Exodus 17:8-16

Sunday Morning Bible Study

March 9, 2008


We’ve watched God deliver the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  They have seen God part the Red Sea.  They’ve eaten the bread of heaven as God provided them “manna” in the wilderness every day.  God has given the people water to drink when Moses struck the Rock.  And now they encounter their first adversary.

:8 Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

Amalek‘Amaleq – “dweller in a valley”

These are descendants from Esau (Gen. 36:12) who was in many ways a picture of the life lived after the flesh.  In fact, the Amalekites themselves are an interesting picture of our own sin nature.

Later on we get a description of just how this battle got started.

(Deu 25:17-19 NKJV)  "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, {18} "how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. {19} "Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.
The Amalekites were acting like wolves stalking the flock, picking off the stragglers, the weak, the ones moving slow.

During the period of the judges, they were allied at times with Moab and Ammon (Jud. 3:13) as enemies of Israel.

In the time of Gideon, they were part of the group with the Midianites that annually came and raided the Israelite farmers and stole their food (Jud. 6:3; 7:12).

When Saul became king, one of the first things he did was to defend Israel from the various enemies on all sides like the nations of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, the Philistines, and the Amalekites (1Sam. 14:47-48).

In David’s day the Amalekites raided the city where David was staying and took the entire population captive.  It was only through much bravery and fierce fighting that David was able to rescue the city, including his own family (1Sam. 30).

In the days of Esther, it would be an Amalekite, Haman the Agagite, who would hatch a plot to have the entire race of Jews wiped out.  Through Esther and Mordecai’s intervention, the Jews were saved.

When we get to the end of this passage, we have just a little bit of a clue as to why God is so harsh in His condemnation of the Amalekites.  They are a wicked and dangerous people.

Rephidim[email protected] – “rests” or “stays” or “resting places”; this is where Moses struck the Rock and God gave water.

:9 And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand."

Joshua[email protected]– “Yahweh is salvation”

This is the man that will eventually lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but at this time he is simply known as Moses’ “assistant” (Ex. 24:13)

He will tend to go just about everywhere with Moses.

He will be one of the twelve spies sent into Canaan.

The book of Joshua is named after him.

This is the first time we meet Joshua.

the rod of God – this is what Moses is calling his own staff, the thing that has parted the Red Sea and brought water from a Rock.

rodmatteh – staff, branch, tribe

fight – this is the first time that Israel fights.  It will not be the last.


Life is a battle

In the last letter that Paul writes, he seems to know that he’s getting near the end of his life:
(2 Tim 4:6-7 NKJV)  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. {7} I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
When Paul talks about finishing the “race”, we have this picture in our heads of a runner finishing a marathon, making it through to the end.  We know that Paul is talking about his whole life as the race.
When Paul talks about the “fight”, he isn’t talking about one difficulty he’s had in life.  He’s also talking about all of life.
I guess I know this mentally, but in reality I still get surprised when I face a new battle.


Back in early December my Dad had his first serious health setback with this disease he has.  He had an intestinal bleed, two heart attacks, and we began our education of hospitals, CCUs, DNR orders (Do Not Resuscitate).  But after a little more than a week he went home and we couldn’t believe that we had survived.  A day later, his health went south again and he was back in CCU.  I remember my mom and I talking in the hallway of the hospital and saying to each other, “We don’t know how much more of this we can take”.  Over the next two months he’d be in the hospital four times.  He’s now in a nursing home where the staff will tell us on one day that they don’t know why he’s there because he’s doing so well, and the next day they’re discussing with us the options of taking him to ER or putting him into hospice.

I reminded my mom of our discussion in the hospital hallway a few months ago.  We both laughed.  We still feel at times that we don’t know how much more we can take.  But we also know that we will continue to fight.

I see so many of you going through things just as difficult if not worse.  Some are going through your own health issues, others are going through difficult issues with your children, others with your spouse.  Some are struggling with addictions.
Life is hard.
We can try and close our eyes and wish the battle would go away.  We can try and escape with our addictions, with self-medicating slavery.
The battle isn’t going to go away.
The battles aren’t over until we are in heaven.
That doesn’t mean that God won’t give us “breaks”, time to catch our breath.  We aren’t going to be fighting 24/7 nonstop.  But don’t be surprised at the battles.  They’re a part of this life.
The apostle Paul had a strategy when it came to fighting the battles of life.  His strategy was to win.  He wrote:
(Eph 6:10-13 NKJV)  Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. {11} Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. {12} For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. {13} Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

If you are a believer, you are in God’s army.  And if you are in God’s army, God has some weapons to hand you to fight the battles around you.

Pay attention.

:10 So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.

Aaron – Moses’ older brother

HurChuwr – “hole”; the Hebrew word for “son” is “ben”, so his son would be known as “Ben-Hur”; the chief contractor involved in the building of the Tabernacle was named Bezalel, his grandfather was a man named “Hur”, possibly the same guy.

:11 And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

Do you remember “Engineer Bill”?  He had a kids’ TV show back in the early 1960s.  He used to have a segment every day to help kids drink their milk.  It was called “Red light green light”?  Anyone remember that?  I can’t help but wonder if Moses got a little curious every time he put his arms down, then put them back up … kind of like Red Light Green Light …

held up his hand – What was it about Moses holding up his hand that caused Israel to prevail?

Abram held up his hand to God as a way to make an oath.

(Gen 14:22-23 NKJV)  But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, {23} "that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich';

Moses held up his hand and the rod when God parted the Red Sea.

(Exo 14:15-16 NKJV)  And the LORD said to Moses, … "But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it.

The ancients were unanimous and looked at this as an act of prayer.  Moses was known even among the pagans as a man of prayer.

The various Jewish translations of the Old Testament, known as Targums, all translate this section like this,
“when Moses lift up his hands in prayer, the house of Israel prevailed, but when he restrained his hands from prayer, the house of Amalek prevailed,”


We can’t win without prayer

Paul wrote,
(1 Tim 2:8 NKJV)  I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
Jesus faced a battle during His last night on the earth.  He faced the battle over whether or not He would go through with the plan and give His life for a bunch of angry, rebellious, ungrateful sinners – us.
(Mat 26:36-41 NKJV)  Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there." {37} And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. {38} Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me." {39} He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." {40} Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, "What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? {41} "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Jesus found the strength that night to do what He had to do.  He surrendered to the will of the Father.  He gave His life for us.

Peter, James, and John didn’t pray.  When they were faced with their battle, they blew it and denied Jesus.

You may be faced with a horrendous battle up ahead.  The voices inside your head are telling you that prayer isn’t going to help anything.  But God wants you to call on Him.  God wants you to turn your problems over to Him.  God wants you to learn to lean on Him for help.
I face this every week as I’m working on my message.  I almost always get to this point in my preparation where I’m dead tired, my eyes are having trouble staying open, and I’m panicked because I don’t have a clue about what the message is that I’m supposed to talk about from the passage we’re studying.
I’m still a beginner at this, but I’m learning that part of my preparation requires prayer.  About 90% of the time when I’ve finished spending time in prayer, the message smoothes out and I know what I’m supposed to do.  The other 10% … well … sometimes I end up going to bed wondering what I’m going to talk about, and the answer comes in the morning.
You might think, “But you’re a preacher, preachers are supposed to pray”.  And so are you.  You are supposed to pray.  And pray some more.
There are some out on the front lines.  They’re fighting hard.  They can’t win without prayer.
I think of our own Drew Morehouse in Russia.  I gather he’s been going through a time of discouragement.  Lift up your hands while he’s out on the field.

:12 But Moses' hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.


We can’t do it alone

Frankly I find it kind of comforting to realize that Moses had his limits.
Moses is not the almighty force that saves Israel.  God is.
You and I each need to have Aarons and Hurs in our lives to help us hold up our hands when we get faint.
Look at how they helped Moses:
They accommodated him.

They didn’t ask Moses to come over and sit on their rock, they moved a stone over to where Moses was and helped him right where he was.

Godly encouragement.

Could it be that the “stone” might have been a little reminder of God as their “Rock”?  Perhaps sitting Moses on a stone is a bit like reminding your friend to trust in the Lord, to rest in the Lord.

Strengthen their ministry.

Moses’ ministry involved holding up his hands in prayer.  They didn’t tell him to change ministries, they helped him hold his hands up.

Stay until the battle is over.

They kept Moses’ hands up until the day was done.  They didn’t leave before it was finished.

:13 So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

:14 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."

:15 And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner;

:16 for he said, "Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."

built an altar – a place of worship, but this place apparently had the purpose of being a sort of memorial, a way of remembering what happened.  Along with the account that was written down, Joshua was supposed to remember that God wasn’t done with the Amalekites.

The LORD is my banner[email protected] nicciy – “Jehovah is my banner”

bannernec – something lifted up, standard, signal, signal pole, ensign, banner, sign.  The banner seems connected with military maneuvers.  It was the place where the army gathered for battle, a sort of rallying point (Is. 5:26; 11:10)

(Isa 11:10 NKJV)  "And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious."
Since the word could also refer to a “pole”, it made me think of the rod that Moses had been holding up during the victory.
Perhaps the idea is that the victory didn’t come from the rod that Moses held up, the victory came from the Lord.


Victory in the battle

As we’ve said, life is a battle.  We are constantly having to face difficulties.  One of those difficulties is our sin nature, the flesh.
Before you were a Christian, all you had was “flesh”.  You had no choice about whether or not to obey your sinful impulses.
After becoming a Christian, you now have a choice – will I obey the flesh or will I obey the Spirit?

(Gal 5:16 NLT)  So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves.

Whether your current battle is with the flesh or finding a new job, this victory is kind of a template to follow:
1.     Prayer – the lifted hands
2.     Support – people to hold your hands up
3.     Action – Joshua and his sword

I know we could spiritualize this and say that the sword represented the Word of God.  But Joshua wasn’t having a Bible Study, he was lopping off the heads of Amalekites!



A young man gets engaged to a young woman and goes to meet her parents over dinner. After dinner the father takes the young man into the drawing room to find out his plans for life with his daughter. “So, what are your plans?” The father asks the fiancée. “I am a Biblical Scholar” he replies “A Biblical Scholar. Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice home for my daughter to live in, as she deserves?” The father asks. “I will study” the young man replies “...God will provide for us.” “And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?” The father asks. “I will concentrate on my studies, God will provide for us.” the young man replies. “And children” the father asks “how will you support your children?” “Don’t worry sir” the young man replies “God will provide.” The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father asks a question the young man insists that God will provide. Later, the mother asks about the discussion, “So, how did it go?” The father replies “He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I’m God.”

We see that the key to victory was Moses keeping his hands up in prayer.  But don’t forget that Joshua still had to swing his sword.

I think sometimes we make the mistake as Christians in thinking that everything is going to be fixed by prayer and only by prayer.

This battle wasn’t going to be won with just Moses standing on the hilltop with his hands up.  Joshua had to take his army out and lop off a few heads.

On the other hand, victory certainly wasn’t coming from Joshua’s sword alone.  It required BOTH prayer and action.