Beware of Sinful Anger
"They angered Him also at the waters of strife, so that it
went ill with Moses on account of them; because they rebelled against His
Spirit, so that he spoke rashly with his lips." - Psalm 106:32-33
The 106th Psalm actually records the historical accounts of the different rebellions and transgressions of the children of Israel as they were walking with God in the early part of their existence. In the verses above, the psalmist talks about a particular incident, saying: "They [the children of Israel] angered Him [God] also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses on account of them; because they rebelled against His Spirit, so that he spoke rashly with his lips." Some translations (particularly the Old King James Version) says that they "provoked His Spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips." Because of the Hebrew word that has been translated as "rebellion," or "provocation" here, there has been a disagreement with various scholars as to whether or not the rebellion that is spoken of here was a provocation against God's Holy Spirit, or whether it was a provocation against Moses' spirit.
But I believe when you read this in its context - if you keep in mind what the Psalmist is bringing to our attention as it relates to the event which is also recorded in Numbers 20:1-13 - it is not difficult to understand that it was MOSES who spoke rashly with his lips!
If that is the correct understanding, then that tells us that Moses became angry with the Israelites to the point of sinning. The result of this rebellion was the fact that Moses spoke rashly. (See Numbers 20)
Anger has the potential of doing great harm when it's not controlled. Moses said things that he would normally not say. He may have been provoked by a faithless group of people, but he wound up speaking words that did not bring glory to God! Instead, his words wrongfully brought glory to himself and Aaron. When Moses spoke to the children of Israel on this occasion, he said: "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:10; Emphasis Mine: JH). Because of their anger, Moses and Aaron both did things that they normally would not have done: they disobeyed God's directives: they struck the rock instead of directly speaking to it.
There is a great truth that we need to learn from this, and apply to our lives: not all anger is necessarily sinful.
In fact, there are times when a righteous anger is something that is appropriate, just as long as it doesn't give opportunity for Satan to lead us to sin. When you read the Psalms you will often find that there are psalms which will begin with the writer calling down God's wrath upon his enemies; those writings manifest a kind of anger. They are sometimes referred to as the "imprecatory psalms," and what they are simply doing is expressing the anger of the individual who is beseeching God to come down upon His enemies in His holy righteousness and judgment.
But in Psalm 4:4, the writer plainly says: "be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still." Paul refers to this passage in the Ephesian letter, in which he also is dealing with the problem of anger, telling people how they may properly react to challenging situations of conflict.
Paul does say that there are times that are appropriate for a righteous kind of anger to be manifested... he writes, (quoting from Psalm 4, in verse 4): "Be angry, and do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). But then he goes on to say... "do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil" (Emphasis Mine: JH).
There are times when righteous anger is the appropriate response to things that may be happening. But we need to be aware of the fact that, if anger raises up in us, and we allow it to turn into thoughts of rage... if that leads us into speaking words and doing things that are not in keeping with the will of God, we will actually be guilty of dishonoring God. And by dishonoring God, we obviously are not glorifying Him. Instead, we may actually be harming other people and hindering the godly influence we are suppose to have; that's when anger can becomes sinful.
We have to be aware of this kind of sinful anger. It is inevitable that, when this kind of anger has the opportunity to take hold, even if it is just for short moment, (perhaps even an instantaneous moment), it will throw us off of our mental balance. And if we speak rashly with our lips, we will dishonor God.
By John Hagenbuch
From Expository Files 12.8; August 2005