Today it seems we are more exposed to anger and rage than ever before. Domestic violence, spousal abuse, gang wars, road rage, and personal assault are growing to disturbing levels. Media reports indicate that America has become a “society of rage”—and the statistics seem to back that up.
The same media that report the violence, however, also promote it. Talk shows try to force on-screen violent conflicts; movies and television shows glamorize angry confrontations; and professional sports cannot seem to find a way to curb the explosive on-field violence that leaves some athletes crippled but the fans clamoring for more.
Another Time, Another Place. We are not the first culture to feed on anger and violence. Ancient Egypt demonstrated some of the same traits. Though considered to be the most civilized and advanced society of its day, it was still a culture that achieved its advancements by the violent exploitation of slave labor, a significant portion of which were the children of Israel. How did this come about?
For years, the Hebrew population flourished in Egypt under the influence of Joseph, the eleventh son of Israel (Jacob). But Exodus 1:8 states that “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph”—and he felt no obligation to care for Joseph’s family. This pharaoh subjugated the people and enslaved them.
From the pages and mistakes of our own history, we know the tragic and abiding effects on a culture that lives off the back of slavery. The landmark television mini-series Roots showed the demoralizing and dehumanizing effects of slavery on the America of the early to mid-1800s. The evening news regularly illustrates the lingering consequences of that tragedy as the United States continues to struggle with racial tension rooted in the past abuses of slavery. The same legacy was no doubt present in Egypt in both attitudes and actions:
• Attitudes of disdain among the Egyptians for the enslaved Hebrews, and of anger among the Hebrews for their taskmasters.
• Actions of violence by the Egyptians to maintain control of this nation of slaves, and of rebellion among the slaves as their lives became a weary treadmill of hard labor and suffering.
For 400 years the Hebrews endured these conditions of being brutalized and treated as subhuman. The anger and violence that result from slavery is tragic, but inevitable.
When Anger Surfaces. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for “anger” comes from the words for “face” and “nostrils.” Anyone who has faced a truly angry person understands why. When anger builds up, it distorts our appearance, an outward manifestation of the fiery volcano within. Anger unchecked can eat away at the heart and affect the character of a person like few other emotions.
Yet, anger is not all bad. In its healthy form, properly controlled and expressed, it can motivate us to work for needed change. Consider Jesus’ anger at the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His generation, and Paul’s anger at the legalism of the Galatians.
When anger is checked, it is like a refiner’s fire that tempers steel to make it stronger. When it is unchecked, it is as destructive as the wildfires that seasonally flare up in the hillside chaparral of Southern California. When out of control, our anger can destroy us—and those we love.
That brings us back to Moses. What did he do with his anger? Did it temper him or consume him? When did his rage reflect his own fear, frustration, and impatience? When did it show passion for the interests and concerns of God?
To unravel some of the complexities of Moses’ personality, we will take two quick passes through his life. First, we’ll consider his apparent tendency toward anger. Then we’ll consider the lessons he learned—the hard way.