have been shown an immeasurable flood of mercy and forgiveness while we were undeserving. Choose forgiveness and release yourself from the burden of unforgiveness.
3. Strive for Peace:
Ephesians 4:25-32 esv "25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." This verse gives us several pointers on how to maintain peace: 1. Put away falsehood 2. Be angry without sin 3. Do not let the sun go down on your anger 4. Share a people have need 5. Shut down corrupt speech 6. Good speech which builds up and gives grace is necessary 7. Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice must be put away 8. Be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving These actions seem simple, but inside and outside humanity struggles to live up to these recommendations. Why? What is keeping you from modeling this behavior? What is keeping you from being at peace even when others are steamrolling toward conflict? The source of all that is good comes from God and it begins with being continually in His word. Then a persistent and determined prayer life frees us from the burdens of anger and unforgiveness that threaten to shackle us to the yolk of bondage. The reality is, we cannot produce this fruit in our lives, it is the work of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Truth. Submit yourself to God, stay in His Word, and continue earnestly in prayer. Moses was unable to reconcile his sin, and spent the remainder of his life justifying and doubling down on his unforgiveness and bitterness, and it costs him the promised land. Likewise, your unforgiveness and bitterness comes at a high cost. Do not give in, do not give anger a place in your life, it will ruin you, your relationships with people, and your relationship with God. Is it worth it?
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