Exodus 17:8-16 ~ 20110508 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
05/08 Exodus 17:8-16 Fight the Good Fight
God has redeemed his people. He has delivered them from bondage. He is daily providing for their needs. He continually proves himself gracious even in the face of grumbling ungrateful demanding impatient rebellious people. So far, he has left Egypt in ruins, brought his people safely through the middle of the Red Sea, destroyed the Egyptian army, made bitter water sweet, rained bread from heaven for daily needs, and brought water from a rock to refresh his people. Now, his people are faced with the first battle they must fight.
Let's start with some background information so we get a big-picture understanding of this passage in its historical setting, and then we'll look at what we can learn from it that will encourage us in our battle.
Who were the Amalekites?
According to Genesis 36, Amalek was the grandson of Esau. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (or Israel); Esau was Jacob's older twin brother. Jacob bought the birthright and stole the blessing from his older brother. In the stolen blessing, Isaac made Jacob lord over his brother. When Esau demanded some blessing from his father, Isaac said this:
The blessing God gave to Abraham was to come through Jacob and his twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel. Esau's descendants, also known as Edom or Edomites, were a problem for Israel throughout their history. The descendants of Amalek, grandson of Esau, were the first to attack Israel in the wilderness after they left Egypt.
What did Amalek do that was so bad?
God pronounces a severe curse on these people. He says he will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven, and he instructs that this be passed on to Joshua and recorded in a book. This passage closes with the words “The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” What did they do that would deserve this kind of severity? This passage simply states that they instigated the battle with Israel at Rephidim. If we look at the instructions Moses left for future generations in Deuteronomy, we get some more details:
So Amalek did not fear God. When they attacked, they went after the weak and the sick, the defenseless, the elderly and the young. They attacked from behind. They fought dirty and kicked them while they were down. They didn't play fair. God wanted generations to come to remember the sin of Amalek and its consequences. The LORD himself will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.
In the generation when Saul was king over Israel, the prophet Samuel charged Saul with this:
Saul disobeyed, and as a result of his disobedience to the LORD's command, he was rejected as king over Israel. He spared Agag, king of the Amalekites.
What happened to the Amalekites?
We see Israel up
through Saul and David battling the Amalekites. At the end of 1
Samuel, we see them pulling a similar stunt. When everyone has left
their cities undefended because they are off to war, the Amalekites
swoop in and make off with the women and children and goods. David
returns home to find his city on fire and his wives gone. He pursues
them and reclaims what is his and not a man escaped, except 400
young men who fled on camels. (1Sam.30:17).
We don't hear much from the Amalekites until we get to the book of Esther, at the time of the Babylonian captivity, around 480 BC. The enemy of the Jews is Haman the Agagite, descendant of the royal line of Amalekites through king Agag.
Let's examine this first battle that the Israelites engage in after their Exodus from slavery in Egypt. There are some very intriguing firsts in this battle. Joshua shows up in the biblical narrative first here. There is no introduction, he just shows up in the narrative as the one Moses entrusts to be in charge of the military. Hur also shows up for the first time here, accompanying Moses at the top of the hill. The instructions he gives are interesting. Joshua is to choose men capable of fighting- remember, these are former slaves with no military training. They have been attacked, and Moses says 'tomorrow'. 'Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand. Several times during the plague narrative, a great act of God is said to be coming 'tomorrow'. This would be a hint. The staff of God. The staff that brought water from the rock. The staff that God used to bring devastation to Egypt was once again going to be lifted up. Moses stretched out the staff and the Red Sea opened up. He stretched it out again, and God crushed their enemies. Tomorrow the staff of God will be lifted up. Something big is about to happen.
But there is a very significant difference between this battle and the defeat of the Egyptian army just three chapters earlier. Here the Israelites fight. Back in Chapter 14:
In the battle at the Red Sea, only the LORD was fighting. The people were explicitly instructed not to do anything. They were to stand still and observe the salvation that God would work for them. Then they were slaves, and God was fighting the battle for their freedom against their old slave master. Now they are free, their slave master is dead, and they have a new battle to fight. And this time they are expected to fight.
If the Israelites thought that they would have no more conflict now that they were free of Egypt, they were sorely mistaken.
But it is still clearly the LORD who fights the battle. The staff on the hill makes that abundantly clear. The Israelites are no match for the Amalekites. The only time they enjoy any success is when Moses raises his hands with the staff toward heaven. The focal point of the story is not what is happening on the field of battle. The focus of the story is what is happening on the hill. And even on the hill, the picture we have is a picture of weakness. Moses can't even hold his own hands up by himself. He has to sit on a rock and have assistance from two helpers. As Proverbs tells us:
The victory belongs to the LORD. We have our part to play, but the decisive element is not our strength or skill or determination. The LORD is fighting this battle.
The difference between the battles is that in the first, God is fighting for his people. In this battle, God is fighting in and through his people. In the first, he is securing their freedom, and he does not need their assistance, in fact he will not allow them to do anything. He fights exclusively by himself. In this battle, having already been set free, they are required to fight, but not in their own strength. The Psalmist calls God his strength:
Over and over and over again in the scriptures, God is praised by his people for being their strength. God even says in Jeremiah 17:5
It is such a serious issue that God pronounces a curse on those who are self-dependent.
Do you see how this relates to our battle? God has fought for us and won the victory all by himself. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus decisively won the victory on the cross without any help from us. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1Peter 2:24). Anything we offer in the way of help or payment for that battle is nothing but insult and brings us under the curse. But if we think that now that we are free, the Christian life will be trouble free, we have a harsh reality to face. We are in a fight. Paul charges us to “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). We have a cruel enemy. He doesn't play fair.
Paul describes our battle as a serious call to arms in Ephesians 6.
You be strong. But not in your own strength. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. You prepare for battle. You will have to stand against the schemes of the devil. You are in way over your head. You are up against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. There is no way you can win this battle. The enemy is much stronger than you. But you be strong in God's strength. You have to put on the armor – but it is God's armor. You wrestle, you withstand, you stand firm. You will be victorious in this battle because it is not your strength but God's strength in you.
This is consistently the way the New Testament describes the Christian's warfare.
Do you hear that? Through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear – but the Lord stood by me and strengthened me. Serve in the strength that God supplies so that God gets all the glory. I worked hard – but it was not I; it was God's grace working. I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. I am weak. I can't even hold up my own hands. But this is why there is strength even in weakness; especially in weakness. If I feel confident in my abilities, if I think I can handle this battle, I will fail miserably, because “pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18). An acute awareness of my own weakness and inability forces me to depend on him who is strength. This is why Jesus says to Paul:
When I am weak, then I am strong, because in my weakness, the power of Christ is able to rest on me.
Charles Spurgeon said this:
Christ our Intercessor
Here is something very encouraging. The intercession of Moses was decisive in the battle. All Moses had to do was keep the staff of God lifted high. But Moses' hands grew weary. Whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. Friends, we have one greater than Moses who is seated on high.
Jesus never gets weary. He never lets his hands down. He doesn't need help in his ministry of intercession. Jesus, moment by moment day and night is ever vigilant to supply us with the strength from on high.
YHWH Nissi or Jehovah Nissi (yon hwhy) – the LORD is my banner
Moses memorializes this event with an altar. He names it 'YHWH Nissi – YHWH is my banner, my battle standard, my signal pole, my rallying point. Jesus claimed to be our battle standard: