Ahf – When Anger Burns

by Lois Tverberg

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.” – Numbers 20:9-12 (NAS)

Hebrew has a very interesting word for anger, which is ahf. It is also the word for “nose” or “nostril,” and when someone is very angry, his anger is said to “burn,” harah (ha-RAH). It’s a picture of a person so furious that his face is flushed and his nostrils get hot.

In the Scriptures there is an interesting lesson we can learn about anger. Jewish commentaries discuss why God decided after Moses struck the rock not to allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. They suggest that perhaps the reason was not the simple fact that Moses disobeyed God by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Rather, could it be that instead of speaking calmly and honoring God by showing that he would provide water, Moses let his rage at the people so overwhelm him that he forgot to honor God and struck the rock out of fury? The commentators imaginatively suggest that after many long years with this obstinate people, Moses had finally reached his limit, and his anger simply overwhelmed him. At that point God decided that another leader must be raised up to complete the mission of entering the land.

Interestingly, this happened in the life of Elijah as well. He struggled for years against the apostasy of Israel in Baal worship. Even after he had won the great victory on Mt. Hermon, he fled for his life, exhausted, and ran all the way down to Mt. Horeb (Sinai). There he poured out his anger against the people, saying,

I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

With him too, anger had taken its toll, leaving him profoundly discouraged. God told him to find Elisha and train him up to take his place. Even though Elijah had every reason for anger, when it was too much, God saw that someone else would need to take over for him.

These two stories show us how even the wisest can get worn down by frustrations over the years. One rabbinic comment is that, “When a wise man lets his anger overcome him, he loses all his wisdom.” We need to seek relief from our anger before it costs us our ability to lead. Certainly this is all the more true in marriage — uncontrolled anger and contempt is often what brings them to an end.


Further reading:

See Listening to the Language of the Bible, by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004. This is a collection of devotional essays that mediate on the meaning of biblical words and phrases in their original setting.

For a friendly, bite-sized Bible study of five flavorful Hebrew words, see 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know, by Lois Tverberg, OurRabbiJesus.com, 2014 (ebook).